Monday, April 2nd, 2002
I receive an innocent-enough email. “Whale-watching” it screams. “We’ll cruise the high seas in search of the humpback whale.”
My only thought is “who would not want to do this?” A quick call to my friend to ask if she’d like to go – I’d pay for you, I say, as a birthday gift - and the plans are set. My credit card is charged and so am I. This is going to be great.
(You'll soon read why I did not take this photo. Lack of talent is just one reason. Amazing photo by Ocean Vet. )
Later, Monday, April 2nd
“I’m excited, Kris!” This is my friend being excited.
So am I. So am I.
A bit later, Monday, April 2nd
“We’re going to get sick. I don’t want to go now.” This is my friend bailing.
“Fine.” I’d go by myself. More fun for me… Won’t have to share any fun. I’ll see the whales. I’ll snap that shot of the whales dancing over the waves and it’ll make the front page. Whatever. Who needs a co-pilot? Besides I knew what I’d do. I’d take some Gravol. Maybe even purchase one of those nausea patches. It’ll be cool.
“Seriously Kris, I heard you go out far… like 20 miles, and the waves are high, and South Shore… you know how South Shore is.”
But nothing can deter THIS intrepid explorer. I’d been promised whales. And whales I will see. Besides, South Shore is really only about 2 miles from North Shore. What could be the big deal?
Saturday, April 13th
The morning is here. I jump up and got dressed. Warm gear, I think to myself. Warm Gear is the answer. I pop a Vitamin B-6 pill like my mom suggests. They work like Gravol, she chimes. They work just the same. My lunch box is packed with soup and snacks, and my jug of ice water is prepared. This is going to be a great day. I prepare a bowl of cereal, but the excitement overwhelms me, and I can’t eat.
Today I will conquer the sea!
I arrive at the dock. It is immediately apparent to me that I am going to fall into a unique demographic on this expedition, under-25, black Bermudian. I will be the ambassador. They will marvel at my strength and team spirit. I climb aboard the trusty sea craft. It gleams in the sun, and rocks gently. She’s a right nice ship you got here captain, I say. Right nice indeed.
We set out through the harbour. I spot the new ferry and think of how my sea experiences had all been confined to that Hamilton to Dockyard ride. How that will all change now, I think. I will now be one of them – a sea reveler. I almost shout out Ahoy Matey as we pass, but think better of it.
I refuse to be deterred by this extremely long ride. This ship is able and true. And I am proud to be aboard.
The captain cuts the engine and tells us we’re looking for what appears to be a puff of smoke. Look along the horizon, and if we see it, that would be a whale blowing air.
I am perplexed. This is the strategy? We are going to sit here in this tiny boat and search this huge horizon for air? Where’s the sonar equipment? The undersea camera? We’ve come all this way to look for puffs! You’ve got to be kidding me.
But I do as I am told and look around.
And then I see it. We all do… and the engine is back on and we are gone, ‘cruising the high seas!’
The waves are high. Real high. But I don’t worry about it. I am feeling good. Those vitamin B-6’s must really do the trick, I think.
We are seriously getting splashed. I am holding on to a pole and doing deep knee bends every time our vessel hits a wave and my side of the boat goes up in the air. Those on the other side of the boat look like they can simply lay their heads back and touch the water. My glasses are covered in salt spray. I can’t see any puffs.
But who cares??? We are here for the Whales! Who cared about a little wave and a little water?? We were out there, braving the elements and the sea… oh yes, we are real boatsmen, or boatswomen, or uhh ... we were real sailors.
I see the whales. It’s amazing. They’re there. Right ahead, 75 feet or so. We can see them, splashing and swimming, and I am screaming with glee. This is indeed awesome. Tears come into my eyes at this grand spectacle of nature.
I am really tired. So tired my eyes are starting to close of their own volition. How could this be? How could I be here watching this aforementioned grand spectacle and falling asleep. I don’t worry about it and fight to stay awake. The boat has gotten awfully quiet.
But we must all just be stunned into silence by this sight.
“I’m hot!!” I scream. Or maybe not. I’m not sure. But I’m sweating. Serious buckets. I begin to think about getting some water. I’d left my jug in the cabin beneath. However, the whales are starting to really get moving, and we’re going in closer.
