Every time we trailer to the coast or the Great Lakes, I get to thinking about the similarities between RV’ing and boating. Truly, a boat is a recreational vehicle, and even the lifestyles are quite similar. I just read a blog written by a full-time live aboard couple. They describe their “way of life” on the water and its advantages and disadvantages. The parallels are remarkable. Seamanship is much more demanding though, in my opinion. Taking a wrong turn with your Airstream is no emergency. Getting lost out in the vastness of the ocean is an entirely different matter.
There was a time when I thought I wanted a life at sea, but it only took a couple of summer cruises with the USN as a cadet to convince me that I was a landlubber for life. I never got so seasick that I was at the rail and green at the gills though. Instead of nausea, I had a constant dull headache 24/7.
I still think a life at sea is wonderful, for those who can adapt to it. Patrice and I were in Bar Harbor, Maine about five years ago. We were traveling in our new-to-us 1966 Airstream Overlander. We toured Acadia National Park and enjoyed the area so much that we hope to return someday. Though there was one attraction, we won’t do again.
Our 1966 Overlander parked in beautiful Bar Harbor Campground.
Somehow, Patrice got it in her head that we should go on a whale watching tour. She had been on ferries and riverboats and thought that since she handled those all right she would be okay on the Atlantic. Keep in mind that she is born and bred, fourth generation, on the Colorado high desert plains. “Are you sure?” I asked, but she had made up her mind to see the whales up close.
Our first definitive hint that this was a bad decision was when we learned that the ocean swells were “down” to fourteen feet. The previous three days the action was too great for the tour boats to go out. That’s three days of no income for that business and I think they were getting hungry. The boats were going out despite the marginal conditions.
Our second hint came as we watched passengers from the morning tour disembark. No one was smiling. No one was happy. Someone in our crowd called out, “did you see any whales?”
A particularly disgruntled old man answered, “Yes, we saw five whales and five hundred barf bags.”
That should have been our clue to ask for a refund, but no, Patrice wanted to soldier through. “It can’t be that bad,” she said, “look how calm the water is now.”
The catamaran in Bar Harbor’s calm water.
I reminded her that the harbor is supposed to be calmer and that the sea will change dramatically once the boat clears the breakwater. About then, the crowd we were hemmed into began to board and it was too late to change our minds.
The seed of nausea had already been planted though, and the catamaran tour boat didn’t help. Unlike a boat with a single deep draft hull, catamarans have two hulls fixed together to provide a shallow draft that will also resist capsizing. As a result, they ride the wave crest, unlike a conventional boat that will plow into a wave. In other words, if the waves are at fourteen feet, the Cat will ride the full distance up the peaks and down into the troughs just like a roller coaster.
But unlike an amusement park ride this one lasted for hours, not minutes. Patrice quickly realized that she would need the plastic lined paper bags. She leaned close and told me, as a matter of pride I suppose, that she only hoped she wouldn’t be the first to let loose.
I tried to encourage her by telling her that if she kept her eyes on the horizon it wouldn’t be that bad. She held out right up until the person across from us lost it. Well, she wasn’t the first, but she wasn’t the last either. A chain reaction of sickening gurgles and moans enveloped the boat. Few among the hundred or so passengers were spared.
I was fine until Patrice asked me to get some paper towels from the galley. This meant going below to an area of the boat where I couldn’t watch the horizon. Imagine also standing up in the first roller coaster car and scrambling over the passengers to the last car, and back. I was lucky; the trip only gave me that same spinning headache I’d experienced so many years earlier.
The captain announced that we would see some whales, if only he could find them, but not to worry, he’d stay out until he did. An hour into this, Patrice complained, “Just where are those damn whales?”
Finally, a passenger cried out, “There’s one. There he is at ten o’clock.”
A whale at 10 o’clock!
Patrice let out a sigh, “Finally! Enough already, we’ve seen a whale now let’s head in.”
The captain announced over the PA that another boat reported a pod a couple of miles away and that he’d head that direction. Patrice looked at me in desperation, her face an ashen grey, “go give him a thousand dollars to take us home. I’m serious.”
“I know you are. Aren’t you glad you didn’t buy us tickets to see the puffins as well?”
“I don’t think I can take it anymore,” she cried. “Give me another bag… quick!”
“They’re out,” I said, alarmed, “you’ll have to use the old one.” It was self-preservation; I turned away and watched the horizon. An hour later, the boat began the return trip. I fell asleep. I was exhausted from the constant movement.
When we disembarked, someone from the herd of fresh passengers waiting on the dock cried out, “did you see any whales?”
“Yes,” a fellow traveler answered, “we saw five of them and five hundred barf bags.”
As for me, I woke from my nap refreshed, with a clear head, and an empty stomach. I was surprisingly hungry, and to add insult to Patrice’s injury, I took her to the nearest restaurant where I devoured a Maine lobster in front of her. She had tea.
“Hon, you sure you don’t want some?”