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This reading group guide for Rowing the Atlantic includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Roz Savage. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In Rowing the Atlantic
, Roz Savage gives us an intimate look at life alone on the open ocean in a tiny rowboat. We follow this nervous first-time adventurer as her watermaker malfunctions, when she dreams of feasts instead of another freeze-dried meal, when her gloves wear through, when her headlamp is the only light on a pitch black night ocean and when her communications system fails. She flashes back to key moments from her old life to explain what led to her transformation from office worker to ocean rower. The reader is there as, stroke by stroke, she discovers there is much more to life than a fancy sports car and a power-suit job. and ultimately rows her way to the kind of happiness we all hope to find. Discussion Questions
- The Atlantic Rowing Race is known as “The World’s Toughest Rowing Race” and many attempts to complete it have failed due to weather, personal injury and capsizes. Roz admits that the reward for the winner of the Atlantic Rowing Race is “a cheap medal and the knowledge that they have done something out of the ordinary” (p.2). Why was “out of the ordinary” enough for Roz to take on this venture? Did you believe Roz was incredibly bold or incredibly crazy? Did your opinion change by the end of the book?
- Talk about Roz’s upbringing and the impact that her parents had on her life. What was instilled in her that made her think rowing the Atlantic was a possibility? How did her father continue to be a source of inspiration, even after his passing? How did you feel when Roz’s mom revealed that if she ignored Roz’s notion to cross the Atlantic, “the whole horrible idea might go away” (p. 63)?
- What about Roz’s childhood visit to San Diego shifted her view about what she could become? What made her realize that “…I was not merely a creation of my genes, star sign, upbringing, or circumstances. I, and I alone, had responsibility for my life” (p. 28). Why do you think it takes her another two decades to make her life-changing decision?
- Discuss some of the “small victories” that Roz had while out on the Atlantic. How did these help her along the way? Why was it important not to get too excited and to nurture her “fragile” joy carefully?
- Do you agree with Roz when she states that she never really got to know herself (p.54)? Why or why not? How did the writing of the obituaries help “introduce” her to the person that she wanted to be? Do you think that her experience on the Atlantic helped her to get to know herself better?
- Roz states that in order to live the life she wanted to “I would have to make some enormous changes, and the prospect terrified me” (p. 57). Do you think she would have been better off playing it safe? Do you agree that sometimes in order to make big changes in our lives we must sacrifice many of the comforts we already have? Could Roz have made her changes and still kept her current life?
- Roz is consistently “visited” by four “friends”: Mr. Guilt, Mr. Self-Doubt, Mr. Self-Critical and Mr. Competitive. How do they manifest themselves? When do they seem to show up? How does Roz combat them?
- Were you surprised to learn that Roz had been cheating on Richard with Tom? How, if at all, did this change your impression of her? What did she believe that Tom was to her?
- After Roz completes her epic 103 day journey, she admits to the reader that she still finds herself “fighting pointlessly against things that cannot be changed” (p.237). Did this surprise you after all that she had been through? How much do you think Roz changed on her journey? Do you think that rowing the Atlantic helped her grow? Why or why not?
- What were some of the things that Roz learned while out on the ocean? How does she still struggle? Do you think that she will ever become that person in her fantasy obituary?
- Your ship, the Sedna Solo, has a very interesting name. What is its origin? Where is the Sedna Solo now?
Sedna is the name of the Inuit Eskimo and Alaskan goddess of the ocean who provides sustenance for both the body and soul. It is said that when Sedna lost the tips of her fingers in a tragic boating accident, the digits transformed into whales, seals and other sea-creatures alike. As a result, Sedna is intimately connected with the sea's inhabitants. The Eskimos believe that she can be called upon for plentiful supplies and can help with any ocean-related ventures, including interacting with whales and dolphins.
She is very appreciative of those who give time, money or efforts to protect the sea and those creatures who inhabit its waters.
Sedna has now been renamed the Brocade, for my title sponsors. I have completed 2 out of 3 stages of a solo row across the Pacific Ocean. In 2008 I rowed from San Francisco to Hawaii. This year I rowed from Hawaii to Kiribati, where my boat is now in storage awaiting next year’s third and final stage to Australia. If successful I will be the first solo woman ever to row the Pacific.
- You wrote that as a child, books were your escape and your refuge. What role do books play in your life now? How do you feel that your story may one day be an escape and inspiration for a child?
Books continue to be very influential in my life, and have helped form the way I perceive reality. In particular I have been influenced by The Celestine Prophecy, The Alchemist, the books of Deepak Chopra, The Perennial Philosophy, and Ishmael. I have also been listening to audiobooks during my Pacific voyage – approximately 140 books so far between San Francisco and Kiribati!
I hope that my book might help a child to believe that almost anything is possible, given enough determination and commitment, and that their life is very much what they choose to make it.
- You intersperse your story of the Atlantic crossing with the story of how you came to cross the Atlantic. Why did you decide to tell the story in this manner? Why not make it more linear?
