Oh my goodness…Good Lord, Lord help me, Jesus Christ. These are really the only phrases that come to mind when I think back about “My Ordeal” during the 2014 Harvest Moon Regatta. Well the only expletive free phrases. I had planned all along to try the Ear Plug Trick for Seasickness during this race as I’ve had such great success with it in the past. Honestly every time I’ve tried it on Ole Lake Pontchy it worked. It has worked even in more than moderate conditions with me on the bow crashing up and down in the waves and also down below getting drinks or searching for something. I figured the offshore HMR in the Gulf of Mexico would be a perfect chance to really give her the old “test”. The aftermath makes me both glad and regretful that I untook this experiment. Unfortunately the trick failed…this time.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic time at the HMR and I would go back out there in a heartbeat (who says we’re adrenaline junkies?). I sailed out with a great crew, saw some beautiful sunsets with dolphins and got to feel the powerful Gulf of Mexico. I don’t want this post to cloud the good things that happened during this trip but I think it’s important to share the experience of the sickest I’ve been in my whole life so this post will mainly focus on seasickness. If you are reading this somehow in 8 foot seas hitting on your bow or on a roller coaster or free fall ride you may want to turn away now.
I had been excited about this race for MONTHS! I just couldn’t wait to get back out there on Morning Sun and see what the Gulf had in store for us. During last year’s race I got to experience the biggest waves I’ve ever seen in real life. They approached 6 feet and came at us on the aft quarter. It was amazing to feel the following seas lift the boat and carry her down, like a surf board. Helming was challenging but not impossible even for me. I craved this type of experience again. I wanted to see what the ocean could do. Also this year they lured us with colorful shirts!
Preparations for this race started early this year. A month and a half before the race I really strained by left thumb during the teak deck seams project. So much so that I couldn’t race locally and had to ice it and baby it for weeks. Still to this day it isn’t quite right, lol. Oh well at least the caulk looks nice. Finally my hand started to feel better but then a week before the race I strained a muscle in my back, a small reverberation from the more intense injury at the beginning of 2013. With resting, stretching and the help of some medicine my back chilled out and we were ready, it was GO time!
We loaded up the car Wednesday afternoon and made the 6 hours drive to Kemah Tx. On the way there wouldn’t you know I started to get a sore throat? Sigh, oh well let’s stop at the store and make a salt water gargle and pick up some day quill for the next day. The salt water made my throat much better but Wednesday night aboard Morning Sun I couldn’t sleep a wink. It was a strange night and I’m not sure how but I was both awake and asleep at the same time. Maybe it’s because I was in an unfamiliar place and on the water but 5am came fast and I rose to get ready for the race. A shower and some day quill later and I was ready to go.
I put an ear plug in my left ear as I’ve done before and we left the dock at 7am headed to Galveston to pick up Kay on the fuel dock just before the start. I felt fine, granted we motored most of the 6 hours it took to get there in calm seas inside the jetties. We watched the sun rise and maneuvered around huge cargo ships and shrimp boats.
Not a bit of queasiness to be had although Tate took the pill form Scopace and Danny put on the patch in anticipation of the forecast. Ah yes the forecast, lets talk about that. The winds were predicted out of the SSE with waves of 5 feet 6 seconds apart while it was forecast to move more out of the South as the night grew on. This meant the winds would be hitting us on the nose and we’d be beating to weather the whole race. The conditions in the Gulf were true to the forecast, any experienced sailor would have known what this was like. Tate even encouraged me to take medicine early saying the conditions were probably going to be rough but I declined. I wanted to really give the ear plug the test. I am not yet an experienced sailor.
