I am drawn to the ocean especially when it is wild and stormy. I imagine sailing to distant ports and exotic islands. I think of myself standing on the deck of a ship with the wind burning my cheeks and whipping my hair into a frenzy. The smell of the sea fills my nostrils and I can almost feel the spirit of whalers and fishermen who once worked along the coasts of the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. I am fascinated by their stories and the beauty of the waters on which they plied their trade.
My reality is far different. Even in calm waters I become seasick and rather than standing tall in the breeze I am instead bent over the side of the craft losing whatever food and fluid is in my body. I am seized with a debilitating nausea and my head aches with a desire to get back to land as soon as possible. I need to plant my feet on solid ground or I feel as though I am going to die. Just thinking about those moments makes me dizzy.
The first time I went for a sail was with a friend who actually lived on her craft. She invited me to come along with her for a ride on a sunny Saturday afternoon. We were going to cruise around Galveston Bay, a brief journey to give me a taste of the life of a sailor. She brought along another member of the crew to assist her in maneuvering the sails to get the best advantage of the wind. It was exciting watching the two of them doing their work and I could not help but of notice how happy they were as they went through processes that had become second nature to them.
Initially I was having as much fun as they were. The weather was picture perfect with an indigo sky and a brilliant sun. I watched fish jumping along the side of our craft and raised my head to follow the flight of sea birds. Passersby waved as though we were the best of friends. I found myself wondering how I might learn the techniques and maybe even invest in my own sailboat one day. Then, for no apparent reason a nausea began to spread throughout my body while I attempted to hide my affliction from the hardy sailors who were with me. My ruse was fine until I was no longer able to hold the noxious barf that had risen up my throat and into my mouth. I ran the the side and hurled my guts out with total embarrassment.
My friend and her companion attempted to be understanding. They suggested that my reaction was that of a first timer unaccustomed to the rocking motion that had set the fluid in my ears listing from fore to aft. They insisted that now that my body had released the poison I would soon feel better and I would never again have such a reaction. Sadly, they were wrong. Not long after I was heaving over the side again and becoming more and more miserable by the minute. Finally I had to beg them to return to the shore.
I stepped onto the dock humiliated and sorrowful. I knew that I was not going to sail the seas. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to attempt traveling on a gigantic cruise ship. The very thought made my head spin. I would not step foot on a sea going vessel again for years until I took one of my grandsons on a whale watching adventure in Boston Harbor. We had not been out to sea for long before he was turning pale and complaining of feeling sick. Soon enough both he and I had joined a group of landlubbers gathered starboard as though in anticipation of a big heave ho of unified vomiting. We smiled weakly at the whales that crossed our paths and wished that we might share the enthusiasm of the other passengers who were not afflicted with sickness. We literally prayed that the captain would return to land sooner rather than later.
I don’t just get that sick feeling when I am sailing. It also happens in a car. I have to sit in the front seat and keep cool and never attempt to read. If I’m stuffed in the back of a van on a long trip I must bring along a paper bag in case I reach a point of spilling my guts and revealing that motion is my enemy. It is a flaw in my physical being that I despise.
I’ll never be an astronaut and sail among the stars. I don’t know why I am like I am but I find myself wondering if either my grandmother or grandfather suffered from my malady when they crossed the ocean in a steamship that brought them to America. I’d like to think that the genetic flaw that prevents me from enjoying the lure of the sea did not also make that passage difficult for them. Perhaps instead it came from the other side of my family, from some quirk of DNA that makes me susceptible to such things.
Not long ago I rode successfully on a ship from Seattle, Washington to British Columbia, Canada. My doctor had provided me with a mysterious patch that I placed on my arm. Miraculously I made the journey without even a hint of illness and even got brave enough to eat a little snack. Of course the craft was large and stable and the water was still, but maybe I have found a way to fulfill my dreams of sailing. Sadly, for now I worry that being on a ship with hundreds of strangers might lead to a case of Covid, so I won’t be testing my theory anytime soon.
For now I simply imagine how glorious it might be to travel by sea. Maybe books and films will be the only way I ever accomplish such a feat, and perhaps that is for the best. The reality of life at sea is not as glamorous as I would like it to be. Fighting the storms and doldrums and even modern day pirates is real, and then there is that darn seasickness that tells me to keep my feet firmly planted on solid ground.