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Keeping a Calm Belly on Rough Seas by Pam Mandel

Posted December 7, 2010 @ 5:37pm | by TravelWild

Drake’s Passage is known for some of the roughest seas on the planet. The “Roaring 40s” earned their name for a reason—between the winds and the currents at 40 degrees south, the seas can be, well, less than placid. But you can’t get to the Antarctic Peninsula without crossing those waters. This can be daunting for those with less than stable stomachs.

It’s kind of a weird thing—no one really knows why some people get seasick while others ride out the storms with nary a butterfly in their bellies. There’s a little more known about what causes seasickness. Your body processes all kinds of information to determine where you are—visual cues and balance guidelines from your inner ear, to name two—and when those things are out of whack, some people get motion sick.

Thankfully, it’s a manageable situation—from very low impact remedies to intercession through pharmaceuticals, there’s a treatment for seasickness that should work for you.

Disclaimer: All the information provided here is no substitute for a serious conversation with a doctor about the right treatment for you. For the prescription treatments, there are some contraindications, meaning if you’ve got certain conditions, you shouldn’t take certain medications. Always check with a doctor before taking any medication.

Prevention is the best cure.

Make smart dietary choices before you sail. Avoid heavy, fatty, food the day before you embark. Carbohydrates — breads, pastas—are easier on your insides than protein (meat) based meals. Avoid alcohol and stay hydrated. Take it easy on the coffee, the spicy food, and get plenty of rest.

Midship accommodations tend to be more stable than those towards the bow of the ship. Make your request as soon as possible when you book your trip. While on board, get plenty of fresh air and keep your eye on the horizon. And if that’s not working, simply lying down with your eyes closed can help.

If you’re planning to take medication for seasickness, start your first dose four to six hours before you board. Meds are not as effective if you take them when you start feeling queasy and you may have trouble keeping them down. This is true for any medication—the patch, tablets, over the counter remedies. Start early—it’s key to making sure your preventative measures work.

Pressure points and ginger candy.

Those wristbands? The ones that have the little knob or bead or whatever that sits two fingers down from the bottom of your hand, between the tendons? Travelers swear by them. They have zero side effects and they just need to be close enough to the right placement to apply general pressure in the right location. Sea-Bands, PsiBands, AcuBand—there are lots of names for these things—but they all work the same way, by applying continuous pressure to the P6 point on the wrist. Stimulating that point is supposed to prevent nausea.

Given that there are no side effects and you can pick them up at your local drug store for about ten dollars, it’s worth giving the wristbands a shot. If you already know you suffer from seasickness, it might be smart to test drive the wristbands in a less critical situation prior to boarding your ship.

Ginger has long been used as a digestive aid and supplement for nausea. Taking small, regular doses of natural ginger—no, those gingerbread cookies with the artificial flavoring don’t count!—shortly before and while you’re at sea can settle your belly.

Over the counter medications

There are a few common over the counter drugs for nausea and motion sickness. Some docs say that Meclizine (also sold as Bonine or Antivert) is your best choice. Dramamine can have some side effects, including blurred vision and fatigue—and who wants their first penguin sighting to be blurry?

Regardless of which option you select, be sure to start taking your medication a few hours before you sail—it’s much less effective if you take it after the waves make you question your lunch choices.

Feeling better? It’s okay to back off on the dosage and ease yourself off the medication. You may want to do this anyway if you’re feeling stable, but drowsy.

The big guns—prescription medication

It’s easy, you slap it on four hours before your trip and you forget about it—the Scopolamine patch, also known as Transderm Scop is a widely-prescribed preventative. Smaller-sized humans may find the dosage a little strong. It’s okay to cover part of your skin or the patch with a Band-Aid to lower the amount. Don’t cut the patch in half, though—it won’t work properly. It’s good for 72 hours and by the time the patch has lost effectiveness, you should have acclimated to being at sea.

There are a few other prescription options, but they have complex interactions with other drugs and, for people with certain health conditions, they should be avoided. It may be that some well-meaning fellow passenger offers you a dose of whatever they’ve got when they see you pushing away your soup bowl and racing for the rail. Resist the temptation and head to the ship’s doctor for advice.

Still miserable, green and unable to face anything but plain toast? Your shipboard doc is your friend. He or she may give you a dose of something that has you sleeping through the crossing in your bunk below deck. Sure, it’s not an ideal way to spend the journey, but you’ll get through the Drake.

It’s all worth it.

I suffer from seasickness. I’ve fed the fishes around the world, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Maui Channel and a few places in between. It’s miserable, indeed. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a little nervous about crossing that notorious stretch of water. But there are a few things that have reassured me tremendously about the journey:

  1. Talking with Antarctica veteran ship’s doctor Steve Garren about managing and treating seasickness has not only educated me about my options but made me feel confident I can find one that will work for me.
  2. While researching accounts of the crossing by other travelers, I found lots of stories about the trip out, but virtually none about the return trip. Acclimatization is not just possible, it appears to be the norm.
  3. This is a once-in-a-lifetime destination! There are penguins and icebergs and all kinds of spectacular natural wonders on the other side of that crossing. And who knows? Maybe someone like me goes out a land lover and comes back a sailor. Hey, it could happen.

Many, many, thanks to Dr. Steven Garren for his advice and assistance. And again: Consult a doctor about your seasickness concerns before you travel.

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