01 Jul 2008, The Brocade
You might be surprised to see a blog about Antarctica written from a rowboat on the Pacific, but one of the real joys of audiobooks is the way they suck you into a different world - and today, for me, that world has been the South Pole, 1914-16.
It's been a long day's rowing, but has passed relatively pleasantly because I've been listening to The Lost Men, the story of the men who were enlisted to support Shackleton's attempt to be the first to cross Antarctica. Their job was to sail to the opposite side of the continent from Shackleton's primary team, and set out from the Ross Sea to deposit caches of food and fuel for the last third of Shackleton's journey.
As it turned out, the whole expedition was a spectacular failure in the finest British tradition, following on from Scott's noble but fatal attempt to be the first to the South Pole (the Norwegian, Amundsen, beat him by a month, and Scott and his men died on the return journey). Shackleton didn't make it to the Pole, or indeed, even onto the continent. And the support team fell into disarray, with half-baked plans and lack of leadership leading to delays.
What the two teams had in common was intense hardship, many of the men spending a total of two years in Antarctica, enduring harsh weather, starvation, malnutrition, frostbite, 24-hour darkness, and uncertainty as to whether they would ever be rescued. The Ross Sea party, particularly, seem to have suffered - when they were eventually picked up, they were almost feral, stinking of seal blood and blubber, and speaking strangely.
There was no way for the teams to communicate with each other, or with the outside world. Nobody would know if they had succeeded or failed until they returned. Or didn't.
Listening to this sorry saga made me feel very humble, and frankly, like a bit of a wimp. On the Atlantic I felt pretty sorry for myself at times, with all my oars broken, as well as my stereo, camping stove, and ultimately my satellite phone. But at all times I had enough to eat and drink, was warm enough, and even after my phone broke my team could follow my progress via my locator beacon. And it was only for a mere 103 days.
So it was good to be reminded of a time when explorers really were pushing the boundaries in a way we can't even begin to imagine now. They were seriously hardcore. Respect!
[If you're interested in reading more about my Atlantic crossing, we're going to start doing a series of links: "This day on the Atlantic.". Mum will be adding the links to my blogs, as I can't do it from here, so there may be a time delay of a few hours between this blog first appearing and the link being added, due to the time difference.]
John in Reno - I would love to tell you more (or show photos of videos) about what I am seeing and observing, but there really hasn't been anything apart from sea and sky, and that wears a bit thin after a while! I haven't seen any wildlife since the sunfish a few weeks ago (apart from a couple of birds). Nor have I seen any ocean debris, although I have been looking out for it. Rest assured, if and when I see something interesting, I will duly report.
Rachel - so after the first 10 days you had no electricity at all on your Atlantic crossing - wow! I'm in absolute luxury, then! You're almost in the Shackleton league.!
Marty U - if you're interested in the weather, check out my weatherguy's blog. I can't see my website from here, but I think the link is on the right of this page.
Special thanks to Chris Martin for the words of encouragement. (fyi, Chris was the only other solo entry in the Atlantic Rowing Race 2005.}
ARE YOU COOL YET?!
If not, do it now. Go to www.theblueproject.org and click on the Make a BLUE Pledge button. Let's make this world a bluer/greener/happier place!
BE COOL, BE BLUE!
Day 38 of the Atlantic crossing
Position Tuesday evening: 29 16.235 N. 125 55.485W.
30 Jun 2008, The Brocade
I had long hoped to make a film about my Pacific row to help me get across my environmental message, so I was delighted to find the perfect film partner in Bill Chayes. As well as being an all-round great guy, he shares my vision for an environmental documentary, loosely based around my rowing adventures, that we can market on both sides of the Atlantic.
Finances permitting, we hope to have the first episode (covering the California-Hawaii stage) completed by next spring.
Over to you, Bill.
First thing I said to Roz after being introduced to her: -"You did WHAT??!!"
I don't have very much experience with extreme adventure, save encountering a small bear or two while backpacking not very far from civilization. So my first thought was, "what kind of person does something like that?"
After finding out in the next few minutes that she was totally sane, extremely intelligent, quite dynamic and instantly charismatic, the next thing I said to her was:
-"I'm sure I'm at least the 38th filmmaker to ask you this, but, do you have any plans to make a documentary film about this?"
Fortunately for me, although she had had many offers and conversations regarding a film about her Pacific Voyage, she had been following the advice of a good friend to "keep her options open". To make a long story short, we got to know each other better over the next couple of months and wound up forming Chayes/Savage Productions as equal partners to produce a series of non-profit documentary films about her adventure. We're going to do (in fact are already doing!) one 30-45 minute film for each leg of the voyage and then combine them into a feature length documentary for theatrical release. All the films will also be specifically geared for widespread educational distribution. You can read a detailed treatment for the project at www.chayesproductions.com.
I shouldn't think it would be much of stretch for all you who are following Roz's blogs to understand why I was so keen to do this project. I'm at the stage of my filmmaking career (it's been a long one) where I try very hard to make sure that what I'm going to spend a whole lot of time and energy to produce has the potential to meet the following three criteria: 1. It has to have a positive and useful message: "redeeming social value" so to speak. 2. It has to be entertaining and educational, for me to do and for our audience to see. 3. It has to look like it has a good chance of getting the funds to do it properly.
