Gut Rumbles

April 13, 2006


I made my first trip to Key West in 1978 aboard the Blue Fin, the Skidaway Island Oceanographic Institute's research vessel. The Blue Fin once was a shrimp boat, but it was intercepted by the US Coast Guard while carrying a load of marijuana instead of shrimp, and the boat later was sold at auction in Miami. The state of Georgia bought it and converted it into a research boat.

The Blue Fin was 80' long (if I remember correctly--- it might have been 60'--- I thought it was a pretty BIG boat), powered by two humongous diesel engines and equipped with large stabilizing anchors to deploy over the sides in rough seas. The boat had a regular crew of five people, and when we loaded up with me and a few scientists from the Institute, a total of twelve souls were on board for the Key West trip.

Believe it or not, we were headed to the warm waters of the keys to collect a special kind of seaweed, which would be used as worm food in an experiment involving (I am NOT making this up!) harvesting the methane from sea-worm farts as an alternative energy source. (Remember--- this was 1978, Carter was President and we were suffering an energy "crisis." Energy research dollars were plentiful, no matter how ridiculous the research.)

We left Skidaway Island at sunrise on a chilly, overcast morning in October. Cold rain misted from the slate-gray sky and a brisk wind blew robustly from the east. The local weather report carried a small craft warning and predictions of strong winds offshore, with seas 15 to 20 feet. Hell--- when we weighed anchor and left the dock, I was all a-twitter with excitement. I had no idea what I had gotten my ass into.

For those of you who have never been in 20-foot seas, I'll just say this: it's a goddam impressive sight and those waves make for one VERY impressive ride. Even with the stabilizers down and dragging, that boat tossed like a cork on the water. If you hung onto the rail and looked overboard, you'd find yourself staring down into a deep, watery chasm one minute, then staring UP at a mountain of ocean that blotted out the sky the next. Back and forth it went, all day long.

That was a VERY rough ride.

I was one of four people on board who did NOT get seasick. I spent all day up on deck, breathing fresh salt air and getting an occasional glimpse of the horizon between huge ocean swells. Almost everybody else ended up down below, suffering the tortures of the damned.

I tried to make it to my rack sometime that evening, but I took one step down the hatch and had to retreat quickly back out on deck. The smell of vomit in the crew quarters was so strong that you didn't smell it--- it reached out like a gnarly hand and choked you by the neck. I knew that I never would survive a night down in THAT hell-hole.

I ended up spending the night on the bridge, talking to the First Mate, a guy named Zack who pulled the graveyard shifts while the Captain slept. Zack was the son of a shrimper and he had been on the water since he was a little boy. He told me something interesting about seasickness.

Zack said that he had been seasick once in his life. Never as a boy and never as a young man. Never in rough seas or in storms. Never when hung-over and burping tequila fumes. He got sick as a sober grown man in the Gulf of Mexico on a beautiful day when the sea was as smooth as the surface of a mirror. He said that it hit him out of the blue, he barfed and heaved for 24 hours, he prayed for death, he thought he was GONNA die and then... he recovered, never to be seasick again.

"At least not yet," Zach added, at the end of his story.

That's why, although I've never been seasick in my life, I still feel a little trepidation when I head offshore in a boat. Since that night on the Blue Fin, I've met several other bleached-out sea-dogs who told stories similar to Zack's. Evidently, you can be on the water for YEARS and never have a problem, then have seasickness hit you like a ton of bricks for no good reason. (Except maybe to teach you some humility so that you feel sympathy and not scorn the next time you see someone get seasick.)

So, I don't laugh at you lubbers who can't make it out of the sound into deep water before you start talking to Ralph and Huey over the side and chumming the water before we're ready to fish. I'll be nice to you. Maybe my time is yet to come.

You know, I AM planning on a sailboat ride to Beliz this summer... all the way across the Gulf of Mexico...


I had a fishing tournament ruined by a bunch of morons who wanted to be MACHO MEN. Seas were three to five, and these assheads were too MANLY to bother with those GAY PILLS.

They started puking one hour out, and we had to go home and give up our shot at glory.

I have no respect for punks who are too insecure to take the damn pills.

Posted by: Steve H. on April 13, 2006 02:37 PM

20 years in the Navy. Spent most of the time on smaller ships. Never sick. (Sometimes hung over..)
I went sailing in the English Channel. Felt ill! Sailed in Thames Estuary; Puked!

I took a pill called "Stugeron", Cinnarizine 15 mg. Didnt feel queazy or tired. Took all the way across Atlantic. No problems.

If you can sail, the motion is much easier to handle. Especially on a beam or close hauled reach.

Posted by: dc on April 13, 2006 03:44 PM

I have only has any kind of motion sickness one time and that was in the back seat of a T-33 Jet Trainer when the damn jet jockey did some loopedly loop shit and I did a number in my fatigue cap. The only reson I didn't shit my pants was because I was so scared you couldn't have drove a toothpick up my ass with a sledge hammer..first time out and 20 years old--damn what a ride.

Posted by: GUYK on April 13, 2006 03:55 PM

I hold the distinction of being the only person who has ever ridden the jump plane back to the ground with Don DuPont and DIDN'T puke. He got everybody else, including guys with hundreds of jumps. That half a hammer head got them everytime.

