A few years ago, my brother and I were in the small Australian town of 1770 in Queensland. We were there to catch a boat to Lady Musgrave Island, a small coral cay in the Great Barrier Reef. Our grandparents had recommended it.
When we arrived at the docks, we were told that today’s crossing might be a bit rough as a storm had passed through during the night and the waters were still a bit choppy. When my parents enquired as to how rough ‘a bit rough’ was, the tour operator leaned over the desk and said in hushed tones that she was glad she wasn’t going out in this weather. At this point, my parents backed out and gladly took their refund. My brother and I thought it would be a shame to miss this tropical paradise for a bit of rough seas. How bad could the crossing be anyway?
For any landlubbers wanting a translation of ‘a bit rough’, on that particular day it meant a twenty-five knot wind with a two-to-three metre swell. I’d call it ‘choppy’. On boarding the vessel we were offered some seasickness tablets which we accepted after a bit of persuasion. We were advised not to sit on the top deck for the crossing and as we weren’t feeling too adventurous that day, we obliged and found some seats inside.
When everyone was aboard, the boat left the tranquil waters of the harbour and headed out to sea. The sun was shining and everyone was in a good mood. All the children had found seats at the front of the boat and were laughing and giggling away. Other passengers were chatting and taking photographs, and my brother and I discussed what we had done on our holiday so far. Shortly after leaving the harbour, the boat started bobbing up and down a bit.
Now, thankfully, I don’t get travel sick. I can sit in a car and read for the whole journey. It’s a skill I developed whilst at school when I used to do my homework on a rickety 1930s Blackpool tram in a morning. My handwriting suffered as a result though. The following two hours were going to put this skill to the test.
As we got out to the open water, the boat started to rock up and down quite dramatically. Due to the direction of the waves we had to cut through them and a two-to-three metre swell is a lot of wave to cut through. The children at the front were having the time of their lives and every time the boat went up there was a murmur of anticipation. Every time the boat went down, there was a cheer. The laughter went on for about twenty minutes and we were all naively thinking that this was going to be as bad as it would get; but then, one by one, the children started going quiet.
The silence didn’t last, because before too long, the children started getting queasy. One of the children was sick. This began a domino effect across the front two rows as child after child joined in with the vomiting and started crying for their mums. At this point the air conditioning on the boat decided it couldn’t handle the summer’s heat wave any longer, and stopped working.
We were still rocking up and down on our journey to paradise when I noticed my brother had gone quiet. When I asked if he was ok, he shook his head and sighed. “One of the best things to do in this situation is to look at the horizon” I told him. I looked out the front of the boat and instead of seeing the horizon; all I could find were clouds. Upon a quick search, I located it out of one of the side windows and told my brother to focus on that. Then the person sat next to us started to be sick.
The waves weren’t dying down and the boat kept lunging up and down. When the engines were switched off, I knew we were on the crest of a big one. It was at this point that my brother succumbed to seasickness. He filled bag after bag until he could fill no more.
Panic had started to set in and some of the passengers had changed their mind about the trip. The crew were running around trying to hand out sick bags to anyone who needed them, in-between using a few for themselves and trying not to fall over in the aisles. One tourist decided that the floor was the best place to lie until we got to the island but the crew did not agree. The couple sat next to us were being sick some more and the children on the front row were crying. The boat was still crashing through the waves. My brother had begun dry heaving and I was doing everything in my power not to succumb to the seasickness. When all of this is going on around you, an hour is a very long time; especially when the air conditioning is broken and you can’t open a window to get rid of the smell of vomit.
Thankfully, we eventually made it to the island. People were still crying when we moored, but at least the bay was calm and people had stopped throwing up. My brother did not look well and I felt sorry for him. He’s since admitted he never wants to experience that amount of ‘vomiting and hell’ ever again.
When we were safely tied to the jetty, the crew brought out some food, which people surprisingly tucked into. They said we could go and enjoy the island, go for a swim or enjoy the sunshine. We gladly got off the boat and had a good day from that point onwards; but that, as they say, is another story.