This blog is sick


The best cure for seasickness is to sit under an oak tree.

Good advice handed down over generations to neophyte sailors.

There are of course all sorts of pills and potions to help you overcome those disturbing motions; maybe you’ll acquire your sea legs in the fullness of time; maybe like Nelson you’ll suffer from mal de mer every time you venture forth; or maybe like me you’ll be lucky and not be affected by the sway, the heaving, the disorientation that being below decks in foul weather can induce.

I crewed a yacht in a Telecoms industry regatta, all the rage during the 1990’s, when money was no object and team building was de riguer. One seasoned crew member, as we were down below, asked me whether I was taking anything such as Stugeron, to which I said no, I don’t. Yeah, me neither said he and just as he completed that statement he quite literally turned green in front of me, eyes defocussed and crossed, and he made a hasty exit to get some fresh air...

On one particularly eventful voyage, harbour hopping along the South Coast of England then a dash across the Irish Sea to Cork, in particularly and unnecessarily foul weather, a beat in a Force 7 for 3 days... one of the watch leaders turned out to have a particularly delicate stomach and retreated to his bunk for the majority of the crossing.

OK so he may not have been helped by the diesel that had merrily drained itself from the fuel tank and which was swilling around the bilges. Indeed due to all the water coming in through the companion way, and spilling off our oilskins as we went below for coffee and so on, the cabin floor was literally awash with briny, stinky, treacherously slippery water... but even so he was a pretty pathetic creature and received little sympathy from us or the skipper, a right piratical kind of guy. When our wasted wastrel made a rare appearance on deck to empty himself over the side, the skipper, with great skill and cunning, ensured that a rogue wave broke itself over this floppy jelly of a crew member. Still, it saved manually cleaning the decks...

However, the second worst sailing related puking story was one weekend when I skippered a crew of chums around the Solent. This was the second or maybe third time I’d taken this lot out and by now these salty old sea dogs were ready for some more adventurous action and wanted to both escape the confines of the Solent and experience some night sailing.

So, as the weather was set fair for this voyage, we left Shamrock Quay Friday evening, after a pleasant pub dinner, and headed for Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. Night sailing is a wonderful experience, one that everyone should experience, however in the confines of one of the world’s busiest commercial harbours you have to keep your wits about you and you learn pretty fast the meaning of the term “on watch”. The crew were staggered by just how quickly those behemoth container vessels move, the only indication that they are there at all being their navigation lights - red for port, green for starboard... they silently creep up on you and can easily bash you into the dark black deathly water...

Anyway, we made it without incident to Yarmouth and indeed the next day had a glorious sail across Christchurch Bay to Poole where we harboured over night.

The next day the weather was a tad breezier and mayhem ensued as a squall came through as we were exiting Poole Harbour; the sight of Richard holding the end of the vital reefing pennant as it got mistakenly pulled through the entire system I shall never forget. After the squall passed through the wind settled down into a steady south westerly, a goodly F5, and our Sigma 36 took it on her rear starboard quarter quite happily.

I was helming, the yacht took on a natural, gentle, rhythmical, “corkscrew” motion as the swell also was coming from the starboard rear quarter, and sure enough, one by one, the crew became quieter and quieter... and you know this is a sign.

Suddenly, the only crew member to still be sat on the windward side of the cockpit, leapt up and sprang across the cockpit, desperate to get to into the lee of the wind. Unfortunately John forgot he was still strapped to the yacht with his life line, which twanged bow-string taut as he reached the halfway point of his desperate yacht-crossing lunge. This naturally had the effect of performing the “Heimlich manouvre” on him and his stomach couldn’t tolerate any more abuse and did what upset stomachs do.

Equally unfortunately, Richard had been knelt down in the lee, gasping and looking increasingly uncomfortable, praying that his world would end, when all this regurgitated grub fell on him from a great height, totally unexpectedly, from behind. The impact, the warm stench, the sight and for all I know the taste of someone else’s puke on him triggered Richard and off he went too... a veritable cascade of content, from one to the other, a wretching waterfall, a volcano of vomit... Vesuvius...still it woke everyone up and gave us all a good laugh in the office the following day.

But that was just the second worst sailing-related puke fest. The worst by far, the outright winner, by a head and shoulders above all others, a towering giant of a story, actually took place on terra firma, on dry land, and miles away from a yacht, boat, harbour or the sea. But it did involve my racing skipper and Yachtmaster trainer Ashley when he was a young man.

He’d been down the pub and had had a proverbial skinful (so no sympathy from me!); and he’d gone to the pub on his motorbike. To get home he left the pub on his motorbike. Alas for him the constant tipping, diving and swooshing as he took the bike around all those country lane corners got the better of him and he had a sudden urgent need to stop.

Alas nature can’t wait for brakes to work, for bikes to come to a convenient stop, to be balanced neatly on the sidestand... though Ashley tried so hard to get all these things done before that final powerful push from his bloated, abused, poisoned stomach, he just didn’t have time to also get his helmet off...