At 1pm Thursday we made it to the Galveston fuel dock, picked up Kay and I went below to make the crew sandwiches, six to be exact. This would be last time I ate or drank anything that would stay down until 2am on Saturday when we tied up at Island Moorings in Port Aransas, Tx 37 hours later. As soon as we made it out of the protection of the land and jetties and into the Gulf of Mexico near the start line the motion of the boat was no longer as stable. It started to roll just a bit in an uncomfortable way. It was at this point I started to feel queasy, right around the start of the race at 2pm. As soon as I started to feel a little sick I took some medicine, half a pill of Scopace as the full one really is strong. Later I wished I had listened to Tate and taken the full pill.
After the race started and we had all of our sails up I was still ok but just feeling a bit dizzy, just slightly seasick. For 4 hours things were ok and the crew was jolly and enjoying the beautiful day albeit rolly 3-4 waves. We all took turns steering. Tate, Kay and I had the first watch from 6-10pm and I can’t quite recall but sometime during this Kay and I really started to get sick. At this point I removed the ear plug as I think it was doing more harm than good at disorienting me. I think the winds picked up to 20 knots and the seas built to 5 feet. I steered as much as I could during that watch, taking turns with Tate and Kay while trying to hold the overwhelming sickness together. Mentally I tried to forget about it, to push it down and continue to be a productive crew but the motion on the ocean was just too much. The half pill I had taken wasn’t working and I wasn’t able to keep another one down. Defeat!
10pm to 2am was the next 4 hour shift manned by Skipper Todd, Danny and Katerina the Swiss with the iron gut. Tate and I went below to try to get some much needed sleep to prepare for the 2am watch. Kay stayed above as being down below was sweltering hot and made sickness so much worse. In fact I had to go to bed with a trash bag…a bag that happened to be “scented”. To this day I think it’s the worse thing I’ve ever smelled.
I slept as best I could up there on the top berth and I could feel the conditions get worse. With my eyes closed and my body pressed against the side of the boat due to the boat’s heeling I felt like I was being thrown up in the air and allowed to fall down with my stomach in my throat. Over and over the boat took 5 foot waves on the bow causing it to lose speed a bit, fall down the wave in a rolly sort of motion feeling like it was being held back before being surged forward again by the wind. Two steps forward and a half a step back while rocking side to side and up and down in erratic intervals. Like some kind of possessed amusement park ride it was truly the most uncomfortable motion I’ve ever felt, not to mention it’s hot and ventilation was at a minimum with the ports and hatches mostly shut to keep to seawater out of the boat.
2am comes around and it’s our turn. I struggle to find my life jacket and harness in the mess that is below. The heeling and rolling of the boat has caused gear to be strewn all over the floor. Everyone has to step on top of all the stuff to move around while cleaning up is impossible at this 20 degree angle. In the few minutes it takes me to get prepared to get on deck I’m already so much more sick. So dizzy and sick to my stomach I feel like a huge weight is on my shoulders holding me down and making movement difficult and undesirably. None of this matters though as it’s now 2am and we are 12 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico with a tired watch crew that needs sleep, 20-25 degree heel, sometimes 30, a reefed main, partially furled Genoa and 25 knot gusts, it’s time for our watch sickness or not.
We crawl out of the boat and I try to keep the extent of sickness hidden from the rest of the crew. Tate knows though, he always knows when I’m sick. I try to get the strength to tell one of the dirty jokes I had printed for watch change and we settle into our positions to look out for rigs and keep the boat sailing as close to the wind as possible. The entire safety of the crew is in our hands and we have to be alert. Tate takes the first hour helming from 2-3am as I scan the horizon sometimes dry heaving over the side. The low side of the boat is actually the most comfortable in the cockpit so I plant myself there propped up on a yellow flotation square. Kay is up on the high side laying down trying to feel better, periodically scanning the horizon for rigs or other dangerous objects that lie silent in the night.
Luckily the full moon shines brightly above and we can see rather well. After checking with Tate I lay down on the low side and shut my eyes trying anything to feel better, it is the only thing that seems to help. The winds are over 20 knots and the boat is heeled so much now that waves are being shipped over the bow and come running down the side deck soaking me with seawater. It’s ok though, this is still the most comfortable place. I am able to sleep for 30 minutes or so and I wake up feeling alright. I have found that right after a nap I feel the best and I made use of this knowledge and took the tiller for 30 minutes. Tate takes my position on the low side feeling sick now, getting soaked also. Luckily the water and air aren’t too cold.
