The ideal recipe for seasickness

After over a year on the sea, do we ever get sea sick? If you live on a boat, you outgrow sea sickness to a certain extent. Only the captain is immune to the stuff. The other crew, no matter how irregular, suffers occasional bouts of sea sickness.

The French summarize possible causes for ‘mal de mer’ in 5 f’s:

  • Faim (hunger, lack of balanced diet): Always make sure you have something in your stomach, if you start feeling queasy, snack on a salty cracker and flush it down with water
  • Fatigue (tiredness, disrupted sleep patterns): Try and get enough rest in. For long passages, make sure you can share watches with more than one person or develop a system that allows you to get some solid sleep
  • Frayeur (fear, stress, a feeling of insecurity): If you are worried and frightened you waste a lot of energy. Have confidence in your boat, your captain, your crew.
  • Froid (cold or heat stroke): Protect yourself from the elements, sunshine gets magnified and reflected on the vast open sea mirror and the wind will prevent you from feeling you are getting burned. Dress warmly for night watch. Save your body the effort of having to do all acclimatizing work.
  • soiF (thirst, dehydration): Drink enough water.

In our experience, a few weeks of emotional strain, broken up sleep, hormonal changes and other female stuff will run the system down. Add good wind and big swells and the physical strains that come with that, and you have got the ideal recipe for seasickness.

Speed combined with big swells equals rough handling of all contents of the boat, passengers included. A stroll from the companionway to your cabin becomes an obstacle course where you are violently thrown from one end to the next, pounding into the galley cupboards, the table and the door along the way. Performing a simple task like using the head leaves you bruised and stumbling around as you are smacked down on the toilet, catapulted to one side, and lurched forward as you try and climb back in your knickers… 24 hours of this is fine. But somewhere on day 2 you start feeling the effect. And at some stage your body starts to bail out. As the boat keels over and you hear the water gurgling in the drains, so does any fluid in your stomach. Frequent stomach clenches while Exodus jumps from one big wave onto the next mold and knead whatever you have inside you. Propulsing it forward, longing to be set free, into the great wide open ocean…

The only remedy is sleep, taking it easy, allowing yourself to drift off into a space where you don’t care, think or feel. Let the wind rage, the water slosh, and the waves rollercoaster your bed. Sea sickness bands help a great deal. Put them on as soon as conditions are picking up or with your first stomach clench.

On board of Exodus, we are not a big fan of pills, including sea sick pills. It helps newbies that are suffering through their first days to get over it. But other than that, it creates a general dullness of the senses, not only removing nausea but taking all life out of you. Lifting a finger seems too much effort, not to mention working the ropes in heavy conditions. The acid heartburn seems reduced to a sticky dry mouth, while downstairs things unwittingly continue brewing. The zombie spell gets broken for a brief moment where the host turns another shade paler, the world turns black for their eyes, and they are taken over by a sudden urge to crawl to the railing and let the internal volcano erupt. What might be a great help for some, for your writer the only guaranteed result will be to vomit at one stage or other…


From Jamaica we had 374 miles to go to Isla de Providencia. This island is part of Colombia and lies in between Jamaica and Costa Rica. While you are crossing there is nothing to be seen but open seas, yet the maps show that careful passage planning and keeping a steady course is needed as there are miles of cays to navigate through. Cays are coral islands in the make. They are reefs that don’t quite surface but are quite shallow. The charts show steep inclines like mountains, coming up from thousands, hundreds of meters down below. As you approach the shallow areas, the depth lines on your chart are very close together and you can see the depth meter climb from 180m to 16m in a jif. Pretty amazing!

No providence

After a speedy ride, Exodus made it safely to Providencia bay, and found an anchorage in the dark. Well before 9 o’clock we launched the dinghy with Arthur and Gitane as representatives while other parties were still desperately looking for their bowel contents. Isla de Providencia, looked like a pleasant place and for all we had read and heard from other sailors has great diving and snorkeling. We had set our mind to 2 weeks of water therapy, to wash off all the ill biddings from Belgium.