By juxtaposing the past and the present, I hoped to emphasize the contrast between my old life and the new. I felt as if I was re-born when I decided to take the leap of faith into the life I believed I deserved, and even now I look back and marvel at the scale of the transformation. But I hope that the flashbacks are sufficiently sequential to explain how my transformation came about, so the reader has a guide to how to change their life – if they want to. Divorce and rowing oceans not compulsory, though!
- You started rowing in college as a way to control your weight and get in shape. You admit that it was your rowing background that gave you inspiration to row the Atlantic. What if you had not become a rower? Do you think you would have taken on such a grand venture? If so, what would it have been?
I was looking for any venture that accorded with my newfound values. It could have been almost anything that was challenging, character-building and environmentally low impact. I considered creating an organic coffee shop, renovating a tugboat to be a liveaboard “eco-boat”, or traveling across land by veggie-oil vehicle. But rowing oceans happened to check more boxes than any of the other options – with the added attractions of solitude and good old-fashioned adventure.
- You state that you had been used to a world “where effort and results went hand in hand. But here on the ocean, the rules were different” (p. 145) Did this reality discourage you at first? How did you learn to adapt to it? How has this affected how you perceive effort/results in your own life today?
Yes, that reality was very discouraging, and I really struggled to adapt to it. Ultimately the lesson I learned was acceptance. There was no point in fighting the way that things were. I had to trust that everything would turn out exactly as it was supposed to. I am not actually convinced that everything happens for a reason, but it certainly makes life easier if I tell myself that it is so, and forces me to look for the positive in every situation – both on and off the water.
- Towards the end of your voyage you discovered a “new” you that you liked. Were you able to bring the best of that person from the Atlantic back to land as you had hoped? Do you ever distinguish between “old” Roz and “new” Roz?
I believe that I have been successful in incorporating the best of the new Roz with the best of the old. I now get a marvelous feeling of integrity in myself, whereby I see that everything that has happened in my life – all the skills and experiences, even the ones that seemed bad at the time – have helped to form this person that I am now. It is as if everything was leading up to this point, equipping me with exactly what I needed to do what I now do.
- You skillfully chronicle the blood, sweat and tears it took to get you on the Atlantic and then get you off it. What advice would you have for someone who is thinking about taking on a similar venture?
Anything is achievable if you break it down into small enough steps. If you have a big dream but it seems almost impossibly daunting, make a list of everything that you would need to do to achieve it. What skills would you need? Who would you ask for advice? What money and resources will it require? Then look at the list and see if there is anything that still seems too daunting. If so, then you haven’t broken it down far enough. Take it to the next level of detail, and repeat until your whole list is do-able. And when the going gets tough, remind yourself that nothing great is ever easy, and the feeling of achievement when you reach your goal is directly proportional to the effort you’ve gone through to get there.
- You made the comment that you vowed never to become blasé about things you previously had taken for granted on dry land; yet you also comment that it would be mentally exhausting to be constantly grateful for all the minutiae of life. Where do you stand on this now, almost five years later? Are you still grateful for all the things you took for granted or has that subsided a bit?
I’ve done 2 more major ocean rows since the Atlantic, the last one finishing less than 3 weeks ago. So I have had regular refresher courses in not taking things for granted!
- After your satellite phone failed you confess you had a “guilty delight” about being disconnected from everything. Do you still long for that today? Are you able to disconnect while on dry land or do you need the sea to help you accomplish that?
I have become much better at disconnecting while on dry land. In fact, I’ve become much better generally at focusing my thoughts so that I can tune out unwanted distractions and mental clutter. One of my favorite rituals is to retreat to a coffee shop with my journal and for the hour or so that I’m there I’ll be totally focused on what I’m writing. No matter how busy I am, or what is going on, that time is sacred. There is nothing as good as a bit of coffee shop therapy to help me keep my sense of perspective.
- What would you say is your motto or maxim? Why?
“Whatever you do, put your whole heart into it.” My father used to say that. There is a purity and a power in complete commitment to a task that overcomes almost any obstacle.
- What is next for you? Is another book in the works?
I’m working on a book called “Pulling Together: An Ocean Rower’s Vision for a Greener Future”. Based on the lessons learned on the ocean, with particular references to my trans-Pacific row, it’s a very personal view on why and how we can address the challenges of climate change. It’s a positive and optimistic message that we are all empowered, and indeed obligated, to make a difference in the world. Enhancing your book club
- The name of Roz’s boat is the Sedna Solo. If you had to embark on an ocean voyage, what would the name of your boat be and why? Share with your book club!
- Roz mentions that her favorite café in New York was the Café Mona Lisa on Bleecker Street. Share your favorite local café with your book club. See if you can hold one of the meetings there!
- You may not have to row the Atlantic to take on an ambitious task in your life. Share with your book club a story about an ambitious venture you took. Who knows, it might be novel material!