By initially modifying her diet, using medication correctly, and organizing her position on the boat, we managed to ensure that she was not ill once on the trip to Barbados. In fact in no time at all she was enjoying with gusto the sumptuous meals prepared by her partner, a highly talented French chef.
The ability to cope with seasickness is a significant factor in making or breaking any cruise, whether coastal or offshore. Anyone can be seasick, although some are more prone than others, and it is important for all on board to have an understanding of the causes and effects. It is particularly hard for those who are not affected by mal de mer to fully realize how frustrating and debilitating it can be. As one who suffers, I say this with feeling!
Seasickness is a form of motion sickness and a normal response to sensory conflict about body motion which is received from the receptors (vestibular, visual and body proprioceptors). Fluid in the semicircular canals of the ears, our center of balance, moves with our body motion and stimulates these receptors in the brain. Constantly changing motion causes the signals to be mixed and the resulting confusion can lead to dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
Motion sickness is rare in those under two years of age and peaks between ages 3-12. Rates are higher in females, 1.7:1 compared to males according to Health Canada, although my experience in the boating world is that men are less honest in owning up! Symptoms can be exacerbated by emotions such as anxiety or fear as well as other illness and medications. The good news is that most people adjust to the motion at sea within 48 to 72 hours, although unfortunately this immunity can change with differing conditions. One can develop sea legs for a downwind motion, for example, but feel queasy again with the winds on the beam or ahead as the boat moves in a very different manner. Once in calm water, recovery is generally rapid, but sea legs can be lost quickly. I might get away with one night in a harbor but seldom two and then have to go through the whole acclimation process again.
Prevention There are several strategies that can be successful in preventing seasickness, in addition to medicinal remedies. It is worth while trying these out well inadvance of a long passage, as it is much easier to avoid seasickness than treat it once it has started.
Stay as close to the middle of the boat as possible to lessen the frequency and intensity of motion. Minimize head and body movements and in particular, don’t overexert yourself. If below decks, lie down. Be sure to have lee cloths on the main cabin berths, generally the area of least movement. Avoid small, cramped spaces and don’t bend over to work in the bilges or lower lockers. And reducing the intake of diuretics, such as tea and coffee, before leaving the dock will lessen visits to the head—a plus in the first critical timeframe of adjusting to life underway.
Most people feeling queasy stay on deck in the fresh air initially and take slow deep breaths. If you have to go below, open a hatch if possible to keep the air fresh. Fans also keep air circulating and are refreshingly cool on the face. Avoid strong odors such as coffee and bacon; in fact don’t ever be talked into working in the galley or going below if you're not feeling well! If possible, minimize working on the engine, as diesel fumes can effect even the most hardy.
Staying interested in the activity on the boat, or in the vicinity, being at the helm or in control of the vessel and generally keeping your mind alert can be excellent diversions.
Read the Signs Lethargy, yawning, headache, flatulence, hyperventilation, and drowsiness are common signs of mal de mer. Increasing malaise can be accompanied by turning pale, warm flushes, lightness of head, apathy, and shivering. If one does not take measures at this time, vomiting will generally follow quickly. Incidentally, at this stage it’s best not to fight it, as once it's over, you'll feel much better! Be sure to drink plenty of fluids. (Those feeling ill should be given a bucket, it is not safe to hang over the side.)
DietFor most people, diet is the most important factor in preventing seasickness. Rich and spicy foods eaten even the day before can trigger the process. Coffee should not be taken and, in fact it will almost guarantee seasickness. If you drink tea, it should be weak and hot chocolate should be made with water. When you're feeling ill, bland foods such as crackers or bread nibbled slowly work best, with sips of carbonated drinks. Interestingly, while actually eating you generally won't feel ill. It is important to keep hydrated, but avoid citrus juices.
Alcohol can have an extremely negative affect, even if it's as little as one beer or glass of wine. Sadly, one of the worst scenarios comes from what we all are likely to do before a long trip; to go out for a sumptuous dinner ashore, accompanied of course with wine. One of my worst days at sea was in the Bay of Biscay after a magnificent dish of ‘fruits de mer.’ At the time, we hadn’t planned to leave the next day, but a weather window had unexpectedly appeared and it's hard to give up such an opportunity.
Eating ginger, preferably raw or in capsule, or even gingersnaps, is an ancient remedy for settling the stomach. We always complete a meal with crystallized ginger and it has become a regular item on board.
After over 70,000 miles on Bagheera, and many more miles running charter yachts and ocean racing, having to deal with seasickness is really just a minor inconvenience in my seafaring lifestyle. Although the remedies (see below) may appear grueling, they are not as demanding or inhibiting as they sound when combined with some common-sense practices, they can significantly improve life aboard. Being in the best position on the boat soon becomes second nature and we generally have simple meals the first two days anyway, so time spent below is kept at a minimum except to sleep. Watch schedules can also be organized to allow sufficient time for me to gain my sea legs. Although I am always on deck to lift the anchor when we depart a port, Andy, who doesn’t suffer from seasickness, takes the first watch. This gives me time to take medication and have it take effect while I’m sleeping, before coming on watch three hours later. After living it up in port and stowing the supplies, I do a lot of sleeping during the first two days at sea. By this time I am rested and have gained my sea legs, so I can thoroughly enjoy the rest of the passage as well as planning our next exciting landfall.
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