From: Cheshire, England
Where did your passion for rowing come from?
I have no idea. Certainly not from my parents – neither were especially sporty. Neither was I when I was at school, it was only when I was 18 that I decided to take up rowing.
When did you first decide this is what you wanted to do?
I was in my mid-thirties and working in an office. I had all the things that were supposed to make me happy – a nice house, a job, a decent income – but I didn’t feel I was making any contribution to the greater good. I felt the need to leave some kind of a legacy, to leave the world believing I’d made some small difference for the better.
What is it about rowing that you particularly enjoy?
I’m not sure it’s really true to say I enjoy rowing! I do it because it’s a fantastic way to challenge myself – it’s like a crash course in personal development! It’s also great in that it gives me a platform for talking about the environment. But as far as the rowing itself goes, it’s hard, uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous. There are a few things about it I miss when I am on dry land, but not many!
How dramatic has the change from an office-based job been for you?
Mostly the dramatic change has taken place in many, many small steps, so although I look back now and marvel at how far I’ve come, I’ve rarely taken such a huge step that it has been scary. The one exception to that is setting out across the Atlantic. No matter how many ocean rowers you talk to, or how much you try to visualise it, nothing can really prepare you for the reality of such an undertaking. I’m not sure I’d ever have taken it on if I’d known how hard it was going to be, but now I’ve done it I’m so proud of the achievement.
How would you describe your 103-day voyage rowing across the Atlantic?
Without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The weather was awful, all four of my oars broke before halfway, my camping stove broke so I had to eat all my food cold, my stereo broke so I had only my own thoughts to entertain me, and it took about twice as long as I had hoped it would. Apart from that, it was a total walk in the park!
How did you prepare yourself?
I talked to every ocean rower I could find, and read every book I could lay my hands on. I had so much to learn! I’d never been to sea before, so had to learn how to navigate and how to fit out a boat, as well as figuring out what foods to take, raise money, create a website, and prepare mentally and physically for the challenge. It was intense.
When weather conditions get tough whilst you’re out there, how do you keep motivated and focused?
I try just to focus on the task at hand, while at the same time keeping my eye on the goal. So I’ve got this long-term perspective – a powerful image of how fantastic it will be when I reach my destination – and a short-term perspective, on what needs to be done in this immediate moment to get me one mile closer. And I refuse to think about anything else in between, otherwise I get too daunted by all the miles that still lie ahead. One stroke at a time!
Where is your favourite place to row?
The last mile of every crossing!
Are there any particular places you would still like to row?
Ask me again after I’ve rowed all the way to Australia. I might feel like the ocean still has a lot to teach me, in which case there is still the Indian Ocean. Or I might be totally over this whole ocean rowing thing and ready to move on to something else.
Does your career have any effect on your personal life?
What personal life?! Only kidding. I’m really lucky, I’ve got some fantastic friends who are very tolerant of my long absences, and even more tolerant when I then appear out of the blue (literally!) and stay with them for several days at a time. I am a perpetual house guest, with nowhere I really call home. It’s a fun lifestyle, once you get used to it.
Have you had any career setbacks?
Last year I set out to row from California to Hawaii, but ran into some serious weather about 100 miles from the coast. I capsized 3 times in 24 hours. I was determined to tough it out but unfortunately a “concerned well-wisher” read about my problems on my website and took it upon himself to call the US Coast Guard, who were then pretty insistent about rescuing me. It was the worst feeling of my life, to look down at my boat as I was winched up into the helicopter, not knowing if or when I would see her again. But she and I both survived and I’m so pleased that this year I was able to lay that ghost to rest.
What interested you about The Blue Project?
I really like the positive message that it’s “cool to be blue”. I get tired of all the bad news – I want to see people doing something positive for the environment, focusing on the solution rather than the problem.
Would you have considered doing a project like this if you were still working in the office?
I was a very different person back in those days. I wouldn’t have had the self-confidence to believe I could row across an ocean. I had to get out of that environment and that mindset before I could even begin to dream of doing something like this. I needed to open myself up to the amazing potential that we all have if we have the courage to embrace life.
Why are you so passionate about the environment and the ocean in particular?
I regard myself as a kind of “selfish environmentalist”. I want to live to a ripe old age, in a clean, healthy, beautiful world. I’m doing my bit to try and ensure that this happens, and I want everybody else to do their bit too.
What would you like to personally achieve from this experience?
To learn how to be happy, healthy and wise.
What are your plans for the future?
To complete my solo row across the Pacific. Stage Two starts in May next year, and will take me from Hawaii to the South Pacific. Stage Three will be in 2010, aiming to make landfall in Australia. Beyond that, who knows? But I’m sure it will be exciting!
Photos by: Phil Uhl and Dan Byles.