Poor Kay is still so sick even though she planned ahead and wore the Scopolamine patch. I had not taken such precautions and now guilt was starting to set in. I was not an effective crew member, limping around throwing up over the side. In my compromised mental state I started to feel intense guilt for not being more prepared for the forecast conditions and this guilt kept me from totally succumbing to the sickness, at least at that time. Tate took the tiller again, just in time for the Coast Guard rescue and then around 4:15 I took it back. I knew he was sick and so so tired. I encouraged him to get some sleep and I helmed for an hour, somehow, totally sick but unable to quit while Tate slept. It’s a good thing too because at 5:15 he woke back up feeling like a new man and was able to finish the watch.
I was never so happy for 6am and sunrise to come so we could go off watch and go below to sleep. I was completely and totally seasick at this point dry heaving every 10 minutes or so. Going down into the cabin was the hardest. The heat, the smells and the stagnant air made it a real challenge to get into the berths for sleep. It was like forcing yourself to walk on hot coals. It was back to the berth for me and that flowerly awful smelling trash bag. Sleep did not come easy as conditions continued to get worse outside. Every so often seawater would get shipped down the hatch from the waves but no one was in any condition to get the tools needed to close it. It just was.
Now let me say this, I am impressed with the way the Westsail handled the ocean. Wow what a champ. I never for a second felt unsafe or afraid, just damned ill. 10am came around and I forced myself up and onto the deck to help with the last shift. Even though it was no longer “night watch” time the last shift was still tired and we needed to give them some relief. After a bit of my dry heaving I felt somewhat better and tried to take the tiller. I poorly steered for 10 minutes, which felt like an hour. I forced myself as best as I could to help on the boat and take some time steering since really the only ones who had steered the boat in the past 18 hours were the guys. Katerina was too short to helm in the heavy conditions and Kay was just way to sick for anyone to even ask. That left 3 guys and me.
I tried my best not to complain or let on just how awful I was feeling, what did it matter anyways? We were out there miles and miles away from shore in conditions that JUST. WOULDN’T. QUIT. However my poor helm direction didn’t go unnoticed by the crew and finally someone else took over. I starting my bargaining phase of my sickness and started to dream of ways to make the feeling go away. I quietly asked Tate if this is what they meant by “Gentlemen never sail to weather” and what could we do if we were pleasure sailing to make things feel better, hoping there was something that could be done should we accidentally see ourselves in this situation again. He assured me this is where that phrase came from and there were many things that could be done. I felt better knowing that. While hanging over the side of the boat I looked at the water and wondered what it felt like, surely it didn’t move like the boat and I fantasized about laying in it, nice and cool away from the scorching sun that was now high above.
Eventually upon Tate’s prompting I went to lay by the mast and shut my eyes, the only, only thing that gave me some relief. The whole while I was up there my mind was racked with guilt and regret. Why hadn’t I just taken some medicine?! How ridiculous for me to think this was a good time to try the ear plug trick. I mean I read the forecast and it was black and white the worst conditions for the Westsail, beating into the wind. I was sort of sick and running on no sleep, for shame to not come better prepared and now tax the crew with my illness.
I laid there for hours, baking in the sun while waves crashed over the bow and sprinkled me with chilly water. I started to get sunburnt as there was NO WAY to put on sunscreen in my condition. At this point even the most simple and menial tasks were impossible to do. I spent hours thinking I should go below to change the batteries on the GoPro and get my foul weather jacket to protect me from the sun and water but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t ask anyone to do it either because I felt like such a burden. A sick crew member who can’t help AT ALL with any of the sailing now asking others to do what she can not. No…I just laid there. I laid there for hours until the cycle of being chilled by water, warmed by the sun and burnt to the skin was too much. It took so much to sit up and ask Tate if someone could get my jacket. This too caused me guilt since Kay was on the side deck, also in need of her jacket but I couldn’t muster the strength to ask. I had to preserve myself so maybe I could help her.
