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Getting your sea legs

2/24/2010

I live near Highway 1 just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Highway 1 at the end of the street is a section that snakes around so much as it climbs a hill that it seems like it was designed by engineers who were possessed by the serpent spirit.

As the road starts to climb to a ridge it is one switchback after another to the top of the ridge, where you can choose whether to keep following the curves all the way to Muir Beach and the ocean, or take the other curvy road to half-mile high Mount Tamalpais.

Along the snake road, there are some places to pull over. Some are for scenic vistas, others are to access hiking trails. Still others are for people who have to pull over because of carsickness.

Those of us who live in the area don't get motion sickness — dizziness, nausea and vomiting — from driving the road daily. Does that mean that we are cured of motion sickness elsewhere, like in the Pacific Ocean while fishing for rockfish, salmon, stripers and halibut? Unfortunately, not necessarily.

I grew up on Lake Erie, probably spending as much time on the water as on the land. Never once was I seasick, even when duck hunting when fall storms with strong winds would sweep through. I fished all the Great Lakes in those days; no problem. I do admit feeling a little queasy one time when crossing Lake Michigan in a car ferry that was plowing into waves from strong west headwind, but that was it.

I've fished the Pacific in American Samoa, California, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, and the Atlantic off the Florida Keys. Never got sick.

But when I have gone out on salmon charters outside the Golden Gate, a couple of times, I lost my lunch. The west wind, outgoing tides and currents off the entrance to the Golden Gate can sometimes kick up swells 10-15 feet high, and right where the salmon are biting best. Some guys seem to be oblivious to such conditions. I'm not so lucky.

Not wanting to find myself in hell when I should be in heaven when the fish are biting, I've explored various remedies to cure, or at least quell motion sickness, that I will talk about in a minute, but first, just what brings on this curse that can poison enjoyment on land, sea or in the air.

Motion sickness is caused when the inner ear, the eye, and the body send conflicting messages to the brain. One of the quickest ways to get some relief, at least for some people, is to find something stable that your eyes can stare at.

I became aware of this first-hand when I was fishing for rockfish on a charter boat out of Newport, Oregon. This will sound like a fish story, but I caught so many fish that I got tired. When that fatigue set in, I started to feel queasy.

"Look at shore," the captain suggested. And when I did I started to feel better. I just stood there for five minutes or so, not fishing, but looking at the shore. Caught my breath, and went back to fishing. Problem solved.

Sometimes shore is not nearby or even in sight. On approach is to use one of a variety of anti-motion-sickness drugs on the market, some prescription, and others are over-the-counter: Dramamine, Bonine, and the scopalomine patch.

Check out the side-effects. In small quantities, Dramamine can cause drowsiness. In larger quantities it is a hallucinogen. Do not drink alcohol with motion-sickness medicine.

Whenever possible, I try to use natural remedies to calm motion-sickness, and I've found a system that works for me, at least so far. This is based on my having studied acupuncture and martial arts.

Acupuncture wrist bands — There are a number of these on the market for less than $10. Basically this is an elastic band with a plastic button on the inside that slips over your wrist. To get results, you must wear one on each wrist and position them correctly so the buttons are situated on the Nei-Kuan Points on each wrist.

This point is located by placing your middle three fingers on the inside of each wrist with the edge of the third finger on the wrist crease. The Nei-Kuan Point is just under the edge of your index finger between the two central tendons of your wrist.

Now brew yourself a thermos of hot ginger tea, and bring along to eat some ginger candy (candied ginger root is my favorite), and some ginger snaps. Ginger ale works too, but I prefer warm liquids as they relax the stomach more than cold. This is your food and water for the trip.

While you are out you can try light snacking on other food, especially high carbohydrates, and see how that stays down. Ginger is definitely an important calmative for the stomach.

One other suggestion. On the deck of a rocking boat, if you are standing, don't lock your knees, which maximizes your swaying. Instead, make your knees flexible, shift your weigh from foot to foot and bend them as the boat rises, seeking to reduce the amount of side-to-side motion you go through. This also gives you a feeling that you are more in control of your position, which reduces fears of loss of control. Fear always aggravates any other feelings of uneasiness.

And finally, if you have studied any martial art, you will know about the center in the abdomen, located about three inches below the navel, the "tantien." Try to keep yourself focused on this area. It will reduce dizziness and make it easier to automatically adjust your body to feel comfortable.

Now go get 'em.

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.

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