Misery at sea: Don’t rock the boat

David Chartrand

David Chartrand

There is nothing like the open sea to make you forget about the ups and downs of life while enjoying the ups and downs of ocean waves until you become violently seasick.

I am tormented by motion sickness and its evil siblings. Travel sickness. Airsickness. Seasickness. Tilt-A-Whirl Carnival Ride Sickness. I once became nauseated watching the U.S. Spelling Bee on television.

Polygraph Examiner: Is your name David Chartrand?

Me: Yes.

Polygraph Examiner: Is it true that you developed motion sickness watching a Spelling Bee?

Me: May I hear “sickness” used in a sentence, please?

Polygraph Examiner: I just did.

Me: Then may I have a definition?

Motion sickness is complicated. It is easier to explain the plot of “Finnegan’s Wake” than the mechanics of motion sickness. God knows I’ve tried.

Motion sickness begins when the inner ear senses movement while the eyes report that everything is standing still. The brain assumes that the eyes are hallucinating and transmits an urgent instruction to the stomach: REDUCE BALLAST. The stomach interprets this message as BARF NOW.

This theory of motion sickness explains my dim memory of our family’s recent Alaskan vacation. Majestic purple mountains, glaciers, dreamy hiking trails — countless natural wonders that I might have enjoyed had we not stopped first for lunch in Homer, Alaska. Homer thrives on tourist income, specifically the sale of tickets for all-day sea cruises that depart from the Salty Dog Marina and Saloon. My father and brother shouted, “Sea Cruise! Let’s go!” My brain shouted, “REDUCE BALLAST.”

It’s fair to note that there were no warnings at the Salty Dog about seasickness. I would have noticed a sign advising that “THIS CRUISE IS NOT FOR THOSE PRONE TO SEASICKNESS or DO YOU GET QUEASY ON WINDING MOUNTAIN ROADS? TURN BACK NOW!! DO NOT BOARD THIS DEATH VESSEL!” You can imagine my relief.

I remained calm right up until the time the captain announced, “Okay, everyone! All aboard!” My brain then announced, “You should have stayed at the Salty Dog.”

What I know about the sea cruise I learned later that day from my father. He said we saw eagles and sea lions and whales and glaciers, all witnessed from the front and sides of the boat. I saw none of these, having spent the entire trip with several other gravely ill tourists at the rear of the vessel. We saw the boat’s wake, a brass railing, and the contents of our stomach washing into the oceans. We clutched the railing tightly and begged God to toss us into the sea and let us be eaten quickly and painlessly by giant squid.

Terror seized my internal organs as the boat lurched across the open sea, listing left and right as if it were made of Styrofoam. Or maybe it was to and fro. My father noted later that I also missed the captain’s highly informative briefing about nautical terminology. For example, the captain announced that giant whales can be spotted on the “starboard” side but only by those wearing expensive sonar goggles sold only at the Salty Dog. Playful sea otters are supposed to appear on the “port” side, but rarely do. All I heard was the captain’s instruction that those prone to seasickness move to the “leeward” side, unless it was the keel. My father said I made it there in nine seconds.

Let me digress here to say that I do not blame the cruise operator or the local residents for my painful experience. Alaskans are gracious hosts to those who cross the globe to witness the state’s breathtaking natural wonders. “ANCHORAGE IS MUCH MORE THAN MOOSE POOP” is the warm greeting extended to arrivals at the Anchorage airport. Not surprisingly, the sale of petrified moose poop accounts for nearly one-half of annual retail sales in Alaska, thanks in part to visitors from non-oceans states who would rather spend $150 on ceramic moose poop figurines than die of motion sickness in squid-infested waters.

I must also acknowledge the courage and seamanship of Christy Something, the chirpy redheaded shipmate who performed seasickness triage at the rear of the boat. The simply nauseous were given over-the-counter Dramamine and Saltine crackers. The gravely ill were tossed overboard and fed to a colony of squid. The rest of us were given helpful breathing techniques. Long, slow breaths at first, followed by short, rapid breaths. Christy instructed us to relax our abdominals muscles and push downward. None of this helped but I felt prepared in the event I went into labor on the boat.

Christy also handed me two Dramamine tablets, which, she advised, can create drowsiness. Drowsiness not being my immediate concern, I swallowed the two tablets then gulped seven more. My head soon drooped over the boat rail like a limp water hose, the cold air slapping my face. I saw the Gulf of Alaska the way my dog sees I-35.

I continued sleep-wretching until the boat returned to the Salty Dog Marina. Christly apologized about the Dramamine, explaining that I must have barfed most of it back into the ocean. Stumbling back onto dry land I heard the captain report that a commercial fishing boat trolling near Seward, Alaska, had hooked a heavily sedated 90-pound halibut.

The next day our family did the typical Kenai Peninsula sightseeing. My feet planted on dry ground that neither listed nor swayed, I witnessed majestic mountains, glaciers, and whales; no sea otters. We bought postcards and ceramic mouse poop souvenirs

The family is already making plans for another Alaskan vacation. I have promised to go on one condition: Dad and my siblings will take the sea cruise while I remain at the Salty dog selling sonar goggles and Dramamine.

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