Posted by: Libby on April 13, 2006 04:16 PM

I got seasick on a cruise to Bermuda many moons ago. I had gone to bed early and a storm came up during the night. My ex, who had spent the evening drinking and entertaining a few hookers, was kind enough to mention to the purser that his wife was in the cabin dying. When the purser let himself in, I figured he was there to kill me, which I welcomed. He had, however, brought a basket of fruit and an appointment time for a shot from the ship physician. He said he had worked ships all his life and that the trick to never being seasick is to NEVER let your stomach get empty, even if you have to set your alarm to attend the midnight buffet. He said to ALWAYS eat before boarding any boat, as after you feel queasy, its too late. So far, it has worked.

Posted by: Tessa on April 13, 2006 04:48 PM

You know I am not a sea person by any means. I was in the Air Force not the Navy. I have done some cruise ships and never gotten sick except for one almost. And that was on the Mississippi rive rolling from New Orleans to the Gulf and back again a week later. Seems the current of the river caused the ship to rock and roll in a way so different from the open water that I was not the only one who got that way.

Posted by: Dean on April 13, 2006 07:23 PM

Very nice story, Rob. One for the book.

Posted by: Bane on April 13, 2006 10:41 PM

Hi Rob: Great essay. I will only add two things: people do turn green when they are seasick; and I've never been seasick in my whole life, 52 years, with some time spent on the water in all conditions. Hopwever, I do take your observation seriously: It can hit anyone when they least expect it. Regards, Pensat

Posted by: pensat on April 13, 2006 10:49 PM

I've suffered with motion sickness my entire life. if I sit in the back of a car, I have to be able to look directly out the front window to see what's going on. I can't ride anything backwards (in middle school, I barfed on the double ferris wheel, right into my back of cotton candy), and plane/boat turbulence? fuhgetaboutit. blech. it's only gotten worse since I had my rough bout with vertigo last year, too.

Posted by: girl on April 13, 2006 11:30 PM

You folks can call someone who gets seasick a lubber if you wish, but you would be wrong in a lot of cases.

I served in the Navy. I have been to sea in all conditions, including North Atlantic storms. It didn't matter what the sea state was - 20 ft swells or glassy smooth - the first 24 hours at sea were very tough for me because I always got terribly seasick. However, after that first day I always got my sealegs under me and then I was okay no matter how rough the sea became.

I am in good company. I personally knew guys that had a lot more time at sea than I had - from grizzled old CPO's to high ranking officers - that all suffered from seasickness at one time or another.

And as I commented tongue-in-cheek after Rob's last post about seasickness, the great British Admiral Nelson suffered the same.

Admiral Nelson was a lot of things, but a "lubber" is definately not one of them.

Roy - Who gets a little queasy just thinking about going to sea in one of those tubby old ships-of-the-line.

Posted by: Roy on April 14, 2006 12:12 AM

Ok, here comes my 2 cents. I have yet to get seasick. I used to sail quite a bit, nothing huge, pleasure and the occasional Ensenada annual event from Newport beach to Ensenada, Mexico. My biggest challenge was trying to sail from Pismo Beach to Santa Cruz, CA. under gale force winds. Took 24 hours to get there, beating against the wind. I was fine to finish my turn at the tiller and go join the rest of the crew on the sole of the boat, until my next turn. No prob. Had a rough trip across the Monterey Bay once, which can be rough! But I had seas that with a full moon, while I was strapped in on the tiller, saw the prop shining in the glow of the moon. Still no seasickness. However, had a trip to Ensenada once, where a handpicked crew person was aboard, and her problem was that as soon as she couldn't see land, she was up top begging to be put out of her misery. As soon as we spotted Ensenada, she was up and running, as though nothing had happened. Go figure. She didn't tell me before the race, but after. She was a great "deck ape" as we fought for whatever our finish place was at the end, and was suberb. Gotta remember, that at the end of a race, whether you are in the top 1/3rd or the end of the line, as long as you beat that one guy ahead of you, you score a victory!! Just thought it was interesting, no land, barf, land, cool, calm and collected. Anyone need a helm person just for the Sh---, and Giggles??
It has been a few years, like 25, but this blog started my juices flowing. Kathy

Posted by: Kathy on April 14, 2006 01:12 AM

I've crossed the Atlantic by ship twice. Eastbound, we went through a storm where the waves were breaking over the bow -- the ship would plunge down, shuddering its length, and come up again. Troop ship. Very show showing up at the mess hall. But yours truly was up in the wheelhouse watching the waves break and doing the equivalent of "wheee!"

Then comes the Gulf. I figured I'd be fine, what the hell. Went out into the Gulf on a survey ship. Seasick as all heck. Hanging over the rail.

I was told the Gulf of Mexico has unique currents; unlike the open sea.

So I wish you well in your upcoming journey! But take all the precautions.

Posted by: Norm on April 14, 2006 09:56 AM

I'm fortunate enough to have never gotten seasick, but I'm like you: I know it can grab you any time.

I've dealt with 12-foot seas OK - that was the biggest. But I've been on small planes in which I've been sorely tested, up to the point where if we hadn't landed when we did, my stomach contents would have been decorating the back of the head of the guy in front of me.

Posted by: Elisson on April 14, 2006 10:46 AM
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