Mal de Mer



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.


Filed under Travel

10 responses to “Mal de Mer

  1. djbrown

    Ohhhhh….feel a little green after reading this post, or is it because it’s St. Patrick’s Day?

  2. Jill

    I love your HAPPY PLACE. It is perfect with the swing of the hammock balancing the swing of the ship.

  3. Mark

    Oy. I feel your pain. I am not a good sailor either. I have never experienced the foam. Were you dehydrated? Good birds though.

  4. Oh, I get so motion sick. I’ve never been out on the ocean, but imagine I would not do well. Which bums me out, because you saw some very cool birds.

  5. Rob

    I am not sure any bird is worth that much suffering!I’m glad that you survived. If you return there are some great prescription anti-nausea medication that is much better than Dramamine without the side effects. Thanks for the great story.

  6. Great story!

    I love pelagic birding, but this experience is a little too similar to my last couple times out.

    More experienced pelagic birders than me, however, will say say the only folks who don’t get seasick are those who don’t go to sea.

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  9. birdingperu

    Hola Bev

    Read this for the firts time, as I just read the interview you gave on NBN. Great story. The pacific down here is not as bad as that. Come in November and you shall enjoy quite calm seas and still a lot of birds around. In July we get more species of Albatross, but also more sea…



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