About Seasickness

[from the stabenow.com vaults, first posted February 15, 2004]

About seasickness, since almost every single non-Coastie person who has emailed me has asked if I’m seasick. Yes, once, the first full day of patrol. I woke up, sat up, and threw up.

Later that same day I walked into the wardroom pantry and the seaman on duty was so white you could count his individual freckles. “Are you okay?” I said. “Seasick, ma’am,” he kind of groaned, and then staggered over to kneel in front of the trash can, puked, got up, blew his nose, washed his hands, and went back to work. I think that seaman shamed me out of being seasick again. I stopped taking the Dramamine because it made me so thirsty, and I’ve been (fingers crossed) fine since.

In the Galley - 2/9/04

All the veteran crew members have stories about being seasick. Captain Lloyd has never been seasick, but he’s not smug about it because it doesn’t mean he never will be. As XO Thorne says, “There is a sea out there with everyone’s name on it.”

It’s not just the seasickness that is such a challenge. The constant motion of the ship increases the difficulty of even the simplest task tenfold. We’re used to doing things with two hands, and here it’s always one hand for the ship and one hand for whatever you’re doing. I’m not walking when I’m getting around, I’m doing a combination polka-tango with crewmen, bulkheads, hatches, tables, ladders, deck rails and trash nets.

If you’re eating and the ship is rolling you’re using a fork with one hand and with the other catching water glasses, bottles of salad dressing, plates, cutlery, pitchers, and serving dishes before they hit your lap. Or not.

You have to plan out your showers, one handful of stuff at a time, separate sets of gear for each step, toiletries in the tray over the sink, shampoo and towels into the shower, clothes ready for when you get out, and then–damn it!–you’ve forgotten your flipflops again and you have to put your jammies back on and go get them. And you never remember everything (I’m always forgetting my *&^%$! towels). I’m lucky if my showers on board take me less than 30 minutes, and only a fraction of that time is spent getting wet. I’m not even going to get into the art of washing and shampooing one-handed while trying to keep under the water in a shower stall that refuses to stay upright.

Sleeping, too, is problematic. The ship rocks and rolls and corkscrews, and it creaks and moans and shudders and shakes while it does. Between the motion and the noise you catnap if you’re lucky, but I’m betting no one ever gets their REM allotment. Who can sleep when you have to hang onto the side of the bunk to keep from being thrown to the deck? Ops says that he sleeps a lot the first week back from patrol.

That’s one of the reasons such care is taken of the crew’s well-being. For example, within 24 hours we did a SAR, a fire drill and two boardings, and the next morning the Captain declared holiday routine until noon to give the crew a chance to catch up on their rest. The crew of the Alex Haley is on call 24-7. It doesn’t matter if they’ve just done a SAR, if another call comes in they suit up and go back to work. Command is acutely aware of this, and of maintaining crew fitness so they can continue their mission, saving lives.


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6 thoughts on “About Seasickness

  1. I did my hitch in the Navy over 25 years ago, but your description of seasickness had me smiling. The only time I had a problem was in the middle of a typhoon and I just swallowed it back since we were all strapped to our racks to keep us from damaging ourselves. Something about puking three up and trying to time the roll so it wouldn’t hit the guys below just didn’t appeal to me. Later on, I learned a tart green apple helps squelch the belch, so you might want to keep that in mind. Getting off ship after a few months out is the hardest thing for me; the land doesn’t want keep up with an acclimated equilibrium, which sucks just as bad as choppy froth. “No sir, I haven’t been drinking!â€?

    “I’m lucky if my showers on board take me less than 30 minutes…â€? too funny Dana, I recall at times we were given less than 3 minutes of water. Splash on, splash off, and dang it all if the desalination system was messed up. I think many of us made the most of sinks to keep ourselves ship shape.

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  2. I took the large car ferry to Newfoundland years ago with my parents…the night before our departure had been so rough that all 400 people on board had been sick…and all the dishes were smashed. My father stood at the stern marvelling at how invigorating it was, while my poor mother spent the entire 8 or more hours holding on to the bathroom sink. There was a room with large tables and benches and huge windows where when the ship rolled to port and headed down into a wave all you could see was the sea…then she would climb up out of the trough and roll to starboard and all you could see was the sky…Oh God…I had never felt so sick. I could only fight the urge to throw myself overboard. So I slept for a while on the large table. Upon awakening I felt a bit better and decided that eating something might help. Doing the ship slide, stumble, balance dance, I approached the dining area only to be engulfed in the smell of fried fish….I’ll forever feel nauseated even thinking of fried fish.

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  3. Judi Hebert says:

    I can get seasick in harbor, tied to the dock. The shower stuff made me laugh remembering showering on the tall ship out of Mystic, shower head like the one you rinse dishes space so small when you turned one part of body or other touched the wall. Brrr. Transderm Scop patches were my salvation.

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  4. Beauzeaux says:

    I get a bit seasick just reading this. I love boats and the sea but it’s torture. When we went to Antarctica, the Drake Passage was amazingly calm but I still needed a scopolamine patch. Coming back that same stretch of water — still relatively calm — just killed me. I even got seasick returning from a snorkeling trip in Hawaii on completely smooth water.
    I am comforted by the knowledge that Lord Nelson was tormented by seasickness his entire life.

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