16 Jul 2008, The Brocade
Today I have been listening to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I've read it before, in March 2004 - it was one of the many books on philosophy and religion that I gorged on during a self-imposed one-month retreat in a cottage on the windswept west coast of Ireland - and which lay the groundwork for my decision in August that year to row the Atlantic.
It's been good to read it again, and to be reminded of certain lessons. One of those lessons was about "stuckness" - something I've certainly been able to relate to recently. According to the book, a certain amount of stuckness is to be expected in any challenging undertaking (be it mending a motorcycle or rowing an ocean) but if you persevere through the stuckness you can always resolve the problem. Eventually.
I got pretty stuck under the Golden Gate Bridge when I first set out from San Francisco. I thought the tide would never let me through. I battled it for about half an hour - then, just as the camera crew was packing up to go home, the tide changed and/or I moved over closer to the north pylon and passed out into the open ocean.
Then I got stuck again at 124 degrees West. For a very long time.
And I may well get stuck again. Weather will do that to you.
But I've accepted that progress is rarely linear. In all kinds of contexts, on dry land as well as on the water, I've often slogged away at something and wondered if I will ever break through. And, 9 times out of 10, I have - although often the breakthrough has come about in a surprising way. Like I'll have been working away on one potential sponsor for ages - and then a generous donation comes from an entirely different quarter.
Or when I was looking for a life purpose - I knew what my values were and knew that they would guide me towards it, but I couldn't find the actual Thing that would meet those criteria - until one day, when I wasn't even thinking about it, the answer hit me like a thunderbolt from the blue.
I sometimes feel like the universe is testing me. I have to put in the donkey work, and eventually I get my reward - just not always from the direction I expected. Einstein once said that problems are rarely solved on the level at which they were created. He also reckoned that he wasn't any smarter than the next person (hmm, debatable), he just stuck at problems for longer.
All of which leads me to the conclusion that often the difference between failure and success is perseverance.
Position at 2145 15th July Pacific Time, 0445 16th July UTC: 25 47.506'N, 131 14.001'W.
Been going great guns today. The wind has been coming out of the NE, and has been strong enough to create a swell also from that direction, both of which have helped me along. Strange weather though - lots of sunshine but also the occasional big black raincloud. I've had my buckets out a couple of times today, but the actual rainfall has been minimal. So no hair-washing just yet!
Any rumours (MarineTrack) that I have been doing 5 knots are probably much exaggerated. 3 knots possibly, but 5 would be the stuff of dreams!
Thanks to all the regulars for the lovely messages.
Click here to see Day 52 of the Atlantic Crossing 21st January 2005, Blue Skies and Cable Ties - more problems with broken oars.
15 Jul 2008, The Brocade
The value of things on an ocean rowing boat is very different from their value on dry land. Out here, the dollar/pound value of an object is totally irrelevant. If I can't eat it, drink it, or row with it, then it's worth very little to me, whereas there have been moments when I would have paid hundreds for a slice of pecan pie.
Actually, that's a slight over-simplification. There are some items on board that I don't eat, drink or row with, but which make my life that much more pleasant. Here are a few examples of things that are enrich my life out of all proportion to their monetary value (including some edible ones):
iPod - I actually have 4 iPods on board, but by far the most cherished is the one donated by Leo Laporte (who does the podcasts). It is loaded with 323 books, courtesy of audible.com. I listen to the books while I row, and they make the time pass SOOO much more easily than the total silence I endured on the Atlantic. Leo's taste is very highbrow. I'm learning a lot!
Lock 'n' Lock boxes - simple food storage boxes with admirably watertight lids. I use them for everything from my Sanyo Xacti video camera (also an excellent item) to my various snacks.
Sleeping bag - my Ocean Sleepwear sleeping bag is my haven. Waterproof outer shell, fleecy lining. Fantastic.
Trusty latte spoon - probably purloined from a coffee shop at some time in the past. I eat every meal with it. It's long enough to reach to the bottom of boil-in-the-bag meal sachets, or to the bottom of the mug I use for freeze-dried food, thus avoiding the unappetizing horror of lumpy, partially rehydrated food that managed to avoid proper stirring.
Tea tree oil - applied neat to the parts of the body (use your imagination) that are susceptible to the saltwater sores that caused me such misery on the Atlantic. It has powerful antiseptic qualities, and smells lovely and fresh and clean.
