One of the perks of my 'job' is that generally I get to see the best side of human nature. There is something about what I do that seems to bring out the good in people in a way that I suspect is rarely experienced by, say, accountants or estate agents.
For example, 10 days ago I arrived unexpectedly on dry land with nothing but a pair of shorts and a t-shirt (oh, and a Pelican case containing laptop, cellphone, three iPods and some video footage). I had no ID, no money and no credit card. Within 3 days of arriving in Eureka I had a group of wonderful new friends, a small but adequate wardrobe of borrowed or donated clothes, and a ticket back to San Francisco.
Another example: last week I needed to salvage my boat. Three friends (two of whom I had met for the first time only about 5 weeks before) dropped everything, rearranged appointments, cancelled social plans, and gave up several days to come with me to find the Brocade.
It is cases like these that make me believe that most people are good and kind and generous, and willing to go out of their way to help their fellow man (or woman).
But I might be wrong. The world I read about in newspapers seems to be a world of very different people - people who kill and rob and rape and lie. Today I compared experiences with a good friend who, while I was battling the elements on the ocean, was being interrogated in a prison cell in Zimbabwe for trying to make a film about sexual abuse in that country. The world she witnessed there was very different from the world that I inhabit - a world where people are desperate and violent.
Are people fundamentally good or fundamentally evil? Which is the reality?
At the risk of sounding syrupy and Pollyanna-ish, all I know is that MY reality is a very fortunate one. Compared with what some people's experiences, my recent trials and tribulations are very minor indeed. I still have my life, my health, and my boat, and it is only a matter of time before I'm back on track.
[photo: Roz with the Brocade on the deck of White Holly]
A few of the comments on this site have expressed sorrow that the story is over until next year, and/or have asked whether I will continue blogging. Rest assured - I have been blogging on this site with varying regularity since April 2003, and have no intention of stopping now.
I am grateful for the huge amount of public interest that my little venture has generated, and would be sad to lose my new-found friends. You have been such a source of inspiration and encouragement during the difficult events of the last week or so, and I hope that you will continue to take an interest in my blog over the coming months.
Although I now have a prolonged hiatus until my row relaunches, my life rarely stands still and I will be blogging regularly about my adventures in the meantime. As well as working on improvements to my boat, I am defining a list of enhancements to this website (including, I hope, a section specifically aimed at the K-12 curriculum to assist the many teachers who have expressed an interest in using my row as a school project).
I will also be working hard to get my Atlantic book into print, and will be taking bookings for speaking engagements during the winter and spring - both in the UK and the US (contact my agent for details).
We will be making a mini-film of my rescue and the recovery of the Brocade, which will be posted to this site - hopefully in the next few days.
I am also lining up a few outdoor adventures - details to be announced when confirmed.
So it has taken a couple of days for me to get over my disappointment, but now I am dusting myself down and picking myself up again. When in doubt, DO something! I am already starting to find the silver lining in the cloud, and so long as I stay positive, things will turn out for the best.
So the old Chinese saying goes, and it's an inspiring motto - as is Winston Churchill's 'Success comes from the ability to go from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm'.
I'm thinking of writing a magazine article on the theme of 'failure'. It seems to me that there is lots of information about how to succeed, but very little that tell you how to cope with failure - even though failure is an inevitable part of aiming high. The only way to avoid failure is to aim so low that success is guaranteed - which is not a very satisfying way to live your life.
My take on this is that you can turn any experience into a success. It's just a matter of how you choose to define success, and this may call for some flexibility of thought.
To take the last few weeks of my life as an example: I was aiming to row to Hawaii. I did not succeed in 2007. But elements of the expedition WERE a success. For instance:
- I was enjoying the rowing much more than in the early days of the Atlantic row, so it seems that I had learned some valuable lessons from that experience.
- The Brocade was performing well - the oars, riggers and rowing seat were a major improvement over what I used on the Atlantic.
- The new automated steering system was proving easier to use than the old foot-steering system.