“You’ll smell his breath bum-bye,” the captain says.
I pick up my camera, and a wave hits me. Not ocean. Nausea.
I’m sick. This realisation hits me, so I analyse the situation and look over the side of the boat to see what the vomiting possibilities are from my current position. But I’m on the top deck and the bottom deck juts out a bit. That could be messy.
I’m standing at the front, so somehow, I must make my way to the ladder at the back. The waves are still coming, and the ocean was rough too. However, I was smooth. I may have grabbed some strangers, but no one noticed. Okay just get down the ladder, do what you have to do, and come back up. No one ever has to know. When I reach the ladder I know there is no time to turn and walk down regularly, so I just slide down. I may have let out a blood-curdling scream with pain when my ankle twisted as I landed on the deck, but no one noticed.
I fly to the side of the boat and my body contracts violently. But I think to myself, okay, this is okay, now just a few more seconds, you’ll be doing better. You can go back upstairs after.
I lay my head on the side of the boat, incredibly weak.
I will myself to fall asleep, and suddenly hear a splat noise a few feet away from me. A gentleman on the top did not analyse the vomiting possibilities. He simply hurled onto the deck below. This is starting to take a dark turn. I am too weak to move, and pray for sleep.
Many of my cabin mates join me below. It is a chorus of something that should never be harmonious. We have bonded in this unbelievable test of misery.
Death would be a welcome reprieve. Please kill me. Please allow me to jump over and take my chances swimming for shore. At the very least, please give me the strength to bang my head against this so-called boat, so that I may pass out in ignorant bliss of the pain and suffering of which I am experiencing. The tiny bit of cereal has left my body, and yet the nausea gods taunt me. I am experiencing what is called the ‘dry heave’, and I hear my ribs crack as my body folds brutally into itself. I think my lungs just collapsed. I will surely now be unable to bear children.
I am thirsty, extremely thirsty. Why have my cabin mates forsaken me? Won’t anyone ask if I’m in need of libation? Finally, someone brings me a bottle of water. I take a swig, but this soon goes the way of all other solids and liquids which were once in my body. I have decided that eating is terribly over rated, and have vowed to never do so again if I get off this god-forsaken piece of driftwood alive.
I don’t want to say it, but I am going to kill the captain if he doesn’t turn the boat around. I did not realise when I boarded that he was Captain Ahab, in search of something grand. We have seen the whales, and we must now leave. Unless these whales are going to suddenly don top hats and tap shoes, I cannot imagine a sight out here that I want to see. As I am trying to phrase these words a woman shouts out, “We have seen all there is to see. Turn this boat around!!” I think she promises the captain her firstborn in exchange for immediate return to shore.
The ocean wants to take me, and I am about to concede defeat. My defenses have shut down. No one sees that my side of the boat is going into the water at every wave, and I am now battling hypothermia. It’s only a matter of time now. Suddenly, a force larger than myself summons every ounce of my strength remaining in my body and I yell, “CouldsomeonegetmyjacketI’mfreezingItscold!!” This monumental effort exhausts me, and I collapse against the side of the boat. But it works. And someone brings my parka. They help me to put it on and I smile in small triumph. I am saved. My trusty parka has rescued me from the depths of the briny deep. Not today, Savvy Sea. Not today.
How could I have believed that this stupid parka would be my saviour? I’m still wet under the parka, and now its so-called waterproof system has failed. Its is wet and its heavy, and I am sinking under the weight. Its going to smother me, and no one will know. What a way to go… I try to glance around me, to look for a sharp instrument with which I can repeatedly pierce the side of this floating death vessel. However the effort of moving my head causes me to pass out.
Someone comes over to me and realises that I’m drenched. My body is bursting into shiverous convulsions every 5 seconds, and he tells me that to survive I must move to the other side of the boat. I try to tell him to go on without me… save himself for I cannot be saved. He tells me to lean on him and he assists me with crossing the boat. This journey is short, but the repercussions of movement are immediate. My forehead once again makes contact with the sea as the dry heaves assail me and any other internal organs which were still intact are crushed and destroyed. A Bible passage comes to mind, “E’li, E’li la’ma sa-bach-tha’ni?” The translation escapes me, but the relevance does not, and I yell it into the wind. Or maybe not. I’m not sure.
