Ocean rower and environmental campaigner Roz Savage plans to set off next week--if conditions are right--on the final leg of her three-stage trip across the Pacific Ocean. The 42-year-old Brit is attempting to become the first woman to row solo across the Pacific.
So far, she has rowed nearly 5,500 miles of the Pacific and spent more than 200 days at sea during the first two stages of the trip. But the "rowing is almost a means to an end," Savage told CNET in a recent interview.
Her true mission is an environmental one, and it came to her before the idea of rowing oceans did.
Savage rows past Diamond Head shortly before arriving in Honolulu on September 1, 2008, marking the end of the first stage. She set out from San Francisco at the end of May 2008, and rowed more than 2,300 miles in just over 99 days.
Her first attempt to row across the Pacific was cut short in summer 2007 when bad weather caused her boat to capsize a few times less than two weeks into the trip.
Savage is surrounded by the media on the dock at the Waikiki Yacht Club in Honolulu just after her arrival in September 2008. During this first stage, she rowed 11 hours a day on average. Number of pounds lost? About 25.
Look for the solar panels on her 23-foot boat, the Brocade, behind her.
The boat's solar panels power two large marine batteries, which in turn power everything else, including her onboard electronics. Shown here is the control panel inside the cabin, photographed during the second stage of her row. On her Web site, Savage describes her boat as a "perfect showcase for sustainability and self-sufficiency."
For the second stage, Savage left Hawaii on May 24, 2009, and set her sights on the Polynesian island of Tuvalu, her intended destination. Strong winds, a dwindling supply of food, and a broken water maker meant she had to change course and head to the atoll of Tarawa instead. She arrived there September 6.
Savage expects the final stage to be the toughest one yet--navigationally because of the strong winds and lots of little islands in the way, and psychologically because from the get-go the pressure will be on to just keep rowing. "No guilt-free rest," she said.
When on dry land, Savage's calendar is often filled with speaking engagements. Her audiences have included schoolchildren, who she says ask some of the best questions--ones that adults are often wondering but don't dare ask, like how she goes to the bathroom.
"They ask some really mature questions," she said. "They actually seem to relate to the psychological side of it and I think that's the commonality. There are so many things that human beings have in common. We all need food to eat, water to drink, we want a good night's sleep, and we want to be happy. And so I think those kind of form the core of most people's questions. Because they wonder how can I fulfill those needs when I'm on this little boat."
Savage says she's always trying to find ways to connect with people. "I think if we can bring the environmental message back to how it relates to those core needs then I think that's a much stronger way to go."
Savage says she gets a little better at enjoying ocean rowing each time she goes out there and is finding more moments of joy. All the wildlife she spotted between Hawaii and Tarawa helped. Among her favorite sightings were the sea turtles and a whale shark. For the next leg, she's taking along a waterproof, high-definition Sanyo Xacti to help document her journey.
Savage celebrates crossing the equator with a bit of champagne, the only alcohol she's had in more than three months.
One night in London years ago, back when she was still trudging to her office job, Savage sat down and wrote two obituaries. The first described the person she wanted to be. The second described the life she feared she was headed for if she didn't make a change.
"I did have that moment when I crossed the equator last year when I thought back to it. And I just thought, wow, I've more or less turned into that person that I wanted to be," Savage said. "I was quite proud of that because it so easily could not have happened. It was that fork in the road and I took the scary-looking one. But it's been so worthwhile. And I'm so glad that I was just miserable enough with my own life that I chose to do that."
Savage's compass, always within view when she's rowing, sits alongside a pair of her rowing shoes. "I don't use much clothing. As soon as I get out of sight of land (and people) I get naked," she writes on her Web site.
When out on the open ocean, Savage has had to contend with everything from the life-threatening,unfavorable weather, on down to the annoying, uninvited booby birds using her boat as a poop deck. But she did come to view the boobies as entertainment. She says her main enemy out there is boredom.
Savage plans to chronicle the last leg of the Pacific row much as she has the previous stages. Followers can keep track of her progress through an interactive map known as the Roz Tracker on her Web site, as well as via an iPhone app. Shown is the tracker in "journal" mode, displaying headlines from blogs and tweets she posted the last few days of the second stage.
For the third stage, in addition to posting blogs, once a week she'll shoot a video, which will be uploaded via satellite phone. ("I've got the world's worst bandwidth.") Also, she'll continue her regular podcast series on TWiT.
Savage's green initiative for the year is asking people to do one green deed a day. Called Eco-Heroes, the online tool will offer users a way to keep track of their progress and even compete with each other, a la the geolocation social network Foursquare. Online registration opened about two weeks ago.
"I'm hoping that that's going to catch on and be a much more affirming way of tackling these challenges," Savage said. "I'm not into the fear-mongering and the doomsday scenarios because I've been out on the ocean and felt overwhelmed by the scale of a challenge. And it absolutely made me slump into despondency and depression. And it's de-energizing. Whereas I find crossing milestones as I'm rowing and ticking off the numbers very energizing, very motivating," she said.