An Outdoor View: On being a puker

Hi. My name is Les, and I’m a puker.

Being predisposed to seasickness, I have on many occasions observed while in an under-the-weather, over-the-railing position that some people find entertainment value in my debilitation.


“Well, we don’t have to pray to the great fish god, Yorrik. Palmer’s praying enough for all of us.”


“Heh, heh. We won’t have to chum, either.”

Why me? Why not them? Hard as I’ve tried, I’ve found nothing humorous about ejecting the contents of my stomach out of my mouth while everyone around me is having a good time.

With an air of superiority, they joke about “halibut hiccups” and “technicolor yawns.” Such cute euphemisms for such an abysmal state of being. Believe me, there’s nothing funny about mal de mer, which is French for “slow death by upchucking of the internal organs.”

I’ve lived with seasickness all my life, if you can call feeling like you want to die “living.” My brother, Dave, also was blessed with the debility. As children, he and I regularly retched in the back seat of the family sedan during Sunday afternoon drives. It was a family tradition. I believe we inherited the inclination from our mother, who would turn pale and start perpspiring upon seeing a picture of the ocean.

The thing is, I love the sea so much, I’m willing to suffer to be on it. Until I discovered Scopolamine patches, I suffered a lot. Now, I get sick only when I neglect to put on a patch early enough, or when one falls off and I don’t notice it’s gone. This happens about once a year, just often enough that the nagging fear of nautical nausea hangs over me like a pall.

Some people can function while seasick. Not me. I’m weak as a kitten, sick as a dog, limp as a dishrag. And when I screw up the patch deal, I’m mad as a hornet at myself.

Being a puker, albeit one who hasn’t tossed his cookies for 57 days straight, I have always sympathized with other pukers. Take the one at Deep Creek, one July day a few years ago.

I was standing on the beach, preparing to go halibut fishing on Cook Inlet, when I overheard a terrific altercation between a charterboat skipper and one of his customers. They were aboard the boat, ready to launch, yelling at each other. It got to the point where the skipper told the woman to either sit down and shut up or get off the boat. Grumbling, she sat down.

From what little I had heard, I sided with the guide. The obnoxious woman, instead of quietly following orders, was whining in that shrill, irritating way women do when their delicate sensibilities have been offended. The captain’s authority — and, by extension, all captains and the very laws of the sea — had been challenged. The challenge had been answered. There can be but one captain on a ship. The captain’s word is law. That this particular captain happened to be a man was neither here nor there. Nor did it matter that his loud-mouthed adversary, a loose cannon on deck if ever there was one, happened to be a woman.

I didn’t envy that captain. As I watched his boat moving out onto the inlet, I knew that fishing trip was going to be a long one.

As chance would have it, I was back on the beach when that boat came in, several hours later. I was dying of curiosity to know how the two antagonists had survived six hours on a 26-foot boat. I waited until the skipper had left to get his pickup, then I sidled over and said, “How’ja do?”

I expected to see the carnage of a bloody mutiny. At the very least, long faces. But no, everyone was smiling. Even the woman who had quarreled with the captain was smiling. Gesturing toward her male companions, she said, “They caught fish, but I spent the whole trip in the cabin, seasick. I’m just glad to be back on solid ground!”

My heart went out to that poor, suffering woman. I wanted to hug her. That brutish boat-driver must have said or done something that hurt her badly, the big bully. The more I looked at her, the more she resembled my favorite aunt, a saint of a woman.

We pukers stick together.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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