Tuesday, January 26, 2010

History: Are You All Right?

Seasickness, as I understand it, is a very personal thing. There are people - like your humble hostess - who just don't seem to ever be afflicted. There are others - my first mate for example - who get queasy looking at the Dore engraving above. I understand that and my heart goes out to people who get really seasick. As Charles Darwin, who did his share of sailing, once said: "If a person suffers much from sea-sickness, let him weigh [sailing] heavily in the balance." To have to abandon sailing all together would kill me. I'm sure I'm not the only one, but for many seasickness is worse than death.

Seasickness, of course, is a malady that has plagued humans since they first ventured out on boats. Even animals can get seasick. The horses brought by the English from Jamaica to Louisiana during the War of 1812 were notoriously seasick. So much so, in fact, that they were left at bayou Terre Beouf when the British departed. Patrick O'Brian has a giant tortoise in the hold of Surprise throwing up with regularity in HMS Surprise. That is also the book where poor Mr. Stanhope dies of complications having to do with perpetual and violent seasickness.

Generally speaking even the most heavily seasick get over it after a day or two at sea. The inner ear relaxes into the motion of the ship and one gets attuned to what it going on around them. Unlike air sickness, which has as much to do with altitude as motion, seasickness is, for the most part, a temporary condition. On the opposite end, serious salts can sometimes suffer from land sickness upon feeling the ground under them again after a long voyage. Not fun.

Remedies and suggestions for avoiding that awful, ill feeling abound. Ginger is an old trick and to this day chewing ginger is recommended for those who get seasick. Avoiding alcohol, spices and coffee and loading up on carbs before embarking are also considered wise. Once under way, keeping to the deck is said to be the best idea, thus allowing the eye and the inner ear to come to terms with one another. That does help unless the sea is very high or the weather is particularly inclement, in which cases I understand that hanging over the gunnels just makes it worse. Ah well; at least you can feed the fishes until there's nothing left to heave up.

In his 1884 journal of his first voyage aboard a whaler, David M. Lindsay left his description of the dreaded affliction:

Footsteps overhead and the singing of shanties on deck woke me up at daybreak, but I was intensely ill so stayed in bed all day. My room was illuminated by a small light set in the deck overhead and by a partially submerged port, so it was not cheerful. Above my head there was a book shelf. I tried to read but could not feel interested as it was so very depressing to look forward to months and months of this sort of thing.

The whaler put into port that night, and Lindsay found some "respite" from his unfortunate malady.

Next time you're out, feeling a little queasy, just remember it's only temporary. If only laudanum were still legal, you could sleep right through the worst of it which would be a blessing indeed. Instead, keep your ginger cookies close at hand. I understand them to work better than Dramamine.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Just reading that post made me a little queasy... Oh wait, you said I should be avoiding alcohol, spices and coffee... Maybe that's the problem. Anyway, welcome back. I hope you had a good b'day weekend, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! And here I am making burritos for dinner. Sorry about that!

Timmy! said...

Actually, I think it may have just been because I didn't eat my lunch until after 2:00... Work was really intruding on my day.