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Excerpt from "Stop Drifting, Start Rowing"

Chapter One: Facing and Embracing Failure

by Roz Savage

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

— Winston Churchill

The ordeal began on 21 August 2007. My boat capsized twice that night. The first time, the Brocade rolled right over until she was upside down in the water. I landed sprawled across the cabin roof, while all around me in the darkness I could hear belongings escaping from their straps and sliding around the curved walls like clothes being tumbled in a dryer. The tiny sleeping cabin was only about three feet high, so I hadn’t fallen far from floor to ceiling, but the shock of the capsize and collisions with solid objects battered me emotionally and physically.

For several seconds the Brocade remained inverted. I held my breath, willing her to turn the right way up again. She was designed to self-right, the air trapped in the two cabins fore and aft making her unstable in the upside-down position. Having already crossed the Atlantic in this same boat, I had faith that she would turn, but she was taking her sweet time about it. At last she slowly started to roll back to an upright position, and my belongings and I returned to the floor in a jumbled mess.

I pushed aside the bags of food, clothes, electronics, and instruction manuals, and wriggled reluctantly out of my warm sleeping bag to check the status on the darkened deck. As I opened the hatch, I was hit by a cruel blast of wind and cold, salty, sea spray. I clipped a neoprene waist strap around my middle and secured its carabiner onto a D-ring bolted firmly to the boat so that if another destructive wave came along, I wouldn’t be swept away.

Things didn’t look too bad out here, considering that the boat had just rolled a full 360 degrees. Spending 103 days at sea on the stormy Atlantic had trained me to keep everything securely attached to the vessel or else expect to lose it overboard. I quickly unfastened the cockpit bags from their fixings and threw them into a locker in case a second capsize might prove too much for them, and hastily slammed the hatch cover back in place. A wave crashed over the side of the boat, drenching me in cold seawater. I swore.

Soaked, I returned to the cabin and, turning on the light, restored some order. Once everything was as shipshape as possible under the circumstances, I wriggled back into my sleeping bag and tried to get warm again. The bag was designed specifically for ocean usage, comprising two inner bags of thick, woolly fleece inside a waterproof outer shell. It retained the last vestiges of my body heat, but it took a long while before the fleece wicked away the dampness from my skin and my hands and feet lost their chill. I strapped myself to the bunk using two seat belts secured to the cabin floor, fastening them across my chest and thighs so that I would not end up on the ceiling if the boat should flip again.

I didn’t feel particularly afraid as I lay there in the darkened cabin, despite the violent pitching and rolling. For the first two weeks of my maiden voyage, nearly two years previously, I had been petrified. The carbon-fibre hull had amplified the noise of the Atlantic waves so that they sounded terrifyingly huge. I had lain awake night after night, quaking in my cabin, convinced that the boat was going to be smashed in two, or at the very least have her rudder torn off. I’d listen to the pounding and thumping of the waves, berating myself for having taken on such a foolhardy challenge and wondering if I would even live to see the morning, let alone the other side of the ocean.

But after enduring two weeks of terror on that voyage, I eventually grew tired of being scared. My boat had withstood the tempestuous conditions thus far, and so I reasoned—fallaciously, but it cheered me to believe it—that she would continue to hold together. I, too, had withstood a fortnight at the mercy of the ocean, so maybe I would continue to hold together as well. I quickly adapted to my new circumstances, and the fear ebbed away. Now, on the Pacific, I quickly tapped back into the strange serenity that comes from being able to greet fear as an old friend. 

This article is an excerpt from Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific by Roz Savage. It is published by Hay House (October, 2013) and is available at bookstores or online at www.hayhouse.com.

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