There’s a dirty little secret in the world of whale watching, and last weekend I learned what it is.
For my husband Cuddy’s birthday, I took him to Cape Cod. Who doesn’t want to go there? It’s legendary. With the car full of enough stuff for a month’s stay, we set out for a weekend. According to Google, the trip was 199 miles. Turns out it’s 290 miles, but thanks anyway, Googs.
We found our little rented cottage long after dark, and woke up in the morning to rain. We spent the day dodging torrential downpours and
arguing about looking for a place to eat. The next day had to be better. It was cloudy but not raining, so we had a disagreement discussion about how to spend the day.
Here was my idea. One of my friends had told me about whale watching in Provincetown. She said her trip was so full of incredible sightings, even the captain of the boat kept saying he’d never seen anything like it. He told the passengers they were “so very lucky” to have seen such wonders. Cuddy was sold.
At the dock, the guy selling tickets said, “We’re giving out free Dramamine today because it’s so choppy.” We snickered at this and signed on, as visions of Free Willy danced in our heads. I was a tad concerned, since I can get motion sickness watching a leaf fall. But I put that out of my mind.
As we waited to board the boat, a guy with a video camera was on the upper deck pointing the camera down at us. Cuddy waved at him, and he returned the wave with a thumbs up.
A girl with a Dixie cup full of little white pills greeted us as we came aboard. “Complimentary Dramamine, take one please. But take it now.” Cuddy popped one in his mouth and said, “Hey, just like a party in college!” We even got a nice cup of water to wash down the pills.
We took a seat at the back of the boat. It was less crowded there and we had an unobstructed view. To our left, we saw a seal diving in the water. Cool. We slowly made our way out to sea. The video camera guy came by and said he’d be offering a commemorative video after the trip. He thought his great shot of Cuddy waving would make it a winner for sure. It started to get chilly, so we moved inside.
We sat across from each other in a booth-type arrangement. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed like the farther we went, the less color was in Cuddy’s cheeks. He was still laughing and joking though. We’d brought some Dove chocolates with us, and he said, “We’d better eat all these now, in case we can’t later.” We laughed hysterically and did just that.
We started to hit some huge swells. It was like being on a plane in turbulence but without the danger. If it had been a plane, we’d have concussed. This was more like a carnival ride. The little kids behind us were screaming with laughter. Out the window it looked like the world’s bumpiest car wash.
We laughed at the cute teenage girls who’d been out on the deck and came inside soaked. We marveled at the people who stayed out there, hanging on tight and riding it out.
I sent a little video from my phone to our kids, showing them the crazy fun we were having. In reply they wanted the first whale photo.
But when I looked up from my phone, things weren’t going so well across from me.
Cuddy was clearly green around the gills. I reached out to touch his hand across the table, and it was dripping with sweat. So was his hair, now that I took a good look.
“Are you ok?” the moron in me asked.
“No. Nope. Not at all. Could you please go find me some sort of bag?” he mumbled with his hand over his mouth.
I headed to the back of the boat where there was an actual snack bar (more on that later) to ask for a bag. By now, the ride was so bumpy I had to grab tables and poles every step I took, to keep from landing on top of another person the same color as Cuddy. I didn’t make eye contact with any of them.
The girl behind the counter gave me a big black garbage bag and some paper towels. “Just how sick is she expecting him to get?” I wondered. I lurched back to Cuddy and handed him the bag. I updated the kids.
Things were happening fast around me. The captain was seeing whales all over the place, and telling us to look to the right, look to the left, look starboard, look at 1:30, look to the bow…whales, whales, whales.
But when I looked to the left, here’s what I saw.
And when I looked starboard, this.
And lastly, Cuddy and a fellow passenger. Cuddy’s the one in the back.
The formerly happy little kids behind me now had their heads buried either in their mothers’ laps or in bags. The blond girl who’d been having so much fun getting soaked by the sea just moments earlier was now throwing up and crying as her friend held her hair. These waves were straight out of A Perfect Storm, and we were being slammed up and down like nobody’s business. There was no let up.
I tried to find someone not throwing up to focus on. It was tough. I didn’t really want to look at anyone. I sat next to Cuddy, rubbing his soaked back, texting and covertly taking photos. Some people, including me, might have wondered why I was even there.
At one point, a humpback jumped entirely out of the water. I saw the splash. The captain was telling us all “how very lucky” we were to see this, it was very special. Where had I heard that before?
The kids and my phone were my only connection to reality at this point.
Did Dad vom? Oh, he vommed all right. And then some.
After what seemed like thirty days, we made it back to the pier. Some of the people who’d been sick were now fully recovered and miraculously eating chips from the snack bar.
And about that snack bar, why was it even there? To serve drinks, now spilled all over the floor, and food, now also all over the floor? I hope the poor people who work there get paid double for having to both sell the food then clean it up later.
Cuddy waited until the boat was almost empty and then said he was ready to go. As we walked to the car, he quietly sighed, “I might not ever be able to watch Deadliest Catch again.” What a trooper. There wasn’t much else to say. He drove. He gets a little sick if someone else is driving.
Back at our cottage, we put our clothes outside in a hermetically sealed homemade HazMat bag. We renamed the experience Whale Retching. Cuddy fell into bed and a two-hour coma.
Snuggled up in a blanket with a cup of tea, I logged onto Facebook and updated my status:
“Spent the afternoon in a floating vomitorium. Not recommended.”
And guess what? People came out of the woodwork to chime in with their own whale retching stories. Look!
“I remember walking by the boats before we got on, and watching them hose down the entire boat in preparation for the next whale watch. That should have been my warning, right there…”
“Assumed it was a whale watch the second I saw your post. They ought to come with a warning label.”
“Ha. We did that in Maine a few years ago. Same thing…everyone was feeling sick. And we had to LISTEN for the whales because we were in a wall of thick fog once we got a mile or two off shore. Poor Cuddy…we weren’t quite that bad.”
“Oh, I have had that same whale retching tour…horrible! So, which one of you was watching and which was retching?”
“Rule #1: Don’t go in the boat. Ever”
There are more. My friends are funny. And apparently easily made queasy.
When Cuddy came to, he had an idea: The Whale Watching Diet Plan. Just go every day for a month. It’ll cost you $1200, but you’re guaranteed to lose 50 pounds if you don’t die of dehydration.
Why had we never heard about this ugly side of whale watching? Because it’s so dreadful, no one wants to talk about it? Quite the contrary. When we were thinking about going, one friend said, “It should be on everyone’s bucket list.”
Yep. Just bring your own bucket.