Fishing the gut

Today I’m heading up to Moeraki, on the tail end of a southerly storm. I like to see stormy seas – from a distance.

Eight years ago I went to Moeraki on the tail end of a southerly storm, to go on a fishing trip. There are good places to catch blue cod and groper. The conditions were marginal with a heavy swell, but we went out. I survived the trip, but once we stopped to drop our lines my stomach didn’t like it. So I suffered while the others fished, hanging out for a return to solid ground.

I’ve had a similar experience way back in 1998, which I wrote about.

Fishing the gut

Two weeks ago the 150th anniversary cavalcade concluded in Cromwell, which for me was the end of a great wee trek from Dunedin to Cromwell. It had been ten days break from normal life, a challenge, a once in a lifetime experience. Now it’s Easter, and a fishing trip off the coast of Oamaru. We stayed the night before the trip in Oamaru, and I had a very poor sleep. An early start was planned and I kept waking in case I missed the time. The trip wasn’t relying on me waking up, that is just what I tend to do, unnecessarily.

We got down to the wharf about six, and loaded the boat with blue penguins scurrying around our ankles. Soon we chugged out of the harbour, in fairly good conditions with only a small roll in the sea. We headed straight out towards a groper hole that was about twelve miles offshore. Right from the start I didn’t feel very flash, but I just put it down to tiredness.

It didn’t seem to take long before we reached the fishing spot, where several boats were already grouped looking for the groper. I still wasn’t feeling very good but started to fish, and like everyone else was soon hauling up some good groper as well as a few sea perch. While I was occupied I didn’t think much more about how I felt, but after a while our skipper told is to reel in so he could re-position the boat.

I wound in my line, put down the rod and headed straight for the toilet. I then had my first chuck for many, many years, and being out of practice I wasn’t too good at it. I hoped that at least it would have cleared the greebies (as well as my sparse breakfast of a piece of toast) out of my system and I could go on and enjoy the rest of the day.

Not to be.

I took things easy for a while but it wasn’t long before that queasy feeling crept back, and gradually built up until I was back to the bog. This time worse, muscles I thought should be weak from lack of use reaching further down looking for something to extract. Not nice.

After this I decided to bunk down for a while, and it seemed to work. I was hopeful that I had stabilised. I gave myself some time, then decided to try my luck again. I wanted to be able to get a few blue cod once we had moved on from the groper hole.

But it wasn’t long before I was back in the bog again. Wretched, wretching, reaching deeper, searching for something to haul out, wringing my guts of the last bit of fluid it had so far been able to retain. When this bout subsided I could only think of what the next would be like, and dreaded it.

I decided then that I was going to simply ride out this trip as best I could, the rest of my time concentrating simply on self preservation. It seemed like everyone else was managing, enjoying, able to look after themselves. I was going to be totally selfish, not something I am very familiar with.

So I was bunked up, wrapped up, not finding the rocking of the boat uncomfortable at all as long as I kept my eyes closed. It wasn’t long before I zizzed off, and I must have had a good wee sleep, as when I woke up and listened to conversation on deck it was obvious they had shifted and were now into the cod.

I actually felt pretty good as I still lay, that extreme tiredness now gone, and stomach not a bother any more. So I sat up in the bow of the boat, looking out through the cabin, able to see a bit of the activity on deck. This will do, I thought, not quite a part of it but at least sharing the occasion from a small distance. But not for long. My stomach soon started to warn me of impending action. So I quickly lay flat, eyes focussed only on the back of their tightly clenched lids. And I quickly resolved to stay this way until the trip was over. Only a couple of hours to wait it out.

So wait I did, lying, listening a little to what was going on outside, but mainly just thinking.

I realised I had finally come right back down to earth (though I’m not sure how you do this at sea). All through the cavalcade trip and since I had been on a bit of high, but often wondered when life’s balance would be evened. And if this was it, for the moment, I could cope. In a way I was actually pleased, because I had been expecting some sort of downer, and this one was easy to deal with – it even had a finite end expected in the near future.

And my thoughts often skipped back a couple of weeks. I thought much further back too, to those early immigrants. My small plight was nothing compared to those who boarded the Philip Laing, for example, and sailed straight into a storm. Two weeks stuck in the Irish Sea before they could make any headway into a journey of months. And some of them were seasick too, terribly, but with far more to endure ahead of them. Bad food, more bad weather intermittently, and a mysterious new land and future ahead.

And what of those chasing the gold or new pastures. Perhaps weeks or months of churning seas and churning stomachs, then ashore and off on their own treks inland. I can’t imagine any way of duplicating now what they experienced then. A different time, a different world, a different dimension.

I thought about what I had done on the cavalcade, how many people have said what an achievement it must have been. I thought it was pretty cruisy really. Maybe if I lived back a century or two I wouldn’t have even survived the trip to the New Land by sea..

I had previously always thought that I shouldn’t be seasick, but had hardly tested this theory. The odd inshore cruise, a ferry or two, no problem. Until now. Not sure what the difference was. It is a strange thought to contemplate, a weakness that I may keep. I may try again some time and see what happens, perhaps with some modern medical backup. But at the moment I am not sure if I want to risk confirming what I had thought (or more likely hoped) was not possible. Just as well I enjoyed my adventure on solid ground so much. I still have plenty of thrills to look forward to without wobbling about in a boat.

A bit of a paradox then, as I look forward soon, back home inland, to a calm enough lake to resume a new joy in kayaking. I have had the chance for just one short spree since trekking. And once I get back into it, to enjoy tackling some rougher water too. That can be fun. Perhaps it is the salt-free air. The lack of diesel throb and exhaust? Or the nearby hills that provide a welcome point of focus. Life can be puzzling sometimes.

A few years ago I survived a rough crossing of Foveaux Strait on a trip to Stewart Island. I took ginger, and I stared and focussed as far into the distance as possible. This helps, even when the distance is the tops of waves higher than the boat. There were a lot of sick bags used on that trip but I survived with just some queasiness.

This trip I won’t be going out on the water.




  1. Griff

     /  May 21, 2017

    As a qualified offshore skipper I have a saying for people who get sea sick .
    Mind over matter .
    I don’t mind you don’t matter .

    The interislander makes me sea sick on a calm day.
    Small boats never do that includes a six day journey from Fiji to NZ in 35 kn winds and beam seas of four plus meters.
    I think it may be a control issue ….being a passive passenger it is easy to dwell on the motion rather than all the details skippering a boat involves..

    Ginger works for many and it has no side effect unlike pharmacy meds for sea sickness .
    Another thing that can help is remove excess clothing to cool your body down and concentrate on the horizon..

    • If I concentrate on focussing in the distance I minimise thee ill effects.

      The problem I have had both times is not the travelling to the fishing hole, it was when stopped in a rolling boat focussing on objects moving with the boat ie fishing gear.

      The problem is your brain gets confused if it knows you are in motion but your eyes don’t see that motion becasue they are seeing things moving with you, so relative to you not moving.

      • Griff

         /  May 21, 2017

        I had a mate I used to go game fishing with .
        He would be sick as a dog the minute we hit any swells .
        As soon as we struck a fish he was fine .
        Right up until we landed or lost it .
        Then he would be back over the side calling for Ralph the sea god .

        Joking aside more than once I have aborted a fishing trip because someone has Mal de mer.
        It is an extremely uncomfortable experience for those who are susceptible.