Tuesday, October 2, 2012


I have been kayaking, first a sit-on-top and then a traditional sea kayak, for over eleven years.  I have been sailing a 24 foot sailboat for two years.  I have been on a week long ocean cruise.  I have been on a numerous ferry crossings along the North Carolina coast as well as between Ireland and Scotland.  I have never once been seasick, that is, until recently.

About an hour into a recent group paddle with nearly two dozen other paddlers( from the Sebago Canoe Club and National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Alums from New York City) on a choppy Jamaica Bay in 12-20 mph increasing minds, I missed a brace and went over.  After wet exiting, I reentered my kayak, as I had done many other times during practice, with the help fellow paddler Tony P.

Once back in my kayak, I started paddling, but I did not feel balanced.  I tipped again and once again wet exited.  I thought I was close enough to shore that it would be easier and quicker to tow my kayak, with me in the water behind, to shore (photo below).  A strong head wind and the drag of me and my boat prevented fellow paddler John H. from making much headway while towing, so with his help, I once again reentered my kayak.  I almost tipped several more times before making it to shore, even while being towed and with fellow paddler Ilene L. close by my side, but I managed to stay upright until I slid up onto the sandy beach.

View from behind my Necky Chatham 17 while John H. was towing.

Once on shore and out of my boat, my legs/knees felt week and I felt sick to my stomach.  John H. suggested I might be seasick, but I could not understand how I could be seasick when I had never before suffered from seasickness.  After forcing down some lunch and resting for about 15 to 20 minutes, I felt a little better, climbed back into my kayak, and started paddling back to the clubhouse.  As soon as I was back on the water, however, only a few yards from shore, I felt like I could not maintain my balance, as if I had no balance.  The smallest wave seemed to knock me off balance and I did not feel like I had the strength to brace, recover, or paddle  Rather than impeding the rest of the group, I decided  to paddle back to the beach and remain behind, to be picked up by car later.

After waiting a couple hours, my boat and I were driven back to the clubhouse by John W. and Andy N., where we had started our trip and my car was parked.   Even though there was a feast going on when I arrived back at the clubhouse, I did not have the least bit desire to eat anything.  I cleaned up my gear and headed home.

Back home, after a hot shower, I felt like I had been run over by a truck and still had no appetite. Following up on John H's diagnosis, I researched seasickness and kayaking.  I searched several combinations of words until I discovered an informative post about Common Sea Kayaking Ailments and Sea-Sickness on Kayak Dave’s Kayaking Blog.  I also found a short but helpful reference in Sea Kayaker’s Deep Trouble: True Stories and Their Lessons from Sea Kayaker Magazine, p. 139.  Later, I found a very informative post, The Seasick Paddler, on paddling.net.

Finally, about eight hours after I stopped kayaking, I still felt weak, achy, and had a slight headache  At least I had an appetite, however, and I finally ate some food.  After another hour or two, I took a couple Ibuprofen and went to bed.

Knowing that when you are knocked off a horse that the best thing to do is to get right back in the saddle, I awoke the next morning and went kayaking.  In 18-13 mph decreasing winds, I headed back onto the water with a group of another twenty paddlers from the Sebago Canoe Club. Some of them had paddled with me the previous or had heard about my misadventure and were therefore concerned about how I felt.  Those who had seen me the day before told me that the day before I had  looked pale and not my usual self.

As we paddled out onto the bay, I felt like I was doing fine until after we crossed the channel in a little chop.  After the channel crossing in rough water I again started to feel unbalanced – like I was going to tip.  Then I realized that I had been focusing on the bow of my kayak and the oncoming waves.  I immediately started focusing, instead, on the horizon.  In what seemed like seconds, my sense of balance returned and I no longer felt unbalanced.  As the morning and the paddle progressed, I kept my focus on the horizon and I felt stronger, more balanced, and more confident.  By the end of the paddle, I felt like my normal kayaking self.
Had I been, unawares, focusing on the bow of my kayak and the oncoming waves the day before?  I do not know for sure, but my hunch is, I was.  I will never again.

I owe special thanks to Tony P., John H, Ilene L,, John W. and Andy T. from Saturday's Paddle, and to Dottie L. from Sunday's paddle.

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