The Voyage: Roz Savage
Day 18: Mid Ocean Mooching
18 Dec 2005

18 Dec, 05 - 19:15
Latitude: 25° 39' N
Longitude: 24° 24' W
Miles from La Gomera: see
Miles to Antigua: 2090
Miles in last 24 hours: -7 (yes, MINUS 7)

It is 10.30 on a Saturday night shortly before Christmas. If I were a normal person I might be in a pub having a drink with some friends. But I happen to be me, and so I am lying alone in a small ocean rowing boat about 500 miles off the west coast of Africa.

The wind is against me, so the sea anchor is out to stop me being blown backwards. I am in my cabin, lying on my bunk.

The cabin is about the width and length of a double bed, tapering down to about 18 inches wide at the aft end where my head is. At its highest pont the cabin roof is a little under 3 feet high. It is cosy yet not quite comfortable. Lying is less uncomfortable than sitting.

It is sticky and stuffy in here. I've got the hatch and ventilation holes closed in case the wind really blows up while I am asleep - this cabin is a buoyancy chamber that will help the boat self-right if it capsizes - so the only air comes through a ventilator installed in the round aft hatch above my head. Some nights I can see the moon and stars through this hatch, seeming to dance around in my little window on the sky as the boat pitches and yaws. But not tonight - it is overcast and dark out there.

There is a faint smell of chocolate and crystallised ginger from my snack packs, stowed in the lockers beneath the floor of the cabin. At first the smell used to make me feel hungry, but now I'm rather sick of it. My mouth is dry - I deliberately allow myself to dehydrate when I know I'll be confined to the cabin for a while, as it's a nuisance having to go out to the rowing cockpit to use the bedpan.

It is noisy in the cabin, in a soothing kind of way. The structure of the boat creaks and groans. The water laps against the hull, and swirls gurgling around the rudder which is just behind my head. When there is a gap in the gurgling I can hear the sigh of the ocean, and the breath of the wind.

The movement of the boat is different when she is at anchor. She twitches and strains like a terrier at its leash. She seems restless. We rock from left to right, left to right, and occasionally in a circular motion - up and over and around and down. Sometimes we'll get part way through one of these manoeuvres when the line to the sea anchor brings us up short, and we're jerked back. And once in a while one of those express train waves will steam in and sideswipe us and the whole boat will be knocked through sixty degrees.

I'm not scared. The sea is rough but Sedna has proved her seaworthiness in worse conditions than this. But I'm not relaxed either - even while I sleep my ears will be pricked for any unfamiliar sound, any signal that an oar or the ruddeer or the para-anchor has come to grief.

It's going to be a long night. I read for a while, then doze, dreaming of Jonah and the whale, then wake up, and it is still only 10.30pm. It doesn't get light until 8am. So I'm here, whiling away the time by tapping out my thoughts on my iPaq, its little screen the only light in my darkened cabin. It has just started to rain, pattering down on the aft hatch. I've started to yawn again. Time for another doze, lying braced between the leecloths on either side of my bunk. Thoughts blur onto daydreams blend into nightdreams. Time drags on.

P.S. I wrote this last night. Today has been spent on anchor. I have dozed, eaten, done a bit of maintenance and listened to Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

Wind: 20 kts from the south
Weather: windy, sun and rain
Sea state: rough
Hours rowing: 0

Atlantic Row Part 1
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Day 17: Bring Me Sunshine
17 Dec 2005

Rainbows - one in the sky, one on my Voyage logo

17 Dec, 05 - 19:50

Latitude: 25° 39' N
Longitude: 24° 32' W
Miles from La Gomera: see
Miles to Antigua: 2083
Miles in last 24 hours: 9

I awoke this morning to the sound of silence. No roaring wind, no crashing waves, no rain hammering on the cabin roof. Could it be real? I opened the hatch and peered out. Oh happy day.

I'd gone to bed last night in a thoroughly bad mood. Surely other ocean rowers had endured worse things than a couple of days of bad weather, so why was I not handling it with greater stoicism and fortitude? I was convinced I'd underestimated the scale of the challenge, or overestimated my ability to handle it. So I'd stomped off to my cabin (as much as one can stomp in a distance of 3 feet on a violently pitching deck), had cancelled all night shifts, and hoped that life would look better in the morning.

It looked as if my prayers had been answered. It has been a glorious day of rainbows, light breezes, and plentiful sunshine to power my solar panels. The watermaker was back in action this afternoon, and the jerrycans are now replenished. I had enough electricity to run the iPod for the first time in days. I was able to dry out clothes that had been draped damply around the cabin, making the walls stream with condensation. There has been the occasional downpour, but even those were quite welcome, cooling my skin and providing water for my sprouting chickpeas.

So all in all we were shipshape and bristol fashion, I put in a solid if unspectacular day's rowing, and life seemed to be on the up and up.

