I’m just going to put this out there: I am not a fan of boats. Don’t get me wrong sailing looks lovely, I enjoy nothing more than swimming in the sea, I am a water baby; but what I am not is someone who is able to sit aboard a ship for more than 20 minutes without hurling. I get severe sea sickness when I even look at a boat.
And trust me, I have tried, many, many times to sail; and the result is always the same: boat equals sick. This is fine if you’re not faced with boat journeys, in fact when I’m at home not one single boat crosses my mind. But I have been in numerous situations, while travelling, where I have had no choice but to board. The outcomes are always hilarious afterwards, but definitely not during.
Now I take as many sea sickness tablets as possible and never go abroad without them. They do work enough to stop me hugging the toilet rim the entire journey but not enough to totally rid me of that swaying, dizzy sensation, I just grin and bear it.
But before I cottoned on to how severe my sea sickness really was I willy-nilly jumped aboard several ships with horrendous consequences. These are two of my boating experiences, one is the best boat journey I ever had (FYI it is not what you’d describe as good) and one of the worst (there have been many) and then my tips for sea sickness.
Dashing through my house packing the last of my bits and pieces for a summer camping trip in France I eye spied a bottle of cola on the kitchen counter and at 19, with knowledge I could feel a little ill at sea, I grabbed it. I have been told a million times by my family that sipping on full fat coke helps sea sickness, whether its psychosomatic or not, I do it because it helps. At Newhaven the sea looked less than appealing; a bland, grey blanket where thick slices of froth were churning up the surface and gently rocking the smaller boats. Not full-on storm but not my favourite boating weather.
Sitting in my car in the dark cavernous belly of the ship which stank of petrol, made me feel ill enough to run immediately to top deck as we set sail. The boat was moving in great swaying motions, I felt like one of those metal balls in a Newton’s cradle. Following strict sea sickness rules I opened my old cola, and necked most of the bottle. This is a cardinal sin. You must never down your coke, only sip. Tipping vast quantities of sugary, frothy liquid into a troubled tummy is not wise. But that was not my problem. I immediately tasted something off, but no not quite off, something acrid, strong, familiar. Alcohol. I suddenly remembered my brother having friends over the night before, and I must have grabbed his left over bottle of coke and vodka. My stomach flipped and straining over the side of the boat I sicked up the flat vodka cola. But not all of it made it into the sea, and the plucky wind threw it back onto my jeans. I had a shameful walk back to the car in the stinking petrol cave to change.
One of the worst
Queuing on the jetty waiting for the boats to arrive to pick us up, it occurred to me that I had never really taken an organised trip. When I went away I was (and still am) very keen to do it all myself. I’m not a lover of guided tours, with a bunch of other people, cramming to see the sights and being told what time to march back to the coach. But here in Thailand I was seduced by the dazzling pictures of Angthong National Park and was told unless I could sail a boat (that would be a no then) I wouldn’t be able to see them for myself. I am not a person who takes missing out on things lightly, so hey ho, I signed up to my first ever trip. I was told that the boat trip to the first island would take half an hour, then from stop to stop a mere 10 minutes each time; that didn’t sound too bad to me, and the sea always seemed pretty flat and innocuous so I wasn’t perturbed.
Two small speed boats moored. I specifically check a few times it would be a big boat, these were no big boats. I didn’t really feel I could quibble and should stop being insipid and just go for it. On the boat were eight others including myself. We were sat facing each other, sideways to the front of the boat, with our tour guide leaping about inbetween us like a jacked-up frog. He was happy, he had his sea legs, mine were yet to manifest. Today, of all days, was windy, a storm was brewing, and we sped across the choppy ocean in our tiny speed boat. Our boat rocked violently side to side and then every few seconds slammed forcibly down onto the sea as we rode over one huge wave just to fall over its back. My spine hurt from the hard plastic seat which rammed into me every time we landed after lift off. I felt like we were riding over sea monsters’ fists, which did not want us in the water, and would shake the boat at will and lob us around. Everyone look green. I was desperately trying not to hurl because it would only spray the woman opposite and she did not look happy as it was. My body felt torn a part and my stomach like the angry sea itself. I started to shake. The woman opposite vomited into a bag, she was so quiet and delicate about the whole thing, I barely noticed, until she crouched in the tiny walk way and abandoned herself to the retches.