This story meets all those things better than anything I could imagine. It's fascinating, rich and "filmic", and centered on a totally unique and engaging person. I could use lots of other laudatory adjectives to describe Roz but it wouldn't do for her to get a swelled head in that cramped cabin. The inspirational and environmental aspects (as excellently stated by David Helvarg) at the heart of the voyage are vitally important and graphic. She is regularly connected to the land in myriad ways to myriad individuals all with their own interesting stories. She's an excellent and descriptive writer chronicling in detail all aspects of what she's doing, and I mean ALL. All this (and more) plus just her general charisma and it separates these potential films from all other adventure documentaries I've seen.
The first thing people ask ME when I tell them what I'm doing: -"Are you going to be on the boat, or on another boat nearby? "
My answer: No need for me or anyone else to be there. It's totally Roz's journey. I'm happy to just be personally inspired by what she is doing and to help tell her story to as many people as possible. She has three cameras on board, (although one is inoperable at the moment) and the story provides nearly endless opportunity for narrative, descriptive, historical and educational material shot elsewhere. If we have any problem it will be from too much wonderful stuff to put in the film. We already have a great deal of footage; from her past adventures, from the lead up to her departure and from her ultra dramatic midnight departure itself. We had a camera on shore as she left, one on her chase boat (with a big light) and one high above San Francisco Bay capturing her hour long struggle to get through the treacherous eddies under the Golden Gate Bridge. Certainly one of the most exciting filmmaking evenings I've ever had. Sorry Roz, I know you were really stressed but...we got GREAT FOOTAGE! Can't wait to get that Hawaii arrival!
[photo (will be added to this blog by my mother tomorrow morning, UK time): Bill Chayes. Any resemblance to Stephen Spielberg is purely coincidental!]
Today was grey and hot I rowed a lot. Today was hot and grey I rowed all day.
And that's about it, really.
So on to people with more interesting lives - YOU!
First of all: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAISY FRIDAY!!! An interesting year lies ahead, to be sure! ;-)
And a special hello to Penny and Ben.
Thanks to Jason Lewis for the encouraging news on the 06 watermaker - living evidence that surviving on the "Survivor" is do-able. (For those who don't know, Jason and his crewmate Steve Smith pedaled from San Francisco to Hawaii in 2000, surviving for 40 days with only an 06 watermaker. Jason went on to complete the first human-powered circumnavigation of the world, an adventure that lasted 13 years - see his website at www.expedition360.com.)
Thanks to Alan Sandoval and Mark Reid for their generous donations.
And good luck to Michelle Johnston with her new life. You go, girl!
Gold stars to Nancy for taking the "Filter For Good" pledge (filterforgood.com) and swearing off bottled water forever. And to Caro as well: "Never letting the water run longer than necessary, using baking soda, vinegar and phosphate free products for the cleaning, using ecological bags and avoiding individual wrapping at the grocery, bringing my personal mug for the coffee break and using the back of the sheets for personal memos."
I warned you I was going to nag you every day until July 14th to make your BLUE Pledges, so here we go again: Go to www.theblueproject.org and click on the Make a BLUE Pledge button. Please, do it now, and get your friends, families, colleagues, neighbours, classmates, pets, and total strangers to do it too. It's important!
And remember, BE COOL, BE BLUE!
Position Monday evening: 29 34 26N, 125 31 57W
29 Jun 2008, The Brocade
.and sometimes I just sits. Today I have mostly just sat - and that in itself is a rare treat. For anybody. The world is an increasingly hectic place, and we all seem to be so busy, busy, busy doing I'm-not-sure-what - that just sitting and doing nothing is a dying art. I certainly can't remember the last time I did it. Maybe one Sunday afternoon in 2005, I think.
I rowed for a couple of hours this morning against a headwind from the southwest, but as the day went on the wind freshened to the point where it made more sense to put out the sea anchor and wait for this uncharacteristic wind (caused by a weak low pressure to the north of me) to change.
So it turned into a very unusual day - a day when it made no sense to row, but the conditions were calm and the deck was a pleasant and safe place to be. The sun was shining and the air was warm, so I was wearing nothing but a baseball cap. Unexpected visitors are not a hazard out here. And I knew the phone wouldn't ring because it was turned off.
I felt calm and pleasantly alone in my watery world - it seemed as if I had the whole ocean to myself. The water gurgled companionably along the sides of my boat, and a soft breeze lifted the British red ensign flying from the roof of the aft cabin.
I pottered. I tidied the forward cabin, aired my sleeping bag, put some sprouting beans to soak. I pumped water at a leisurely pace while I listened to Bill Clinton telling me about his life in his alluringly croaky southern tones.
And betweentimes I just did nothing. I sat, and looked at the sea, and the sky, and the clouds, and the sun. Not a thought in my head, except how deliciously peaceful it all was.
