For Those Who Are Afraid For My Life

“Janice Jakait / Row for Silence“

I think it’s time to address a few concerns that have been raised. Telling family and friends about one’s plan to row across an ocean can be a bit challenging. People are scared for you. They don’t want you to die. They don’t want you to become hurt or injured. And with family and close friends it’s hard for them to think about worrying as much as they inevitably will when you’re out on the water row row rowing across the pond. When I told some members of my family, they were visibly upset with me for doing something that is perceived as being so risky. And when I sent out an email to extended family, I was actively discouraged from pursuing this. It could be worse, though. I’ve heard stories of families that basically disowned the intrepid ocean rower. For the most part, everyone in my life is very supportive.

What follows is an edited version of the email response I sent out to address some of the concerns that naturally come when you don’t have a lot of information about such an unusual adventure.

First of all, yes, this is a dangerous endeavour. I would never be foolish enough to consider it anything but. It is important to consider that danger every day so that the best choices will be made and carelessness never takes over.

Likely, the biggest worry on people’s minds is that I could die. Yes, totally possible, but not very likely. No one has ever died during an organized race like I’ll be participating in. According to the Ocean Rowing Society statistics, out of more than 600 attempts, 7 lives have been lost between 1966 and 2001. All but one were lost in the North Atlantic (W to E), a route that I would not personally choose to do because it seems too dangerous. I am rowing the mid-Atlantic (E to W), also known as the Trade Winds Route. Of course, death is always a possibility, but in all seriousness, with the advances in boat construction, safety equipment, regulations, and communication technology the likelihood is very low.

The safety equipment that will be on board is 1) a life raft at the ready should the boat become compromised for any reason. 2) an EPIRB (emergency beacon) attached to boat (and one in life raft), should the situation require immediate assistance and using the satellite phone is not reasonable or useful. Upon activation, rescuers are immediately dispatched 3) a personal EPIRB attached to harness/pfd, should I become separated from the boat 4) a lanyard that attaches me to the boat so that I will never ever become separated from the boat.

I liken the situation to being on the roof of a high-rise. You will only be harmed if you go over the edge and even then, you will only be harmed if you are not wearing proper safety equipment (ie. a lanyard that keeps you attached to the building). I’ve been on many buildings and I’ve rappelled down many buildings for window cleaning. Safety is always my number 1 priority. I spent most of my 15 year window cleaning career doing “ground work” because that was my preference but I was always aware that working with ladders and walking on a pitched roof 3 floors up was way more dangerous than high-rise window cleaning. And that danger was always on my mind. The fear was healthy. Every time I climbed the ladder, took a step on the roof, or leaned out a window to reach a spot I was careful because I felt fear and that was a good thing.

But, you may ask yourself, how are you going to physically do this? You’re no Olympic or endurance athlete. This kind of endeavour does attract athletes because they’re all about pushing themselves, but it can take some of them off guard. It’s primarily a feat of psychological endurance. I’m speculating, but I suspect the reason visibly “strong and tough” individuals suffer so greatly is that they’re used to being in control and you cannot control the sea.

This sport attracts a very diverse range of people. I’ve spoken to a small-in-size woman who rowed it when she was 21 and fully intends to do it again someday. I spoke to a 60 year old man who is chomping at the bit to go again but he’s going to wait until he’s 65 or older. There are paraplegics and amputees. Women and men of all sizes and abilities. What makes a person successful or not-successful has little to do with athletic accomplishments or even experience on the water.

I see this as being like going to work. Similar to the labour intensive work I did with window cleaning. I had to do many physically demanding tasks. And I frequently worked 12 hrs straight. I never trained for that level of physical activity. You just get it from doing it. The first week back from winter break was always the hardest. But, you get used to it.

The row will, of course, be harder than a day at work, but rather than think about it from an athlete’s perspective, I see it from a labourer’s perspective. The harder I work, the sooner I’ll arrive, but ultimately, the sea will determine how fast I get across. If the weather is bad, then I hole up in my cabin and wait it out – getting extra rest as a bonus.

Being solo probably seems like a strange choice. And, many people wouldn’t choose it because they don’t like to be alone. I do like to be alone. Typically, ocean rowing teams row in shifts of 2 hours on and 2 hours off. Solo rowers just row until they need to stop then sleep for the night. Similar to me, pairs propel their boat as solo rowers on their shift on as the other person is sleeping. But, they have the extra weight of another person, their food and supplies and they need to produce water and electricity for 2 people, not one. All with basically the same boat and equipment that I will be using. There are advantages to going solo.

Then there’s the psychological aspect. Being physically healthy and prepared is important, but this is 90% a psychological task. It will be tough. I will experience pain, fatigue, monotony, and more. Pain is pain. Suffering is thinking about the pain. Fear is fear. Worry is thinking about the fear. This is ultimately an exercise in letting go of control and being fully in the moment. Now, one doesn’t need to do this, of course, to experience the Now in such a profound way, but we all look for something that lights that spark inside us and draws us in to do it. I feel called to this. I fancy myself a psychologically stable person with a growing and fulfilling spiritual side. I have nothing to prove and don’t need to “test my limits”. But, this endeavour is so perfectly suited to my personality that I feel compelled to do it.

I live my life in a way that a lot of people probably don’t relate to. I do what feels right, not what society deems “practical”. I live from a place of intuition, trusting that it will all work out “in the end”. It’s served me well so far. I’m happy every day. And even if my mood naturally dips, that’s okay too. This is what qualifies me to row across an ocean.

I could say more, but I’ve said plenty. Please feel free to send me any questions. I’d be happy to answer them. And, don’t feel bad if you feel afraid or worried or unsupportive, it won’t harm my ability to achieve this goal and it’s perfectly natural and totally understandable.

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