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I’d like to tell you a story about my attempt on the Pacific in 2007. It was either a failed attempt, or an intense learning experience, depending on how you prefer to look at things. And there is an environmental moral to the tale.

Salvaging Sedna

To get to the relevant part of the story, I’ll need to give a very swift recap of the preceding events. In brief, I was unwillingly picked up by a Coast Guard helicopter 10 days into my voyage, leaving my boat floating around on the ocean about 100 miles off the coast of California. I chartered a large research vessel for the salvage operation, and with the crew and a few intrepid friends set out from Sausalito to retrieve Sedna. We found her, lifted her aboard the research vessel, and spent the next 24 hours fixing her up and replacing broken equipment so I could resume my attempt at the earliest opportunity.

However, it was already late in the season, and my weatherman was dubious about the safety of relaunching so late in the year. After a restless night grappling with the pros and cons, I decided that it would be better to postpone my attempt until the following year. This was a really tough decision. It would be nine months before I could try again, and I felt especially bad about it as my friends had worked around the clock to get my boat ready for an immediate relaunch. I called everyone into the galley of the research vessel and broke the news, then apologized that all their hard work had been in vain.

One of my friends, Aenor Sawyer (aka my expedition medic, aka the Bone Doctor, whom I have mentioned before gently brushed aside my apologies. She explained that they didn’t mind in the least. They had always known that I may not be able to continue. But they had wanted to make sure that I had the OPTION to resume my row if conditions allowed. They didn’t want my options to be restricted by not having a seaworthy boat, so they were happy to have done the work necessary to keep that option open to me. She thereby introduced me to what she called the concept of “Ultimate Flexibility”.

Ultimate Flexibility

The premise of Ultimate Flexibility is that we are rarely able to make decisions based on perfect information, so it makes sense to keep as many options open for as long as possible, pending further developments. When in doubt, take the course of action that maximizes the number of options available. I now use this as a guiding principle when making decisions, and it strikes me that it is also highly relevant to our environmental challenges.

We don’t want to find ourselves trapped in a corner that we can’t get out of because we have done too little, too late. Sceptics say climate change isn’t happening, or isn’t due to human interference. Let’s for a moment suppose that they may be right, but we can’t be sure yet, so we would be wise not to restrict our options at this stage. We rarely regret being ready too soon rather than too late. So why procrastinate? Whichever way we look at it, we are going to run out of fossil fuels sometime. So what do we have to lose by being ready now, apart from a lot of smog, sickness and war over scarce resources? Let’s hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Whichever way you look at it, one day we will run out of oil. For sure. It took millions of years to create, and since we discovered it around a hundred and fifty years ago, we have already used up most of it. We are having to resort to ever more energy-intensive and environmentally destructive methods to squeeze the last few drops out of our poor ailing planet in order to fuel our oil addiction. The time, money and energy that is going into these desperate last-ditch efforts would be better spent on creating clean, renewable energy sources that will sustain us into the future. Solar, wind and tidal energy will be available for as long as the sun continues to shine, the wind continues to blow, and the moon continues to orbit the Earth. If and when those things ever cease to happen, we will have bigger worries than how to refill our cars.

But to transition from the energy supply systems we have now, to the energy supply systems of the future, we need energy. Oil would be useful too, as we will need to make solar panels, and wind and water turbines, which are likely to require plastic, oil-derived, components. So in the interests of Ultimate Flexibility I would like to see us using our diminishing resources of fossil fuel to create the infrastructure for a sustainable energy future. The longer we leave it, and the scarcer our old-world energy sources become, the harder this is going to be.

Future Flexibility

There is also the issue of future flexibility: what right do we have to rob our descendants of the opportunities that we have enjoyed? If we use up all the fossil fuels, destroy the rainforests, exterminate numerous species, and generally continue guzzling our resources with reckless abandon, we are depriving future generations of their freedom to enjoy these privileges. Ultimate Flexibility is not just a concept for the present, but for the future as well.

