Getting seasick is not a laughing matter. Not to one who has experienced an episode. I never thought I would ever get seasick. A recent fishing trip on a cousin’s boat last month brought back all the memories of years past.
I had been sailing since I was eight years old. My dad used to race sailboats for the Marine Corps on weekends. Many a time his crew would not show up and I would be shanghaied into crewing for him. I loved it although racing is hard work and is rough on your hands. I would often finish a race and not be able to open my hands because I had had a death grip on the ropes for the whole race. I never came close to getting seasick.
Once, when I was 14
my dad’s office on the Marine
On this particular day it was rough
To say that we didn’t catch any fish would be an understatement. We were taking water heavily over the bow and over the cabin. Everyone was crowded into the shelter of the cabin, which was open to the weather in the rear. The motion was terrible. In that confined space, and being thrown around, my stomach started to protest. Everyone else was standing but there was a bench that ran along the starboard side. I lay down, braced myself and closed my eyes. That was as sick as I got. I couldn’t wait to get back to shore. Looking back at it I probably should have been praying for salvation. It takes a bunch of Marines to be stubborn headed.
When I was 20, in 1965, I was in
I reported to the USS Shields, an
Destroyers are notoriously rough riding ships. They slice through waves like a razor sharp knife. When they are steaming parallel to the waves, though, look out. They roll like you wouldn’t believe. I remember my first meal aboard ship at sea. I went through the “mess line.” I got my tray filled and headed for the mess decks about 10 feet forward. The mess decks is where the dining tables that seat 4 men each are bolted to the deck.
In between the mess line and the mess deck is a large open hatch with a ladder leading down to the storeroom. The ship took a sudden roll to starboard and all of a sudden I was faced with the prospects of a nosedive down the hatch with the tray in both hands.
Somehow I managed to recover my balance but the image is burned in my memory. For the next two days there were frequent announcements of “stand by for heavy rolls to port”, or “stand by for heavy rolls to starboard,” as we made turns out in the deep blue. Each time it seemed like the venerable destroyer was going to roll over on its side. Each time the ship recovered. It was never a problem for me. I guessed, at that time, that I was immune to being seasick. That notion was wiped out two years later.
Christmas I spent in
We had a choice.
I had to go back to school in
Mother drove us to
We headed out into the
We left the shelter of the marina with me at the helm. Dad was down below stowing our supplies. As we met the first of the Pacific swells I had misgivings. The waves were running about 8 feet that day and coming directly from starboard. They were going to hit us broadside.
to understand something. When my friend
Back in 1966, we were sailing with the wind coming from the West, to starboard. We were heeled over slightly, with some of the bottom exposed to the incoming waves. As the first of these 8 foot seas reached the boat, I expected it to slap the side of the boat and then wash over the boat filling the cockpit, and maybe the cabin. To my astonishment the boat rode right up the front of the wave and eased down the back side of it, never losing the slight heel as the wind kept the sails filled. It was as exciting as it gets. Not a drop of water came over the side. We had us a dry sailing boat. This was going to be fun. If you are going to get seasick, 8 foot waves are probably the place you are going to do it, if it is going to happen. It didn’t happen.
So much for seasickness this trip,
but I want to
tell a little more. That night the wind
dropped to nothing. Here we were in the
was spectacular. All the lights of
That music almost did us in. Dad went to sleep below. We weren’t moving until the wind returned with the sun in the morning. I just sat there looking at the spectacular view of the coast and listening to the music. The sails sort of flopped back and forth with the slight swell.
Somehow I became aware of a strange noise. I couldn’t figure out what it was. I was stretched out in the bottom of the cockpit with a cushion behind my back where I could be comfortable. It was a sort of thumping sound. I wasn’t very alert until I heard that sound, but I realized that something was very wrong.
I finally got up off my lazy butt and looked behind us. I almost had a heart attack. Dad’s new boat (a used boat) didn’t have running lights. Right behind us was a huge black tanker headed right for us. It was empty and riding high out of the water. It was the propeller of that ship slapping the water that I was hearing. I scrambled to find a flashlight. I turned it on and started waving it at the ship.
Luckily someone aboard the ship was more alert than I had been. They were probably cursing us for damned fools. The ship veered off and passed close by. That lesson was to come back to me off the shores of Vietnam years later, but that is another story.