[photo: tonight's sunset, photographed from inside my cabin where I am sitting typing this blog]
As you might remember from my World Oceans Day blog, The BLUE Project (for which I am a BLUE Ambassador) is asking people to make BLUE Pledges - something that you are going to do to make your life more green (or blue). Like using only reusable grocery bags, or using a reusable drinks mug for your coffee shop visits, or reducing your carbon footprint by 5% over the coming year.
This is all part of a concerted campaign to support the Marine Bill currently going through the UK parliament, but the pledges are not restricted to UK citizens. After all, we are all connected by the oceans!
The deadline for pledges is 14th July - just 2 weeks away. Please, please, please make a pledge. All the pledges will be printed out on big boards and presented in support of the Bill. We are aiming for a total of 100,000 pledges - so please do your bit and move us one pledge closer to our target!
And get all your friends and family to make pledges too. Again, I stress that this is open to people of all nationalities. Go to www.theblueproject.org and click on the Make a BLUE Pledge button. I'm going to keep nagging you about this every day from now until the 14th, so you may as well get it over and done with and do it now!
Thanks to all who have been following my blogs and podcasts, and have written in to let me know. You know the saying, "I want to be the person my dog thinks I am"? Well, I think I want to be the person some of you think I am - your kind comments and your faith in me really help keep me going when I have my moments of doubt. I will do my best to live up to your expectations!
Special thanks to Nevada Bev, for reminding me that being in over one's head is the best way to find skills you never knew you had! And for mentioning Bolinas - a town that has a special place in my heart (hello Aenor and Melinda!).
Position Sunday evening: 29 41 87N, 125 19 62W.
28 Jun 2008, The Brocade
The last part of my mini-series on a day in the life of an ocean rower. Today - nights. Or more specifically, sleeping, or what passes for it on the ocean.
Back in 2000-2001 I lived for 18 months in New York's Greenwich Village (West 11th and Bleecker, if you want to know), regularly commuting between there and London. Something about all the transatlantic travel disrupted my body clock, and I became quite the insomniac. Although more recently my ability to sleep has improved, the insomniac years have stood me in good stead for ocean rowing.
In New York, rather than toss and turn and fret about not sleeping, I would either go out to a local 24-hour diner and observe the exotic side of New York life (not an option here, more's the pity!) or I would stay in bed and relish the feeling of resting, rather than focusing solely on sleep and my lack thereof.
I try to do the same on the ocean - to regard my time in the bunk as time of rest, rather than time of sleep. It's good just to have the break from rowing, and to get the weight off my backside. Because sleeping here is not easy. No matter how snug my waterproof, fleece-lined sleeping bag, sleep on a constantly pitching boat is at best intermittent, and at worst non-existent.
When the waves are at their roughest, it is like trying to sleep in a fairground dodgem car - every few minutes another dodgem will slam into me with bone-jarring force, bouncing me off my bunk and into the air. And even on the calmest of nights it is noisy in the cabin, with the water sloshing around the rudder just inches away from my head.
I have noticed over the last few nights that I have started to develop immunity to the slamming waves. Even though I am a light sleeper, I have occasionally woken up during the night to find that although it is quite rough, I've been asleep for a couple of hours at a stretch.
Just another one of those things that I have adapted to. But already I'm looking forward to adapting back again, and to feel cool, crisp cotton sheets against my skin on a bed that doesn't move.
A huge thank you to Rich Crow and the guys at Spectra Watermakers, who really, really did their best to help me get the watermaker up and
running again. Unfortunately when I opened up the feed pump, it was pretty obvious that it had pumped its last. A crucial component , that cannot be replaced or improvised, had corroded away beyond repair. We have now done all that can be done for the patient. Resuscitation has failed, the last rites have been read, and the watermaker will now truly rest in peace.
In hindsight, I should have opened it up immediately after the swamping and flushed it out with fresh water and WD-40 to prevent corrosion. But not much point in dwelling on that now.
Reserve water supplies and hand-pumping, here I come.
[photo: the corpse in extreme close-up - that frayed end near the middle of the photo is supposed to be connected to a wire. No connection, no water.]
Thank you for all the suggestions about attaching the waterpump to rowing seat, oars, etc. Great in theory, not so easy in practice. Believe me, I think about little else while I am rowing, having rather a vested interest in this - plus I know my boat better than anybody else with the possible exception of Rich Crow.
The configuration of the hand pump and the configuration of my boat make it very hard to attach the hand pump firmly enough in order to exert the required amount of pressure from the seat, and the oars do not move in a sufficiently consistent plane (because of the rough water) to work the pump without breaking it. Plus I would have to disassemble the setup every time I stop for a break from rowing.
I will continue to ponder on it, and although I know you're all dying to help, it would be really hard for you to hit on a solution without knowing either my boat or what tools I have on board.
I really do appreciate all your concern - it's nice to know you care - but may I suggest that you devote your mental energies instead to thinking how you can economise on your own energy consumption and do your bit to help save the planet!
Many thanks to all who continue to send messages of support and encouragement.
Special hellos to Mariya (oh, roll on Hawaii!!) and Richard Shillito - yup, as they say, a bad day on the water is better than a good day in the office!