- Listening to audio books and podcasts kept my mind stimulated and made the rowing shifts pass more quickly.
These were the things I did right. Maybe even more valuable are the lessons that I learned through doing things wrong - important things such as:
- how to work with a support team in such a way that they feel appreciated, respected and motivated
- that in extreme situations I have to trust the process that was laid down in calmer times
- to take two of EVERYTHING!
So the expedition, even though it was cut short, was a thoroughly worthwhile experience and will inform next year's attempt. It may not have been a success in terms of the original stated objective, but it was a success in other ways, and many good things are happening as a result of the way thing have turned out.
One of my favourite poems is Rudyard Kipling's If', which says:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same...
[click here for the rest of the poem]
Often the dividing line between triumph and disaster is a fine one, and it may be a totally random factor that determines which side of the line you fall. I therefore try not to be arrogant in success or downcast by failure, believing that the true mark of character is not whether you succeeded or failed but, knowing that it could have gone either way, how you conduct yourself in response to the gifts of Lady Luck.
[photo: the crew of the White Holly in front of the salvaged Brocade. L to R, back row: Aenor (in life ring), Roz, Melinda (top), Caitlin (middle), Captain Vince. Front row: Eric, Chris (in red hat), Mike (seated)]
It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. I had planned for this row for so long, but I was starting to feel that I was battling just too hard to make it happen. When would I cross the fine line between being determined and being foolish?
We had worked so hard to keep all options open. My valiant crew on board the White Holly had slaved away all day yesterday to fit a new sea anchor, install additional water ballast, and mend or replace the broken electronics, to make the Brocade safe and ready to row.
I had also spoken to the Ocean Rowing Society and found that while it would not be a qualifying record row if I restarted from the location where I was picked up by the US Coast Guard, it WOULD be valid if I restarted from the Farralon Islands, which are officially part of the city of San Francisco and of the continental US. We had therefore diverted the White Holly to this new start point.
But to make this expedition happen, three elements had to be in place. The boat had to be safe, I had to be ready, and the weather had to be right. We had the first two, but what of the third?
I was having long conversations with my weather guy twice daily - see the Weather tab on this site for his comments. The situation was this: the weather for the first few days would be marginal. When we ran the figures, it looked as if I would manage to avoid colliding with the California coast, but it would be tough to make much westerly progress. On the criteria of our old stoplight system the conditions were yellow, bordering on red. And looking beyond that, the trade winds have been flukey this year so my progress to Hawaii would be slow. The longer I was out on the ocean, the more likely that I would run into winter storms before reaching my destination. With the delay in departing while I waited in vain for a window to open from San Francisco, plus the week I had lost since being picked up off Fort Bragg, it was now getting perilously late in the season.
So we were lacking the third crucial component. When your weather guy advocates postponement until the next season, you have to take him seriously. I am very lucky to have such a sound advisor as Rick Shema, and there is no point in enlisting professional advice if you are going to ignore it.
Rowing across an ocean is a challenging enterprise, and it is important to maximise the chances of success. When there are tough decisions to be made, you have to trust the process. I was keen to go and reluctant to give up on the dream, but in a calmer time I had laid down what weather conditions were necessary to succeed, and present circumstances did not meet my criteria.
I was mulling on this all day yesterday while we worked on the boat, and this morning I woke up knowing that postponement was the right thing to do.
It saddens me to make this announcement, especially given the wonderful waves of good wishes and enthusiastic support that I have received - from my sponsors Brocade, the Blue Frontier Campaign, my gallant support team, the crew of the White Holly, Captain Lorenzo, and the many people who have been following my adventures via this website. I would have loved it if I could have given you a happy ending sooner rather than later.
But I am absolutely determined that there WILL be a happy ending - it will just take a bit longer than expected. In the meantime, I thank you all for your interest and your support, and I promise that I will reward your faith in me - next summer, when the time is right.
PS From Rita: You can sign up for an email alert - scroll down the page and find the box on the right where you can do so. You will then receive an alert each time a new message is added to this site.