Photographing in the Bering Sea

Hi there,

First I want to say that I’m not a sailor or fisherman. I’m a photographer/videographer who’ll likely spend 3-5 days on a modern 260-ft trawler in the Bering Sea in the second half of February. And I need some advice. Hope you can help.

The most I ever spend on a fishing vessel was 16 hours some 60 miles off the coast of Newport, OR on a 50-ft vessel. Calm seas they were, but no horizon at all to balance myself, and that made for some terrible few hours of seasickness, until I had to start working (photographing the fishermen). Then I got better and was fine for the rest of the trip.

But this is different; Bering Sea in February. I am very, very excited, but also feel a bit uneasy.

My apologies if some question make you feel like you want to punch me in the face. We all ask stupid questions here and there. And I’d rather ask them here then up there, in the Bering Sea…

Seasickness: I’ve read a bunch about proven and unproven methods of preventing seasickness or making it easier on oneself. I hear that a lot of seamen get seasick in the first few days, too. What have you observed others do, or what have you used and done to make this easier or shorter?

Food and drug: What to eat and drink, and what not to? What OTC medicine should I bring? Any personal hygiene items I should bring with me in case I see no shower for 4 days?

Clothing: This jacket and bibs are pretty cheap. Good enough? What to wear underneath? What gloves should offer some dexterity and decent warmth?

Misc: Any useful things one wouldn’t think of but that would make things easier? A pocket knife, a leatherman, extra phone charger, headlamp?

Safety tips: What are big no-nos on a (fishing) vessel safety-wise? Or any other. I don’t want to endanger anyone, myself included.

And if there is anything else I didn’t mention and you believe everyone spending time on a vessel should know, please let me know.

Thank you in advance for your help and time!

Cheers!

Scopolamine patches are the gold standard for combating seasickness. Prescription only. OTC Bonine nearly as good however. In each case the key is to begin wearing/ dosing 12 to 24 hours before getting out on the open sea. They are useless once you are sick. Also both make most people drowsy, and scopolamine can have even stronger side effects on some people.

As far as food and drink: if you are inclined to seasickness you can listen to all the wives-tales you want, but it comes down to simple physics: whatever goes down will come back up, so eat as simply as you can until you get your sea-legs.

My two cents re: clothing. Most people just bring lots and lots of sweatpants and hoodies and change out as they get damp. Synthetic underwear under that. Wool/synthetic combo socks ( or fleece) are a must. Fisherman’s rain gear on top and of course Xtratuf or similar boots. Whatever you wear on the outside will get permanently grease stained from machinery. The stuff you link-to is fine.

Make sure you take off boots and rain gear in the space provided before going below after being on deck. This is a firm rule on most trawlers, to keep the accommodations clean.

I’ve never found any gloves to be better for Bering Sea work than the white knit synthetic liners and rubber/ fleece outer glove combo worn by most fishermen. Any glove you wear is going to get soaked with cold water. The key is to change out the liners often, as in several a day.

The Great Lakes are colder than the Bering Sea in winter. What gets you in the Bering Sea is the wind and wet, and when its not blowing it’s foggy. Keep condensation in mind re: your lenses. Saltwater and fish scales are not kind to cameras. Also keep in mind fishing is 24/7, so plan on many of your best images being done at night with challenging light sources.

Re: hygiene. The factory trawler you will be on will have plenty of showers. Just bring soap, etc.

As far as safety: I worked on a factory trawler for a year. The officers are geared towards safety so just listen to them. A very basic rule: don’t go on deck without permission.

The boat should have plenty of survival suits etc. Just pay attention to the safety lecture. The boat is likely to have plenty of work vest style PFDs. The officers will tell you where and when to wear these.

Many fishermen wear Mustang suits. Some might have one for you to wear. They are the safest/most comfortable thing to wear on deck in bad weather.

A leatherman makes sense. You probably won’t need it.

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I used to get violently seasick for the first two days after shipping out. I never medicated, just weathered the onslaught until it went away. Make sure to stay hydrated, even though it seems futile to drink water only for it to come right back up. Dehydration is a major component of how seasickness puts you out of action over time, and can be lethal in extreme cases. Drinking a cup of water after each time you puke not only keeps you somewhat operational by retaining fluid in your system, but also does something to save your teeth from the stomach acid.

On that note, it’s not a good idea to totally stop eating either, despite the feeling that eating makes you sick. The blood sugar low from having your stomach totally rinsed out for days can put you out of action in a big way. I have experienced suddenly snapping out of my misery when I finally force myself to eat something. Nibbling sweet biscuits or the like is a good habit.

Be mindful of your safety when puking. Far too many sailors have gotten tossed over the lee rail in that way. The key is avoiding to let desperation guide your actions when you feel that you absolutely have to go, by planning your movements in advance. Ask for advice. Thankfully you won’t be required to keep a watch schedule, so you can afford the luxury of balling up in the most comfortable place you can find.

