The Captain cranked up the motor as best he could against the heaving swell. But the engine was out-matched and we were barely making headway. We stared at the instruments, trying to gauge how far the Painted Cave was from our current location.
Suddenly, while staring intently at the radar screen, a wave of nausea washed over me. As soon as it arrived, I knew it was already too late. I was going to be one of those seasick people. Shit.
The problem with seasickness is that once it arrives, you must suffer, and there is no cure. I pleaded with the sea gods.
Pleeeeeease! What if I stare at the horizon for infinity? Will that help? What if I drink ginger ale? Eat a Saltine? What if I promise to never watch reality television again? How about I start giving 25 percent of my income to an orphanage in Calcutta? Will I still have to puke then?
The puke demon answered gleefully: Yes. Yes. You must.
What really blows about seasickness is that even after the puking ends, you don’t feel any better. At least when you have the flu, there is some measure of relief after you hurl. But when you’re seasick, after you puke, you are still bobbing incessantly on a fucking boat, and it feels like you will be on the fucking boat until the fucking sun shrivels and collapses in on itself in a cold, dead universe.
The boat, which until recently was a vessel of unsurpassed joy, suddenly becomes a vessel of torture. And even when you get off the boat and plant your feet on solid ground again, you will then get in a car, and it will be hours before you start to feel semi-decent again.
So, yeah, you could say I hate getting seasick. I didn’t say anything to the Captain about it when the wave of nausea hit me. I suppose I was a little embarrassed that I was going to be puking off the back of the boat in twenty minutes. I could have set my watch by it.
As we got closer to the Painted Cave, the swells grew and small whitecaps tumbled down the tops of each, as the catamaran plowed through them. The bow was now heaving mightily, and we all hung onto something in the stern as the Captain wrestled the wheel.
On the boat’s radar screen, our little cartoon boat finally traveled across the screen and met up with the words “Painted Cave,” so we knew we must be there. None of us had seen the cave before, so it was not immediately clear where this thing was. As I fought the seasickness, and looked hard at the island to find the cave through the swirling fog, which periodically washed out the island entirely, I wondered about logistics. Once we locate the cave, how the hell are we going to get in there?
We were about 100 yards offshore. The shore was nothing more than a high and brown rocky cliffside. No beach. We rocked up and down heavily on the cat as we peered through the fog. Then, as we motored forward a little, we saw the cliff yawn open. The cliff showed us a hole shaped like a shark’s dorsal fin. But beyond this black fin-shaped hole, we could not see anything else in the cave.
The Captain said, “Okay. We’re here.”
The Captain reduced the motor a bit, and with the current and waves, we stood still in front of the cave.
We had already brought our gear to the stern to prepare for a cave exploration. We had wetsuits and headlamps along with our boards and paddles.
I said to the guys, “What do you think?”
The Captain said, “We could jump in maybe 100 or 200 yards up current of the cave, and ride the waves in without too much trouble.”
He knew what I was thinking and continued, “Right. The problem will be getting back on the boat when we’re done. We could easily be swept downwind, and if we’re separated, we could have a serious problem, especially if you and I are both out there, and these two are the only ones on the boat.” He pointed jokingly to Cwiz and Am.
Cwiz piped up, “We can handle it.”
The Captain shook his head. “Neither of you guys are used to driving a boat. It could get hairy if we get separated and you guys are motoring around trying to pick up one of us while the other is getting swept away.”
I had my wetsuit in my hand and was starting to put it on. As I sat down to struggle with the tight suit, another wave of nausea rolled over me. I burped.
I wanted to get into that cave. After all, it was the whole point of motoring all the way out to this part of the island. I looked again at the water. It was gnarly. It was choppy. It was cold. It was windy. The current, the wind, and the waves were all moving eastward at a good clip. The conditions were far from ideal, dangerous even.
But if the Captain was going for it, so was I.
My philosophy (and the Captain’s too) is that you have to do something once in a while that challenges you. If you never do anything challenging or dangerous, what was the point of doing anything at all? Without those challenging experiences, you will never have proper perspective on the normal things in life. And you will never have any good stories, and to me, there is nothing more horrific than being a person with no stories.
This time though, I was on the fence. Generally speaking, my attitude was, when in doubt, go for it. But there are limits and this one looked like it was borderline. Learning where the limit is takes trial and error. You just hope the errors don’t end you when you make the wrong call.
I trust the Captain implicitly in these situations. He has been in enough iffy situations to know when excitement and daring becomes foolishness. He has dragged his broken-legged ass off a mountain through the snow. He has pushed his body to the limit in a number of different contexts and conditions and has a pretty good sense of where the limit is. I decided it was up to him.
I said, “You’re the Captain. You decide.”
He too had his wetsuit at the ready, mulling it over. He went up on the deck and looked at the conditions again. I hung my head in the stern trying not to get sick. As he did so, he had to hold on to the mast to keep from losing his balance. When he walked back to the wheel, he said, “Nope. We’re not going today.”
I was disappointed, but relieved.
I said, “Good call. We’ll get it next time.”
Cwiz said, “So now what?”
The Captain said, “We head back.”
As soon as we swung the bow around and started back toward Ventura, I heard a gentle knocking in my mind as if from a gentleman butler. The butler rapped on the door at the outer door of my consciousness. An inner dialogue began.
Excuse me, Sir. There is someone here to see you.
Who is it, Jeeves?
I am sorry to say it is the Puke Demon of the Labyrinth.
I am very sorry, Sir. But yes, he has returned.
It’s not your fault Jeeves. That is most unfortunate, but I suppose the time has come. Pray show him up.
Right away Sir.
And it was right away. Once we turned the cat toward home, and I started to help the Captain unfurl the sail covers from the mast, I could feel the puke demon rising and twisting from the depths.
I made my way to the swimstep at the stern behind the Captain, knelt down, and with my head just inches from the boat’s gurgling wake, the demon arrived.
I chummed the water for several minutes, and watched it float away in the white froth of the wake behind us.
When I turned around, wiping my mouth, Cwiz said, “Sorry Bro. Sit down.”
I sat on a vinyl bench seat, absolutely miserable. Cwiz came over and wrapped me in a huge comforter blanket that he hilariously brought to sleep with. I hung my head and fell into a drowsy state of semi-wakefulness. I caught my head bobbing on my chest from time to time. When I occasionally woke from this state, I overheard Cwiz and the Captain arguing over whether we should be sailing or using the engine. The Captain was adamant that we sail. Cwiz was certain it was slower, and we should motor. Amir was napping inside the galley under the table.
I smiled in my blanket cocoon. All was well in the world. I was in my favorite place. I was wrapped in a comforter with vomit on my shirt, surrounded by the gorgeous Pacific, and by the sounds of my friends arguing. Not much had changed in the 27 years since we first started hanging out together.
Eventually, the wind died, and the engine came on. I woke from my stupor after some time, feeling a tad better, and even hungry.
I said, “Dudes, remember that picture of us the day we graduated from high school.”
Cwiz said, “Which one?”
I pulled it up on my phone, doing so as quickly as I could, so that I did not start another bout of vomiting.
I showed it to them. There we were. Cwiz, Am, me, and the Captain. 17 years old. Happy. Joyful even. Hopeful. Ambitious. And fucking clueless.
I said, “Let’s take a shot in this exact same order so we can compare the pictures.”
We took the picture and it’s one of my favorites. The new one shows us at 45 years old. Happy. Joyful even. Hopeful. Ambitious. And still a little clueless.