The bucket list: Nancy Knudsen talks to skippers about pills, patches and a 'tot' of rum to ward off seasickness.
"How do you manage that?"
"Ha!" he growls with eyes twinkling. "I take' em for a night sail to test them out in the ocean when there's a bit of a blow. Then in the morning I light up a cigar and wake'em all up to bacon and eggs. If they survive that, they might make the crew. If not, it's Goodnight Irene."
Not all skippers are as tough as that one (who didn't want to be named) but seasickness can make history of the ambitions of a yacht owner in any yacht race, especially if they have to make a stop to let the crewmember off, effectively putting them out of the race.
The day I stepped on board for my very first ocean race - to Lord Howe - my skipper, whom I hardly knew, approached me and said gruffly and without preamble, "Hold out your hand." As a brand new crewmember, I obediently held out my hand. "Take these." He dropped two pills into my palm, one blue and one white. "What are they?" "Never mind, just take them," and he walked away.
Another crewmember, a huge - framed disaffected American called Jim, filled me in. "He's a bastard," he said. "One is the strongest seasick pill around, probably illegal, and it'll send you to sleep before you've got time to spit. The other is what the truckes take to keep them awake. They're probably illegal too. Joe won't stand for seasickness, so the pills are compulsory. If we don't take them he'll throw us off the boat."
If these stories give you the impression that skippers take seasickness seriously, you'd be right, especially in a race as prestigious as the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race, now in its 67th year.
According to Emeritus Professor Max Kamian of the University of WA, no less than 70% of people will become seasick in rough conditions. Amazingly, famous explorers like Charles Darwin, Douglas Mawson and Jacques Cousteau were severely afflicted by seasickness.
To find out just how Sydney to Hobart skippers cope with the idea of seasickness among crewmembers I spoke to several skippers. Here I found some varying attitudes, among them that a proneness to seasickness was not something to be shunned, but rather an accepted part of the scenery and a factor to be planned for.
Sean Langman will sail his 9-metre Huon pine gaff-rigged Maluku to Hobart this year, but is better known as a high-speed racer. Having completed 21 Hobarts he says he willingly takes crew who tend to seasickness. "Some sailors may never get crook, but they might not be very good sailors. I'll take a good sailor for his abilities, even if he is prone to seasickness."
Morgan Rogers, part owner of Wave Sweeper, an extensively tuned Beneteau 40.7, has 25,000 miles of ocean racing to his credit, including more than a dozen Coffs, Gold Coast and Rolex Sydney Hobart races. "It's all a matter of resource management," says Rogers. "I budget to have 30% of my crew afflicted during any race, including the Hobarts."
He handily lists three categories of seasickness:
Serious: Sick to the point of incapacitation and dangerous dehydration.
Mild: Might; throw up but can still operate as a crew member.
Occasional: Those who get seasick only by some negative external influence, such as the smell of diesel or an anxiety.
No one in the medical profession seems to know just why some people are prone to severe seasickness, but curiously both Rogers and Langman agree that on anecdotal evidence the malady can be caused or aggravated by anxiety.
Landman in particular has noticed this "anxiety factor" over many years of sailing. Novice crew, he says, may be anxious simply about the coming voyage, but other factors come into play, even for him. "If I find I am asking, for whatever reason, 'what am I doing here?' I am liable to be seasick. If there is unhappiness among the crew, or anxiety about my business or family on shore I am vulnerable. If the crew is working well together and I have no other anxieties, I can almost guarantee I won't be sick."
So, if seasickness is unexplainable and cannot be avoided, what are the effective treatments? Here I found a minefield of disagreement among those with practical experience, and sometimes even among some of the medical experts.
For mild and occasional seasickness, there was broad agreement about the kind of treatment that was most effective before you go to sea. Phenergan is without doubt the favoured antihistamine, but it can tend to put one to sleep. All suggest that one should start taking it 36 to 48 hours before the voyage. The age-old remedy for the drowsiness is Ephedrine, the 'upper' that will keep you awake.
Disagreement, however, surrounds the effectiveness of ginger and scopolamine patches. These last are now withdrawn from sale in Australia but are available in New Zealand and other countries. The obvious advantage of a patch is that there is no drowsiness factor.
