Saturday, June 23, 2018

HURLING CAUTION TO THE WIND – My Entry in the Seasickness Horror Story Contest


Few topics are so sure to breathe life into stale cocktail-party chitchat as these: tornadoes, nightmare bosses, cockroaches…

…and seasickness.

I first realized I was prone to motion sickness when, at the age of nine, my parents took me and my brother to Mexico. As our driver, Jorge, wound his way up into the hills west of Mexico City, I started getting queasy. Before long I was hunched over by the side of the road—vehicles with whole families in them slowed to get a better look—heaving my guts out.

I stumbled back into the back seat. Dad assured me I’d be more comfortable if I kept my eyes on the horizon instead of reading or playing games with my brother. He was right.

With that lesson in mind, I’ve suffered very few recurrences of my car-sickness.

     I wasn’t even aware of any motion. After all,
     we were on a river…and still at the dock.


BENCHED 
In boats, though, it’s a different story. No amount of fresh air or horizon fixation can spare me the ravages of seasickness. It’s so bad that I once got sick aboard a large, double-decker excursion boat on the tranquil, glass-smooth Illinois River.


It was a wedding reception. I’d just boarded, walked up to the top, open-air deck, and was enjoying my first drink when I first noticed the signs. I wasn’t even aware of any motion. After all, we were on a river…and still at the dock.

But sure enough, as I looked overboard down the side of the boat, I could see she was rocking ever so slightly against the pilings—apparently the tag ends of swells were working their way up the river from Lake Michigan. I don’t think it was more than a couple of inches, but it was enough. I got off, watched them pull away and spent the rest of the sightseeing cruise lying on a park bench.

          It sounded like the hull would surely
          splinter from the pounding.


THE SOUND AND THE FURY
The worst episode I’ve experienced—one that usually does quite well in the inevitable, “oh, that’s nothing, I….” contest at a cocktail party—occurred on North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound.

I’d been sailing for several days with my girlfriend, her brother and his wife, heading northeast along the Inland Waterway from Camp Lejeune to the charming Outer Banks town of Ocracoke. There we docked and spent a lovely afternoon, intending to head back the way we came the next morning.

But overnight, a big storm rolled in. At 8:00 AM, trying to cast off from the pier, we simply couldn’t budge the boat, held fast against the bumpers by the steady wind. Just up the bay was the Coast Guard station whose double-triangle flags informed us we were in the grip of a gale—meaning winds ranged from 39 to 54 miles per hour. We weren’t going anywhere.

The second morning, despite the continuing force-seven winds, our skipper, a Marine Corps officer, declared he absolutely had to get back to Camp Lejeune that day. So, soliciting help from the crews of nearby boats, we managed to separate ourselves from the dock and set sail—well reefed—across the 30-mile-wide Pamlico Sound for the mainland.

Even knowing we’d be on the Inland Waterway our whole trip, I’d been smart enough to bring Dramamine. So, half an hour before we left Ocracoke, I’d taken a full 100-mg. dose. Once beyond the relative shelter of the harbor, the boat was lifted ten to twelve feet on each wave crest only to plunge thunderously into the following trough. It sounded like the hull would surely splinter from the pounding.

And it was abundantly clear the Dramamine was not going to work.


Because Pamlico’s quite a shallow body of water for its width, the normal rolling swell from a storm there builds into taller, sharper waves, many of which actually break. I could barely hold my footing to vomit over the side, and, after I thought I’d emptied my stomach, I went below decks to lie down.

But that was just the beginning of my ordeal. My girlfriend had been thoughtful enough to bring me a plastic bucket. I don’t think she realized it was the boat’s bilge bucket, and that it reeked of diesel fuel. This, of course, triggered yet another bout of heaving, by now nearly dry.

The dry heaves continued unabated for another four-and-a-half hours, easing only when we finally motored into the marina. It took a full day before I started feeling normal again.

PATCHING IT UP
It was many years before I once again dared going to sea. My incentive: you can’t catch a marlin from shore. The reason it was even possible: my discovery of “the patch”—the transdermal version of the drug scopolamine (hyoscene).

I put a patch on that little bump of bone right behind my ear about an hour before hitting the water, and I’m good to go. In fact, the medication in one patch keeps reminding my inner ear that it’s on secure footing for three days. The only side effect for me is an all-day case of dry mouth.


Okay, now I’ll open myself up to a little of that one-upmanship. What’s your worst motion sickness horror story? Leave a comment here or lay it on me on Facebook.


3 comments:

Northbay said...

Ok, I'll open with a non-sickness tale. I was lucky to spend summers crewing off-shore racing boats out of Chicago on Lake Michigan. The highlight of the season is the mid-July non-stop run to Mackinac Island. I did 5 or 6 of those. On our first trip, first night out we were hit by a severe storm, 60 mph winds,late at night. Took us 20 min to get the storm sails up but we survived. At dawn we saw a Santa Cruz 72 motoring south with her mast strapped across the deck. Luckily no one was seriously hurt. With all that time on the water, both fresh and saltwater, I got by without a twinge of mal de mer. You have my sympathy!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey Northbay, how nice of you to drop in and comment! Thanks.
Sounds like you've put your inner ear to the ultimate test. I wish I had your seafaring constitution!

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