Maine Harbors

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Maine Harbors

December 2009
BOOK REVIEW
- by Carol Standish
Book Cover Rowing the Atlantic
Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean
Roz Savage
Simon & Schuster, 256pp, $24

Roz Savage, a 38 year old British business career dropout, rowed in the 2005-06 Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race (from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to English Harbor, Antigua). In the history of the race, she was first solo female entrant and the only solo female entrant in that year in the field of 26 boats. She made the trip in 103 days.

Her 23' boat and her equipment were all high-tech and first class. Nevertheless, in the course of the row, all four oars (two spares) broke and had to be repeatedly splinted, with each other and with any straight strong thing she could find on board. Barely two weeks out, her camp stove broke and she was consigned to cold nourishment for the duration. Forty days out her stereo system died and she had to make her own music and conversation for the rest of the trip. (She eventually discovered scream therapy which was a major morale boost.) Over a month before landfall, her satellite phone quit cutting her off from all communication with the outside world. Total isolation was not the only consequence; her safety net was shattered.

Throughout the experience, she also suffered from salt water sours, a constantly protesting shoulder muscle, myriad other muscle cramps and fatigue, blisters and calluses and the incessant ravings of her interior pals, self-criticism, self doubt, defeatism and depression. She came in dead last. (Six boats capsized or sank.) She had thought that she would be mortified to become a member of the "Hundred Days" club (whose members represent the slower rowers) but she was positively triumphant. She had done it! The experience changed both the course and the quality of her life.

So what motivates a divorced 38 year old Oxford educated, former banking-sector middle manager, who, in most professional opinions, is just plain too small (at less that 5'4") to succeed at this wildly dangerous endeavor? That's what the core of the book is about--not the "amazing feat itself" although she certainly puts you on the boat with her (as if there were any room), but the motivation, first to try, then to endure.

She describes the external thrash and crash of the ocean as the race progresses giving a detailed account of the domestic aspect of living in a 23' boat which is constantly in motion--the food, the cooking, writing the daily log, the occasional visitor--both human and animal--of which there were painfully few. In chapters alternating with the now of the experience of the ocean race she fills in the blanks of her background. She does, I fact, have an ace in the hole. She rowed on two different women's teams while at Oxford and for a London team while she worked in banking. She finally retired from the sport when she heard once too often, "a good big'un will always beat a good littl'un."

She writes about her corporate life and her marriage and that at her most miserable low point--in spite of the good job, the good husband, the cars and the house--she did an odd thing; she wrote two obituaries, one as a logical conclusion of the life she was living and the other the summary of the life she wished she could live. The differences were shocking.

"I am not naturally adventurous," she explains at the beginning of the book, but through the experience of rowing the Atlantic, she learned several life supporting lessons: the power of accumulation--that momentum will gradually build; that it doesn't have to be fun to be fun; and that to stay focused on the present--which is to live life with mindfulness and awareness, is an endurance event all by itself. Roz Savage intends to keep working toward an obituary she can be proud of by taking one stroke at a time.

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