In the second installment of a new series about travel gone wrong, Features Editor Paige Collins describes a seasickness-inducing journey to Victoria, B.C.
This is the second in a series, Bad Travelers, in which we share our most disastrous travel experiences. Share yours by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweeting @NWTravelers with the hashtag #BadTravelers.
I had repeated it over and over again as the weekend approached: “We’re going on an adventure!” “We’re going on an adventure!”
My boyfriend, some friends and I were going to Victoria, B.C. for a few days in February. It would be their first time taking the Victoria Clipper, a high-speed catamaran; it was my second, and I had sold it to them hard. Such a glorious three-hour boat ride; so smooth, so fast. I would not shut up about how great it was going to be.
We knew a storm was rolling in, but our boat would leave Seattle’s Pier 69 first thing in the morning, and the weather would arrive later in the afternoon, adding some snowy ambience to our strolls through the adorable town that is Victoria. We’d bundle up in our hats and scarves, sip some tea and wine and be on our merry way.
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What’s that they say about the best-laid plans?
They went awry all right.
The trip began just fine; every once in a while there would be a big wave, and the whole boat would sound like it was going over the edge of a roller coaster. We were having a great time.
Until we weren’t.
About an hour in, the waves took over. When one would hit, the boat would go up and over, slamming down back onto the water, hurling people around in their seats. It was jarring, and loud.
Unfortunately, we had landed ourselves on what Clipper spokesperson Scott Meis called, “the worst crossing we have had in 31 years of operation between Seattle.” Crossings are canceled due to weather on average 20-25 times per year, Meis said, after careful calculations of weather patterns early in the morning. But that storm that was coming? It hit early, and it hit fast.
“Mother Nature can change quickly as can weather in the Strait of Juan de Fuca,” Meis said.
The captain of the boat had to make the decision: would it be safer to turn back or proceed? Proceed we did.
It didn’t take long for the seasickness to spread throughout the boat. Even the biggest, strongest passengers — hopped up on the Clipper’s complimentary ginger candies and motion-sickness medication — were no match for these waves.
The heroic Clipper staff crawled through the aisles on their knees, handing out and retrieving vomit bag after vomit bag. There’s something really special about the smell of hundreds of sweaty, anxious, vomiting people on a boat.
We each found our ways to cope.
One of my friends put on his noise-canceling headphones and put his head between his knees.
Another began to determine which of us were strong swimmers and who she would need to rescue first.
I, on the other hand, held on tight to my seat, stared straight ahead and transported myself to my house with my cats.
What’s Nellie doing? Probably sleeping. Ruby? She’s playing with her toys. Yep. And I’m there, on the couch with them. Mmm-hmm. Good.
It wasn’t until a wave hit so hard that a window popped open a bit and some water splashed into the cabin that I started to feel unsafe. A woman screamed. Another put on her life vest.
Only then did a staff member come onto the loud speaker, apologetically announcing that we had more bad weather to get through, that they had expected us to get there before the storm, and that we were in no danger.
We are in no danger. OK. I just have to keep myself from getting ill and let them get us there safely.
Let them drive the boat.
Eventually, we pulled up to the dock in Victoria. We disembarked, exhausted and unable to stop laughing anxiously.
Of the five of us, the two who were least prone to seasickness were the ones who tossed their cookies. The rest of us were so proud we had made it through we continued to brag about it for days.
We had made plans for all sorts of activities when we got to town — bars, restaurants, the Royal BC Museum, maybe even a chilly trip to the Butchart Gardens. Instead, all we wanted to do was hunker down in our Airbnb with wine and a home-cooked meal.
We ate, we drank, we talked, we played games — and we made way too many Clipper survivor jokes. We bonded. Nothing like a rendezvous with an angry Mother Nature to bring you closer together.
None of us had any desire to go on a boat ever again. There was just the wee issue of getting back home. (Sometime over the weekend, we each independently looked up flights to get back to Seattle, and when we all realized our pocket change wouldn’t stretch that far, we were forced to get back on a boat.)
I redeemed myself on the return to Seattle. I hadn’t been lying — a ride on the Clipper can be glorious. (And it sounds like it might become even more glorious — the fleet has been updated with a newer, bigger boat, the Clipper V, which Meis says should be able to handle those waves a bit better.) The way back was so smooth you’d easily forget you were on a boat; there was a beautiful sunset; we toasted the trip with tiny bottles of Champagne found on the menu.
When we approached the dock in Seattle, my boyfriend turned to me and said, “Well, Paige. You wanted an adventure … you got it.”
And believe it or not — I’m glad it happened. Travel won’t always be a smooth experience; trouble sometimes comes in waves. But experiences like that can build confidence and remind you that you can make it through stressful situations, that you should trust the professionals to bring you to safety, and that somewhere in every story is an inside joke waiting to be made.
Cheers to my beloved Clipper survivors; I’m booking next February’s trip as we speak.
MORE FROM THE SERIES: A nightmare drive down the Pacific Coast Highway conjures childhood memories