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Feeling queasy

Just about anyone who has ever been seasick has a story to tell. So, if that queasy feeling begins to creep up on you, keep one thing in mind - at least you'll be able to laugh about it later.

[Times art: Brandon Jeffords]

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2000


Curled up on the deck of an oyster boat as it bobbed across the Foveaux Strait, I asked God to have mercy and end my life quickly.

The body of water, which separates Stewart Island from the South Island of New Zealand, is located in the Roaring 40s and considered to be among the roughest passages in the world.

I could have taken a commercial ferry, but I chose instead to spend my few remaining dollars on a basket of greasy fish and chips and a pint of my favorite beverage at a dockside pub. The small commercial boat offered cheaper passage as long as I didn't mind sharing my berth with a few tons of ripe oysters.

So there I was -- green as a head of cabbage, too weak to even pull myself up over the gunwale and throw my quivering body into the sea -- when I looked up and saw the captain's 10-year-old son standing over me, laughing.

Seasickness. You feel like you are going to die, and everybody else thinks it is funny.

Nobody knows for sure why some people are susceptible to la maladie de la mar and others are not. What causes this scourge of sailors, boaters and anglers is open to debate. But in layman's terms, it has something to do with the balance system in the inner ear telling the brain one thing, and the eyes telling it something completely different.

Most old salts have their own theories on how to avoid this waterborne plague, but one thing is for certain: ingesting large quantities of greasy food and cheap beer before a voyage doesn't help. In fact, if you think you are prone to seasickness, eat the blandest food possible before and after you board.

The stench of freshly caught oysters didn't help my predicament. I tried to crawl back to the stern, but the diesel fumes from the engines only made matters worse. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, avoid any foul odors and get plenty of fresh air.

The worst thing you can do is confine below decks. The cabins of most boats are stuffy and poorly ventilated and the movement will only confound the ear-eye balance.

The best thing to do when you find yourself getting seasick is get above decks and stare straight at the horizon, which remains constant no matter how rough the water is.

Dramamine, an over-the-counter drug, is used by many seasickness sufferers, but it does have side effects, including drowsiness, which can be a real bummer when you are fishing in an all-day kingfish tournament.

The Transderm-Scop patch, worn behind the ear for up to three days at a time, also works. But patches require a doctor's prescription, which can be difficult to obtain on a moment's notice.

In recent years, pressure bands worn on the wrist or electronic nerve stimulating devices such as the ReliefBand are gaining popularity. Many people, however, stand by the traditional home remedies.

Cayenne pepper, ground pumpkin seed and ginger are said to combat nausea, the latter being by far the most popular. That is why you see cans of ginger ale and boxes of ginger snaps in my boat's lockers.

Still, prevention is the best medicine. A good night's sleep and a calm, relaxed demeanor go a long way. If you feel yourself getting a little queasy, start thinking about something else, such as catching fish. It is amazing how powerful the mind can be.

Once you do start feeling sick, take slow, deliberate breaths and focus on the horizon. Try eating dry soda crackers and take frequent sips of cool water.

Whatever you do, don't throw yourself overboard. The relief will be temporary, but the side effects, permanent.

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