When the sun came up in the
morning the wind came
with it and we sailed into
The very next summer was my lesson
seasickness. First, I had a lesson
about the entrance to
I sailed the boat slowly towards that first turn. We weren’t moving very fast and that should have warned me. When we got to the first turn I was going to have to sail directly into the wind against those waves. I was going to have to tack back and forth against the wind to get out the channel.
When you tack you have to have enough speed to make the boat turn around on the other beam and keep going. When I got turned around with the light breeze on the other side of me I wasn’t moving. I had lost all my momentum in the turn.
Here I was, right in front of that dead-end breakwater and the next large wave rushing towards me. The first wave picked up the boat and carried it sideways towards the stone breakwater. I was sure we were going to be dashed to pieces against the rocks. This was rough enough to make anyone seasick. I knew we were in real danger but all thoughts of being sick were far from my thoughts.
Fortunately the wave passed under us before crashing into the breakwater. We had to get moving or we weren’t going to make it. My friend said something about jumping. I told him to stay put. Right then I knew he wasn’t ever getting in a sailboat again. Slowly, we started moving again. Just enough to make it over the next wave. The trick was the turns. The next time I tacked I barely had some way on. Made it over another wave. Slowly, but surely, we worked our way the 100 yards towards the harbor entrance. Each wave was an adventure. Each time we barely made it over the wave. I was praying for more wind but it didn’t come. My friend, not a sailor, was scared to death. I yelled at him to pull on this line and that so we could tack our way out of that death trap. I won’t ever forget that day. I didn’t think of the possibility of our drowning. I was afraid of what I would tell my dad if I lost the boat..... in a calm wind.
A few weeks later, the time finally arrived
initiation. Dad signed us up for the
The day was a nice one for sailing, but since the wind was from the direction we were going, I was going to use the 10 horse outboard motor dad had bought. It would have taken too long to try to sail up the coast in the amount of time we had. We hadn’t gone a mile before I got seasick. A sailboat under motor has a different motion than one under sail. The sail has a steadying effect. It wasn’t a rough day, the seas were 2 to 3 feet. This couldn’t be happening to me. I couldn’t go lie down. Dad’s friend had never been on a sailboat before. It was embarrassing. He wasn’t a bit seasick. I had to tell him what to do as I hugged a bucket. As we motored along I glanced down into those deep clear blue waters. I saw a 10 or 12 foot shark about 15 feet below us, cruising along in our shadow. Great, this was not looking to be such a good trip. Worse was yet to come.
We hadn’t gone two miles before a Navy minesweeper came up to us and told us that there were Marine landing exercises for the next two days and we would have to go around the ships of the task force. I knew we didn’t have enough gas to make that detour, but we had no choice. We had to go 10 to 15 miles out of our way. We ran out of gas sometime during the night. The wind also quit so we were stuck drifting for the night. The only good thing was that the seas calmed down so my stomach quit doing handsprings.
It was a long night. Sometime, long before dawn, I got a jolt. A flying fish hit the sail over my head and dropped into the boat next to me. I was not amused.
With the sun came the wind. We got under way and just did make it to Newport to pick up dad. All sign of my seasickness was gone.
The race was a zoo of the first order. There were 600, yes 600, sailboats at the starting line. The race was started by sail class, or size of boat. Don’t ask me how anyone knew when to start. There were about a zillion motorboats there with spectators. It is a wonder no one was run over.
There were two options in running this race. The fastest route was inside the Coronado Islands off San Diego. By that, I mean between the islands and the mainland. The only problem was, if there were light winds at night, the islands, which were high mountain tops sticking out of the sea, could very well block the winds which would come from the northwest. You could be stuck in the shadow of the Coronados for hours and hours. The odds were in favor of light or no winds at night.
The other route would be to go outside the Coronado Islands. The problem here was that it was longer but you wouldn’t have the islands blocking any light winds. Another thing to contend with was that we would be passing the islands in the night and there weren’t any lights on the west side of the islands so you had to be sure to be well away from them. The only warning you would have that they were there would be when you hit a 3,000 foot cliff in the middle of the night and sink in the 2,000 foot waters at the base of the cliff. Not a pleasant picture.We took the outside route.
Here, 35 years later, everyone out on the ocean has a GPS (Global Positioning System) and you know exactly where you are. Back then we were guessing. This guessing is called dead reckoning. You know where you are when you start and you guess where you are along the way based on course and estimated speed. Works pretty well on Navy ships which know pretty well how fast they are traveling. Not exactly a science on a sailboat. If you guess wrong, I guess that is where the “dead” in dead reckoning comes in.
