I have spent a lot of time on the water. Growing up on the Puget Sound, a large amount of my hobbies are on the water. I sail, kayak, windsurf, SCUBA dive, and in college I used to drive three hours each way to the ocean to surf on the weekends. I also get motion sickness. I get very seasick. I get queasy at dock on Lake Union on a calm day. Even over the course of long sailing trips, I am not able to adjust to the conditions and get over my seasickness: it’s chronic. Mere memories of seasickness make me ill, but all is too easily forgiven as long as I make it to shore again. Although I continue to go out time and time again regardless of the symptoms, when I’m out on the ocean, it usually means business. I have to put in long workdays, remain alert and aware, and even when I’m relaxing, I like to be able to at least enjoy it. So, the same age old question has haunted me for years: What’s the cure for seasickness?
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the cure for your seasickness, because I don’t know as much about your situation as you do, but I will let you in on some of the secrets of the savvy sailor that I have collected over the years. And I will let you know that it is not a mental defect. I am sure anxiety and excitement don’t always help, but being prone to seasickness, or getting ill once or twice, has very little to do with choice, except perhaps the initial decision to end up on a boat, in the water, or in or on any other moving vehicle in the first place.
No one tidbit has saved me from sharing multiple meals with King Neptune, but the whole colorful compilation of knowledge and experience has allowed me to continue to spend time on the ocean: enabled me to get thrown around and drenched by the sea, to suffer windburn and sunburn and acquire bruises and aches on places I wasn’t even aware were a part of my body. I’ve begun to wonder, in fact, if a little seasickness, the fight-or-flight response any human being is naturally supposed to experience, isn’t perhaps a good thing and a sign to be heeded.
That said, even feeling ill at sea isn’t all bad. Having spent many hours myself attached to the leeward rail focusing unblinkingly on the horizon (the closest to non-moving point that you’ll find once adrift), I have often sighted more cetaceans and noted more interesting sea bird behaviors than other passengers. I have also developed a keen sense for foregoing complex calculus to consider currents, wind speed, hull speed and distance to figure out exactly how long, within two or three decimal places, it will take us to be securely tied to the nearest dock from our present location. If you’re not enjoying the company, you have a fair and legitimate excuse to go lie down in the dark and to turn down the next invitation out, if one presents itself. And lets not forget, that if it’s not making it past your stomach, let alone to your hips, you can eat as many courses of dessert as you have a taste for.
Over the years I have tried everything from old wives tales to modern medicine to just sitting it out hoping it will pass. I’ve been careful not to look in mirrors, to stay hydrated, to get a good night’s sleep, to leave in the morning, to leave in the evening and to start a trip on the calmest days possible. I’ve taken ginger tablets, ginger chews, over-the-counter tablets, prescription seasickness tablets, and the patch. I’ve spent hours researching cures on-line, trying to figure out what the astronauts do (glad that as a child I never aspired to such a crazy thing. Surely, being a mathematician was a much better choice). The one thing I haven’t tried is staying on land. Even when I pretend it’s not going to happen, it does. It’s a real thing, and it sucks, but being prone to motion sickness does not sentence you to a dry and motionless life.
With the range of options available, I think that it is possible for everyone to figure out how to ease the effects of motion sickness to a controllable and tolerable level. What has worked for me has been perseverance. After trying everything, I have found a routine that works for me, but that may not work the same for you–the key is perseverance and paying attention to yourself and your needs. I figure the many doctors whom I asked and who vaguely danced around the point and gave me a vague list of things to try did it because malpractice insurance probably doesn’t cover guesswork. Having said that, there is hope. I just encourage you to keep trying. I got stuck trying the same over the counter trick time and again because it was cheap and available and I wanted to will it to work. But it didn’t. Try new things. Trying the same thing a few times isn’t bad. In really bad conditions it may be the conditions and not the cure that are failing you. But be creative. It’s amazing what you can learn about your body when you push the envelope.
My routine involves a combination of all of the advice that I received that I didn’t discount as voodoo. I go to sea prepared with everything that I know will reasonably add to my comfort, including liquids, ginger, sunblock, multiple layers of clothes, bland foods, salty snacks, and medical seasickness aid. I begin hydrating days before I go out, and take medical seasickness aid the night before so that I can sleep off any drowsiness and so that it is preventative rather than reactive. I try to stay one step ahead of the game because it is easier to prevent seasickness than it is to cure it.
It doesn’t make me immortal. In a storm, or my first day out in a while, I still get queasy. I even recently threw up over the side of a boat in the calmest conditions that I had ever encountered at sea even after going through my entire preparation song and dance (once that was out of the way I didn’t feel a twinge the whole rest of the trip). It is manageable and I can adjust to the conditions in a reasonable amount of time and read charts and computer screens without getting vertigo. The one consistent trick that I will advise is that staying hydrated is crucial no matter what. If you drink coffee, take coffee, but drink water, too. I well know, water doesn’t always taste good on boats, but Kool-Aide, Lemonade Mix, powdered Gatorade Mix or tea bags can make it go down a lot easier. If you are experiencing motion sickness because of a car trip, this may well knock off two birds with one stone, because it will also mean that you can stop at more rest stops and feel the glamorously soothing and invigorating sensation of rock solid ground, reasonably fused to the Earth’s core and moving no faster than the speed at which our whole system rotates: a pace which I have very much come to appreciate.
I wish you luck in sorting out your own routine or crutch for fighting off motion sickness. These days with trains, planes and automobiles as well as an increasing number of exotic destinations reachable by boat, it is hard to beat it by simply avoiding the cause. Whether it is just a twinge in your stomach or the feeling of your cranium having become a centrifuge trying to dislodge the bits of your brain that control stability, health and sanity, it is a debilitating and very unpleasant experience.