This is a future-dated blog entry, posted the night before my launch on 24th May. It is an interview with my old friend Will Stockland, for Oxford’s Romulus magazine.
THE FREEDOM OF THE OCEAN.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ROZ SAVAGE: ROWER, WRITER, AND MARINE ENVIRONMENTAL CAMPAIGNER.
Roz Savage left a successful career in the City of London as a management consultant to pursue her dream of rowing solo across the Atlantic. In 2005 she successfully completed the Trans-Atlantic Rowing Race and is now about to embark on being the first woman ever to row solo across the Pacific – a feat she is undertaking to raise awareness of marine environmental issues. Here she talks to Will Stockland, about her experiences and aspirations.
WS: Why did you decide to leave your previous life – was this in some way an act of personal liberation?
RS: Oh yes, definitely. I had a belief system which was very rigid and I believed that possessions would make me happy but that was suddenly to be completely undermined. My husband and I moved into this wonderful huge house and I had everything I had aspired to: money, a wonderful house, a husband, a flourishing career. But I realised quickly that even though I had all these wonderful things I was still the same person with all the same hang-ups – nothing had changed! I had to make a serious reassessment because I started to feel that I was simply not living the life I was meant to live. I sat down and wrote two obituaries: the life I wanted to be remembered for and the life I would be remembered for if I carried on in the way I was going. There was a terrifying difference. So I made the changes which meant leaving everything behind – house, husband, career. It felt like the most radical thing I had ever done in my life! I had stepped off the known world.
WS: You then went travelling in Peru for a while – why Peru?
RS: I wanted to step into an unknown environment where spontaneity was a necessity. Up to this point in my life I had been a compulsive planner and I had been going down a blinkered path. I knew that I had to become more intuitive and be open to gut-feel and serendipity. Peru was delicious open-plan process. I became immersed in the process rather than the end-product even though I kept the vague end-goal of writing up my experiences for others to share. In fact, I felt like I was a character in my own book – it was very exciting. I had little money and a lot of time and this gave me a hugely rich experience – this was a different model of wealth than the one I was accustomed to!
WS: But what prompted you to take on the Trans-Atlantic Rowing Race?
RS: Self-empowerment. I had been reliant on other people for so long – on things and forces outside myself. I knew I needed to change that and have a sense that I was creating my own life and achieving my own goals – this was the first step in doing this.
WS: Setting out into the open ocean is about as close to complete freedom as it gets in most people’s minds, I imagine. Did you find this? Did you ever, in fact, feel trapped when you were in the middle of the ocean, alone?
RS: Excellent question! Someone texted me on my satellite phone mid-way through the race and it said: “Enjoy this time: You will never be this free”. I was enraged by this – had this person any idea how it felt to be stuck in 23ft boat for 3 and a half months at the mercy of the impersonal ocean and weather?! So yes, one shouldn’t get too geographical about freedom! Having said that, at night with the phosphorus-illumined ocean beneath me and the Milky Way above me – that was wonderful. Strangely, the most free I really felt was when my satellite phone broke for 24 days and nobody could contact me. Then I just became completely immersed in the process with no idea what I was rowing into because I had no weather reports – I was completely in the moment. It was blissful.
WS: You set off from San Francisco in May to be the first woman to row solo across the Pacific. Do you see this as an act of female liberation?
RS: It is more about facing personal challenges and using that as a platform to promote awareness of larger issues. When I was growing up there weren’t really any female role models although Anita Roddick was emerging as one. I aim to use my activities as a platform for awareness of important issues and it’s good to show that you don’t need to be a square-jaw Arnie figure to get things done. Often physical limitations are really mental limitations – a serious amount is achievable with determination and gradual application.
WS: You are involved with a marine environmental charity, Blue Frontier Campaign, and are using your Pacific row to highlight ocean environmental issues – can you expand on this?
RS: Yes, that’s right. Blue Frontier Campaign raise awareness of marine environmental issues and have helped me to plan my journey effectively in terms of publicising these issues. The first stage is from California to Hawaii which takes me through the Pacific Garbage Patch – a Texas-sized floating mass of cumulative rubbish that is getting into the food chain steadily. Then I go from Hawaii to Tuvalu, an island that is already being depopulated because of the increase in the level of the ocean – it will soon disappear. Then I row from Tuvalu to Australia and will be concentrating on raising awareness of the Great Barrier Reef and how changes in it show how much marine environmental damage has and is being done by us. The ocean shows us that we are facing such an environmental crisis that it may lead to extinction. Anybody who argues that the radical measures required to stop this process are too expensive should be aware that dead people are not very good for the economy!
WS: You do a lot of inspirational writing and lecturing. Do your experiences of personal freedom have any influence on this?
RS: I have to be careful here. Different people have different ideas of personal freedom, but I do try to get across that not living up to your full potential as a human being will create problems for that person – being trapped by fear, being scared to dream, or change, or being scared of what other people think of you – this is not living up to your full potential. If you take baby steps out of these fear traps you can achieve a lot. My book is called One Stroke at a Time – if you take too big a leap out of your comfort zone you will scare yourself stupid but gentle steps one by one can go a very long way. Very occasionally, you may have to make a big leap but you should prepare gradually and carefully for that.
WS: So what is your definition of freedom and how do we balance security and freedom in our lives?
RS: I was attached to security – money, a home, a husband. But homes burn down and husbands go bankrupt – suddenly it’s all gone, security shattered. Security is in fact greater when you realise how little you need. I am secure in the knowledge that I have the mental and spiritual tools to cope – that is real security. It’s a sense of freedom that comes from an inner confidence that I never used to have – it’s empowering. From an environmental perspective too, the quest for financial security and over-production and consumption is limiting our freedom. If we damage the environment through excessive industrial activity then we will all become sick – sickness is very limiting!
WS: The founder of Wolfson College, Sir Isaiah Berlin, said: “Total liberty of the wolves is death to the lambs”. How do you interpret that in the light of your experiences and work?
RS: Well, yes. We need a different paradigm of business – less short-termism and shareholder prioritisation. Governments must step in and influence commercial activities more. But also we, as individuals, must do more by being mindful of what we buy into. A lot of people feel helpless in the face of the environmental problems but I want to say to them that every single action they take makes a difference and the cumulative effect of billions of individual actions is, of course, huge. Aldous Huxley said: “The only corner of the universe that we can be sure of changing is ourselves”. We can control what we do and we are already making a difference to the environment so we need to take responsibility for that and decide whether we want that difference to be good or bad. We should act as if we are powerful because we all are.
Roz Savage’s book One Stroke at a Time will be published in the US in Autumn 2009 by Simon & Schuster. To keep informed of her activities, events, and publications please see her website: www.rozsavage.com.
I continue to inch my way slowly west, while the wind is blowing me
south. Today the wind and waves have increased, making for uncomfortable
rowing conditions, with occasional big “drenchers” crashing in over the
I have to confess that I have had little patience for the ocean and its
tricks today. I’m feeling a little downcast over the demise of my
watermaker. While the ocean does its best to encrust me with salt, it
depresses me slightly to consider the prospect of another couple of
months without a sponge bath. After a hard day’s rowing it feels so good
to have fresh water and zingy shower gel on my skin. But I have to
conserve all the fresh water I have for drinking. I have a large supply
of wet wipes, but they just don’t have that Fresh Factor.
Right now the happiest news that anybody could give me would be that
they can resupply me with fresh water in about 2 weeks time. If you, or
anybody you know, is planning to sail, say, from San Diego to Hawaii
over the next couple of months, please do get in touch.
Roz’s position Tuesday night: 31 04 197N 124 47 058W