Guess what? The winds were strong that night. Anyone taking the route inside the Coronados was going to beat most anyone taking the longer outside route. When the sun came up there was not a sailboat in sight. 600 sailboats in the race and not one of them within 3 miles of us. As for our dead reckoning, I figured we were west of North America, East of Hawaii, and north of the Equator. That is a pretty big area. We had no idea where we were. The 3,000 foot high Coronado Islands were nowhere in sight. I figured we were about 30 miles offshore.
The winds not only did not die during the night but they were quite strong. We were sailing due south with about a 10 foot sea behind us. Yes, I said 10 feet. We had the mainsail out to the left and the jib (front sail) out to the right, held there by a 3 inch aluminum whisker pole which is about 10 feet long. Wing and wing, flying.
Yew, we were flying. I was darned sure that that boat was never intended to go that fast. The huge seas would come up behind us and pick us up. Then we would be surfing down the front of the waves. I was steering most of the time. As the wave pushed us along I could push the tiller back and forth. I had no steerage we were going as fast as the wave.
To give you a clearer picture. Take a 24 foot sailboat to the top of a roller coaster and drop it down that first long drop. That is what it felt like. If I had been seasick I think I would have died with this wild ride. As it was, I felt fine. As a matter of fact, I was too busy trying to stay alive to be sick. If the boat swerved to either side while going down the front of one of those waves the next wave would have rolled over us.
After about 3 hours of this the whisker pole snapped in two. We couldn’t hold this course without the help of that pole holding the jib out to the side. We decided to head for the mainland. It was a good thing we did. We sighted Todo Santos Island just offshore of Ensenada.
In January 1968 I was assigned to my first ship, 80 miles up the Mekong River, in Vietnam. No chance of anyone getting seasick on that ship.
My next ship in 1969 was another matter. I was assigned to a minesweeper out of Charleston, South Carolina. A minesweeper is one of the smallest ships in the Navy. It is about 172 feet long. It is also made of wood to counteract magnetic mines. A wooden ship is much livelier than a steel ship. In layman’s terms, they have a rougher ride. These particular ships had a lot of electronic gear added high up on the ship. This affects the righting arm of the ship. Right, you say. Anyway, it means it is going to roll like a son of a gun with all that weight topside.
Direct was a good ship if not a comfortable ship. I quickly found out that you could not have a beer or two, as I was likely to have, the night before, and go to sea the next day. A minesweeper in a three foot swell was hell on earth, or at sea. The darned thing had a motion that just naturally made you seasick. Think of being on a rollercoaster ride that made you sick. The ride is over in a couple of minutes. We went out to sea for the day. The rollercoaster feeling lasted for seven or eight hours. The first time it happened to me I was ready to swim back to shore. It took me some time to get used to the screwy motion. Thank God I got used to it before September.
We had a new seaman onboard. He was from the captain’s state of West Virginia. When he went on watch, as lookout he went to a post above the signal shack which is above and behind the bridge (where we drive the ship from). He always took a bucket and a mop. When the captain asked him about it he replied that he always got sick. He had a bucket to puke into and a mop to clean up whatever missed the bucket. With it being windy up there, more often than not, he got it on himself. We sort of steered clear of him most of the time.
Sometime in September four of our ships headed for Vieques. That is the island east of Puerto Rico where the civilians are protesting our naval gunnery exercises. We were going there to lay practice mines and then sweep them, and then recover them. It was a heck of a ride.
As we headed down the eastern coast we were going to pass to the east of the Bahama Islands. As we went south a hurricane was headed north up the Gulf of Mexico. The second day out we ran into the weather stirred up by the hurricane far to the west. With our ship made of wood, in the roughest normal weather the bow would dig deep into a wave then bounce back quickly before the bow went under. This was a whole different story.
The ships had been in close formation. As the weather got dirty we got a message to spread out but keep within sight of each other. Those are pretty liberal orders. I thought it was going to be easy since I would not have to keep a close eye on the helmsman’s duties from the deck above his post at the ship’s wheel. That was to prove to be the least of my problems.
I was on watch, conning, or you would say driving the ship, when the weather got bad. We were taking seas over the stern which is lowest to the water. I had the crew, those who were still on their feet, to lash down those darned mines back there. We started taking 30 degree rolls. It was going to be a wild ride. One that was to last for two or three days. I don’t remember exactly how long it was.
