Over the years I have got quite accustomed to people casting aspersions on my sanity. When new acquaintances say, on hearing about my ocean rowing exploits, “Are you crazy?” my stock answer has been, “I feel a lot less crazy now than I did in the days when I used to get up early, put on a suit, get on a crowded commuter train and go do a job I didn’t like to buy stuff I didn’t need.”

Along the same lines, I am a little mystified when people say to me, “Welcome back to reality” as I return from an ocean voyage. To me, the ocean is about as real as it gets.  I am made keenly aware of where my food and water come from, and am brought face to face on a daily basis with my all-too-human frailty in comparison with the power of nature. Living in houses and getting our food from well-stocked supermarkets may give us the impression of being protected from the vagaries of nature, but it takes no more than a tornado or a tsunami to shatter that illusion. So which of these realities is the more real?

Quite possibly being convinced of one’s own sanity is actually a symptom of one’s insanity, but enough smart people seem to agree with me to make me believe that my worldview has some merit. What is sane about a civilisation that daily trashes the planet on which it depends for its very existence? What is real about a food supply that depends on genetically modified organisms patented by a handful of powerful corporations?

I don’t mean to sound critical or self-righteous here. But spending months alone at sea does lend a unique perspective. Like the gorilla in Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael (one of the most -life-changing books I have ever read) I feel at the same time part of, yet one step removed from, the human race. Looking in from the outside, it seems to me that our present path towards self-destruction is the insanity, broken here and there by refreshing – and increasing – outcrops of sanity.


  • A friend of mind refused to read anything but auto repair manuals. Reading anything else was a waste of time: too much effort for too little gain. And any sort of fiction was the most useless sort of reading he could think of. He honestly thought that anyone who spent hours at a time reading a book (or even a newspaper) was crazy.
    Likewise, when someone sees the sort of risks you take as a solo ocean rower (and I don’t have to belabor that obvious point to you — it *is* dangerous), they don’t see the return on that investment, and consider you crazy. They shake their heads in bemusement before climbing back on that commuter train for the daily trip to the office, and you in turn call *them* crazy. We all have our own limits, and when someone *else* goes beyond *ours*, we fail to understand their reason for doing so, and therefore question their sanity.
    But life is short, and refusing to follow your dreams out of an overabundance of caution — well, in my book *that* is the true definition of insanity.

    Row on, Roz.

    — Tom

  •   Hiya Roz,     
          I agree with you,  going to sea or to the mountains or wilderness has many benefits.  Peace for the spirit, a challenge for the mind, fresh aire, exercise for the body…learning to be self sufficient for a time, although we are all interdependent and independent…one finds a clarity of the mind and spirit that does not seem to be present in our busy culture.  It has been my experience too, when people hear that I have been rowing
    on the bay or climbing in the crags or skiing or out for a weeks
    saunter in the mountains or on a long bicycle ride, they question the time and effort these activities require.  At first when someone would say, “you’re crazy” when they heard where I had been I would question myself.  Later after hearing this many times my answer became, Thank You!,  because to me it is a compliment.
         It seems when people say,” you’re crazy”  they are really trying to understand why people do things like rowing an ocean or climbing a mountain since it is so far out of their own experience.  There is nothing half so much worth doing as messing about in boats!
         Everywhere we look now we see evidence that people want to make improvements in their lives and the the lives of others.  Help for the homeless,  being green and blue, it is really encouraging.
         Children can benefit from time outdoors, discovering the wonders of the natural world and learning to forge their own way.  Also learning where their food comes from.
    Row Roz Row!                   Cheers,     Stephen

  • Roz,
       I think it’s wonderful that your expeditions have given you a perspective different from people leading more typical 9 to 5 jobs. It’s the kind of perspective everyone can benefit from.   Most people seem to have trouble seeing the forest while lost in those same trees, so we need people with the greater perspective. Open minded people will continue to listen to what you have to say.

       Row on Roz!

  • From the movie, The Matrix:

    Have you ever stood and stared at
    it, Morpheus? Marveled at its
    beauty. Its genius. Billions of
    people just living out their
    lives… oblivious.

    • Wow. I must watch that movie again. I need to know what is beautiful or ingenious about obliviousness… I tend to think that awareness would be much more beautiful and ingenious.

      Roz Savage
      Ocean Rower and Environmental Campaigner
      First Woman to Row Three Oceans: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian
      National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2010
      Author of “Rowing The Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean”


      • Hi Roz –

        Perhaps don’t remember the movie very well?

        What agent Smith was commenting on was the beauty of the virtual matrix world that the machines had created for the humans. There, the humans  were living out their lives–oblivious–to the fact that they were actually trapped in pods where their body’s electrical energy was being tapped to power the world of machines, as well as the matrix itself.