The happy-go-lucky guide threw sea sickness pills at everyone else and promised the already hour long journey would end soon. I was too sick to be angry. I just wanted relief from the torturous adventure. After another half hour we stopped in the middle of the ocean and the guide ordered everyone off the boat to snorkel. At this point the rain was coming down hard but I threw myself from that tiny torture boat and bobbed in the sea to regain some kind of composure. Only ten minutes had elapsed when our guide cried out in anguish that we must immediately board the boat as we had to evade the on-coming storm. What was I being punished for? I would have rather been dragged behind the boat, getting a face full of foam and have my life jacket ripped from my body by the force of speed than sit in that boat again. But no back on the spew tub. Sliding about on the plastic bench, salty and sad, I succumbed to the rocking and became the third person to sit in their seat and vomit in front of a miserable crowd. I suppose we were all quite bonded by now, communal vomiting can do that to you.
Half an hour later we were finally allowed onto solid ground. I vaulted from the boat, running across the sand, and in the shade of a towering ragged rock, sat in a ball and stared at the horizon. Jutting out from the misted jade sea were huge, crumbling arms of black rock. It looked as though a star had hurtled toward earth and exploded, leaving fragments to fly into the ocean. I could have been climbing stone steps to the top of this island but was informed by a guy on my boat that he spent the hour scrabbling metres up steep stone steps in drizzle only to have the view obscured by the storm. The beauty of this place was otherworldly but I was having difficulty admiring it when I knew what lay ahead. The boat.
We had lunch on the other side of the island. Well I watched the people who were crazy enough to fill their stomachs have lunch. By this time the storm had gathered its forces and was raging overhead. Great chunky black clouds loomed and bellowed. We were informed by the guide that the journey back would take two hours as we were going against the wind. Fab, just fab. I felt a stinging anxiety and wondered how I would cope and thought I’d probably be reduced to lying on the slippery floor of the boat vomiting. In fact, we all would. A great tangle of limbs and heads and vomit.
I took another sea sickness pill and crossed my pinkies. Our boat was tossed like a pinball in the wild sea under a cracking sky and the heavens only opened more. My sickness began to retreat and I was left with a mild hysteria and started to find the whole thing hilarious. I laughed into the wind receiving a sceptical eyebrow from sick lady opposite. The rain became harder; miniature water bullets fired by mischievous clouds. The group huddled under the boat’s awning, covering themselves in their soaked clothes to protect against the pellets of rain. My boyfriend and I took a different tact. You would get soaked wherever you sat so you may as well embrace it. We perched at the back of the boat, facing forwards into the rain. Our guide joined us and we donned snorkel masks and laughed with glee as the rain attempted to drown us.
We arrived back shivering and relieved. As I stepped out onto the sand I sighed with joy. But waiting for the bus back I felt like I was still on the boat, I swayed and my brain rocked. I felt sick. Again. On dry land. Then it occurred to me, I had felt fine the whole journey back on the boat. I had grown my sea legs. But noooo it was too late. When would I get my land legs back? Would I ever?
My tips for sea sickness
- Take a bottle of full fat coke and sip it throughout the journey, for some reason this definitely helps, even if it’s just giving you a happy sugar high.
- Find a point of land and look straight at it. It helps to look at something stationary when the boat is rocking. Closing your eyes or looking at the sea makes everything feel more intense and far worse.
- Try and sit outside for as long as possible or at least where you can feel a breeze. When you’re inside a boat looking out tiny circular windows you can’t get perspective and feel closed in, its easier to manage sea sickness outside unless it’s torrential.
- Get some pressure point arm bands or sea sickness tablets. The arm bands are good if you’re sick a lot and can’t keep a pill down.
- Breathe deeply through your nose and out through your mouth. This is somewhat calming and can help a little with feeling sick.
- Don’t eat, drink alcohol or be hungover, obviously!