I wanted to reassure you that I am not just being terribly British and stiff-upper-lip about my capsizes last week. They really weren’t all that bad. It occurred to me that there is a kind of sliding scale of capsizes, from the mild to the really, really nasty. So I have compiled a beginner’s guide to boat-rolling.

In all cases, I have assumed that the cabin hatches are both closed. The boats are designed to be self-righting, provided that the cabins are watertight and hence act as buoyancy chambers. The air trapped inside them makes the boat unstable in the upside down position and it will self-right after a few moments. But if the hatches have been left ajar, this is a different, and much more disastrous, story. During the 2005 Atlantic Rowing Race, 6 boats were forced to retire and their crews rescued, and in at least 3 of these cases the crisis was caused by a capsize happening while the cabin hatches were open. Water rushed into the cabins and the boats stayed upside down in an irrecoverable capsize. Game over.

(Click here to see a video of Olly’s ocean rowing boat being tested for its ability to self-right. Thanks to Jay for this.)

So, after all that preamble, this is how the capsize scale goes, in ascending order of nastiness:

1. Knockdown:

Not really a capsize at all. The boat goes through 90 degrees, onto its side, before self-righting. But it can still cause considerable mayhem if things aren’t tied down or stowed properly. And it’s definitely enough to wake you up if you were asleep.

2. 360 roll while in the cabin, strapped to bunk

Unpleasant but not too bad. Injury unlikely to occur provided that all sharp objects such as scissors, screwdrivers, knives etc are properly stowed, and that all heavy objects such as Pelican cases containing laptops are secured. However, outside the cabin, considerable damage is possible. Any protruding objects such as antennae and spare oars may well snap with the pressure of water, and you can wave goodbye to anything that is not attached to the boat.

3. 360 roll while in the cabin, not strapped to bunk

On my second capsize in 2007, the straps that secured me to the bunk ripped out from the floor of the cabin, so unfortunately I do have experience of this variety. The cabin is only about three feet high, so again, major injury unlikely to occur provided that non-human contents of cabin are properly stowed as described above, but increased chance of bruises and minor cuts.

4. 360 roll while on deck, clipped on to boat

I haven’t actually tried this one. Sarah Outen swears she would rather be on deck during a capsize, so she can see what’s coming. I beg to differ, especially if it’s night time. The thought of being suddenly pitched into rough, dark water, not knowing which way is up, fills me with horror. Sarah is welcome to it. Should otherwise be quite survivable provided the rower doesn’t get knocked unconscious during the capsize.

5. 360 roll while on deck, not clipped on to boat

Could be very scary if the rower is thrown away from the boat, and then has to swiftly recover his/her senses and swim back to the boat in rough seas. Not advisable. If the conditions are even thinking about being rough enough for a capsize, the rower should be clipped on. I usually use a surfing leash around my ankle for general ease of movement, but I also have a body harness with a bungee in the back that I can clip to a D-ring on the boat.

6. The pitchpole

You really don’t want to do this. It involves the boat capsizing end over end. Again, I have no personal experience, but I read about it in Tori Murden’s book,A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the OceanMemoirs)
, and it sounds horrendous. Tori received a major beating, including broken ribs and black eyes, and even though she sounds like one seriously tough cookie, she decided enough was enough and activated her EPIRB to summon the Coast Guard and abort her attempt.

Besides bunk straps and a leash, there are a few other things the ocean rower can do to mitigate the risks:

Crash helmet

I have a crash hat in the cabin, in case of extreme situations, but haven’t yet felt the need to use it.

Increase ballast

Since 2007 Sedna has 200 pounds of lead sealed into the bottom of her hull, evenly distributed between two different locations slightly fore and aft of centre. Generally, you want boats to be as light as possible, but after my capsizes off the California coast I decided that it was more important to me to stay the right way up than to go fast. Water ballast helps, but lead has the advantage of being denser, concentrating more weight lower in the boat. On this voyage I have been occasionally supplementing the ballast by intentionally flooding lockers beneath the deck.

Sea anchor

The sea anchor is probably the best safeguard against capsize. It turns the boat bow into the waves, so the water rushes down the sides of the boat rather than slamming into the side. Arguably I should have been using the sea anchor last week, but as the wind was blowing in the right direction I wanted to maximise my overnight drift. After the second capsize I did put the sea anchor out – naked on the deck at 2am, in the dark, in roaring wind and lashing waves. Not my favourite naked nocturnal activity, but better than spending the rest of the night in dread of capsize.