        It’s what I instantly thought of when you remarked about the ocean’s reality verses the artificial world of our day to day lives. You know, the little red sports car, job, bills, taxes, husband and so on as I recall in your case. (I interviewed you twice with my former cohost, Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield.)

        So, yes, I get it, having lived under the stars for long periods of time, and even floating around in a small boat on the ocean (nothing like you however!).

        In nature, one sheds the artificiality of our day to day lives, and you tune into nature’s rhythms–that is the real reality, while our world of computers, smart-phones, billboards, taxes, jobs, consumption, cars, plastics, industry and the rest is an artificial construct, a matrix we’ve created for ourselves.

        The questions is, where are humans the most happy?


        The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth–it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.
        –Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 1981 (attributed to Ecclesiastes, but the quote doesn’t appear in the Old Testament)

  • One of my more memorable analogies in the book Ishmael was Quinn’s perception of the human race and those old time videos of man attempting to achieve flight using flapping wings and screws and rotors attached to pedals. 

    One man would be suited up and jump off a rock wearing his flapping wings or another pedaling a contraption similar to a bicycle with an inverted, spinning umbrella-like cone screw looming above him… Invariably the collective thought process was “If only we could spin faster…” And so faster we pedaled or flapped… And as the ground approached we were so bent at our righteousness that we locked-in. steadfast to our beliefs and vowed to spin yet faster…

    I wonder if future generations will view our frantic silliness similar to how we currently chuckle about those poor strapped-in souls of pre-flight, black and white snapping, ticking picture frames of yesterday. Surely a few of us must jump away from the contraption and say “Stop. We must re-design this flawed system!” 

    I do know one thing for sure. The redesign will need to include wind, and ocean. The current design lacks the observance of simple rules of life.

    Cheers all


    The book was copyrighted in 1995 it is 2011 today.

    Row Roz Slow!

    • Great analogy, Jay, and thanks for the reminder of that excerpt from Ishmael. More is not necessarily “more”!

      Roz Savage
      Ocean Rower and Environmental Campaigner
      First Woman to Row Three Oceans: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian
      National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2010
      Author of “Rowing The Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean”


    • On the other hand, future generations might look back at the paradise that is *our* current world and wonder what it was like to go anywhere you wanted without getting shot and killed, where you could just walk into a store and buy things like food and clothing, where you could breathe the air without choking and drink the water without being poisoned.
      And then they’d wonder what was left for anyone to fight over, having everything.
      Bad as they might seem, these are the best of times, and we need to enjoy them while we can.

      • Look two or three decades beyond that scene Tom…

        Similar to asking Roz, “Were you not frightened?” It is in DNA, that it is impossible to continue to live in 100% stress. 

        The survivors of our destructive ways will be the ones that cherish the learning, greet the future, and build a community from salvaged parts and principle. Then, they will celebrate!

        I go to find more of them now… Plastic Pollution Coalition, Five Gyres, Two Hands Project, Ocean Rebels, Surfing for Change, SurfRider, Oceana, Ocean Girl Project, Blue Frontier Campaingn, Bluemarbles.org, even Fearless Women have invited me among their ranks… no hunkering around for us….

        Come join me Tom, we are gonna do a little good sweating but the dance at the end will be phenomenal…this is your invite!


  • We need to be careful about the use of terms such as “sanity”. By its definition it can be applied only to individual people. I may or not be sane but an entire civilization cannot be said to be sane or not because it is comprised of many individual people of whom some may not be sane while the majority is so.
    To refer to another term: How can this be “The Age of Stupid” when most people on the planet are entirely ignorant of the situation, many more are too busy struggling for sheer survival to be concerned and many of the others have no knowledge or power to do anything about it whether or not they recognize the situation.
    There’s also the fact that people generally dislike being insulted and avoid anything that accuses them – even by implication – of responsibility for something over which they have little or no control.
    Lumping “everyone” together for blame is not helpful. What is needed is education provided by those of us in a position to provide it. It will be a slow process but it is only that which will serve.

    • Agree, John. I’ve been pondering the average “soccer mom” and “soccer dad” in “middle America” struggling to raise their kids, to make ends meet, to navigate through the obstacles of everyday life. 

      In the words posted by Bob Tregilus, “people just living out their lives … oblivious.” 

      Kind hearted people who “go with the flow” which is created or designed or manipulated by the few who try their best to make society fit their best intentions of a visionary civilization … but one that has fallen short of utopia … one that is built on an unsustainable growth model which worked while we were young, but has reached it’s limits, like a Ponzi scheme at the saturation point, one that … well, as Roz puts it:  

      “What is sane about a civilisation that daily trashes the planet on which it depends for its very existence? What is real about a food supply that depends on genetically modified organisms patented by a handful of powerful corporations?