Regarding the photography side of things, are you bringing a dive housing? Not only can the work deck be a stupendously destructive environment, preventing you from bringing your gear out for the most dramatic shots, but cameras are also generally impossible to manipulate with heavy gloves. As for the need for fast glass to capture dynamic scenes in a low-light environment, I assume you’re better qualified than I to make the correct judgements…

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I haven’t been sick to the point i puked in years…luckily. Once in a while, i get woozy.

I second being hydrated is important. Don’t tie one on the night before you get on the boat. Hangovers first day out to sea can definately lead to seasickness.

Smells trigger seasickness too. Diesel fuel, engine exhaust. Fresh air goes a long way.

Doesn’t hurt to always have a small flashlight and knife with you.

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All of the above is very good advice. One more tip: If you’re in an enclosed space and feel yourself getting woozy, step out to an open deck. In addition to the fresh air, keeping the horizon in sight will help unscramble the false messages your inner ear is sending to your brain.

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Re the dive housing: No camera that isn’t a dive camera is remotely close to waterproof on a boat. What shore side photographers think of as “weather proof” involves rain, not breaking seas that can knock you off your feet.
Seasickness: Ginger helps, so ginger candy treats are a good thing. Scopolamine patches are good, but remember you are taking a low dose of a hallucinogenic drug. Some people have bad reactions to these patches. You can get electronic wrist bands that help and are drug free: Amazon.com
Another thing that helps is taking the helm, but that probably isn’t going to work for you very easily.

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This is very good advice but not necessarily on a factory trawler on the Bering Sea, depending on the wind direction and if they’re currently hauling back.

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One HUGE thank you to all of you who responded. I already got more from you than what I was hoping for. Your experiences with seasickness basically tell a similar story to what I read online, and confirm my belief about my previous experience with it. Look for horizon if possible, get fresh air, and avoid strong smells. I identified all of those as the main reasons behind my seasickness. But it’s a funny thing; I felt so miserable I wanted to throw myself overboard to end it. It was that awful. But tomorrow morning I wanted to go back! I just find the sea that exhilarating.

As for the cameras, my friend got some advice from the deadliest catch guys; fancy and expensive protection wasn’t that useful for them. Extra large ziplock bags turned out to be the best thing.

Cheers!

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Have a great trip!

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I’d like to hear how it went after you come back.

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Yeah we want an after action report, with pics if possible.

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Eating pickles helped me to fight off sea sickness. I don’t know if it really helps due to some chemical processes in your body or provides psychological effect . I was advised by some old salt to do that many years ago. Maybe he just pulled my leg, but it did work))) Obviously, don’t forget to hydrate! Fresh air is very helpful but got to be very, very careful when going outside.

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A lot of this, if not most, is just mental. Cheating and convincing yourself that you’re fine, combined with some geometry, and possibly some pickles, helps :wink:

:+1:

If I make it up there, and come back, I promise that I will share some of this once I deliver it to the client. Looking at the schedule, that’s at least one month from today. Can’t have you see it before the client does :wink:

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+1 on ginger.
I was hired to navigate a fishing vessel from Acapulco to San Diego, when the wheelman became violently and loudly sea sick. I was aware of ginger as a possible treatment, and figured there had to be some onboard. I found a raw ginger root (in the freezer!) and minced a bit and made a tea with it. The wheelman drank it and felt much better almost immediately. For the rest of the voyage, he chewed on bits of raw ginger almost constantly. It’s the only time I’ve seen someone recover from severe seasickness in progress. In my experience, until then, seasickness could only be prevented prior to onset.

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Yes I’ve seen fresh ginger work for offshore seasickness! Personally my only seasickness came from working in galley of Icelandic Coastal freighter bc of fumes from Diesel engine combined with heat from washing dishes in hot water and motion of vessel. Cured by going out on deck briefly, puking over the leeward side, watching horizon. Then cured!!!

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As an old (very old) photographer the best advice I can give you is “DON’T automatically assume you are going to be sick” Back in my day on RN survey ships we developed films in dark rooms. Sometimes was a little queezy, but never really felt out of comfort zone. Hope you are like me. Best of luck oppo.

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having spent about 5 years in the sheilikoffs and aleutians … well, Not much can prepare you for a ruff day up there. anticipate calm seas this time of year, eat all you want, bring a nice collection of colorful ‘T’ shirts, it’s a cake walk.
on a more practical side, oil skins and carry a flashlight and knife.
and don’t rely on the rail to keep you aboard!

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Have a great trip!

Very good advice here. If you’ve only got 3-5 days at sea, definitely go with scopolamine 24hrs before. 260’ factory trawler…3 days would be killing it. Expect to be onboard closer to a week unless you have alternative arrangements to get off the vessel.

Buy the stuff the fishermen buy, ie…grundens and/or xtratuffs. I used to always wear sweats under my gear, but now I actually wear fleece pajama bottoms under my rain gear. I use kuiu and Arc’teryx now, but I’m not up to my armpits in fish slime anymore.

Given enough time, everyone gets sea sick…granted, for me, sea sickness is a days long splitting head ache due to lack of sleep. Different for everyone. I find it beneficial not to close the rat or back in my day, the elbow room down the night before we sail. :wink:

Good luck! I hope you get some great pics.