Other Stuff:

After capsizing the previous two nights in a row, I was really pleased not to do my tumble-dryer act last night. Capsizes are to be expected, but not welcomed. Conditions today have been very variable, but during a lull in the wind I was able to make a foray to the fore cabin to obtain replacements for equipment that had broken during the storm. My last bucket had shattered – not so much a hole in my bucket, but a bit of bucket left around the hole – but I had a large lidded tub that Sir Peter Barter had used to airdrop food, beer, and reading matter from his helicopter as I was on the final approach to Papua New Guinea last year. This tub has now been fitted with a rope handle, and will serve as my washbucket for the remainder of the voyage. I also got replacements for some data cables that have been behaving erratically recently, and assorted other bits and pieces. I am now feeling shipshape(ish) again.

I moved on to a new flavour of rawfood crackers today. For some reason, when on board I prefer to work my way through one particular flavour and only when it is all used up do I move onto the next one. I don’t mix it up. I have long since finished the “mock turkey” flavour (cashew nuts and cranberries) and “pizza base”, and am now onto the “sunburgers”. David, please let Suki and Brendan know that the crackers have been awesome. The biodegradable plastic packaging has been fine – no deterioration as yet. I am keeping this packaging separate from the rest of my trash so it can be suitably composted when I reach dry land. When I realized this voyage was going to take longer than planned, I had to find a way to use every calorie on board, so I have been slathering the rawfood crackers with the Red Feather canned butter that was a last-minute donation. I am sure this defeats the purpose of the crackers as a super-healthy vegan food, but desperate times call for desperate measures!

Quote for the day: “It’s choice, not chance, that determines your destiny.” (Jean Nidetch)

Photo: Handy with a scalpel or a drill – Aenor using her surgical skills on Sedna (then known as the Brocade)

We have now raised $2650 towards our target of $4000 to bring my mother out to see me arrive. Huge thanks to all who have contributed so far. To make a donation, visit our fundraising website Send Rita To See Roz

Latest Podcast now available: Send Rita To See Roz

Sponsored Miles: Kenny Runnerduck, Todd Lowe, Doug Grandt, Bonnie Sterngold, Ward Carpenter, Thomas Heavey and Margaret @ Green Drinks. Miles sponsored beyond Roz’s destination: Larry Grandt, Chris Lynch, Jessica Taylor, Kenny Runnderduck, Terry Jones, Ward Carpenter and Thomas Heavey. Grateful thanks to all.

17 Comments

  • Roz . . . I very much like the story that introduced you to Ultimate Flexibility.  It speaks to the wisdom of your friends but also to the wisdom of acting while leaving as many options as possible open.

    When I put the wash in the front loading machine and watched for a bit as it started on its journey ’round and ’round I thought of you!  *wry smile*

    . . . sent along a donation to your Mum’s travel fund . . . hope you get enough!

    Be well be safe . . . and Row Roz Row!

  • Well said, Roz!  I really like the phrase “Ultimate Flexibility” … and a wonderful podcast, too!  Rita will be on the dock waiting for you, that is a certainty. We Rozlings will make sure of that! I can hardly wait for you to make landfall and then …

    Hit the ground running, Roz!

  • “The body is a device to calculate the astronomy of the spirit. Look through that astrolabe and become oceanic.”~RumiThinking of you, Roz Savage in your amazing oceanic travels

  • Roz, I love your pic for the day.  I notice the “angel wings” insignia on the boat. They remind me of the ‘ultimate mystery’ implication from the Tom Hanks movie, Castaway.  How we need to respect the mystery… embrace the mystery… thrive on the mystery…

    Congratulations on a most amazing feat of endurance, challenge, skill and love.

    I’ll share my most favorite phrase with you –

    Born in mystery.   Live in mystery.  Die in mystery.

  • What a great life lesson, thank you.
    You know, if you had put water and detergent in the cabin everything would be clean, even you!

  • Here’s a quote I thought apropos for the day . . .

    “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”
    ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I think that applies to you Roz . . . and to all of us who must summon the will to do what need be done.

  • Roz, regarding “Ultimate Flexibility” comments: I don’t mean this in a patronizing way and I hope it doesn’t come across as such. In the time that I’ve been following you, over the last year, you have really developed a sense of the big picture. I saw your talk in Sac, California. I loved it and I was an immediate convert. But some of my friends weren’t. Why? There was a definite forest-for-the-trees issue in the talk. I wanted to see the environmental theme deeply woven into the fabric of the talk. I felt the environmental component, instead, was tacked on ad hoc, almost apologetically. This blog is absolutely spot on in every way. The content, vision, tone, maturity, the creative use of the adventure to drive the environmental theme–it’s all there. The adventure is there, but it’s structured around the environmental message rather than the other way around. Keep it, develop it, wrap your talks around it. It’s a perfect template to hang your rowing material on. 