      Yes, it takes education and it will take time. But how? 

      We can’t wait to reach into “middle America” … and it is so convenient. “Middle America” is next door, down the street, the next block, right here in my town … how do we reach them?  In time?

  • The only time I’ve experienced culture shock is upon RETURNING to the west.  We truly are crazy, and my friend in Kenya says he could never live here…

  •  “I feel a lot less crazy now than I did in the days when I used to get up early, put on a suit, get on a crowded commuter train and go do a job I didn’t like to buy stuff I didn’t need.” 
    I completely understand..I Have been through something very similar that and I am so relieved that I am in a position where I am fortunate enough not to have to do it any longer! 
    Jay said…… “I do know one thing for sure. The redesign will need to include wind, and ocean. The current design lacks the observance of simple rules of life.” … I agree . Right now the phrase “back to the drawing board” springs to mind!!
    My wife and I walked along a beach yesterday….the pleasures…wind, waves, big skies,sea birds,and the symphony of sounds.
     BUT….plastic here, plastic there, plastic everywhere!!! 🙁 so much for living in a “civilised” country- perhaps plasticised fits better!
    David Church

  • Roz, great piece. I am a little delayed responding as I have been focused on events that are unfolding around the so-called Keystone XL tarsands pipeline.  The past couple weeks and especially this week, the lid has been taken off Pandora’s box, and this weekend is a major non-violent direct action at the White House. I have been struggling with the decision to join in the demonstration.

    Your sanity-sane discussion is so HUGE that at first I did not know where to start, but I woke with this on my mind and found a bit of time to support you now that I have decided not to travel across the entire width of the county because my money and time and energy can productively be put to use on another project that I have not yet told you about … more on that later.  

    Whereas, the NVDA at the White House August 20th through September 3rd rallied 1,253 from across the nation who went to DC and demonstrated and made our statement to President Obama by allowing ourselves to be arrested for violating a “photo op” law, there will be something like 4,000-6,000 people encircling the White House on Sunday, joining hands and telling President Obama that he must say “NO” and VETO the Keystone XL pipeline. This he can do.  It is the right thing to do.  And I now believe he will.I sometimes feel I am swimming up stream, or navigating and negotiating a course in the opposite direction of the unending school of fish that is swimming in the other direction. When I find a cause, I give it my all, and feel a bit insane in my commitment to carry it out.Right now, there is a cause that started out as a few lone voices, one of which was Representative Henry Waxman, who, a year ago July wrote to Hillary Clinton and Betsy Orlando, a young inexperienced staffer at the Department of State who was assigned a project totally out of her expertise, but one that happens to be a key element in the jigsaw puzzle of our transition from carbon-based fossil fuels to clean renewable new energy technologies, many already working and many which are just a twinkle in some young scientist’s or engineer’s eye, yet to be conceived and tested and perfected. Henry Waxman and those who spoke out with him were probably viewed as being insane by some, but what they said was totally sane.Some may think another very sane person to be insane by what he has had the courage to say. George Woodwell who founded Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has said repeatedly, “We must abandon our reliance on the burning of carbon-based fuels. We are poisoning the planet.” Not many people want to hear this kind of talk.  The average person has never heard it or doesn’t want to believe it is true. So, as John Kay posted earlier, it will take a long time to educate everybody to understand what is needed. But we don’t have the luxury of time. We have to step it up, wake them up, shaking up the system that doesn’t change easily. So we all need to become a little insane in the conventional sense, and find the courage to speak sanely, to swim against the prevailing direction of that huge school of fish on a different course. A few of us can change their direction when our numbers grow and our combined voice is a bit louder so “Middle America” can hear us above the noise.So people can learn what the can do about Keystone XL pipeline, I made a video for the song written by my new friend Harriet who was arrested a few days before me at the White House. We sang this song to President Obama with about 50 others who were arrested on Wednesday, August 24th. http://bit.ly/NoTarsandsLet's go noisily, Roz!

  •    You must nor feel self-righteous.  So few people have a connection to the natural world.  And even those of us who regularly connect with it have a safety valve.  We are slightly lost for a few hours or wet or cold but pretty soon we are back in our warm houses feeling good about our “adventure”. 
       I think of you as an ambassador from a place where every day the consequences are life threatening.  We love your tales of turning turtle in the Indian ocean but can say “wonderful, but I’m too old for that”.  But you do inspire us to take our skis and bushwack off the top of the mountain one more time before our 71st birthday.
       Best to you and keep on rowing!    Randy

  • Hi Roz,

    I’m sorry but anyone who tells you “Welcome back to reality” needs to get their lips off the crack pipe.


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