Saturday, July 26, 2008

An Unexpected Visitor

This is my first, and hopefully not last, summer as a seabird research assistant on the Farallones. Since I have been here, many of my loved ones have commented on how small the realm of existence is for my fellow researchers and me. A camera pan of a few seconds from the top of the lighthouse pretty much covers the areas into which we are allowed to venture. Not that there is a shortage of things to do, or that life is ever boring here; I, for one, have never felt boxed in or stir-crazy. However, when we see something on or near our isolated island that is out of the ordinary in any way, things tend to screech to a halt until that particular mystery has been solved.

Well, that is exactly what happened back in May when we sighted an unusual craft approaching the island. It was a slightly overcast but relatively calm afternoon near the end of May, just when the seabird breeding season is reaching peak activity. We had just finished a Cassin’s auklet check and everyone had split up to finish our respective tasks for the day. All of a sudden, a small boat was sighted from the east side of the island. This boat was not only tiny, but seems to be lacking motor and sail, and the crew apparently consists of one person. To top it off, the boat was inching, slowly but surely, to the northeast under the power of two oars. Near some islands of the world, this might be a natural occurrence, but Southeast Farallon Island (SEFI) is not one of these. This part of the California coast is known for having rough weather and supply runs on much larger and sturdier boats are often delayed or cancelled altogether. So, you can imagine what the conditions would be like for a boat small enough for someone to row.

Thus, someone rowing alone anywhere near SEFI must clearly be in trouble, suicidal, or just plain crazy. Since none of these conditions is ideal for anyone, we isolated biologists were faced with two choices:
1) Ignore this unusual boat, even though boats come to the island only once every two weeks, call the Coast Guard, and let them handle it.
2) Hop in our boat and go to see what in the world is going on.
As you can probably imagine, we chose the latter. SEFI biologists Russ and Pete launched the SAFE boat and whizzed after the vessel that was still ponderously gliding away from the island. Soon, it became clear for those of us waiting excitedly on the “mainland” that the woman rowing the boat was no crazier than the rest of us, but on a well-planned expedition to row across the Pacific Ocean, having already conquered the Atlantic.

Roz Savage is her name, and her vessel is the 23-foot long, 6-foot wide Brocade.
As daunting as her task was, Roz greeted Pete and Russ with a smile, turning down her audio book (Charles Dickens) to exchange pictures and contact information with our awestruck biologists. Although she declined an offered beer, Roz accepted some M&Ms, bananas, and trail mix that we rushed to take back out to her. I was actually able to go on that second ride out, and the Brocade was something to behold. Weighed down with about two tons of gear, equipped with various satellite dishes, weather indicators, and solar panels, and with two sealed cabins fore and aft, this boat is especially built for a difficult ocean voyage. As a member of the rowing team in college, I recognized the sliding seat and stationary shoes, also present in a regular racing shell, that allow a person to power a boat using mainly their quadriceps. I also remembered how horrendously grueling a 2000 meter rowing test was, and my respect for this intrepid woman who planned to row an almost incalculable amount more- without the support of teammates- increased.

As amazing as the logistics of Roz Savage’s journey are, the “why” of them is perhaps even more so. By doing something so unusually, mind-bogglingly strenuous, Roz hopes to raise awareness of the plight of the world’s oceans as well as take control of her own life. If she happens to inspire others to stretch themselves to the best of their ability in whatever they do, so much the better. In trying to set an example in her living on and off the water, her goals are not too different from ours here on the Farallones. Though our efforts lie in building a knowledge base rather than the outreach end of things, our way of life may seem as extreme as hers to some people. Brief though our contact was before she rowed off into the wild blue, I know everyone who saw her felt privileged at being able to meet such a unique individual.

The Roz encounter, though unusual, highlights a typical day on the island in some ways. As regimented as our lives out here are, there is always the chance for the unexpected, the unusual, or the just plain crazy to arrive out of the blue and remind us that anything can happen on the Farallones.

To find out more about Roz’s ongoing journey and her mission, go to her blog at Look for us in the May 26th entry. Photos in this blog are courtesy of


Rita Savage said...

Thanks guys for this excellent article. Much appreciated, and I will be sending it on to Roz. Best wishes to you all, Rita Savage - her mother, based in the UK.

rog47 said...

Hello Guys! Believe it or not, your work seems exciting. And what an experience to have met Roz! I was honored to have met her in TEXAS, as she traveled with her boat from Florida to California. She is such a exciting and pretty lady and on an important treck! It does not take long to feel like part of her family and her "MUM" is a valuable partner too! Roger

Sinead said...

Hello out there,

I'm a visitor from Roz's blog. I've just been reading about your life out there on the island. Sounds great, keep up the good work. I may pop back and visit your site again. Since you don't post every day perhaps you should get a feedblitz subscriber widget thingy, that would let people who register know when you have put up a new post. Its free too!