Meet British adventurer Roz Savage.
She holds four Guinness World Records for ocean rowing, including first woman to row solo across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. She has rowed over 15,000 miles, taken around 5 million oar-strokes, and altogether passed over 500 days of her life at sea in a 23-foot rowboat. Here, the environmental advocate explains how she tackles the mighty challenges that the sea throws up against her.
The Adrenalist: How do you feel today?
Roz Savage: I’m getting back on an even keel, so to speak. I was lured out of ocean rowing retirement earlier this year by an invitation to row across the North Atlantic from Canada to the UK, arriving in London in time for the Olympics. It would have been a new experience for me — rowing with a crewmate for the first time ever, all my other 15,000 miles at sea having been rowed solo.
But sadly our row this summer had to be cancelled due to unusually large quantities of ice off the coast of Newfoundland as the result of the huge chunk of ice that broke off from a Greenland glacier two years ago. Truly, a sign of the times, and unfortunately global warming will have much greater consequences than the occasional cancelled ocean row.
It was terribly disappointing after the incredible amount of time, effort and expense that had gone into our preparations. But I’d rather be disappointed than dead. The announcement was made a week ago, and I’m getting over it and moving on.
TA: The Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean: how do you find the drive to face such massive challenges?
RS: There are two main things that keep me going when the going gets tough. The first is that my voyages are about much more than one woman alone in a rowboat. Since the outset I have used them as a platform for spreading a message of environmental awareness. That sense of mission fuels my motivation.
Second is the huge amount of support I have received over the years from ordinary people, some I know, many I don’t. Even when I don’t feel like carrying on for my own sake, I do it for theirs.
Photo Credit: Bytemarks – flickr.com
TA: What challenges did you expect to face on your Newfoundland-London trip?
RS: The main challenges would have been the cold — the water off the coast of Newfoundland is only just above freezing, the sleep deprivation — we would have been rowing alternating shifts of two hours on, two hours off, around the clock, and the danger of collision with ice. When we found that this final challenge was going to be even more challenging than usual, we didn’t have much choice but to call it off.
TA: What gets your adrenaline flowing?
RS: Ocean rowing consists of a lot of boredom, interspersed with brief periods of abject terror, bracketed between the excitement of departure and the much greater excitement of arrival. The worst bit, for me, is the capsizes. My boat self-rights, but the capsize itself is not much fun — like being in a washing machine. And in between the capsizes you’re bracing yourself every time you hear an oncoming wave, wondering if this one is going to knock you over again.
TA: What’s your greatest achievement to date?
RS: Rowing across the Atlantic was without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was my first ocean, and although I’d prepared as well as is humanly possible, it was still a huge learning curve. And I picked the worst year to do it – still officially the worst Atlantic weather since records began. But the feeling of arriving in Antigua after 103 days alone at sea was just incredible. The scale of the sense of achievement definitely matches how hard you’ve had to work to get there.
TA: What’s the most common myth about rowing?
RS: That it’s exciting. Most of it is actually very mundane. You’re just trying to get through each day without screwing up, breaking anything, or going insane.
TA: What’s your top tip on overcoming adversity?
RS: Keep a clear vision of your goal always in your mind. Do what you have to do today to get a bit closer to that goal. And never, never, think about all the other days that you have to get through between today and that final day, or it all becomes too overwhelming.
TA: What’s your top fitness tip?
RS: Ocean rowing is very much a marathon, not a sprint. In fact, I’m out there for so long (5 months on the Indian Ocean last year) that it actually becomes more of a lifestyle. So I don’t push myself so hard that I get depleted. It’s all about sustainability, day after day.
TA: How do you sustain your energy?
RS: I avoid sugary snacks, tempting though they are when you can burn off 5,000 calories a day. They put you on a rollercoaster of sugar rushes followed by sugar lows. I made this mistake on my first ocean, and ended up horribly sugar-addicted, which had catastrophic consequences when I got back to dry land and regained the 25 pounds I’d lost – and then plenty more.
TA: What’s your dream?
RS: To use what I’ve learned at sea to help make the world a better place. Or does that make me sound too much like a contestant for Miss World?
Cover Photo Credit: Bytemarks / Flickr.com