Alas, it was not to be. Two hours later, the Exodus shore party returned with a load of shopping and the bad news we were not allowed to stay. Apparently the information on the internet was incorrect and South Africans do need a Visa. As explained in the Dom Rep blog, we didn’t manage to get a visa for Colombia as the Embassy was closed and very possibly they had the same stupid rule as the Dutch, that you can only apply as a resident in one of the Caribbean countries or from your country of origin…


We did some passage planning, food preparing, and relaxing and in the early afternoon we set off for the next 248 sea mile leap. Straight onto to Panama. The weather prediction didn’t look too great. There was no wind predicted 100 seamiles out of Panama. But who knows, maybe things looked different by the time we got there…

The first leg of the trip, there was strong wind, and Exodus made good progress. This continued until early morning, when a strong squall approached. We managed to reduce the genoa just in time but as the wind kept picking up we had to reduce more. The wind howled, rain poured down, waves splashed over, making us soaking wet. Cranking with all our might, the captain suddenly realized all resistance on the furler rope had disappeared and the remainder of the genoa was flapping wildly. The sheets (ropes attached to genoa) were hanging limp over the winches. A quick peek up front obviated that the sail loop where the sheets are attached snapped clean off. We handrolled the genoa in wind and weather and tied her down.

Time to hoist the main sail with 2 reefs in and continue like that. The combination of wind and waves steeply increases the chances of getting our full battened main sail stuck in the lazy jacks, so very often we have to hoist, let off, and hoist again, getting our full exercise before breakfast. To make life more interesting the autopilot started acting up again, with our new screen switching itself off, giving error messages, blinking, beeping, and displaying what looked like Chinese characters rather than English… So Winnie was put behind the helm while Arthur dived into the stern hatch to check all the wiring. He managed to fix the navigation lights, while the autopilot resisted any attempt at reasonable behavior. Once we finally found the trick to operate the auto pilot the wind dropped. Luckily it did not take very long and we pottered on from squall to squall.

As we were getting ready for night watch and wanted to run the engine for a while in order to top up the batteries, not all the lights on our Sterling smart charger came on, indicating a problem. This meant that there was no power going into the house battery pack from the alternator. The auto helm is the biggest consumer of energy therefore we would have to steer until we fixed the problem. As we switched off the engine, the wind meter went blank…

Winnie was put behind the helm as an electrical storm was approaching. All electrical equipment was switched off, laptops were packed away. Arthur went to investigate after leaving clear instructions not to touch anything metal in case lightening struck. Rain dripped from her nose, on the compass, while waves, thunder and lightning provided on board entertainment. The captain’s report came in pieces: The new alternator’s regulator had perished resulting in an extremely high output. It was pushing out 22 Volt, instead of the normal 14,4 V. Luckily our Sterling smart charger controls what goes into the batteries and prevented them from being cooked. But we could not charge anything like this, run the freezer or even use the autopilot… The alternator would have to be fixed in a workshop on land, but we had a solution handy. We replaced our old alternator in Cabo Verde and had kept it as a spare. We could dismount the new one and rebuild the old one. But as we were sailing from squall to squall in rough seas, with winds going from 0 to 25 knots, we decided that that was a job that could wait until morning.

However, when we looked ahead we realized we were sailing straight into another electrical storm. We dropped the mainsail and decided to lie bare pole until the storm blew over. Waves were crashing into Exodus making her rock and roll, sending anything that wasn’t strapped down or wedged solidly flying around.