The Good Samaritan who helped me cross this punt realises not that I am now worse off. He has leaned me against a pole which, for whatever architectural reasons, has water coursing down its side. Thus, I have my very own rain cloud. And it pours heavily upon my head. The gentleman beside me begins vomiting. I try to cry but all liquids are gone from my body. So my face simply twists into an inhuman grimace. The gentleman looks at me and vomits again. I don’t take it personally.
My Good Samaritan returns to tell me that my thong is showing every time I bend over, but my lack of concern causes him to glance closer at my situation and he screams in disbelief at my condition. ‘We’ve got to move her!’ He grabs me, and I slump into him. “She’s gone!! She’s blacked out!! Oh god!!!” There’s some hustle and bustle, and I am lain across some trunk in the middle of the deck. It is definitely more comfortable but lacking in the necessary amenity – the ocean - and as this movement causes familiar repercussions, I must request some sort of bucket. As a kind lady passes one to me, my last ounce of dignity goes into it.
I’m freezing. Everyone on board throws their jackets over me, and kind lady begins rubbing my hands. Another gentleman lays on me in an attempt to create some sort of body heat. This is what he says, and I am in no position to dispute.
I hear conversation around me about who I am. They are all wondering where I came from, and if I am on the boat by myself. She must be, they say. Someone else suggests that as I was sitting behind the captain’s chair and they’d spotted me talking to him, perhaps I’m his daughter. The captain is white - and they’re grasping at straws.
Kind lady keeps pouring water down my throat so that I won’t become dehydrated. This doesn’t appear to be working, because it all goes back into the bucket. My last request for the bucket produces some sort of greenish-yellowish substance and as I stare at it, all medical reason leaves my head and I wonder if, when my ribs cracked and all of my internal organs were destroyed, the tube that connects to my stomach come undone. Perhaps it accidentally joined onto my bladder, and I have just exhumed urine, as this could be the only explanation. Kind lady is looking at me, and gives me a sheepish, ‘its-okay’ grin, and I lay down, disgusted with who, and what, I have become.
The ocean is getting calmer, and someone explains to me that we are back into the lee of the island. Perhaps, they suggest, I would like to stand, and try to get myself together. No, I explain. I would not.
We are only 30 minutes away from docking. It’s a beautiful day, they say, perhaps you can sit up. No, I explain. I cannot. Kind lady asks me how I was traveling, and tells me that a couple onboard, feel extreme pity for me, and will drive me home.
At the dock, I sit up, and realise that everyone who had been vomiting alongside me had long since arisen and enjoyed the rest of their cruise. I reason that the depths of my sickness, in combination with my penchant for melodrama would never have allowed me to do so. They all look at me with disgust. But I don’t take it personally.
Kind couple are driving me home, and in the car I attempt to have intelligent conversation about Bermuda’s recent reputation as a tax-haven, so that I can begin dispelling the theories about who or what I am, but they feel that I am ill. They keep asking me about vomit. No, I explain, I am an intelligent girl who simply had a rough trip. Let’s have a real discussion about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness.
Of course I say none of this. And simply discuss the vomit.
I am at home. I have taken a shower, and regaled my sister with the story of my quest. Now I am lying in the living room, and praying for someone to row this couch ashore.
To update, my ribs and lungs have healed nicely. (Or if you want to believe the doctors nothing was ever wrong with them.) I am still able to bear offspring. And, although I toyed with the idea, have not given up eating.
I have been on the sea again – I recently caught the ferry to the Boat Show in Dockyard. The memories abounded.
I never got a chance to thank anyone who helped me, so I will do so here today, in the hopes that any pictures they may have taken can be cordially destroyed or at the very least never used to hamper my future endeavours.
Everyone asks me if I wish I hadn’t gone, and I must say, hey, I saw whales. I fought death to do so, but lived to tell the tale. Should, however, I receive another email inviting me to cruise anything besides a catamaran around the harbour, I will toss my computer out the window, and go get myself a snack.
Oh, and it was something called bile.
(written in 2002 and published in the Royal Gazette on 9 June 2003.)