Seasickness has an evil twin

After a few weeks away at work, on the tugboat in Philadelphia, I was looking forward to getting back to life on the sailboat in Maine. While I was away, Skye moved the boat from its temporary home on the Royal River to our summer mooring in Portland.  With only a small weather window to get Polynya to the mooring safely, she spent the first few days riding out a strong nor-easter.  Life at the mooring is different, and it takes a little time to adapt to the idiosyncrasies, especially in the midst of a storm.

A beautiful day on the mooring

Whether driven by karma or mother nature, I was destined to experience my first few days at the mooring in the same manner.  My first night on the mooring was pleasant, slightly overcast, calm, and relaxing. But the next morning the wind began to build as another spring storm approached. Before the torrential rains and wind arrived in full force, I was able to add a secondary pendant to the mooring, beef up our chafe protection, and move the anchor out of the way so it wouldn’t snag on the pendants.

The forecast predicted 30 kt winds and 6 ft seas. The waves in the slightly protected harbor would be less, but not by much in our exposed location. Building steeply from the northeast, we saw waves in the 3-4 ft range during the peak of the storm and winds gusting to 40 knots. The boat handled it well, and we enjoyed the vast improvement over similar conditions while at the dock. Rather than take the seas on the beam while shock-loading our dock lines, we swung into the wind and seas, pitching comfortably.

Comfort is a relative term, however. In comparison to our lives at the dock for the last few years, this new motion was a luxury,  more closely resembling the ride of a boat at sea, slicing through the waves and rocking freely. That doesn’t mean that life aboard during a storm is ever comfortable though. Cooking, cleaning, walking, sleeping…everything is more difficult. And while I do spend every day of the year on a boat, the tugboat I work on rarely leaves protected waters and at 500 feet moves in an entirely different way than our sailboat.

So for the first time in several years, after a few days at home, I was landsick. That’s right; I was not seasick while on the boat, I was landsick walking on shore afterward. On the boat, my mind was clear and settled, but walking down the aisles of the grocery store I felt dizzy and foggy, swaying my way past the shelves. I probably looked drunk.

According to the classic shanty, Marching Inland, there’s only one way to cure seasickness, but no such solution for landsickness.

“Lord Nelson knew the perfect way to cure your mal de mar, and if you pay attention his secret I will share. To any seasick sailor, he’d give this advice for free: if you’re feeling seasick sit underneath a tree.”

I can’t say whether seasickness or landsickness is worse, they honestly feel quite the same.  Balance and equilibrium are fickle senses, ultimately basing standard function on the normal environment. So for those of us that do spend the majority of our days aboard, landsickness is a very real condition, and it’s not pleasant.

I am lucky in that neither seasickness nor landsickness has ever truly crippled me as I’ve seen it do to others. I’ve yet to feed the fish over the side in a storm, or the squirrels on the lawn thereafter. For those that truly suffer there is little to be done but hydrate, have patience, focus on the horizon and get some fresh air. I don’t know if anyone has been landsick to equal extremes, but I imagine it is possible after extended periods of rough weather at sea. I don’t intend to find out, though, if I can help it.

So for those who always wonder about the reality of living on a boat, this is it. Just like life, it has its ups and downs, and they don’t always come how, or when, you expect. So far the pros far outweigh the cons, even on the days I’m staggering through the grocery store, or soaking wet on the dinghy ride back home. It’s all about balance, literally. 

Matt Garand

About Matt Garand

Lifelong Mainer, and professional mariner, Matt Garand is the creator of A Life Aboard, a look at year-round living on a sailboat in Maine. Matt and his wife, Skye, live aboard in South Portland and use every available chance to throw off the lines and explore the coast.