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How My Pain to Spain Cured My Ocean Disdain

It’s surprising what’s on your doorstep. For years I thought summer travelling from England meant cheap easyJet flights to Prague, heading to St. Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Paris or driving to Wales in a beaten up Ford Fiesta with a guitar sticking out the window.

But I’m from Plymouth. It’s a port. A harbour. What about travelling over water? Perhaps because I’ve never had sturdy sea legs I’ve always looked at the ocean as a nemesis, an enemy; a problem to be avoided rather than an opportunity to be embraced. And yet here was the chance to experience another culture, by hopping on a ferry to Spain a stone’s throw from my front door.

The journey from Plymouth to Spain takes 24 hours. It’s an awesome gateway to Europe – perfect for a long weekend, holiday or short backpacking trip. Why spend a few short hours in a cramped car or plane when you can leisurely pass the journey strolling the deck of a ship, like one of the romantically poor steerage passengers from Titanic. One that didn’t die, obviously.

The prospect looked pretty good. On the ferry you can pay for a room and get some proper rest, or – as I had planned – simply wander the ship and grab a few hours sleep on a bench. Or even on deck, if the weather was good. The prospect of travelling by sea was suddenly appealing to me. Maybe there would even be some kind of authentic Irish jig below deck?

So it was a different idea, and one I’d never considered before. I knew I wanted to see some of northern Spain, and yet … travelling by sea made me nervous. As I said, travelling on water has consistently been a backpacking obstacle for me to overcome. In South Africa I jumped on a boat from Cape Town to Robben Island to see where the great Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for almost three full decades before becoming a legend. It was a moving experience, but tainted by the memory of losing my lunch on the way there. And back.

That’s not the only example. In Argentina I took a trip to see humpback whales mating in the ocean; a majestic, beautiful sight … tarnished by the parallel recollection of being rather ill over the side of the boat. In front of 30 people. This time it was breakfast.

After some hand-wringing and time in Boots searching for ‘pre-sea sickness’ solutions I decided to just do it. I found a deal, bought a ticket and stepped aboard an overnight ferry from Plymouth to Santander.

At first everything was fine. I was blown away by the bizarre experience of wandering a floating town complete with shops, restaurants and cafes. I relaxed, had a few drinks and gazed out at the sun setting over the horizon. And then I noticed that the horizon was moving; up and down in the window, a dark blue landscape rhythmically becoming alternately higher and lower.

I wasn’t ill straight away. But as the outside world faded to black, the combination of choppy waters and two bottles of white wine proved too much to bear. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say my cruel nemesis had won again. I wandered the ferry looking like a disorientated survivor from The Poseidon Adventure. I asked one of the staff why they sailed when the sea was so rough. He said the water was as calm as it gets.

It was late at night and the ferry was practically deserted, spare a few intertwined couples who were looking lovelorn and besotted. I decided to pull myself together and face the ocean like a champ. After all, motion sickness is caused by movements that lack visuals so, surely, looking upon the great black mass before me should cure me of the need to empty my stomach.

However, it had an unexpected effect. I’ve never seen the ocean by night. I guess I assumed that there wasn’t much to see.  And yet, without the orange hue of light pollution, set adrift as I was in the middle of nowhere, the nights sky was the clearest I could ever wish to see.  It was literally like gazing up into the wide open mouth of space, not to mention the fact that constellations, galaxies and the frothy sparkle of the Milky Way were being reflected from the tranquil waters. With face aghast and skin tingling with goosebumps, I soaked up that sky-scape for what felt like forever, clutching confidently to the handrails of the ferry with the steady legs of the hypnotised.

And not once did I consider my stomach. And I haven’t since.

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Comments (1)

  • Graefyl

    I lost my sea legs years ago. They were there at one time, but I looked sideways at a hovercraft and off they went. Haven’t seen ‘em since.

    Have you thought about breaking it in easy, like starting on a river and bit by bit getting closer to the sea?


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