Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Coping with seasickness (Martin Angel)

Cruise 30  I lay on the deck of the plotting office at two in the morning feeling very sick. Having a surname beginning with A meant I always caught the first ‘death-watch’ echo-sounding watch, which started as the ship crossed the shelf-break at midnight. A recurring question crossed and re-crossed my mind  why had I chosen such a bloody awful occupation. 

The ship pitched and rolled violently as she forced her way into the teeth of the south-westerly gale we always seemed to encounter as we crossed the Bay of Biscay. All the instruments around me were mounted on rubber gimbals, so they rocked and swayed independently in a weird sick-making charconne. Every ten minutes I had to rise from the deck and mark up the chart and record the sounding. A quick dash to the head to wretch bile from my already empty stomach   a drink of water  and back to lying on the deck. A crash from one of the nearby laboratories forced me into action again. Another duty of these watches was to check the security of all the instruments in the laboratories. At such an early stage of a cruise, any damage to the instruments caused by a heavy box on the loose could seriously impair what we could achieve during the next six to eight weeks. 

The banging was emanating from the electronics laboratory. A four-drawer steel filing cabinet had not been properly locked and had burst open. The drawers as they slid in and out were spewing their contents in all directions. Starting with the top drawer fairly quickly I managed to get its contents back in and shut the drawer. But the drawer could not be locked shut until all have been closed. As I started on the second drawer the ship lurched violently again as she took a green one over the foredeck. The top drawer flew open not only spewing out its contents again, but also catching me on the side of the head and drawing blood. With nothing to hand with which to secure the drawer, I had to use one hand to hold the top drawer shut, while I re-filled the second drawer. As I re-filled it, it was free to slide in and out as the ship rolled, constantly hitting me in my stomach, which was already was agonisingly tender from sea-sickness.

At last I got the second drawer re-filled and shut. With one hand I could just keep the upper two drawers shut, while I struggled to deal with the third. I then had three drawers to keep shut, while I dealt with the fourth, At last, despite the ship continually lurching violently, I just managed to keep the top drawers shut with one hand and a knee, and started on the fourth drawer. Another lurch and I staggered back, and all the drawers flew open again. I dredged up some of the profane language I had learnt while doing national service in the army but foul language had no effect on the drawers, but fortunately most of their contents stayed in place, and as the ship rolled back three of the drawers slid shut. It took me an hour of struggle finally to get all four drawers shut and locked.

Throughout this time I had no time to think about sea-sickness. It was rather extreme cure, but it did suggest that sea-sickness is in part a psychological illness and if you are fully employed with things to do you can pull through. Well pull the other one!

Images taken onboard RRS Discovery