The first to get sick were the cooks. For the next three days we lived on saltine crackers. I had no idea a Navy ship carried so many boxes of saltine crackers. Next to get sick were the radiomen. The real shocker came when the corpsman (medic) came up to the bridge to tell me that the captain was deathly seasick, and so was the executive officer (second in command). What was going on here? Worse was yet to come.
By the end of my watch the bow was burying itself deep into the green seas. The bow would then pop back up and throw tons of water back onto the bridge superstructure, and the bridge windows. I had to have the lookout come down from his post above and behind me. Too dangerous.
I sure was glad to see a khaki uniform climb the ladder to relieve me. My relief was short lived. It was the “boot ensign.” This is a new officer, right out of Officer Candidate School. He was only qualified to take a watch if someone supervised him. He had only just come aboard and didn’t know squat. He wasn’t to take command of the ship if the sea was as smooth as a billiard table, which is sure wasn’t.
I asked the boot (I don’t remember his name) where my relief was. He replied that he was it. I said no, that wouldn’t do. I needed a qualified shiphandler. He then said that there wasn’t another officer that wasn’t sick in his bunk.
Now I was in a dilemma. Surely I couldn’t go off and leave this boot in charge of the ship. There wasn’t anyone else to ask. I took a gamble and gave him the ship. I told him if anything happened, anything at all, he was to send someone to get me. I then went below to a nice dry bunk. Or so I thought.
I shared a stateroom with the executive officer, my boss. He had taken a square box fan and wired it between our bunks, at the foot of the beds to blow on him. The AC was not working again. I didn’t even bother with a shower. I stripped off my wet uniform and climbed into my top bunk. It was soaked. The cable that steadies the mast is anchored to the deck right above my bunk. The wild motion of the ship opened up the seams just a hair. All that salt water coming over the bow was running down the deck and finding that seam.
My bunk was close to the deck above. It also had two mattresses on it. Up to then it had been a good idea. That night it was a nightmare. Every time the bow dug into a wave my weight compressed those two mattresses. When the bow came up again I was flung upwards towards the overhead (ceiling to landlubbers)..
On the other hand, it was a good thing that the second mattress put me closer to that overhead. There was a six by six beam that ran down the length of that overhead above me. I had to try to sleep with my left knee bent and pointed upwards. My bent knee touched the deck above me. As the ship drove into a wave and then popped back up I was thrown against the deck over my head. My knee kept me in place. When the ship took a lurch to port my knee, pressed against that beam kept me from being catapulted out of my bunk. Just guess how much sleep I got like that.
Four hours later I was back on the bridge. I relieved the boot and he went below for four hours rest. It was like that for about 36 hours.
The next time I went below I had a sight to see. All that salt water running off my bunk dripped in front of that fan blowing on the executive officer. His blanket-covered form was encrusted with dried salt, like a cocoon.
On the third day, the weather let up. The captain came up to the bridge. I honestly don’t remember what I said about the boot ensign, or if I said anything at all. All I do know is that the ensign now had more rough weather experience than most naval officers get in a career. He did a pretty good job.
We had to put into Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to refuel. When we rounded the east end of Cuba and sailed back to the west we were in the clearest and prettiest waters I have ever seen in my life. Too bad the same could not be said of the ship. The ship was covered, literally, with barfed up saltine crackers. We were a mess.
I got out of the Navy for a while, then went back in. I was on a fleet oiler, or tanker if you please. 650 feet long and it took 40 feet of water to float it. 37,000 tons, with a cargo capacity of about eight million gallons of oil.
In 1972 we were tied to the pier in Subic Bay, Philippines. The monsoon season. It rained 73 inches the month of July. In other words, it rained continually. I slept in the forward deckhouse. We ate in the after deckhouse. I would get soaked if I went to eat. I lost about 30 pounds on that eight month cruise.
Along came a Typhoon. We were told to get out. What in the world is going on? They were afraid we would tear the pier to pieces when the typhoon arrived and started pushing this big ship around. We left. We headed out into the South China Sea with a typhoon on our heels.
I didn’t realized at the time how lucky we were. On another voyage a couple of years before I joined the ship it had fought off a typhoon while empty of cargo and high out of the water. I read individual accounts of how hard it was to steer the ship with the bow way out of the water, and how they took tremendous rolls.
This time, we were fully loaded and the waves washed over the lower decks. The bow buried itself in the huge waves. But you know what? It wasn’t bad at all. I actually enjoyed it. We were sailing with the wind so our bow was burying itself, ever so slightly, into waves going the same way we were.
