I reared my head up from where it was hanging over the side of the boat, fumbling for the binoculars tucked inside my jacket. Bracing myself against the rounded corner of the handrail, I looked up. There, hanging in the wind and looming large behind the boat was a South Polar Skua. It cocked its head this way and that, watching the Ship’s Hand chop fish and throw the bloody bits over the side. Its white wing patches and wedge-shaped tail were clear even through the fog. The boat rose and fell on the waves. My stomach rose and fell with it. I shoved my binoculars back inside my jacket, leaned over and puked up more white stingy foam. I had been puking on and off for 3 hours at this point.
I had decided I needed to embrace pelagic birding if I were going to be a serious birder. I had been on several trips out on the Atlantic: once off the coast of Maine to see Puffins and Guillemots; another time to Bird Island off the coast of Nova Scotia for Kittiwakes and hordes of Gannets wheeling above the cliffs. I had even gone on an overnight trip to the canyon off the coast of NJ. I had been whale watching many, many times in my youth. I considered myself a fair sailor. I always drugged up with Dramamine and had never had a problem. This was not even my first out on the Pacific. I had been birding on a whale watching boat off of Baja years ago. It was all good.
But boy, oh boy. Not this time.
Luckily, or rather, commiseratingly, half the boat was sick. One of the naturalists squeezed in next to me. “Does it help if you puke?” he asked. I looked up and groaned, “No.” “Swell,” he muttered, and then leaned over the side. We were all fighting for rail space and alternating puking and birdwatching. One guy was sitting cross-legged on the deck with his head hanging over the lower rail. He had a good view of the birds as they dove for the chum. He never even tried to use his binoculars.
I was clutching the rail on a cold rocking boat on the Pacific, but with my eyes closed, I gently swayed in a hammock on a porch in the Costa Rican heat. Finding a happy place helped but I kept half an ear on the banter coming over the loudspeaker for any sightings of life birds. I managed to see Rhinoceros Auklet, Northern Fulmar, Pink-footed Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, South Polar Skua, and Common Murre as well as every one of the Jaegers. There were also Phalaropes, but since I had seen them before, I stayed in my hammock reaching out a foot occasionally to push against the ground to set it swinging.
But the mal de mer did end. As soon as I got off the boat, I was fine. Poooof! Just like that! It is an amazing thing.
My advice. You gotta get out there. But, go with the patch, not the tabs and keep staring at the horizon. And always tuck in the bins to keep the puke off them.