A ferry tale

HERE’S the thing: despite being born under the zodiac sign of the fish (whatever that means) and having broken the record in the under-9 freestyle for girls way back when, I am a landlubber like no other.

Take me further than 50 metres off shore and, for sure, you will find me dangling dangerously over the edge of your boat, as limp, green and ghastly as yesterday’s steamed lettuce and spewing like volcano Kilauea.

And, as if that is not bad enough, the episode will set me back for days, leaving me feeling as if I have undergone abdominal surgery in an abattoir, during which a herd of cattle stampeded across my head.

It is no surprise then that it took some convincing from my husband to get me aboard a ferry from Holyhead, which is the largest town on the island of Anglesey northwest of Wales, to Dublin.

“You’ll be fine. It’s actually a catamaran,” he cajoled, like a hopeful parent promising his little one a treat after a visit to the dentist. “It’s luxurious, and travels very smoothly and fast. The trip is less than two hours long. You won’t even know that you’re on the sea.”

Of course, he under-estimated the extent of my terra-firma fixed physiology. Within minutes of leaving the harbour, I scuttled anxiously from the cheerful, warm surrounds of the deluxe lounge and coffee bar to join a handful of other pale and worried looking passengers/victims on the cold, wet and extremely windy deck. We tightened our coats, huddled against a cabin wall, gulped the sea air and smiled weakly at one another in silent solidarity.

A particularly grey-looking teenage girl was the first to break rank. With a muffled cry and a hand held to her mouth, she bolted back inside to find the toilets. A large man, who had appeared to be either meditating or praying up until that point, followed quickly. One by one, the fragile folk scarpered bowl-wards.

I managed to hang in until there were only three of us left on deck. Eventually though, the salivating, yawning and sweating were supplanted by overwhelming dizziness and nausea, and I dashed into the lounge.

As I pushed my way towards the ladies, I caught the rueful eye of my husband across the crowded room. He lifted a large paper coffee cup in my direction and moved his lips in a small, apologetic smile. How I loathed him.

The moment I burst through the door into the ladies, I realised I had made a grave mistake by holding out on deck for as long as I had. The cubicles were all occupied and the gagging sounds from within indicated that they would not be available any time soon. Three women jostled for space as they hung over two small basins against the wall. Another had her head in the wastepaper bucket. I swallowed deeply but felt panic and breakfast rise treacherously within me. I had to find help. I turned and raced out.

My son, mother-in-law and husband, the latter of whom was reading a newspaper, were seated on bar stools around a small, high table in the coffee bar. Grandmother and grandson looked up and caught sight of me scurrying towards them. They glanced nervously at each other, grabbed their cups and hastened off in the other direction, leaving Mr You’ll Be Fine reading on, unaware of the imminent avalanche headed his direction.

I tapped him, hard, on the shoulder. He looked up, and I saw him gulp as he took in my pale, sweaty face and, by now, bulging cheeks.

“Feeling better?” he asked, reminding me that there are none so stupid as the blindly hopeful.

I retched. His eyes bulged. Tears sprung from mine. I heaved harder still. He stood up and looked around frantically. But there was no way out of this one. A spasm engulfed my body and I bent forward. It was too late to go for help. He snatched one of three tall, empty paper cups on the table before him and thrust it towards me. I filled it in a flash. He shoved another at me. Ditto. And also number three.

As I turned and headed back towards the bathroom, I saw my bewildered, defeated, castigated husband standing alone in the now deserted coffee bar. In an outstretched arm, he held my final steaming tour de force. Far on the other side of the room, my son and mother-in-law doubled over with laughter.

I stormed into the ladies and wrestled myself a spot over a basin.

(This article was first published in the Food & Travel Journal in The Weekender in July 2009. The cartoon is the work of Brandon Reynolds.)

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Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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