Boil in the bag meals - so much nicer than the freeze dried meals, because they have proper chunks of meat and veg in them (and even dumplings!) rather than the finely minced dusty rubble of freeze-dried food. Alas, I ate the last one a couple of days ago, so it's freeze-dried from now on.
Sproutamo - my doughty seed sprouter (see photo). It lives in a mesh bag, tucked away in a corner of the deck underneath the gunwales. I've mastered the art of sprouting seeds using the absolute minimum of water, and in less than 48 hours I have fresh crunchy beansprouts. Super-healthy! And environmentally friendly too, as they are fresh and unprocessed so don't have the carbon footprint of freeze-dried foods, nor the packaging.
(Roz was very tired last night after making the most of good rowing conditions - she was unable to attach the picture. I have added one taken on the Atlantic crossing but she uses a different sprouter now. Rita.)
From my ocean perspective it strikes me as pretty funny what people will pay for a Picasso or a rare stamp. Out here it's all about survival and efficiency. Not enough room for a Picasso on the wall of my cabin, anyway.
Position at 2150 14th July Pacific time, 0450 15th July UTC: 25 56.708'N, 130 37.513'W.
Lovely conditions for rowing today, and I'm making good progress. I'll enjoy it while it lasts!
Blue Pledges: today was the grand presentation of the pledges at the British Houses of Parliament. I've asked the BLUE Project to let me know how it went, and will report back.
Glad to hear about all the cool stuff on the internet - the podcasts, 1planet1ocean and so on. I just wish I could see them too!
Today I saw a tiny piece of plastic floating past - it looked like a square inch or so of plastic carrier bag. And there was one of the little blue crabs sitting on it! So now I don't know if the crabs actually swim, or if they just hitch rides on passing debris.but either way I was sad to see the plastic so far from land.
Today I took my first saltwater sponge bath. I can't spare enough fresh water, but I desperately needed a wash - it was hot and windless today and I was sweating. Further to John H's suggestion, I made sure I wiped off all the saltwater when I'd finished to avoid that sticky feeling. And it seemed to work pretty well - I felt clean and refreshed. Thanks, John!
From BLUE Project newsletter: Anne Qu?m?r? (France): Ocean Kite Surfer
As our second BLUE Ambassador set to cross the Pacific Ocean this year, Anne will follow in Roz's footsteps when she sets off alone from San Francisco in three months time. However, this is where the similarities between the voyages end as Anne will be using a kite to propel her tiny craft across the Ocean rather than oars and is heading for the French Polynesian Islands some 4,350 miles away.
That's all for now. It's been a long day at the oars. Thanks again for all the wonderful messages of support and encouragement that continue to pour in.
Click here to see Day 51 of the Atlantic Crossing Friday Night Dinner Party: the 4 guests she would choose for such an imaginary event.
13 Jul 2008, The Brocade
(Picture: Dave on the left, George on the right. The Atlantic Four 2005)
In October last year I spent a weekend with my friend George in
Bristol. He had also rowed across the Atlantic, at the same time as me,
in a crew of four men. One of his crewmates, Dave, was also staying with
George that weekend. I knew Dave too, through having spent time with him
at Henley Royal Regatta, and in the Canaries before the start of the
The three of us hung out together that weekend, risked George's homemade
beef curry, drank too much wine, then went to the gym the next morning
to work it off. We sat on three rowing machines side by side, and rowed
Dave was excited about a forthcoming trip to South Africa to take part
in an ultra-running race. He would be going with another of the
crewmates and their two girlfriends. When we parted company on the
Sunday, it never crossed my mind that when I next saw Dave he would be
A few weeks later I got an email from George. Dave and the three others
had been in a car crash in South Africa. Dave had broken his back. The
doctors said he would never walk again.
George dropped everything and flew out to South Africa to be with his
former crewmate. Since Dave returned to the UK he has been in the Spinal
Injuries Unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and George has made the
round trip from Bristol to visit him there almost every weekend.
George, who surely deserves some kind of award for Best Friend In Need,
yesterday set out to cycle from Canada to Mexico along the western coast
of the US, in a bid to raise funds for a hand bike for Dave so that he
can once again compete in endurance races.
His website says:
David needs to get out of hospital (Stoke Mandeville) as soon as
possible and get back into expeditions. The four of us plan to enter the
2009 New York Marathon as the old crew, Atlantic4. To do this, David
needs a specialist bit of kit called a hand bike. And that, my friends,
is what we're raising money for.
So please, give what you feel like - not because Tori [a Canadian who
also rowed the Atlantic in 2005, in a mixed pair] and I are doing
something difficult or unpleasant, but because you want to help David
get back out on the road.