    Hope you don’t mind my unsolicited critique. I can’t tell you how much I respect what you’re doing. 

    • Bruce, I was in the same room in Sac … we probably have pix of each other and don’t know it … Good observation. I support your idea. That said, I have a feeling that we each have tipping points, personally and publicly.  There are certain things I say privately that I hesitate to say at work or in certain settings. At some point the “barriers” break down … for me, my “tipping point” is occurring as we speak … urgency being the catalyst. I have a feeling from what I read that Roz may emerge with a new emphasis in her personal presentations.

      Pulling for your expeditious arrival, Roz!

      • Thanks, UncaDoug. Good points. After I saw Roz’s talk I went up and shook her hand, twice, gushing (well-earned) platitudes. (You were very nice to me, Roz! I hope to shake your hand again some day.) Then I went out and ran several laps around the big soccer field because I didn’t know what to do with the cannon-ball thoughts running through my head! 

        • I just wanted to jump in on this and I’m not sure where to start…too many points resonating…I feel like going for a run. First is the graceful handling of the deniers in  Ultimate Flexibility…I am 100% with that idea…this blog is a watershed statement…so well put! And as a father “Future Flexibility” is on my mind for hours every day.

          Doug…the tipping point concept rings true for me as well…I’m becoming way more vocal every day…personally and publicly. They say that you catch more flies  with honey than you do with vinegar…but when it comes to changing minds the occasional drop of vinegar gets attention. The key thing is to keep the balance and create the draw rather than alienation in the minds of the doubters and the ship will turn.

          What a great discussion to come home to!

          Thanks all……..

          Ian

  • Roz: Had a somewhat off topic question.  My wife & I have long wanted to visit the Canary Islands and it turns out we might be able to time a vacation to coincide with the start of the 2011 Atlantic Rowing Race.  Is the start a somewhat quiet affair (e.g. mostly closed to the public except for friends / family of rowers) or do you think it would it be worth our time to try to be there for it?  I’m guessing the latter.   

    Wishing you all the best for forward progress.  Have been enjoying your missives from the big blue!

  • Roz, I find facination in every idea you put forth. As an Eskimo (we don’t bathe or eat vegetables) a lot of your habits are difficult to process, however; traveling by oar power is something I understand
    very well. When I get my monthly well fare oil share check, I will most
    certainly send a contribution in aid of your mother’s fare.

    Eskimo Texino

  • Roz, I would’nt call the 2007 Pacific attempt, a failed attempt. I would call it more of a “thats just the way she goes” kind of a thing. Not everything in life always goes exactly as planned and probably never will. I think you handled the whole situation quite well myself, and it was a learning experience for myself and probably alot of other people out there also. I personally was a little concerned about your welfare while you were in all that bad weather, but I aways knew you would know when it was time to make the call whether to continue or not. Obviously someone else did’nt agree, but that’s just the way she goes. I’m hoping Rita can make the trip and I will throw a little in to the cause.
     

  • The problem is that any measure that promotes flexibility in one area will tend to reduce flexibility in another.

    Most obviously, any measure that consumes capital denies the opportunity to use that capital for something different later.

    I’d argue that _ultimate_ flexibility therefore can only mean maximal capital preservation, and this plays into the global warming deniers’ contention that we don’t need to change course on energy for a few hundred years (when coal may become as hard to find as oil).

    Unfortunately, given the advanced state of the slide into global warming, timely action is called for, not ultimate flexibility.

    I agree with the thrust of your post, however.  E.g. the law shouldn’t codify an arbitrary preference for ethanol over other bio fuels.  But it’s high time that net CO2 (or the global warming forcing equivalent) did become part of the law–reducing fuel consumers’ flexibility to choose coal.

    Instead of “ultimate flexibility”, perhaps “maximum flexibility (subject to global warming constraints)” ought to be the goal.  Catchy, right? 🙂

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