Part of the reason I downplayed the capsize last week is that I took partial responsibility for it. Neptune was not entirely to blame. My trusty weatherman, Lee Bruce, had forecast 30 knot winds with stronger gusts, so I knew that capsize was a possibility, but decided to take the risk in order to maximise mileage. You pays your money and takes your chances. You can get away with it for 99.9% of the night, but it only takes a single wave to catch the boat at precisely the wrong angle, and it all goes belly-up…. literally.

Other Stuff:

Today, nothing could have been further from Neptune’s mind than capsizing me. There has been the slightest whiff of a wind, but as it has been from the wrong direction, I decided to make the most of the calm conditions for a final day of boat maintenance before the final push for the finish. So I have spent the day on fixing things, laundry, personal hygiene, and barnacling.

I saw another cargo ship today – that makes two in as many weeks. It’s getting a bit crowded out here.

Our latest podcast is now live, “Send Rita To See Roz”. Thanks, Vic, for both the podcast and for setting up the fundraising site. I hear that the response has been absolutely fantastic – thank you so much to everybody who has contributed to my mother’s air fare to Destination X. She and I are already looking forward to a long-overdue hug!

Joan – congrats on completing the smallholding purchase! That is wonderful news. I can’t toast you in champagne yet, but will raise my water bottle to you tonight.

I am excited to hear from UncaDoug and Angela Hey about the ClimateRealityProject.org developments. It seems that there is real, renewed momentum behind the relaunched Climate Project – good for Al Gore. I can’t wait to catch up on the news when I reach shore.

Quote for the day: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” (Confucius)

We have now raised $3929 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.

Sponsored Miles: Contrast from yesterday. Few miles rowed, and they were unsponsored.


  • This is Roz’s friend Sarah Outen (she helped Roz with logistics for this Row and Sarah’s mom continues to support both Roz and Sarah. Sarah is now in the ?China sea by kayak on her way to Japan…www.sarahouten.com

    At 1min 8 seconds is her reaction to her 360.  http://youtu.be/8DRvHE52KrE

    Row Roz Row!

    Your Bay Area group is still plotting your arrival party!

    This aint her first rodeo… in all seriousness, it’s about her 505th rodeo…

    A ship in harbor is safe and sound
    But that’s not what ships are made for. ~ William Shedd

  • This post was so interesting, Roz. Thanks for sharing the ins and outs of boat rolling. I do hope that the rest of your journey is spent upright and safe.

    Sending love and well wishes, always. 

  • Howdy Roz, 
         Thank you for answering so many of my questions about your boat and what happens when an ocean rower such as yourself experiences a capsize. Glad the last two were not as bad as they could have been. Perhaps a rolling rating system would be in order.  Two questions come to mind.
    1. Does your cabin have ventilation?  If so how is seawater kept out?
    2. What sort of straps hold you in your bunk?
          Some of your readers might not know what an EPIRB is.
    Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.


         Most of us do not understand how powerful water is until we see a boat capsizing or a flood with houses floating down the river.  You have of course experienced the power of the sea many times.
          Do you have any Sea Shanties on your iPod?  Paddy lay back, perhaps?
         Speaking of stiff upper lips have you seen the episode of Keeping Up Appearances called Riparian Entertainments?
          Saw a program last night on Polar Bears,  apparently they travel thousands of miles in a year so…..

    Row like a Polar Bear Roz!

                                              Cheers,  Stephen

  • This is Sarah Outen on her row. At 1min 6sec in, she is just recovered from a 360. 


    She is currently on her own adventure at http://www.SarahOuten.com. Sarah’s mom continues to support Roz. Sarah also provided Roz with valuable information and helped with logistics… Go Sarah Go!

    Roz, you are amazing! None of us equate your good days with your successful ones. Rather the opposite: When you tough it through the rough patches, that is when you are the most inspiring! Thank you for that. We continue to rally for your safe return.

    With 505 or so days of rodeo, this certainly is not your first one!

    Row Roz Row!