It’s really insane when I go back and think on how this felt. Seasickness overtakes every part of your mind and body and totally incapacitates you. Around 3pm on Friday the Skipper took a crew vote for calling off the race. Tate forcefully spoke for me, saying we both vote to go in. He knew I would never say we should go in when it was my own damn fault for being sick, he was right. I would have stayed out as long as the crew wanted, fighting guilt and praying to be able to drink some water so I wouldn’t die. By this time I hadn’t eaten or drank anything in 27 hours.
The next 11 hours it took to get to Island Moorings with the motor running are somewhat of a hazy cloud to me. I know the waves grew to 6-8 feet always at 6 second intervals and winds gusted to 30 knots. Eventually as night fell I went below, dry heaving in my floral scented trash bag trying anything to feel better. I started visualizing land, dry beds and the hospital. I thought for sure when we got to the dock I would be so famished and dehydrated that I’d need medical attention. I fantasized about a cool hospital bed and an wet IV that would bring me back to life. I felt so weak, so useless and weighted with guilt. I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel better again. At one point a bunch of seawater crashed through the hatches and into the boat forcing me to get up and bring Tate a life jacket and tether I knew he wasn’t wearing. I suppose only life threatening situations could make me act.
After 34 hours of enduring seasickness right as rain when the boat rounded the jetties and made it into calmer waters I immediately felt some relief. Still in bad shape but able to walk I jumped up on deck and tried to help with whatever I could. The 3 SUPERMEN, Skipper Todd, Danny and Tate had sailed us home safely through some really rough seas all running on very little sleep. I can’t thank them enough and shudder at the thought of being short just one more crew member. We came into the jetties at night unable to see very well the inlet to Island Moorings. It was blowing like crazy but finally we made it in and found our slip. Thankfully we were greeted by a very nice man who helped us tie up the boat. And then it was over. My ordeal had ended and I had survived. I immediately drank a whole gatorade hoping the electrolytes would give me some life as well as two bags of sun chips which is all that sounded appealing. Wet, tired and woozy we all went to the showers, the glorious hot water showers.
Mostly salt free we went back to the somewhat salt water bunks to sleep. The next day was breakfast and the awards ceremony at which I ate my heart out.
There was ice cold beer in kegs.
A band that played some island tunes.
And all the other sailors who had survived the 2014 HMR.
From everyone we talked to 30-50% of all crews got terribly sick. It was a really rough ride and I was glad to be back on land. I was honestly dizzy and unstable for the next 5 days feeling seasick every now and then. My sore throat progressed into something worse and I basically lost my voice for a few days and developed a bad cough. As I sit here and type this I’m just getting better from my ordeal. Lord, what a time that was.
As bad as it all sounds I would go back out in that again tomorrow if you asked, you better believe with medicine this time. Does that make me crazy? Probably.
If you have made it this far you have made it to the moral of this story. NO SCENTED TRASH BAGS. And that the jury for me is still out on whether the ear plug trick is truly a solution for seasickness. It has worked beautifully in the past and this time I had the cards stacked against me at the start with illness, lack of sleep and terrible conditions for the Westsail. But because life is unpredictable and a sick crew member can be a safety issue for the rest of the boat I can not recommend this trick for anything other than perhaps a day sail or truly benign conditions.
This race was a learning experience and I am forever thankful to Skipper Todd and the rest of the crew for graciously allowing me to experiment and suffer while remaining safe. You better believe I’ll be taking medicine ANYTIME Tate and I head offshore. No ifs, ands or butts about it. NOTHING feels as bad as being truly seasick for long periods of time. I hope this helps any of those out there who don’t quite know what this feels like, don’t make the mistake I did.