Donate cash using the link on the left hand menu. When you do this, 100%
of the money goes directly to David's Hand Bike Appeal.
So if you want to help Dave, or support George, or just express your
gratitude for your own fit and healthy body (there but for the grace of
God.), please go to their website and make a donation.
And/or go out and do something that you've been putting off, thinking,
"I'll get around to it when." You never know when you're going to run
out of tomorrows. So do it now. While you can. Do it for yourself, but
do it in honour of Dave, who - at least as far as his legs are concerned
- ran out of tomorrows.
Position at 2100 Pacific time, 0400 14th July UTC: 26 06.420'N, 130
Look again at that last number - I've passed 130W!! This is a major
milestone. Still a long way to go - Hawaii lies at nearly 158W - but I
can now regard myself as having successfully broken away from the
Americas, after a long battle with winds that had other ideas!
Hello and thanks to all who have sent messages, especially Mandy Skogebo
(if justdoitiveness isn't a word, it should be! It's in my vocabulary
now!), John, Roger, Pippa, Kirk, Bruce (stop chatting up my mother!),
Russell, Gene, Rod, Roger, Nevada Bev, Erin and Mark.
And a special hello to Larry, Leonard and the other Leo Laporte Lurkers.
How about that for alliteration?!
If you haven't yet checked out my thrice-weekly podcasts with Leo,
they're apparently really good. Mum discovered on Saturday that when you
watch the podcast live, you get to see Leo in the studio, plus all the
comments that are coming in via the chatroom. I just wish I could watch
them too! I'll give more details soon.
Tomorrow my friends at the BLUE Project will go to the Houses of
Parliament to present the Blue Pledges in support of the Marine Bill.
But you can still make a pledge if you haven't already. Just go to
www.theblueproject.org and click on the Make a BLUE Pledge button.
Thank you to all who have made the pledge already - and those who
haven't, please do it now! It's all in support of the Marine Bill
currently going through the UK parliament, but people of any nationality
can make a pledge. After all, the oceans connect all of us!
BE COOL, BE BLUE!
Click here to see Day 50 of the Atlantic Crossing A Little Bit of Toast - longing for food not available on the boat.
12 Jul 2008, The Brocade
After a tough week, today was outstandingly wonderful. It all averages out in the end!
It got off to a good start when I woke up to discover that the wind direction, for the first time since I left San Francisco, had an E in it. It was coming from a whisker East of North, helping me towards Hawaii. This was Very Good News.
Then, while I was doing my podcast with Leo Laporte this morning, I saw my first piece of ocean debris since I got away from the immediate vicinity of land. It was a small black mooring buoy, bobbing by about 10 yards away from my boat. Unfortunately I couldn't photograph it because we were in the middle of recording. Although it was obviously not a good thing to see, it was noteworthy for being the first object I had seen - other than sea, sky, and the contents of my boat - for many weeks.
But the best "first" was this afternoon. I heard a snuffling sound and looked around to see a black fin arcing through the water just 20 yards away. I squealed and dashed to the cabin to get my camera. I just about managed to capture the creature on video, although I don't think I'll be winning any awards for cinematography any time soon. Then there was another one, and another. In all, five of the creatures passed by, most within just a few feet of the Brocade.
I think they were whales, about 8-10 feet long and black. Or it could be a porpoise or a dolphin, not sure. But the fact that they were traveling so far apart, and the snuffling sound, make me think whale.
Although, obviously, I remain zen and calm about these new developments, appreciating them as a privilege and not as a right - after weeks and weeks of unrelenting west winds, and an absolute dearth of marine life, today was almost more excitement than I could cope with, and while it lasts, absolutely fantastic!
Must run now. Want to make the most of these NNE winds while they last, so am off back to the oars.
The deadline is 14th July - UK time. So best do it now!
Go to www.theblueproject.org and click on the Make a BLUE Pledge button. Costs you nothing, and it helps save the oceans - and the planet!
Thank you to all who have made the pledge already - and those who haven't, please do it now! It's all in support of the Marine Bill currently going through the UK parliament, but people of any nationality can make a pledge. After all, the oceans connect all of us!
BE COOL, BE BLUE!
Position at 1920 Pacific Time, 0220 13th July UTC: 26 25.248'N, 129
Click to see Day 49 of the Atlantic Crossing Frustrated Idleness - Roz coping with broken oars.
and another blog for Day 49 of the Atlantic Crossing