In 2006, five years after my partner in ocean rowing Curt Saville passed away, I decided to re-visit our 1980s ocean rowing days by re-reading our journals, logbooks and looking through a myriad of Kodachrome and Extachrome color slides and VHS and BETA videotapes. It had taken that long before I could metaphorically climb back on Excalibur, our home made rowboat with Curt and re-live those memories.
As I read through my old logbooks and Curt’s with their salt-water stained and faded covers, I was struck by how differently we told our stories. Though we had jointly written and self-published books on the 1984 – 85 South Pacific row and a summer’s row down the Mississippi River in 1983, and written an unpublished manuscript on the 1981 Atlantic row, we had agreed to combine our writing source material and tell our stories through Curt’s voice. His was the primary narrator and mine the supporting one with periodic journal entries.
That was then and now it was 2006, at least 20 years since those words had been written. As I re-read my journals and subsequent personal writings, I realized there was another side to the stories we had told together. There was my story alone. How I wrote about each rowing voyage was different from our combined efforts.
For one thing, I had always kept a diary as a young girl but during the rows the journals I kept were never personal except for the occasional whimsical sketch of either of us on the rowboat. I was reluctant to turn those journals into diaries because I reasoned I might not survive the rows. In the vivid imagination of my mind, I could see myself falling overboard because of rough weather and screaming madly for a rescue that never came. Or we both were tossed overboard, again due to bad weather and the boat retrieved with our journals to be used in any way the finder wished. It wasn’t until I was safely on land again each time that I wrote in diary form for myself. After Curt passed away, I never came upon other writings of his about the rows than the logbooks and journals he wrote while at sea.
In my reflective writings, I expressed the sentiment that at age 23 in 1981; I had become aware of my own mortality through putting myself in a situation where I could die. Once I accepted responsibility for that realization, each journey became more powerful than it already was every time we set off from various ports in the Atlantic and South Pacific Oceans. I figured I had died a little bit every time I went out in the rowboat because to live with the specter of death hanging over me 24/7 until I next stepped onto land, meant that I had to loosen my attachment to life a little bit. As I noted in those reflective writings, I had willingly made the choice of embracing the extreme challenge of rowing across an ocean rather than turning away from it.
Beginning in 2006, when I re-visited those ocean rowing experiences through my logs, journals, photos and personal writing, I was inspired to tell the stories from my point of view though remaining respectful of Curt’s absence. For a time, I dialogued with him, imagining that we were speaking about my new writing project and telling him how I would share the stories without him. It was hard at times to see myself as a separate individual in these rowing stories because we had been so close. But when I made myself the new narrator in each story, a sense of whom I had been out there on the ocean and who I had become in the subsequent years began to appear on the pages. I delved into the writing I had done over the years to understand what I had taken away from each rowing experience and gradually the pieces began to fit together to tell my own story. No longer was I playing a supporting role that some people saw me in; Rowing for My Life would tell my readers what I had learned to become my own version of self-actualized and how I had used everything I learned on 25-foot Excalibur each and every day of my life.
This morning my mother asked what the title Rowing for My Life meant. I replied that I needed another cup of coffee before I could explain it to her because it has so many levels of meaning for me. Through the ten year odyssey of writing and revising Rowing for My Life: Two Oceans, Two Lives, One Journey, I was able to express what for me was the real story of building a boat with a partner to cross what German philosopher Immanuel Kant calls the “wide and stormy ocean” twice, and know each time I had only just begun to scratch the surface of the adventure of human knowledge.
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