Subscribe to our newsletter

The Jitters

At Sea — June 2004
By Capt. Bill Pike


The Jitters
Off to Tahiti soon? Expect a little fear and loathing first—it’s part of the deal.
   
 

Illustration: Joseph Daniel Fiedler
 More of this Feature

• Part 1: The Jitters
• Part 2: The Jitters continued


 Related Resources
• At Sea Index

I have an old friend who, besides being one of the best gumbo chefs south of I-10, is a barge-manhandling Mississippi River pilot with a funny kind of affliction, one I decidedly share. I’m not talking seasickness here. Although I suffer slightly from mal de mer today and have suffered slightly from it my whole life, most people I know working commercial boats these days—including my pilot friend, Jimmy—are immune. With decks heaving underfoot and sharks swimming past the portholes, they do crazy stuff like wash down greasy breakfasts with whole pots of black, three-day-old coffee and stroll away gastro-intestinally unfazed.

Nope—what I’m talking about is something altogether different: a psychic phenomenon I call “the jitters,” a strange, seldom-contemplated form of discomfiture that sneaks up on a seafarer just prior to venturing far into King Neptune’s watery realm. By way of example, let me harken back to a few mornings ago when Jimmy and I got together for breakfast at the Coastal Restaurant, a local establishment frequented by plaid-shirt-clad North Florida shrimpers and crabbers. At some point during the festivities, I asked him a question that often crops up during our get-togethers: “So when you goin’ back on the boat?”

“This comin’ Monday,” he scowled, targeting me with a baleful look that was wholly revelatory. Despite the fact that Jimmy’s been comfortably skippering vessels worldwide for 30 years now, it was obvious he was experiencing a case of the jitters so serious I could darn near see him vibrate. Call it nerves, intense shrinking-violetism, sickening dread, whatever. The guy was about as excited over returning to his life on the Mississippi as he is about instant oatmeal or ready-made biscuits that pop out of a cardboard tube.

I knew exactly where he was coming from, though. In addition to seasickness, I’ve been plagued with the same syndrome since the day I packed my first sea bag: a weird state of mind that begins to assert itself a week or so before a trip is scheduled to start and then gets worse and worse until finally, when departure day arrives, a feeling of such fear and loathing overtakes me that I’m honestly surprised I’ve ever managed to go anywhere at all by boat.

A personality flaw, you say? A defect of character? A chemical snafu in the ol’ cerebral cortex?

I don’t think so. None other than Nobel Prize-winning author, boat lover, and travel enthusiast John Steinbeck dealt with very much the same hang-up whenever he had to go anywhere. He admitted as much in Travels With Charley, an autobiographical tale about touring America in a camper-topped truck. Just before starting the trip, a walloping bout of negativity struck Steinbeck hard. “I didn’t want to go,” he marveled, adding that in the days prior to departure he actually pined for some convenient twist of fate that would somehow miraculously prevent him from having to leave home.

Next page > Part 2: Who in his right mind wouldn’t be a little unsettled by all this? > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

Related Features