Living the Dream

Version 2

“I would kill a man for a box of Cheez-its right now,” I said, my stomach writhing with competing cries for junk food and vomit.

“I would kill a man for you, baby.”

That’s my guy, rising to the occasion when I needed him the most.

We were off our game. Sitting around marinas for five years had made us soft. Departing from New Zealand, the weather predictions had called for favorable southeast winds. That didn’t happen. We had strong northeast winds in the 25-35 knot range instead, with a short, steep sea state in the 10-12 foot range. As many of you know, close-hauled is not the Clara Katherine’s preferred point of sail, due to her general obesity and utter lack of keel. We were not making great way. And we were not feeling great.

The number of times I’ve been seasick is so few I can count them on one hand. It’s not that I’m particularly hearty – I’ve long believed that there are two things you can do to stave off The Vom: 

  1. Stay out on deck, with your eyes on the horizon and the fresh breeze in your face. When you start to feel queasy, do not, under any circumstances, go down below. You’re only hiding and that’s the first place The Vom is gonna go looking for you.
  2. You have to eat the moment you start to feel hungry, and you have to eat something the moment your stomach starts giving you the old heave-ho. You will not want to eat, but a couple of crackers, half a granola bar, an oatmeal cookie, five potato chips, whatever – trust me, it will make a huge difference. Especially if you’ve been drinking water and it’s just sloshing around inside you.

 I’ve noticed a lot of women complaining about seasickness and I have this cynical theory that it has something to do with being too weight-conscious to eat. You gotta snack your heart out when you’re sailing. The moment you get a little hunger pain, stuff your face. All of the times I’ve been seasick, it was because I ignored my empty stomach. You need ballast, ladies! Barfing over the lee rail will definitely shave the pounds, but it’s not a great long-term strategy if you realistically want to live on a boat.

This trip, however, was just too rough to cook. I had all these memories of preparing meals during passages – pizza, fried rice, roast chicken, fresh caught fish…nothing complicated, but definitely above and beyond opening a can. Just opening a can was not happening, especially because we didn’t have many meals-in-a-can. I confess: I did a terrible job provisioning for terrible conditions. And I’ve learned my lesson – always, always have a stash of simple to eat and prepare food. For two days, we choked down that Easy Mac stuff that you’re supposed to heat up in the microwave. We do not have a microwave on board. I almost opened the Chef Boyardee Beefaroni I bought in Panama in 2010, but I decided it might make me sicker, and put it back in the ditch bag. I was craving junk food in the worst way and it only deepened my despair to think there was no way in hell Cheez-its would be greeting us in Nukualofa.

Another wave broke over the bow, the water so fast and forceful that when it hit the foredeck it managed to squirt under the fastenings holding the spray dodger to the deck – a phenomenon I’d never before witnessed – and which soaked us with salt water. It was like carefully putting up the top on your convertible before driving into the carwash and having water dump all over you anyway.

It had been like this for three days and I was frazzled. My mouth felt like a dirty old sock, coated with the bile of fear and exhaustion. Everything was hard – cooking, eating, shitting, sleeping, sailing – because it had to be done with one hand holding onto something that wasn’t moving. Even my organs felt exhausted from clinging desperately to my bones and blood vessels. The cabin looked like a disaster area – every effort we’d made to stow our things had failed. Except for the life raft. That was still in place, though if things got any worse…

Another big, black-bellied squall was bearing down on us. The boat heeled heavily in the sudden gusts. I clung to the steering wheel and something inside me broke and I started to cry. Huge, heaving I-just-lost-my-baby sobs.

Brian was at the genoa winch, slowly rolling in some sail to ward against the squall, The sheet snapped loudly with the thousands of pounds of force being asked of it. Another wave smacked the dodger and coated us with sea spray. Brian cranked on. I cried on, tears flying sideways off my cheeks. I couldn’t think of a time I’d been more miserable. “It’s okay, baby,” Brian said, releasing one hand from the sheet to pat my leg. “We’re living the dream!”