Sailing out of Newport on the first morning of our trip, the ship began to roll. The motion reminded me of cantering on horseback or riding the earlier rapid on the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; physical instability has its curious rewards. Through the lounge window, the horizon rose and fell; on the steepest downward dip, there was no horizon, only a blink of the blue sea. On the most extreme upward roll, only the sky was, briefly, available. This was not due to stormy weather but the effect of long regular swells on the hull of the ship.
Excited by the sensation, although already wondering if it would eventually make me seasick, I remembered maternal grandmother, Munda’s, stories about crossing the Atlantic—was it 27 times? Something like that—at the turn of the last century to visit her father’s family in Northern Ireland.
This was at the period when sails were being replaced by coal-fired furnaces; the ships she traveled on had both, and when the sails were hoisted, she was allowed to assist the men in her little sailor suit. Those crossings were so rough that she was tied into her berth at night so she wouldn’t be thrown out.
As a teenager, I learned how rough the Northern Atlantic could be during crossings on one of the stately enormous British Cunarders. The dining room was soon deserted, although it was still set up, with the edges of the tables raised to prevent everything was sliding off; the egg fried in a hole in the middle of a piece of fried bread, a breakfast treat, was said to have been created to prevent a plain fried egg from sliding off the plate in rough weather.
Five or six hours of rolling on the Arabella laid several passengers low, knocked out by nausea and Dramamine on the boat’s benches, covered with blankets, solicitous husbands bringing wet washrags to put across their foreheads.
The only time I’ve been seasick, on a very rough sailing trip in the Grenadines when I was pregnant with my oldest son, made me want, simply, to die. Throwing up over the windward side of the ship brought screams of protest from the captain but also a few moments of relief until the next bout of nausea began inexorably to build.
Anyway, I made it through the morning with only a few qualms, all a small price to pay for one very special evening with old and new friends on Martha’s Vineyard.
[Part 2 of 4]