In crossing Saginaw Bay there was a good deal of motion, which I withstood most manfully for some time, but all in vain, being obliged, as I always am where there is the least motion in a vessel, to render up all my delicacies without reserve.
Thus wrote G. W. Featherstonhaugh of his experience aboard Marengo on Lake Huron in 1835. He goes on to note such seasickness cures as he was advised to try by fellow passengers (whiskey with water, sucking uncooked salt fish) and crew (chewing tobacco), none of which he tried. Mr. Featherstonhaugh’s situation is one that is all too familiar to a large portion of the population, including pirates and privateers, who had their own set of ideas about how to avoid this most uncomfortable seagoing illness.
The buccaneers of old believed that tying a kerchief tightly around the head, so that it put marked pressure on the forehead, would alleviate seasickness. Though this sounds as useless as sucking fish on the face of it, there may actually be some efficacy to the idea. The discomfort in the stomach is actually caused by a conflict between the inner ear, that solid home of our stability, and the eyes. Particularly below decks, the eyes see firm, seemingly unmoving surroundings, while the inner ear feels the motion that so upset Mr. Featherstonhaugh. Because your brain can’t reconcile this discrepancy it makes you sick to your stomach as a defense. Thanks, evolution. A constant distraction from this conflict, such as pressure on the head, may actually draw the brain’s attention away from the motion that’s bugging it and toward the other discomfort. Just a theory.
Some more time tested cures are as follows:
Do not concentrate, if at all possible, on your illness. Try to stay busy.
Don’t stay busy with small work like reading, writing, etc. That will make it worse.
Get up on deck and focus on the horizon. This allows your eyes to see the motion your ears are feeling.
Stay near the center of the ship where motion is minimized.
Avoid others who are seasick if possible. It’s almost contagious.
If you must lie down, do so on deck if you can and lie on your back.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, strong odors, people smoking and the galley.
Keep your gastronomic experience simple; hardtack was famously the meal of the seasick. Today, saltines are a nice substitute.
Stay hydrated with plenty of water. In the Great Age of Sail, the seasick had first dibs on ale and ginger beer because the bubbles helped the stomach.
Because long sea voyages are virtually a thing of the past for the average person, most are unaware that seasickness usually wears off. After 24 to 48 hours, most people are fine and can handle the rest of a cruise as if they were on land. There are a few exceptions, of course. O’Brian fans will recall that Mr. Stanhope died of seasickness in HMS Surprise and I recall a “Deadliest Catch” episode where a cameraman had to be airlifted to Anchorage after becoming dangerously dehydrated due to seasickness. Some people really should steer clear of the sea all together. Just remember, as those clever buccaneers used to say while tying on their do-rags, seasickness belongs to the brain more than the stomach.
Header: Making Harbor by William Bradford c 1862