Throw up and carry on

I get seasick. Not just a little nauseous, but aggressively, stomach-emptyingly, endlessly sick. I can be seasick in a puddle. Over several thousand sea miles I can grade key trips by their vomit quotient. Top of the list remains Sines to Sines in Portugal when we beat for hours in a force 8 gale with Navicula full of diesel from a broken fuel bulb. A close second was Le Grazie to Portoferraio in Elba, in the catamaran Murihiku; it’s a different kind of motion. Then there’s two trips in Roaring Girl, one from Ipswich to Lowestoft when everyone in board including two cats was ill, and the other from Alvor on the Algarve to Tangier. (Don’t be put off – Tangier is a great stop.) And then there’s Hamford Water to Tollesbury on Hushwing, a trip which taught me not to drink wine before a fast downwind sail.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 17.57.55

Not the actual hat! Very like it though.

The last on this list (the second chronologically) taught me another invaluable lesson. It is possible to function when seasick. I could hand over the steering to Polly, but I had to navigate. So I lay flat on my back, holding the chart above my head, doing feverish mental arithmetic for tide, speed and depth. Every now and then I put the chart aside and threw up in my hat. It was the only receptacle I could find. Eternity passed. (About three hours in ordinary time.)  The North Eagle Cardinal Buoy turned up just where and when it should, followed by the green Eagle buoy, after which we entered the river and life got a bit more attractive.

Just as fear is not a reason, and pain is not a boundary (a thought to which I will return in a future post), seasickness need not spell the end of sailing. It does, for most of us wear off eventually, but those 48 or 72 hours at the beginning need to be managed. Most important of all is the mindset that the misery will end and in the meantime. keep functioning, even if at a lower level.

So, herewith some techniques for the dreaded moments when you begin to heat up, yawn or swallow a lot, lassitude creeps through your bones and sitting under trees looks really attractive.

1 – If you are skipper, make sure your crew are ok and know their roles. Put the team into their strongest functions. The learning can wait till you’re all up to strength.
2 – If you can, lie flat. Ideally (especially in higher latitudes) lie down below, and certainly keep warm. (That pre-nausea hot flush wears off and it will make you even sicker putting your clothes back on again.) if there are enough crew, sleep. Sleep is the best way to adapt to the boat and get over seasickness.
3 – Find a pot to throw up in (and possibly a bucket for the other end).
4 – Chew ginger. I loath the taste of it and don’t swallow, but I regularly chew crystallised ginger and it really clears the head. I have also had quite good results using Cocculus, which is the homeopathic remedy for motion sickness and calms the stomach.
5 – drink warm water. It will shock your stomach less than cold and stay down better than anything with flavour. Add sugar if you want. Your biggest enemy is dehydration. Drink warm water.
6 – if everyone is sick and miserable, unless you are in a survival storm, find a way to calm things down. Heave to. Drop the anchor. Drift a while. Let yourselves have a rest.

Of course, prevention is even better than cure. On the recent Valletta to Gibraltar sail I tried Paihia Bombs for the first time. (There are loads of online references from long distance sailors, fishing people and even kayakers.) I was introduced to these by the Murihiku crew who were swearing by them during the trip to Portoferraio. And they’re great. I’m not sure what’s in them, except for caffeine, but they don’t make you drowsy and they manage the nausea. Some anti-depressants are a bit the same; you know you’re still miserable but it doesn’t hurt. With the bombs, I knew that somewhere I was seasick  but I didn’t feel nauseous and I was fine.

You get these legal wonder pills from Paihia Pharmacy in New Zealand. They don’t have a website, but ring them on 00 64 (0) 9 402 7034. Credit card, address and you get them, together with a letter about the contents for any worried customs officers to read.

Simpler are Stugeron (not available in the US I think) which may make you drowsy. The there are lots of standard travel sickness pills which will make you sleep. That only works if it is ok for you to sleep for several hours.

There are other reasons to quit sailing (boredom, terror, cost) but seasickness doesn’t need to be one of them. It will pass and you will be rewarded. Fair winds.

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About Sarah Tanburn

I'm a writer, a sailor and a strategic adviser to public organisations. Visit my websites to find out more.
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4 Responses to Throw up and carry on

  1. boneland says:

    Amazed that a sailor like you gets seasick so much! Good for you, not letting it get in the way of what you want to do. I’ve only been seasick once and that was a very mild bout (no actual puking, just queasiness) on the Dover to Calais ferry. So long as I stay above deck, I seem to be ok – even when I was a passenger on the Scillonian in an unexpected Force 10. It’s the sight of others puking that usually makes me gag.

    • Hi Sara and thanks for dropping by. I can bring myself to dislike people who are never seasick, even when they have cute dogs. But hey, it too passes.

      • boneland says:

        Heh heh! If it’s any consolation, I read something a few weeks ago which pointed to a study showing that people who “never get seasick” shouldn’t be too cocky about it because they may suddenly get seasick on their very next trip. Apparently there’s no such thing as real immunity to seasickness – it can arrive at any age, even if you’ve never had it before. So maybe I’ll be reaching for my hat next time I’m at sea. Oh frabjous day!

  2. I managed to be among the minority not puking on a ferry going between the Cyclades last September, but I wasn’t having a good time either. Hats off to you for forging ahead despite…

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