Lyn: In 2010, you were named Adventurer of the Year by National Geographic. How would you feel about having the title "adventurer" on your business card? What does being an adventurer mean to you?
Roz: For me, the adventure has always been symbolic. Yes, my ocean adventures were very real, and very tough, but it was the personal and spiritual journey that was more meaningful to me than the mechanics of rowing across an ocean. I am fascinated, even obsessed, with exploring my own potential, and by extension the potential of all human beings, to rise to great challenges - personal, spiritual, and environmental.
Lyn: You hold four world records for ocean rowing. Explain those records and how you achieved them.
Roz: Two of the records I’m proud of, two less so. The ones I’m proud of are:
- First woman to row solo across the Pacific
- First woman to row solo across 3 oceans (Atlantic, Pacific and Indian)
The two that I have relatively mixed feelings about are:
- Woman to have spent longest time at sea cumulatively (520 days)
- Woman to have spent longest time at sea in a single voyage (154 days on the Indian Ocean)
So, what we can conclude from this list of achievements is that I am very good at crossing large bodies of water extremely slowly!
Lyn: You have a degree in law from the University of Oxford, but you thrive on the lawless seas. How would you compare the laws of men with the primal laws of nature?
Roz: Human laws are very important to the effective running of our societies. There are reminders around the world of what happens in a country when respect for the rule of law breaks down. I count myself incredibly lucky to come from a country where laws are generally observed and citizens can feel safe.
The ocean, however, is an entirely different place. Out there, being British, or even being a human being, bestows no rights whatsoever. Many things that on land are perceived as rights – the rights to freedom of movement, food, water, personal safety – very much become privileges. The ocean has precisely no respect for my human rights.
Believe me, I have often tried to assert my rights, with a notable lack of success. I feel particularly wronged when I am out there, putting my life on the line, doing my best to promote the cause of ocean conservation, and the ungrateful ocean just seems more interested in beating me up. I’ve just had to get over it. Ultimately, Nature’s law prevails.
That doesn’t just apply to ocean rowers, by the way. Nature’s law will ultimately prevail over all of us. Right now we might think we’ve got Nature nicely under control. If an insect threatens our crops, we find a way to exterminate it. If an infection threatens our health, we take antibiotics. If we want a new kind of apple, we genetically engineer it.
I am not by any means anti-technology. Technology has brought many great benefits to humankind. But we have to be very, very careful how we use it, and how much power we attribute to it. If we think that technology has enabled us to conquer Nature, we are badly mistaken. We might win the battle, but Nature always wins the war.
Lyn: You are in high demand as a motivational speaker. If you could motivate humanity to do one thing only, what would it be?
Roz: I would love to motivate humanity to let go of fear. Some fears have their place – fear in the right situation can keep us alive – but the majority of human fears are not only unfounded, but actually damaging.
Fear holds people back from achieving what they want to achieve – fear of what the neighbours will think, fear of failure, fear of the unknown. I used to be terribly constrained by my own fears. But once I faced the fear and acted anyway, I looked back and wondered why it had seemed like such a big deal.
Fear also leads to greed and overconsumption. When people have a scarcity mentality, a fear that there isn’t enough to go around, they try to grab as much of it for themselves as they can – which, ironically, creates the scarcity that they were afraid of. This in turn leads to inequalities and even war.
If we could banish fear overnight, a lot of the world’s troubles would also vanish.
Lyn: Wilderness adventurer Bear Grylls says a man never stands taller than when he's on his knees, and a man who kneels before his maker can stand up to anything. What spiritual meaning have you found or experiences have you had as a woman alone on the vast sea?
Roz: I am not religious in the way that Bear is, but I would say that I am spiritual, in the sense that I appreciate the interconnectedness of everything.
I can remember a time in mid-Pacific, when it was one of those rare nights that were calm enough to lie out on the deck of the boat without getting soaked. It was a hot night, and it was a relief to be outside the cabin. I remember lying there between the runners of my rowing seat, looking up at the stars. The stars out there are incredible, so far from light pollution. You feel like you can see all the way to infinity.
As I lay there, I felt tiny and humble and insignificant, yet at the same time so connected to all the Earth and all the stars that it was as if I had no boundaries in space or time. It was the closest to a spiritual encounter that I have ever come. It was amazing.
Lyn: You have a book out from Simon & Schuster called Rowing The Atlantic: Lessons Learned On The Open Ocean. What's that really all about? What are some of the lessons you've learned?
Well, obviously, I’ve written a whole book about it, so I can’t answer that fully here. But if I was going to pull out 3 lessons and boil them down to their essence, it would be something like this:
1. We are capable of so much more than we realize, but usually we talk ourselves out of being able to do something before we even try. We convince ourselves that we would fail. On the Atlantic, there were so many times when I was pushed to my absolute limits, only to find that those limits dissolved when I got to them, and I'd look back at them from the far side, and see them for the illusions that they were.
2. Even the largest task can be tackled if you break it down into manageable steps. It has taken me about 5 million oarstrokes to cross 15,000 miles of ocean. One oarstroke doesn't get me very far, but I took 5 million of them and it took me most of the way around the world. There were times when I didn't know how I would find the motivation to even take the next 10 strokes, but I just kept chipping away at it and eventually I got there. When I despair at the scale of the environmental challenges, I remind myself, "one oarstroke at a time".
3. The only constant in life is change. The ocean has been very effective at teaching me a kind of Buddhist non-attachment to how things are. We tend to very quickly start taking good times for granted, then feel irrationally disappointed when they end. Plus, we tend to wallow in the bad times, wondering how life will ever get better. But as Winston Churchill said, "When you're going through hell, keep going".
Lyn: If you and I were rowin' together in the middle of the ocean and I started layin' my raw animal magnetism on your fine self, would you a) throw my butt overboard to drown, b) gimme the silent treatment for the rest of the journey, or c) let me row, row, row your boat gently down the stream?
Roz: Powerful though your raw animal magnetism may be Lyn, I would be immune. I have found the love of my life, and even if you were the only man within 3,000 miles, I would not betray him. So, I wouldn’t throw your butt overboard to drown, because that’s not my style, but I might just have to keel-haul you until you promised to behave yourself. ;-)
Lyn: Well Roz, may you and your soul/ship mate enjoy smooth sailing, from the roiling seas of new love to the calmer voyage of ancient mariners holding a steady course into the setting sun. Thanks for sharing with us.