At 1 o’clock the captain had had enough and started getting his tools ready for the alternator transplant. Winnie weerlig was appointed assistant tool fetcher and chief light shiner. Working on a boat is always fun, as you basically have no space for your hands, body, tools to reach the tight bolts and parts that need to come off. Doing jobs on electricity in the dark, on a heavily rolling boat, sweating like a pig (we are in the Tropics, remember) also makes an interesting experience. Contortion artist Arthur did his best and got off the new alternator without accidents, taping off the life wires neatly and tucking them away. When we started mounting the old alternator however, another curve ball was thrown at us. In Mindelo (Cabo Verde) the guys from the workshop took several days to mount the alternator as they had to weld a bracket that fit our Perkins engine. It turned out that for this job they had used the old bracket and shortened it a few centimeters, meaning that the old alternator no longer fitted in the right spot and the original fan belt was now too big. That should not be too big a problem. In Porto Antonio other sailors related that their fan belt broke and they motored over 200 miles on the missus’ stockings. A 100 miles per leg. Stockings is not a standard item on a sailing boat, but your writer remembered her box with paraphernalia for those exotic boudoir nights where the captain gets a special treat… A lace top and pair of stockings were dug up and mounted. All wiring was connected and the motor started. Hooray, the makeshift fan belt was turning, yet the lights were not coming on as the speed was not high enough, and both clothing items lasted about 5 minutes. Apparently only silk stockings will do! Next idea was to search the spare part cupboards for anything useful. A spare sealing ring for our pressure cooker was deemed perfect for the job and fitted over the three rings like only a professional spear fisherman can. Start! Wow, running perfect, but maybe a bit too tight? Snap, off it jumped…

Some more lateral thinking was required. Could we make another bracket? Could we build something to extend it? Or, could we mount the short bracket upside down and compact the alternator space so that the new fan belt fits? Eureka! At 3 o’ clock in the morning, the captain had mounted the old alternator and had the motor purring like a tractor.

Hopping further from squall to squall we realized all weather predictions for this area are hopelessly inaccurate. At some stage during the day the captain also had to sort out a blocked head, that refused to release its contents to the sea. It turned out the toilet suffered from a severe case of constipation with the manual pump part blocked. We cleaned it all out, washed all the drain water out of the boat but only had minor improvement when we mounted it together. The outgoing tube was completely calcified on the inside and would have to be replaced. Another problem that would not be fixed at sea.


With the unpredictable weather it became quite difficult to gauge when we would arrive at our destination, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro archipelago, in Panama. It is preferable to arrive in a new spot during day light as it makes navigation easier. As this crossing was making clear, we were not to have anything easy. And of course we had to negotiate passage through the old shipping channel (still nicely marked on the map, but no longer marked with lights) at night. Winnie was put at the bow with a big torch to spot obstacles and boats on anchor. We soon encountered the first sample of the famous laid back style of Bocas del Toro. Most boats in the anchorage next to Bocas Marina do not have any anchor lights on, and with some glare from the land can pop up suddenly, deceivingly still at a safe distance. We dropped anchor and crashed into our wet bed, as with all the rain and rough seas we had some water inside…

After a mere 2 hours we got up and started communicating with marina Cayo Carenero, where we had booked a slip, and who would help us with the check-in into Panama. Shortly after, we were visited by the marine and immigration authorities, who did all the formalities on board.

Yes, we did it! We have arrived in Panama! The first leg of our trip around the world is completed, with 7550 seamiles under our belt. And as Exodus was making clear to us, we will take a break for a while, doing maintenance on Exodus and preparing her to sail the Pacific, French Polynesia and on…

Next step was to move towards Marina Cayo Carenero. We had confirmed beforehand with the owner, Mary, that there would be enough clearance for Exodus. When we arrived, however, we could see the bay was too shallow for a direct approach. We anchored, dropped the dinghy in the water and went for a recce. A solo sailor we met in Jamaica showed us how to approach and we set up with Mary to get assistance to moor between the pier and pole slips. Back at Exodus we prepared to go in. Fenders out and ropes ready. Up with the anchor! Or not… Press up on the anchor winch control, nothing happened! Check all the fuses, no problem there. Open up the control, aha, the up button has burned! Luckily  the winch still works if you take the wire and short it on the circuit board. Another item on the ever growing list of things to fix…

Isla de Providencia

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