Howard de Torres is a Sydney sailor who has skippered his boat to Hobart nine times. As a plastic surgeon that has amused the Sydney sailing scene for years by calling his boats such names as 'Smooth Operator' and 'Nips n Tux' he is more than qualified to comment, both as a sailor and a medico.
For Dr de Torres, the top preventative is the Scop Patch (scopolamine). Apart from not putting you to sleep, he reasons, they are long lasting. Some users have reported that there are side effects, however, including being ill after they stop wearing the patches, while the body re-adjusts.
So if you have done everything possible to prepare before the journey, what can you do once you feel the typical symptoms - yawning, nausea, and dizziness?
If the attack is mild there are many suggestions - chew more ginger, watch the horizon, eat dry bread, stay in the fresh air. Professor Kamian, who for many years acted as ship's doctor on cruises round Gape Horn, also recommends Coca Cola. "I never thought I would ever recommend small doses of Coca cola as a therapeutic agent but, in the misery of 'le mal de mer', I found it did help."
Morgan Rogers agrees about the Coca Cola, but suggests adding a tot of rum. "This tends to relieve the anxiety," he says, "whether because of something about the voyage or because of stresses on land, the small tot of rum can do wonders."
If none of these mild therapies work, there are always the more serious ones.
Professor Kamian confirms what most know - that you'll feel better by lying supine and keeping your head still. Dr de Torres recommends Zofran wafers. "You hold them in your mouth and they dissolve there, so if you are so seasick that you can't keep anything down, these are good because they are absorbed through your cheek."
Finally, the last resort, apart from stopping somewhere to let the crew member off (not possible in the middle of an ocean), is the Stemetil suppository, effective and appropriate when taking medication orally has ceased to be an option.
The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) regularly operates a course called Medical Management for Mariners (MMM), an excellent undertaking for anyone who intends to be more than half a day at sea. Part of that course covers seasickness, and I asked the coordinator Dr Virginia Furner for comments on the various treatments of seasickness covered here. While their course does not recommend Ephedrine, she agreed that Phenergan is a very effective medication, and, if there is a qualified person present, can be given by injection. MMM also recommends Travacalm, but their coverage is very detailed and it is highly recommended to take the whole course by contacting the CYCA.
For the educated skipper, there are many avenues open to avoid or temper crew seasickness, but what if it is the skipper who is the one seriously affected? Surely someone passionate enough about sailing to indulge in the very expensive business of boat ownership will not get seriously seasick?
Enter Rod Skellett, well known as owner of the Class 40 Krakatoa II, veteran of 11 Hobarts and destined for many more. He gets seasick.
Rod gets so seriously seasick that he gathers a crew around him who can do without him. Worst of all, he says, is that as well as feeling the symptoms of debilitating nausea and severe vomiting he also loses his balance. So rather than taking the advice commonly given, like staying up on deck and looking at the horizon or taking over the helm, he slays below.
"I am dangerous on deck." he says, but once he has lost everything in his stomach, he can function to do some tasks below. "I can get up and give our position. I can do a little navigating, even put the kettle on to keep myself somewhat useful." Even after being focused on preparing as well as he can, for him, nothing works!
Morgan Rogers also thinks that a seasick person on deck is a liability. Their judgement goes," he says. "You cannot rely on them to harness properly or remember their life jacket. I would rather they stayed below and supine if possible."
Sean Langman tells the story of his very first long sail at the age of 17, on a boat called The Alice, from Sydney to Suva in Fiji. The skipper/owner was so seasick he had to be given suppositories during the journey. "Did you know you were going to be seasick?" Langman asked him later. "Sure I did," replied the skipper, "You know why my boat is called The Alice? That's because that's where I wish I was every time I go to sea - Alice Springs!" "Then why do you go?" "Because the good times outweigh the bad, and I just love sailing oceans."
The self-styled king of seasick skippers, Rod Skellett, agrees. "There's no sport that can compare with ocean racing. The team aspect appeals to me too. Golf is about me, and so are tennis and many others. No matter how seasick I get for a few days, it will never stop me ocean racing. Pitting yourself against Mother Nature on the high seas with your fellow crewmembers is the ultimate for me and I love it!"
... And that about says it all, really.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||SEA SICKNESS|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
|Previous Article:||Weather wisdom: the Rolex Sydney Hobart yacht race is renowned for producing some of the roughest conditions of any sailing event in the world, so...|
|Next Article:||1945-2010 Statistics.|