Thursday, March 20, 2014

No Exit: My Overly Dramatized First Offshore Experience

Last Saturday we went onto the ocean for the first time.  A one day trip south from Stuart to West Palm Beach directly against the waves and currant. Like AJ, I too was not prepared for the emotional effects of this journey.

"I'm never getting on a boat again!"  I texted to my friend back in Arkansas. My single sense of elation on that ride was realizing I could still use the cell phone. It was my lifeline in that moment, and I praised the heavens for the ability to make contact and receive proof that the world of land wasn't a dream I had just awoken from.  Her reply was a glint of hope that this thrashing hell was not an eternal limbo. But I wasn't able to maintain this gratification.  Soon after the first text I couldn't look at the screen long enough to even decipher a message without feeling horrendously physiologically confused.  You can't look away from the see-sawing horizon, not for a second. This becomes exhausting.  You fantasize about closing your eyes, but if they start to flutter you fall off a cliff. You fantasize to the point of hallucination about what it would be like to have your weight accepted by any surface, to be wrapped in gravity's caress. But you must stay upright, you must use every muscle continuously and involuntarily to maintain balance as your body responds and fights the constant unpredictable arrhythmic motion of the boat. You have to hold on. I have never been that tired. It was a new kind of tired. A tired that brought with it a visitor I wasn't expecting or prepared to accommodate, despair.

"I have no legs" I realized on the cabin floor. I could see them, but they had no feeling, no response. "No legs! No legs. What can I do to save us without legs!?" Conclusion: Despair. Resignation and acceptance of death without a fight if it comes. Because, well, I have no choice but to accept it without legs to kick back the sea!

"I cannot eat or drink." I thought in a blood sugar crash after my second bout of vomiting. "If this went on for days I would die of dehydration on the cabin floor with 75 gallons of fresh water accessible.  I will die of starvation with a pantry full of food! On a dry and floating boat!" Conclusion: Despair. I will die even if the boat survives.

"Congratulations on your Darwin award. Arms and legs are for climbing trees, you stupid stupid little monkey."  I scolded myself while staring into the abyss of churning waves as I spewed my puke at them.

I wanted it to stop. But it wasn't going to. Nothing could stop it. There was no exit. No getting off this ride. I was trapped. Powerless. At the mercy of the elements. You have to be lucid to enjoy the uniqueness of this existential location. You have to be lucid to track the constellations across the night sky. You have to be lucid to sail a boat. To eat, to live! I felt like all those years of work were for nothing.  I expected to battle fear. The ocean is terrifying. No question. However, you cannot battle and learn and conquer if you are incapacitated. It felt hopeless.

I should explain something to those who have not experienced seasickness. As I had not until last Saturday. It's not as simple as the motion sickness you get from carnival rides or riding in the back seat of a car as a child on windy roads.  Or as simple as the nausea and continual vomiting and dry heaving of food poisoning or a stomach bug. I was prepared for a little nausea, even a lot of nausea. But seasickness isn't nausea of an isolated organ, like the stomach. It's a nausea and hallucinatory disorientation of your entire being. It's nausea of the soul. I was never more sure of anything in those hours, than the fact that I would never, ever get on a boat again. All of the things I wanted to experience seemed unobtainable. It was all for nothing.

But like all pain, it is somehow soon forgotten when our faculties and objectivity return. When we finally pulled into West Palm the floor beneath me calmed to a more gentle rhythmic motion. The sun was setting. The air was cooling. The world slowed down. We motored to an anchorage where we met Clyde's friend Adam. We tied up alongside his anchored boat and the pace of life became normal again. After a couple days of processing the memories a few things were very clear.

My boat wants to float. My boat does not want to tip over. My boat WANTS to sail.

What I get to take away from this experience is trust in my boat. And that feels really grand. But unfortunately our bodies take a little more convincing than our minds. The mind controls the body, eventually, if you dedicate yourself to it. But it takes time for our physiology to believe what our minds are telling us, especially when we are standing on the edge of the unknown. Adrenal glands go off when you logically know you are in no danger. Stress blindness kicks in despite how prepared you feel. It will be a long period of adjustment. Change is never easy. But it is always worth it. If you cling to nuggets truth that get you though, eventually conflict between mind and body ceases and that truth integrates itself into your being, your personality, your reasoning and decision making. That truth is a compass that will ceaselessly direct you towards tranquility if you follow it.

There is indeed no exit. We're going to the Bahamas.

"And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." ~Anais Nin

Anchored at Peanut Island, West Palm Beach


  1. I felt for you in reading this. Harmony and I have quit many times, but it never takes. You seem to have the right attitude and awareness though, and that will do wonders for your ability to find equilibrium at sea. Most days sailing are not so hairy as you guys had, and with few exceptions I've found that even the most seasick people get over it after about three days of acclimation to the new world. Until then, a few things that helped us: meclizine (Bonine in the store), ginger, green apples, and saltine crackers. It'll pass, that's my free advice guarantee, but I bet you know all this. Congratulations and welcome to the next phase.

    1. Thanks so much Jeff. I've been making a list of things to have ready for next time. I'll add those to it. I love ginger anyway! I bet a year on the hard followed by a year on a stable dock had something to do with it. Maybe if we'd been moored and rowing every day like a couple years ago the motion wouldn't have been so jarring. We need to get off the dock! Also we won't intentionally sail when the currant/wind is like that again, we did it this time because we were trying to go meet someone on a deadline. No more deadlines I say! I'll wait for weather. Probably go farther offshore where it's calmer next time too!

    2. Awwwwww, so sorry, Sarah....what a huge frustration! If it helps, Michael and I are very susceptible to sea sickness, and we always wear our voodoo wrist bands (acupressure?) with amazing results! Love you, Auntie Kathryn

  2. Beautiful post! I have experienced that seasickness but for a much shorter time and I am sure to a lesser degree but I relived it all reading your post because you are such a talented writer. Your attitude is wonderful. Truth is the compass. Love you.


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