On being seasick

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines seasickness as “motion sickness experienced on the water.” Some say it’s “all in the head.” Many a seagoing cowboy would disagree. Here are two accounts:

Cowboy Merle Crouse, from our last post, painted this colorful description of what it was like to be a seagoing cowboy in his short address at Heifer International’s 70th anniversary kickoff in Little Rock, Arkansas, in March 2014. He opened with this paragraph:

If you like to feed dusty hay to confused cows who are sliding around on a layer of fresh manure that has greased a floor that is rocking 4 ways at once from 40 foot North Atlantic waves while you are so seasick that you don’t have anything left in your stomach to throw up and you almost wish you were dead and you almost wish you had stayed home on the farm instead of volunteering to be completely miserable, then, welcome to the experience of being a seagoing cowboy.

Seagoing cowboys en route to Italy in 1946 try to get their sea legs. Photo by Elmer Bowers.

John Brelsford served as a seagoing cowboy on the S. S. Rock Springs Victory delivering cattle to Ethiopia in March 1947. He says, “I can’t write about this crossing without trying to describe seasickness.” He continues:

Ten minutes after we left the pier, I began to be sick. I didn’t know what was the matter then, but by the middle of the next day I knew well enough. I get a headache that seems to settle in the back of my neck, have a very upset stomach, and feel cold all over. The night we sailed, I went to bed right away to try and get warm and get over my headache. The next morning I didn’t feel like eating and my headache was worse. I ate an orange to see how food would stay down. It stayed pretty well, so I went to breakfast. After I had been there a little while, the whole place seemed to make me sick, so I grabbed a half grapefruit and beat it. I don’t suppose that it was five minutes later that I decided to see if the orange and grapefruit tasted as good as I thought they did, so I brought them back up. . . . Well, I tried to go about my business of feeding and watering a third of the 84 head of heifers that we had on our end of the top deck, but every once in awhile I’d give up and stick my head over the side of the ship or over a bucket. . . . It was surprising what it would take to set you going. Sometimes, it was looking up and seeing somebody else going through the motions. Sometimes, it was the look on the face of a cow. Sometimes it was listening to someone tell how just as they got through eating they leaned over and deposited their dinner in some lucky fellows lap and then settled back down and ate another plateful. Sometimes it was just looking at the paleness or yellowness and the pained expression on the faces of the fellows around most anywhere. To say the least, I was worn out by night just from bending over the ship and working my diaphragm muscles so much. I had decided never to eat again when Carl Geisler talked me into testing a pork chop that he was eating out in the fresh air. He strongly suggested that I do the same thing, so I finally consented and went into the galley and ordered a plate to go out. I went back out and stuck my head in every few minutes until my plate was ready. It had a couple of pork chops and three slices of bread. I very carefully discarded all the fat and bones and wrapped up the small pieces of meat in the bread and rather slowly ate them. After the first bite hit my stomach, I felt better. I have been eating ever since. . . .

There were all sorts of different ideas as to the causes and remedies. . . . I’m sure that if doctors and sailors haven’t been able to figure out either the cause or the cure in all the years that men have been sailing the seven seas, there isn’t much use of first time sailors trying to figure it out. But figure we would. For three or so days that was all anybody talked about. All I’m sure of is that we all got sick and that we all got over it in spite of the cause or treatment.

Two of John Brelsford’s shipmates hanging over the rail. Photo by Howard Lord.

Read more about cowboys and seasickness here.