TravelTraveler Magazine

Daze at Sea

Once again, I have sailed across the ocean.

Once again, I traveled aboard my favorite ship in the world, the National Geographic Explorer.National Geographic Explorer.

And once again, I loved (almost) every minute of it. Traveling by sea is far more adventurous than flying or driving and really lets you feel the size and shape of our tremendous blue planet. If you really want to understand the globe that sits on your desk, then go spend a few weeks at sea.

Out at sea, the air is pure, the wildlife so free, and the water constantly changing color. It is also the most unpredictable travel there is–every day you wake up not knowing what might cross your bow: a blue whale, a wandering albatross or a little gale or two to spice things up.

Folks I talk to tend to (somewhat erroneously) divide travelers into those who get seasick and those who don’t. They ask if I get seasick and I respond that normally, I do not. In point of fact, I think there’s a sliding threshold and that when it comes to seasickness, everyone (even the saltiest sea captain) has a tipping point.

I discovered mine on this trip, halfway across the stormy Atlantic amid 25-foot waves that turned the last bit of my journey into a 48-hour roller coaster ride. I went up, and then I went down, up and down, up and down, the bow smashing through bigger and bigger waves until my stomach couldn’t handle it anymore.

Puking at sea is unpleasant but I was still glad of the experience. For all the fine and wonderful and calm days that I’ve spent sunning myself on the back deck of the National Geographic Explorer, it’s the moments I spent below deck, reversing each meal into the toilet, that granted me empathy with all great sea voyagers since time began: Shackleton, Vasco de Gama, and the Pilgrims.

In fact, you haven’t really traveled until you’ve suffered just a tad to achieve your final destination. Before I reached the gateway of Cape Town and the promise of Africa, I bravely endured my bout of mal de mer by climbing way up to the all-glass observation deck of the National Geographic Explorer and slumping in a chair, dazed by the stormy horizon on every direction. As miserable I might have felt, I was so grateful for the experience of observing a part of the ocean that few will ever see. That is the the aim of adventure (as opposed to comfort, which is the aim of leisure.)

My Atlantic crossing offered both adventure and comfort and it provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime expedition from one cape to another, from South America to southern Africa, from one side of the world to the other.

In total, my sea voyage lasted 21 days and ticked off 4,470 nautical miles (5,144.15 miles; 8,231 kilometers). It brought me to some of the remotest islands in the world and introduced me to some splendid wildlife. Even with the seasickness, I would do it all over again.

But now I am in Africa and my new adventure has already begun. And so I will follow it, just like I followed the winds that carried me here.

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High seas in the far South Atlantic aboard the MV National Geographic Explorer (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)