As many a faithful mariner before me, I stare off into the distance at the approaching shoreline. Most other fair-weather sailors have evacuated the top deck, heading into the lower caverns of the ship to do whatever it is ship rats do when they’re not swabbing the deck, downing kegs of rum, or singing ribald sea shanties.
To begin the voyage, I had immediately clambered up here. The Marlborough Sounds (not named after the cigarette brand), a smattering of upchucked and lingering island hills on the far end of New Zealand’s South Island, are one of country’s finest attractions, and there is no way in hell I am going to pay $176 for myself and a vehicle one engine rattle away from complete disintegration and not take in the view.
By this time, there are only three or so loosely-supervised children prancing about, what I assume is a Canadian couple sitting in the back (because this is what Canadians typically do anyways), three older ladies hunkering behind a slab of concrete, and one long-haired American trying to not spew over the side.
Yes, it is an unfortunate series of increasingly turbid waves that keeps me stationed at my port. To the unattached observer, I certainly hope it looks like I am wistfully gazing at the horizon, that I just can’t tear myself away from my intensely introspective philosophical thoughts, but the fact is that the ocean does not befit me.
I thought the size of such a ferry would effectively negate the effect of any sea short of squalling, but I was dreadfully wrong. Some distance away from our ferry is the Bluebridge vessel, which is essentially the same ferry as the one I am on except that it charges three dollars less and has a different name.
Watching it in my stupor, I am impressed in a detached way about how much the vessel is cresting every wave and rollercoastering down the falling end, creating a white tumult when it crashes into every wave valley. It is like watching a movie and experiencing the same thing in your seat, a cheap 3-D show where instead of experiencing the battle of Thermopylae or the mountainside of Everest you are stuck in Columbus’s ship to the Americas on day fourteen when the wine is gone and everyone has scurvy.
This is not the first time I have been in the throes of such gastrointestinal distress; my dealings with the sea in the past have been fraught to say the least. The only recollections I have of sea voyages have either been intensely foggy and confused or colored a putrid green as each swell of the boat threatened to unleash terrors.
As a child, I recall being taken out early in the morning to a small vessel with my father to do some fishing on Lake Michigan. I’m sure I had been inoculated with all sorts of sea patches and pills that could be found, but a combination of a small vessel and a tipsy sea had left me with that curious squint-eyed leer typical of someone trying not to hurl everywhere. Some twenty minutes after leaving port, I begged to be let off the vessel.
If I remember correctly, the captain was kind enough to hoist sail and return to harbor—somewhat ruining the whole fishing trip—but from that day I’ve always been a “landlubber,” however much I wanted to be “ye olde pirate.”
And now I am brought back to those early days as the wind whips across the ferry’s deck, chilling all the shivering souls still remaining. If this is a kind of rough sea, I can’t imagine what a storm or an attack from the local kraken would be like.
My friend Paulo comes and checks up on me, but quickly retreats to the lower decks to watch more fútbol (soccer for you gringos), the lucky bastard. I don’t even particularly like fútbol, but the fact that he shrugs off the sea with such nonchalance leaves me green with envy. After him, several young teenage girls come and stand near me, babbling like only someone that age can do.
“I was in the bathroom so long,” one of them says. “It feels so good to finally throw up. I feel great.”
She is so enthusiastic—like a testament for a new fitness program or a drug that promises you new hair. But the last thing you want to hear when struggling with your own stomach’s issues is to hear someone’s personal vomit testimony, especially from someone so damnably happy about it.
Since my initial encounter with the sea, I have tried to prepare myself adequately for every sea encounter, stuffing down or wearing as many pills, patches, and voodoo bracelets as the local pharmacist or witch doctor could provide. The results have been varied and have always ended with the rest of the day being a hazy fog that only such a mix of things could provide.
One such occasion I was in Alaska, on a smaller vessel in the midst of a pitching, turbid sea. Well, okay, the sea wasn’t that bad, but on this occasion I had taken Dramamine, a drug I’m sure is the one they use to knock out cats on long airplane rides (actually I have no idea). The Dramamine removed any sickness as far as I can tell but also made me so drowsy that I could barely remain cognizant for five minutes before I was out like a drunk. It was ideal really because I woke up for the highlights of the trip but missed the whole miles-of-endless-water/is-this-boat-really-seaworthy? stretches.
Another wave of nausea wrenches my stomach, and I cling to the horizon with my eyes, willing the North Island to come closer. I nervously check the lower deck to see if any hapless soul is below should I release my lunch and then return my eyes to the further shore. I can’t think about anything else but my stomach. There’s really nothing better than illness, even one so mild as seasickness, at erasing every other concern except returning to a state of health. And what is life but…
My potentially deep introspection breaks with another cresting down a wave. Oh god, just get me the hell off this boat.
Ben Rietema (’14) lives in Wanaka, New Zealand at the moment. Besides staring at and running in mountains, he makes a wicked hospital corner and can clean a bathroom like Gandhi (if he were a housekeeper) at his job at a local lodge. He also enjoys saying “HOUSEKEEPING” in the highest pitch voice he can muster before entering a room to service it. benrietema.wordpress.com/