Interview: Roz Savage
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Roz Savage is the first woman to have rowed solo across the Pacific, holding a total of four World Records in all for ocean rowing.
As an environmental advocate, Roz regularly gives talks about her experiences and has recently written her second book ‘Stop drifting: Start rowing’. Here she talks to us about how she became inspired to row, and tells us the difference between doers and dreamers...
Tell us about your work as an environmental campaigner.
When I had my environmental epiphany about ten years ago, I was horrified not only that we are doing such damage to our Earth, but also that I had been oblivious for so long. When I looked around, it seemed that a lot of other people were oblivious too. So I set about doing all I could to raise awareness of our environmental challenges and to inspire people to step up and do something. I chose ocean rowing as my way of getting people’s attention, through my blogs, talks, and books.
What is the central way in which you think young people can help the environment?
If we’re going to achieve anything resembling sustainability, we really need to stop and think every time we do something, “If everybody in the world behaved this way, what would the impact be in a year, in ten years, in fifty years?”
Tell us about your new book ‘Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific’.
It describes my 8,000 mile, 250 day crossing of the Pacific Ocean, from the failed attempt in 2007 through the three successful stages in 2008, 2009 and 2010. I think the subtitle is actually a bit misleading – you certainly don’t have to row an ocean to find happiness and meaning, in fact I don’t think you find them at all – you create them. But I explain all that in the book.
Do you ever feel scared rowing alone?
Absolutely! Like when you’re facing a storm with 20 foot waves and your boat is only 23 feet long. The boat is designed to self-right after capsizing, but capsizing isn’t much fun, it’s a bit like being churned around inside a washing machine! Fear keeps you on your toes though. Although it’s not about stopping the fear, it’s about managing it so it doesn’t stop you from thinking clearly.
How do you maintain communication with people on land whilst on an expedition?
I have a satellite phone that allows me to text, Tweet, blog and make calls. Reception can be shaky and it can be execrably slow; so many days I’d like to throw it overboard. But I’ve always felt the social media side was central to my environmental mission, so I persevere.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced during your expeditions?
It was really hard coming back after the failed bid of 2007. A storm had capsized my boat repeatedly, and I probably would have carried on, but someone on the periphery of my team broached our procedures and called out the US Coast Guard to come and rescue me. That in turn unleashed a flood of abuse from internet trolls who didn’t know that it wouldn’t have been at the expense of the US taxpayer. I was very hurt by the ignorant criticism. However, I decided the best way to prove the armchair critics wrong was to get back out there and let my actions speak for themselves.
What challenges did rowing across the Pacific Ocean present differently to when you rowed across the Atlantic Ocean?
The Atlantic had really been a baptism of fire, so to speak. There were more tropical storms in the Atlantic that year than in any other year since records began. So even though the Pacific crossing was almost three times as far as the Atlantic, in many ways I found it easier to cope with because the Atlantic had toughened me up so much.
What is the most important thing you have learned from your expeditions?
I found that I was capable of much more than I had ever dreamed possible. There were so many times when I thought I had hit my absolute limit of pain, boredom, frustration and fear. But I was forced to hang on in there, and afterwards I looked back and realised the limits existed only in my mind. Such a cliché, but it’s true!
Who is your greatest inspiration and why?
My mother. She has remarkable perseverance and has repeatedly shown me that even the most daunting challenge can be overcome when you just chip away at it patiently, a bit at a time. She’s also incredibly rational, not allowing her emotions to overwhelm her ability to think calmly and sensibly. I hope I’ve inherited a little of that.
What is the one moment you remember most vividly from your time as an ocean rower?
There was a beautiful moment in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at night time when I lay for a while outside on the deck, looking up at the night sky. So far from light pollution the stars were just incredible. I got this amazing sense of my own insignificance, but at the same time my complete interconnection with everything. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a spiritual experience.
What is the number one tip you would give to young people who are keen to get involved with something similar?
Believe with every fibre of your being that you can make it happen, and make a ‘To Do’ list. That level of commitment to making it real is the crucial difference between dreamers and doers.
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The Adventure Travel Show, held on the 25th and 26th January in London's Olympia, will be a great opportunity to hear more about Roz’s inspirational journeys. She will be speaking in The Adventure Auditorium on the 26th, from 10:15am till 10:45am.
For more information about the Travel Show click here.
Or to visit Roz’s own website go to http://www.rozsavage.com/.