    A ship in harbor is safe and sound
    But that’s not what ships are made for.
    William Shedd

  • This is a much larger boat, a catamaran setting up a sea anchor in similar conditions that Roz is in solo (and naked.. isn’t that more dangerous?:)…

    The first part of this video is a good explanation of what a sea anchor is and how it works…  http://www.veoh.com/watch/v14244943ysfFXeys

    The beginners guide other stuff: Before triangular sails, boats would ride the wind using square looking sails. Acting like parachutes they would travel downwind. (The triangular ones, common these days act more like sideways-wings than upright parachutes and cut the wind cross-wise) The bathroom on older ships was therefore put in the front-most part of the boat, or “the head”. This way the rest of the ship was upwind of the comfort facilities. 

    Row Roz Row!


  • Great post, Roz.  One final capsizing category you won’t suffer is the ‘Turtle’, because your boat is self-righting (when sealed).  Way to go with the harness and tying everythang down.  Calm seas and fair winds for you!

  • Thanks for the explanation Roz…… Nevertheless…I would not wish to experience any of the grades of “invertedness” thanks! 
     How you can remain calm and sane alone for so long is beyond my comprehension!!!
    I hope the seas and winds remain well and truly in your favour from now on….
    David Church
    ps Jay…your aside-
    “and naked..isn’t that more dangerous”
    I guess the level of risk depends who is peeking :)…..and given Roz’ whereabouts it would seem pretty low!! lol


  • Really interesting Roz, thanks for the update. Wonder if the weather is going in the right direction iif you could use a drogue or the paranchor with the mouth of it tied shut to reduce it’s effectiveness? Pop that on the stern and it should keep your stern into the nasty stuff.

  • Roz … so sad I’ve not been emotionally present enough to be a part of your journey so far … Way too much going on w/ family and personally for me to have been the devoted fan this time around.  : (   However, I just sent off an email to the staff of the Rosie Show suggesting that you’d make an awesome guest on her show … that is, as soon as you’re done rowing the Indian Ocean!  Here is what I wrote, my friend:I have a friend, Roz Savage, who rows oceans (alone in a ROW BOAT, yes, that’s correct … a row boat!) to bring awareness to the plight of the oceans and the environment.  She is presently rowing the Indian Ocean (has solo rowed the Atlantic and Pacific previously!) and would make an extraordinary guest on Rosie’s show.  She’s funny, articulate, humble and quite brilliant, actually.  What is even more interesting about Roz is that she left a lucrative financial position in London because at the time that life was killing her spirit and she launched out into the “unknown” of her ‘new life’ … and rowing oceans then became her calling!  She has also walked from Brussels to Copenhagen for the climate change summit held a year or so ago; and has been instrumental in getting plastic bags out of the London Olympics (they mostly end up in the ocean killing thousands of wildlife … and do not break down well in landfills) — among other noteworthy endeavors over the last several years. 
    She has been an invited guest speaker on a marine biology special edition of the TED talks (one that took place on an ecological ship in the Arctic, I think — you’ll have to check her website for those details) and is quietly making her mark in the world in, what I consider, a most remarkable way!  She is presently blogging FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE INDIAN OCEAN as her row boat gets tossed and turned by giant waves … and she gets blown off course but maintains an almost super-human indomitable spirit as she recovers and course re-directs!   Whilst doing this she manages to write the most amazing BOOK REVIEWS … as she listens to books on tape as she rows.  Roz is quite remarkable … and would be a fantastic interview for you, Rosie!  She has a wonderful documentary of her travels and is an amazing public speaker as well.  You can learn more about Roz at http://www.rozsavage.com … or feel free to contact me directly, and I can put you in touch with her — once I’ve secured her permission!
    Naomi DurkinNew York, NY

  • Hi Roz,
    I learned a lot from this day’s blog. Wish I could keep up online with your blogs. Just amazing and more so how in such a short time since 2005 you have become such a savvy sailor. Goes to show that there is nothing like real experience as the teacher. You seem saner and safer than most canvas sailors…except for trimming sails you have everything else. Maybe it is because rowboats are so “close” to the water and not isolated from the sea surface as much as sailing schooners…

    I saved this blog to Word doc, as I aspire to wooden and other small boats someday… I won’t being crossing any oceans as far as I can see, but hey this is could knowledge even if your fishing an inlet!
    Later, Mike in FL

    PS: good luck and smooth rowing on the home leg. Any equatorial heat yet?

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