Rowing Around the World: One Woman’s Odyssey

By Marina Solovyov

Roz Savage, a 38-year-old British woman, is the ultimate nomad. With no place in particular to call her home because she is always exploring the world, she feels happier than she ever has in her entire life. In addition to being an avid adventurer, she is making a name for herself around the world with her round-the-world rowing expedition.

Roz Savage aboard her boat, the Sedna Solo - photos courtesy of
Roz Savage aboard her boat, the Sedna Solo – photos courtesy of

In an interview with Roz, I got to learn all about her trip across the Atlantic and the one she plans to make across the Pacific this summer.

Roz calls the trip the Voyage; it is a seven-year project that will take her around the globe on her row boat. Her plan covers three phases, one of which she has already completed. On March 14, 2006 Roz finished the Trans-Atlantic Row.

For 103 days Roz rowed across the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to Antigua, Guatemala, in a race with 25 other crews. Roz, with the exception of one male participant, was the only solo rower entered in the race. The fact that six crews did not make it says a lot about the conditions of the waters; one crew was even attacked by sharks.

Regular Person

Roz doesn’t fit the typical profile of an ocean rower. Usually ocean rowers are male, six feet tall, and weigh over 200 pounds. Roz is female, five foot four, and weighs 112 pounds.Anyone who hears about Roz’s past expedition and future goals is sure to think she is a professional in the field.

Roz Savage
Roz Savage

But this is not the case at all. While Roz did row competitively during her Oxford University years, she went on to work as a management consultant and investment banker. However at age 34, Roz realized she wanted more from life than “a red sports car and to be married with a house in the suburbs.”

I asked Roz how it was possible to accomplish such a challenge with so many odds against her. Her answer was that one needs to be driven and passionate enough to want to do it.

“Stay dedicated and work hard,” she says. “Only worry about the things that you can control. In life there is so much that we want to do but we scare ourselves out of living the life we want, because of all the ‘what ifs’; I only concentrate on what I can control. This is how I rowed across the Atlantic.”

Second Leg

Crewmen from HMS Southampton deliver a valentine to Roz in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Crewmen from HMS Southampton deliver a valentine to Roz in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Roz is currently training for the second leg of her journey across the Pacific Ocean. She sets out from San Francisco this July in pursuit of reaching Hawaii. It is a 2,600-mile row to the island and she hopes to reach it in two in a half months if the ocean winds are favorable. When she reaches Hawaii she plans to return home to rest up for about six months, but Roz likes to travel light and seize the moment. “If I am inspired, I may just stay.”

Roz vs. Ocean

Roz makes friends easily and it would be no surprise if the exotic island wins over her heart until she hits water for a third time. After Hawaii, her destination is Samoa, a country comprising a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean. After that it’s on to the coast of Australia; she hopes to reach it by 2009.

Unlike her previous trip, the next stage will not be a competition. This time the row is just her and the ocean with no official finish line to cross, just the one she has set for herself.

Other than the crew of the Royal Navy’s HMS Southampton who stopped to deliver Roz a valentine, there was not a single boat in sight on her Atlantic crossing, yet Roz still felt the pressure of being in a race. The next phase of the voyage gives her the opportunity to just focus on what matters most, her rowing and not competing.

Training and Preparation

Roz went through five pairs of gloves crossing the Atlantic.
Roz went through five pairs of gloves crossing the Atlantic.

While reading Roz’s blog about her first trip across the Atlantic, I discovered how difficult it is to travel for months alone across the ocean. If the turbulent and stormy winds don’t kill you, being alone with your own thoughts may drive you crazy.

“Rowing alone is physically exhausting, but the mental side is much tougher.” Roz explained to me her mother, who acted as her shore manager, was her only regular source of human contact.

Furthermore, twenty four days before the event ended, Roz’s satellite phone broke. Other than a passing ship that was able to get a message to her mother telling her Roz was all right, Roz had no contact at all. It didn’t help matters that at this time, Roz experienced some of the worst conditions the Atlantic has had in the past 200 years.

In addition to her phone breaking, her navigation instruments and music player stopped functioning. Perhaps worse than all of that is that all four of her oars broke and she had to patch them up with duct tape.

I was intrigued to know if Roz was doing anything differently this time around to prepare for the Pacific row. Surprisingly she told me that she wasn’t. The wander luster is currently living with a friend in Washington where she utilizes the Grand Columbia River to practice.

Riding the waves in the Sedna Solo
Riding the waves in the Sedna Solo

While this is different from her Atlantic training because she did most of her rowing (up to twelve hours a day) on a rowing machine, she is not practicing any more than she did the last time. If she makes any changes they will be mental.

During her trip across the Atlantic, Roz says, “There were many times when I was struggling and wondering why I was doing this. The only thing that stopped me was that I knew I would never forgive myself if I turned around.”

But Roz made the long and arduous journey. “My faith that it would all be worth it in the end kept me going.”

When she rows this summer, although many of the same feelings of frustration will return, Roz will know better than to give into her emotions. She is working for a vision. For Roz, “It’s not important what the vision is but rather what the vision does. It’s not what the experience is; it’s how I make it work for me.”

The Sedna Solo

The inside compartment of the Sedna Solo
The inside compartment of the Sedna Solo

Roz’s boat is an important part of her life and adventures. To her it feels like another crew member or even an old friend; after all her life depends on the security her boat provides her. There were several mornings on her row across the Atlantic when she would wake up at 4 a.m. and row for up to sixteen hours a day. Her cabin inside the boat was her refuge from sharks and stormy weather.

Roz’s boat, which she calls the Sedna Solo, is 23 feet long and six feet wide. It’s a lightweight carbon fiber craft specifically designed for ocean rowing. A key characteristic is its stability; it cannot sink while it is still intact.

Roz can heat up food on her boat and did so using a cooking stove. However, since it failed after the first twenty days of her Atlantic Row, one change that Roz will make in preparing for the Pacific is to buy two gas stoves. If possible, Roz does not want to be stuck again eating just cold food.

While she did have some self-heating meals on the Atlantic, after the stove gave out she survived on flapjacks and nut/seed bars from Wholebake. Besides them, Roz had only freeze-dried veggies and fresh bean sprouts she grew herself during the trip. For water, Roz uses an onboard desalination plant called the Spectra water maker.

Roz arrives in Antiqua, completing her voyage across the Atlantic.
Roz arrives in Antiqua, completing her voyage across the Atlantic.

Making History

Roz is one of only four women who have rowed the Atlantic Ocean solo. When she accomplishes the solo row across the Pacific, she will be the first woman ever to do so.

Roz keeps a travel blog which she updates frequently, and she will be adding videotaped segments. Live footage from her Atlantic row can be found on her comprehensive website. Roz is extremely down to earth and friendly. She expressed to me that one of her hopes is that other ocean travelers on their sailboats or yachts come out to see her during her journey and share a portion of the adventure with her.

Not for Everyone

Although Roz is not a professional rower, she is pretty familiar with the sport. Sometimes people read about Roz’s journey and get so inspired that they want to try an ocean row themselves. However, she says, “I’m not sure I’d recommend ocean rowing. It was tough. I already had eight years of experience, but it was without a doubt the hardest thing I had ever done. Most of us out there were total novices when it came to ocean rowing, so it is possible for a novice to go out there and succeed, but never underestimate the ocean.

“But at the same time I would hate to discourage anyone from taking on a challenge. You never know what you’re capable of until you try. Find something that is in tune with your personal values and go for it!”

Marina Solovyov

Marina Solovyov, is graduate of the University of Massachusetts and now lives in Tokyo, Japan.

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