Imagine interviewing a woman who has done something that no other woman in the recorded history of the world has accomplished. The remarkable Roz Savage has rowed solo across the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. She intends to row solo across the Indian Ocean early next year starting in Perth, Australia. In 2012 she will row across the stormy North Atlantic arriving in time for the Olympics in London.
Why is she doing this, you might ask? Aren’t there easier ways to travel? What’s she trying to prove?
The answers to these questions start with the story of her early life. From a poor family, she attended Oxford, rowed on the college team, graduated into a ten year management consultant job, married, bought a nice house, a spiffy sports car, etc.
Something didn’t click, however. After reading a spate of self-improvement books, something snapped for Roz and she realized she wanted to help preserve the global environment. She felt miserable and unfulfilled in her comfortable upper-middle class life. In short, she divorced, got rid of her stuff, entered a rowboat race across the Atlantic and took off from the Canary Islands. She was 37 years old.
For the first two weeks, she was terrified. It is one thing to do this to test herself and secure some attention for her message (“if we don’t look after the Earth, it won’t look after us”), but night after night on the dark ocean brought her fear. Two weeks being terrified came a kind of “boredom” she observed, adding “I could only be terrified for so long.” A pretty functional lady!
She was well prepared. Her 23 foot, 1800 lbs, carbon fiber rowboat was self-righting with two enclosed spaces. She had an Iridium satellite phone connected to a laptop for sending emails and posting to her blog.
She installed a watermaker to convert saltwater into freshwater and stashed a tight store of “long-lasting, uncrushable, light, compact high-calorie food. Her treats included: wholefood nut and seed bars, nuts, dried fruit and occasionally freeze-dried expedition meals.” She even was able to grow onboard beansprouts, using peas, beans and lentils in a pot. Spice came from tahini, nama shoyu sauce and tamari almonds.
Roz had radar to alert her to any oncoming ships while she was asleep. She rowed 12 hours a day and estimates pulling 3 ½ million strokes to get across both oceans at about 30 miles a normal day.
Twenty foot waves have capsized her. She had other close calls. Her phone stopped working 24 days before ending the Atlantic journey, leaving her, she said, “without communications with dry land, without weather forecasts, no blog posts, no calls to my mother. Strangely though, I loved it. Not many people have the opportunity to experience such complete isolation, peace and quiet. It was a privilege.” Once on land, she becomes very sociable with people, she quickly reassured.
On the Pacific run, which took some 250 days with one stop in Hawaii, she started listening to audio books—170 in all with many biographies and science fiction titles. She has a growing following of enthusiasts listening to her Podcasts and sending her emails. In between ocean rows she gives lectures, and has written articles, a book, and speaks up for ocean protection causes. Her Pacific row was done as a project of the Blue Frontier Campaign—a marine conservation group (www.bluefront.org).
I thought her story compelling enough to call an excellent reporter for the Style Page of the Washington Post. Roz was spending a week in Washington and was available for an interview. He took the idea to his editor who passed on this story of unprecedented endurance connected to a public interest purpose.
The earlier Washington Post Style Page would have snapped up the suggestion in all its engrossing dimensions. This rejection, in favor of regular style features of entertainers and celebrities filled with strange angst, is representative of the contemporary media’s aversion to covering up-and-coming civic leaders as they did in the Sixties and Seventies. In those times, worthy civic advocates could become well known and attract the attention and engagements of the public for societal betterment.
As the print media declines, are there any limits to the depths of its trivialization? Probably, when it lands on the electronic media’s plummeting backside.
To keep up with the kinetic Roz, as she arouses people to make a difference, visit rozsavage.com.
RALPH NADER is the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel.