“The Mayflower sped across the white-tipped waves once the voyage was under way, and the passengers were quickly afflicted with seasickness. The crew took great delight in the sufferings of the landlubbers and tormented them mercilessly. One laughed that he hoped to 'throw half of them overboard before they came to their journey's end.'
The Puritans believe a just God punished the young sailor for his cruelty when, halfway through the voyage, 'it pleased God...to smite the young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner." He was the first to be thrown overboard.” Tony Williams, The Pox And The Covenant: Mather, Franklin, And The Epidemic That Changed America's Destiny.
Seasickness – or any kind of motion sickness – is deeply unpleasant and can make being afloat rather less than pleasant. In modern passenger aircraft it is a rarity, and in a car you can pull over and take a break – but at sea there is simply no escape and it has to be endured! So what can you do about it?
As with most things, a bit of forward planning never goes amiss. Check the weather and seastate forecast, weigh that against how susceptible you are, and the character of the craft that you will be sailing in.
Nicholas Monsarratt once said of his wartime convoy service that ‘A corvette would roll on wet grass!’ – certainly some craft will move much more than others. Although when you have seen an aircraft carrier taking it green over the rounddown (the solid bit of the swell washing up over the deck at the bow) you realise that no vessel stays rock-solid!
Before you depart, consider whether medication is an option for you – and make sure you have sufficient supplies to hand.
Tablets can be bought over the counter, and can include anti-histamines and hyoscine (also called scopolamine – and no it won’t have you telling all your secrets!). They can work well, may need taking in advance – but can also cause drowsiness.
Alternatives to medication can also be very effective; ginger is well known for deterring sickness and can be taken in many forms (though possibly not as a ‘Horses Neck’ in the bar as some old Naval types might recommend!).
Pressure bands on the wrists may seem odd but many swear by them.
Before you sail, make sure you are well hydrated and avoid heavy meals that will weigh on your stomach. Stay sober too.
Once afloat, most people will adapt to motion quite quickly, though it may take a day or two. Most folk will agree that the mind plays a large part in either being – or not being – sick; so keep busy and distracted, or stay still and listen to music/sleep. Fresh air is a massive help, as is being able to see the horizon.
Relax, stay calm, keep your head still and focus on a distant object; motion sickness is all about the conflict of information reaching the brain on what the eyes can see versus what the movement sensors of the inner ear are saying. If your eyes say you are motionless because you are in a cabin but your ears are screaming with roll/pitch/yaw information – the resulting confusion will produce nausea.
Sip water; staying hydrated is always a good idea – and if you DO vomit you will feel rough very quickly if your body is not already well-watered. This is a major issue in life raft survival situations.
Know the symptoms of nausea - Pale and clammy skin? Cold to the touch? Salivating? Dizzy? Shallow breathing? Drowsy? If you are feeling this way, vomiting is probably on the horizon – hopefully not on anything else though. Sick bag ready? Bottle of water and tissues at the ready? Identify your spot and get there in good time?
And most importantly if on deck – is the wind behind you…?
The good news is that you’ll feel much better very quickly.