Except that as of 5pm Sid the sea anchor is out partying again - seems to be a regular Saturday party night for him - while another big low blows over. Apparently it's unlucky to get a big low in this part of the Atlantic at this time of year, and to get two in a week is unheard of. Once again the Atlantic Rowing Race fleet sits and waits.

Devil take the hindmost

Apparently I have overtaken two pairs, so am no longer coming last. But it's a marathon, not a sprint, so anything could yet happen...

Wind: 3 kts for most of the day, now too windy for me to stick my head out the hatch to check the instruments in case I get a soaking
Weather: bit of everything
Sea state: flat calm most of the day, now rough
Hours rowing: 6

Atlantic Row Part 1
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Day 16 Riders on the Storm
16 Dec 2005

Riders on the Storm
16 Dec, 05 - 19:59
Latitude: 25° 44' N
Longitude: 24° 23' W
Miles from La Gomera: see
Miles to Antigua: 2092
Miles in last 24 hours: 28

Two oars down, two to go

Oops, broke another oar. It was about 3am last night, and I was doing battle with some unpleasantly large waves. One particularly malevolent wave broadsided me and my down-wave oar got caught under the boat. There was an ominous cracking sound.

In daylight the damage doesn't look too bad. The oar is still useable. But I'd better be more careful in future because I can't afford for this attrition rate to continue.

The sea state hasn't improved during the day. This is 48 hours now I've been fighting to get south, but the wind and the swells are conspiring to push me north. All I can do is mitigate the rate of northward drift. I could put out the sea anchor but I'm still making useful progress westward so I'm reluctant to do so. Hey ho, maybe Miami is nice this time of year.

I know the ocean is impartial, but there are times when I can't help feeling it's out to get me. Since breaking a second oar, when I see a particularly large wave approaching I now adopt brace position - hands down towards ankles, so my oars are as high in the air and as far out of harm's way as possible. But just once in a while there's a rogue wave - a wave that hasn't read the bit of wave theory that says waves just go up and down - they don't actually march across the water. These rogue waves definitely move laterally, and they mean business. They come at you like an express train, and often from a totally unexpected direction. Sneaky so-and-so's..

These difficult rowing conditions are taking their toll on morale. My moods today have been as up and down as the waves, and about 1000 times today I've wondered why this ever seemed like a good idea. I know though, in my heart of hearts, that it will all be worth it in the end. But these are testing times.

Wind: 17 kts, ENE
Weather: dark clouds, rain and wind this morning, sunshine this afternoon, now stormclouds and rain
Sea state: rough
Hours rowing: 10

Atlantic Row Part 1
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Day 15: Wet and Wild
15 Dec 2005


15 Dec, 05 - 20:11

Latitude: 25° 38' N
Longitude: 23° 51' W
Miles from La Gomera: see
Miles to Antigua: 2120
Miles in last 24 hours: 29

Rowing conditions have been horrendous. Driving rain, gusting winds and enormous waves.

Fortunately I've been elsewhere. I've spent most of today walking the streets of New York. Not literally, of course, as I'm in a small boat somewhere in the eastern Atlantic, but in my imagination - what Ranulph Fiennes calls 'mind-travelling', which he does on his polar treks to keep his mind off whatever agonies he's currently putting himself through.

It's a technique I'd discussed with my old friend Briony Nicholls, who was number seven to my stroke seat when we rowed for the Oxford Lightweights in 1989. Bri is now training to be a sports psychologist, and we had a number of useful conversations about how I would deal with stressful or unpleasant situations during the row.

So today I took to visiting one of my 'happy places' - my old Manhattan haunts from when I lived in Greenwich Village for 15 months in 2000-2001 with my then husband. I adored the place, and have spent much of today meandering around galleries, stores, coffee shops, cocktail bars, blues clubs, restaurants and nightclubs, conjuring up the tastes and textures of sour cream apple pie, margaritas, sushi and BLT's, doing some imaginary Christmas shopping (surely the best kind), ice skating in Central Park, and generally enjoying festive New York.

When not in New York, I've been practising another psychological technique - giving myself a pat on the back, and some words of encouragement. A bit of self-adulation has a marvellously restorative effect on the spirits. I've been praising myself to the skies for being tenacious, determined, disciplined etc, for carrying on rowing when any sensible person might have retreated to the cabin for the day. The best thing about this technique is that the worse the conditions get, the more I can praise myself for my tenacity.

So all in all, feeling rather smug and self-satisfied this evening. Having said that, I wouldn't mind needing to be a bit less tenacious tomorrow, i.e. it would be nice if the weather improves. My hard-earned calluses are peeling off, and I'm more likely to suffer from trench foot than sunburn... I also need some solar power pronto so I can run the watermaker before the water situation becomes critical.

Wind: 15 kts
Weather: dark clouds, rain and wind
Sea state: rough
Hours rowing: 11
Thought for the day: In each of us there are heroes - speak to them and they will come forth.
(thanks to Rachel Smith for these words)

Atlantic Row Part 1
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