"MY BOAT IS MY LIFE SUPPORT CAPSULE - AND MY PRISON CELL."
-- Roz Savage
1. What were the key items of clothing you brought? where did you source these?
I don’t use much clothing. As soon as I get out of sight of land (and people) I get naked. This doesn't come naturally to me - I'm British, after all - but it really is a lot less hassle, and once you get used to it, it's quite nice to feel like just another sea creature (although maybe one not as well adapted to the marine environment as most of the other denizens).
Wearing nothing reduces chafing and laundry and makes it much easier to apply suncream. When it is cold, I wear a few layers of quick-drying tops and a waterproof jacket.
I suffered with cold feet outside of San Francisco, and now have some neoprene booties that I will use if I encounter cold conditions again.
Fourth Element in Cornwall provided me with some good technical clothing for the Atlantic. Although technical clothing is not strictly necessary, it was nice to have.
And - very importantly - take a good hat, i.e. one that won't blow off your head, and that protects your skin from the sun at all angles. I made the mistake of just wearing a baseball cap across the Equator. Looked cool (who cares?!) but the sides of my face got fried. Wear a big, wide-brimmed, totally-uncool sunhat. Your future self will thank you for it.
2. Would you alter the clothing if doing it again?
Clothing really hasn’t been that big a deal for me. I’d recommend just making sure that your clothes aren’t so baggy that you are catching your thumbs in the cloth at the end of each stroke. Make sure you practice in what you're planning to wear (barring being naked within easy sight of land) - you really don't know what will work for you until you try it.
3. What was the best aspect of your trip?
On the Atlantic, my first crossing, the best aspect was finding how much I was capable of when I was on my own. I hadn’t known for sure before I set out whether I could take care of myself physically and psychologically. And there were many times along the way when I really felt like I had hit my limits. But I really had no choice but to figure out a way to get through it, and in the process I found I was capable of a lot more than I’d realised. Those little moments of personal triumph meant a lot to me. Even now I have a lot more experience, I still find it very challenging on the ocean, and it is the aspect of self-mastery that I find the most fulfilling.
4. Was it what you thought it would be? if different, how so?
The Atlantic was much tougher than I had expected. The weather was truly awful in 2005 (the year of Hurricane Katrina). Out of the 26 boats that set out in the Atlantic Rowing Race, 6 crews had to be rescued. So it was wetter, colder, rougher and generally more unpleasant than I had expected.
5. Are there any decisions/things you made/did that you would do differently?
I made the best decisions I could at the time, based on the information I had available and the time and abilities that I had. I learned a lot along the way, mostly on the psychological aspect. But I could write a whole book about that – ah, in fact, I have! See Rowing The Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean.
6. What was the worst weather you encountered? How did this affect you mentally and physically? Did it have an effect on any of the equipment on board or the boat itself?
The largest waves I saw on the Atlantic were around 20 feet high. There were some waves that I saw bearing down on the stern, and I would look at my compass instead of at the wave, because from my low vantage point the wave looked ridiculously big and scary. And I don’t like feeling scared. So I wouldn’t look at it.
My boat got knocked down a couple of times, i.e. sideswiped by a wave so it ended up on its side, 90 degrees from horizontal. This causes problems. Anything not lashed down goes flying. I learned to pack my cabin as if it was going to do a full 360 degrees. Certainly all heavy objects have to be lashed down at all times, and sharp objects should be stowed carefully.
The rough water also broke all four of my oars before I had reached half way across the Atlantic. This was not good. I fixed them up with duct tape and makeshift splints (made variously from a boathook, cannibalised sections of oar, and the axles off my spare rowing seat) and rowed the rest of the way like that.
In 2007 I capsized 3 times in 24 hours on the Pacific. Although the boat righted itself every time, this caused enough damage to compromise the safety of the expedition and I made the tough decision to abort the attempt. It’s not a bad philosophy to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
And even then, after all that ocean rowing experience, the Indian Ocean still knocked me upside the head. Still capsizing, still scared. I don't apologise for that - the ocean deserves respect. If you've stopped being afraid, you're probably missing something.
7. Did you sustain any injuries during the row? how did you deal with them?
Fortunately I haven’t suffered any actual wounds or traumatic injuries while at sea, apart from a broken finger on the first stage of the Pacific. There wasn’t much I could do about that. It swelled up quite a lot, which made it difficult to get my rowing gloves on. And it’s never been quite the same since – the knuckle is still decidedly lumpy.
I was quite seasick for the first couple of days on the Atlantic. But like most things, it passes.
I do have a very comprehensive first aid kit but have only used the painkillers and bandaids.
8. How did you cope with the solitude during the row?
Solitude is actually something I find relatively easy to handle. It hasn’t been a major problem for me – even when my satellite phone broke 24 days before the end of the Atlantic row. The hour a day I spend blogging and catching up on email, plus occasional podcasts and other conversations, seems to be enough to keep loneliness at bay.
9. What shift pattern did you employ for the row? What was a typical day like?
After much experimentation on the Atlantic, I settled into a routine of 3 hours on, 1 hour off, repeated 4 times for a total of 12 hours of rowing per day. I continue to use a similar routine, although recently I’ve been doing 2 x 3 hour shifts in the morning, and 3 x 2 hour shifts in the afternoon. It just feels a bit more manageable that way.
This, of course, is a luxury of being a solo rower. You can determine your own schedule without having to accommodate a partner.
10. Routing; what route did you take? were you able to keep to the route you planned or did you have to change this due to the weather? Would you adopt the same strategy again?
I’ve had to adopt a very flexible attitude to the concept of being “on course”. If you try to stick rigidly to the most direct route, you will most likely find that the ocean has other ideas. In fact on the second stage of the Pacific (2009) I had to divert from my original target of Tuvalu and make landfall in Kiribati instead, because it became just too difficult and risky to make it to Tuvalu. My watermaker had stopped working by this point, and if I’d overshot I would have ended up in the middle of nowhere with no water supply. So I decided it was better to be safe than sorry, and changed course.
11. How did you decide on your routing?
I reviewed the charts showing the prevailing winds and currents for that part of the ocean, and timed my row to make the most of the most favourable conditions possible. But when you’re spending 100 days plus on the ocean, it’s generally necessary to compromise with less than perfect conditions for at least part of the route.
12. What was the most frightening part of the trip?
The first two weeks of the Atlantic, until I learned to trust my boat. And start the process of trusting myself.
13. Would you do it again?
Yes, but only if: a) I felt there would be a huge and valuable benefit to the world in me doing so, and/or b) someone paid me a ridiculous amount to do so!