With the reduction in personnel after the Vietnam war I was on the beach. I stayed in the Naval Reserves and, in 1978, I found myself on a new LST (Landing Ship Tank) for two weeks out of San Diego. It was as big as a cruiser. It was supposed to beach itself with the bow towards the land and offload trucks, tanks, and troops over the bow on a huge ramp.
When my boss and I arrived aboard for two weeks we got a stateroom to ourselves. By this time I was a Lieutenant Commander, which was pretty high rank for a ship’s officer. When we went to our stateroom my keen eye (I sometimes have a keen eye) spotted an anomaly. We were on an 8,000 ton ship and the desk chairs were attached to the deck by a steel cable. Oh, Oh, this was a sure sign of a rough riding ship.
As the ship rounded Point Loma in San Diego headed for San Francisco, the first of the ocean swells hit the side of the ship. You could hear things crashing all over the ship. All those things that weren’t tied down.
We had a full complement of Marines aboard. We were going to do a beach landing. When we went to dinner that first night there were some green faces amongst the Marine officers at the captain’s table. Yours truly was doing fine, thank goodness.
In rough weather, the tablecloth covers are wetted down with water to help keep the plates from sliding when the ship rolled, as I had mentioned before. The captain sat at the end of the table and the officers were seated along the sides of the long table. When we took the first real hard roll to port during the meal all the Marines grabbed for their chair arms to steady themselves. All the naval officers grabbed for their drink glasses. As a result, all the Marine’s glasses went flying in the direction of the captain at that end of the table. A whole cascade of glasses went flying on either side of him to come crashing to the deck. Not a one hit the captain or got him wet.
During the course of the meal the Colonel in charge of the Marines said that he sure was seasick. He had taken to his bunk and tried to read a book. At this I spoke up and told him that trying to read in a rough sea was sure to make him seasick. He laughed at his own folly and appreciated the advice. He was fine after that.
Only last month I met some recently discovered cousins who lived in Mississippi. We met them at their beach place in Florida. They had a 52 foot Hatteras. A beautiful boat, and really kept up. Hey, we were to go fishing in the Gulf of Mexico the next day. What a surprise.
That evening, our host, Harry, asked what I was drinking. I didn’t answer right away because I was remembering my drinking policy regarding going to sea. You know, back in my Navy days, hundreds of years ago. While he was waiting for my answer he said he was going to have a glass of white wine. Before I knew what I was doing, I said, “White wine would be fine for me, too.” What did I think I was doing? I just knew I was going to regret this. I had a second glass of wine before the night was over. It was darned good wine at that.
The next morning during breakfast I asked Harry if he had any seasick pills. He had some right there on the counter. I took one and made sure my son Patrick had one. I was hoping they worked. I surely did not want to get sick on that beautiful boat.
We went to sea that morning. There were only moderate swells. Unfortunately we were trolling for mackerel. Sooner or later we made slow turns that gave us some nice lazy rolls. My stomach was fine. One of the guests was not so lucky. She filled a ziplock bag full of breakfast before I could get a plastic waste paper can to her. Normally getting close to someone who is seasick can trigger you into getting sick. I was fine. Or so I thought.
I was doing fine so far. The fish were a little tardy in biting but we were having a good time. The fish eventually started to oblige us by hitting our bait. Then Harry said he was going to have a beer, wouldn’t I have one too. Oh, Oh, this was surely tempting fate. Oh well, I had a beer. I didn’t know a beer could taste so good. Must be all that fresh salt air. Of course I was staying clear of the sick passenger. Before long I had a second beer. Just as good as the first one.
Before long we were taking some more slow rolls as we turned into schools of feeding fish. By then, I had my back against the rail and rolled with the boat without even thinking about it. I had my sea legs and it felt good. Even Patrick was having a good time. He didn’t show any signs of getting sick.
That is about all my experiences on seasickness. Oh, one last thing. That story about the tanker being chased by the typhoon in the South China Sea. I went to eat that first night after standing a watch on the bridge. I walked the length of the exposed deck to get to the after deckhouse in 100 mile an hour winds with the seas raging around us. The ship was so loaded and low in the water that there was hardly any motion to her.
The 18 officers sitting around the wardroom table waiting to be served dinner, on a wet down table cloth, were commenting about how rough it was. I laughed out loud and everyone stopped talking and looked at me. I couldn’t help it. I said, “Here you are on the Rock of Gibraltar and complaining. You ought to be on a minesweeper in a three foot swell.”