Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Bout About a Boat

Barely five minutes out, I knew it was not going to be pretty. A twenty-eight foot boat sailed from Marina Del Ray in California with just six of us on board. The sky was clear, the temperature warm. Motoring out of the harbor we passed moored boats with names like Serendipity, Lazy Days and Knotty Problem. Their names often began with Miss or Lady, instilling a sense of maternal caring. Our boat was christened The Dark and Stormy, which I should have seen as obvious foreshadowing.

In the relative calm of the harbor, the boat lilting gently from side to side, I found a surprising amount of my conscious mind being devoted to feeing okay rather than making small talk.

Beyond the break-water wall we cut the motor and were surrounded by silence and bigger waves. I looked at the rising and falling of the ocean. We were going to have a swell time.

Our two crew skipped nimbly around the deck, hoisting canvas sails, using terminology we didn’t understand, and offering us dried fruit-and-nut ‘sail-mix.’

Shortly, someone noted “You’re being very quiet.” I did not even have the energy to reply. It was all I could do to nod feebly in agreement. The night before I’d performed the rite of gluttony at Mariella’s fine Italian cuisine, and was now being harrowed by giant zombified raviolis marching through my intestines.

“It helps to keep you eye on the horizon,” said a well meaning voice. As is so often the case, what ‘helps’ was the exact opposite of what I could do. Looking up from my increasingly hunched position took supreme amounts of effort. On the horizon loomed an inevitable and sudden weight loss.

“You’ve had Dramamine?” I managed a single nod.
“We have a relief band.” I hoped the relief band would be U2 playing a charity gig for nauseous Englishmen, but it was actually a watch-like device for preventing motion sickness. It is in fact the ‘only electronic, patented, FDA-cleared, commercially available Nausea-Vomiting device to prevent sea sickness.” The wordy sales pitch was matched only by the lengthy tiny-print instruction manual. Not something you can actually read in the same moment you need to use it. The device on, it began sending electric pulses into my wrist at level three. In normal conditions I would say it sounded slightly less therapeutic than astrology, but there are moments when woozy overrides reason, and you try anything.

“It helps to sit at the stern and look forward.” This may or may not have been true. You can only get so far from someone on a twenty-eight foot yacht and everyone was already as far forward as they could get.

I couldn’t move. Any movement on my part would cause my digestive tract to do what I wanted The Dark and Stormy to do and reverse course. The next twenty minutes were spent settling into a rhythm of feeling either terrible or worse. I chose one of the terrible moments to go downstairs. The rocking of any waterborne vessel is far more pronounced inside the boat. After successfully making use of the appropriate facilities I went back on deck and sat at the back of the boat facing forward, hoping I had eased tensions enough that I could make it back to safe harbor.

“Did you have breakfast?” said a voice. I could nod again, a good sign.
“Ah. I’ve heard that breakfast is a good thing to have,” the voice said. But the look on the face that owned the voice clearly showed it now considered me a potentially indiscriminate projectile weapon of a type usually regulated by UN inspectors.

“What course should I set captain?”
“Au’derves and cocktails!”

Several hundred meters to my right Santa Monica beach was flouting its ability to not bob up and down. How I wanted solid ground beneath my feet, how I longed to be back at the dock. “I need a berth,” said I. And everyone gave me a wide one.

It had been an hour, which meant an hour back. I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s fun but could we please turn around? And use the engine?

We turned around. I felt the gauge on my spewometer go into the red. It was time. I grabbed the railings, lay over the side, and for the first time in over twenty years, emptied my innards through the wrong orifice. Most weight loss programs are short lived but the Chuck-O-Rama beats them all. Within a couple of minutes I’d clam chowdered until I was empty. Lighter and less green, I huddled under towels and blankets.

Back in the harbor the names of the moored boats had changed. Vomit Comet, Lady Upchuck and Torpedo Magnet all bobbed up and down knowingly as we passed by and tied up.

I won’t say I won’t try it again, but I feel I was enough of a sailor that I need not hurry back for more. I mean, everyone spoke like a pirate at some point, but I was the only one to heave too.