I SOMETIMES WONDER how much more popular sailing would be if it weren’t for seasickness. It’s a great pity that such a satisfying and enjoyable sport should make people physically ill. It’s not surprising that many people, after experiencing their first bout of seasickness, firmly put aside any thoughts they may have had about taking up yachting, and devote themselves instead to golf, table tennis, and crocheting little socks for newborn babies.
On the other hand, there are many people like me who go sailing despite a tendency to suffer seasickness. We have convinced ourselves (perhaps without much evidence) that the pleasures of sailing overcome the miseries of hanging over the side and puking.
Although it’s a disease of the mind, rather than the stomach, there should be no shame in suffering seasickness. Almost everyone will become sick if conditions are rough enough. Even in normal weather, 60 percent of people cast adrift in small inflatable liferafts succumb to seasickness. So the rather regrettable fact is that it’s more normal to be seasick than not.
The cause of all this misery is understood to be a conflict between what your eye sees and your inner ear “feels.” The inner ear is the balance organ, of course. When you’re down below, and no horizon is visible, your inner ear senses that your body is dropping through space as the boat falls off a wave. But your eyes say no, hang on, we’re not moving relative to anything we can see in the cabin.
So your confused brain sets up a little boxing ring with Eyes in one corner and Inner Ear in the other and lets them fight it out. Skin, meanwhile, loses pallor and becomes damp and cool. Legs, intuitively fearing the outcome of this fight, become a little wobbly. And finally, Stomach, noting no real progress in the ring, takes things into its own hands, as it were, and says it’s obvious that something’s radically wrong, and if you guys can’t figure it out then maybe I’ve been fed some poison. I don’t want to be the fall guy. I don’t want to be blamed after all this is over, so I’m going to throw up everything I’ve eaten in the last 12 hours. And I’m going to do it now, right now.
As a matter of fact, scientists don’t yet have a logical explanation for the nausea and vomiting. I have considered explaining it to them, but you know how they sneer when an outsider tries to tell them anything. I see no good reason why I should suffer such rejection. Maybe they’ll work it out for themselves in a century or two.
Money does not buy happiness but it does allow one to be seasick in finer surroundings.
“Why are you looking so gloomy?”
“My wife just had a baby girl.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“I was hoping for a son to help with the washing up.”
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