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Solo Female Rower Crosses Oceans With Environmental Message

Fewer than 300 people have crossed the Atlantic Ocean solo in a rowboat. Roz Savage is one of them, and she did it when she was 39, in 2006.

The "rowing thing" started for this former high-technology consultant a few years ago when she realized she had a job she didn't like, was buying stuff she didn't need, and was out of touch with the environment.

"I'd realized that my respect for myself went along with respect for the planet," Savage says. "I recognize that we are connected with everything else, that we are this complex web of life, and when any element of that web gets out of balance, we are going to get in trouble pretty quickly."

Trading a job and a home for a rowboat

Savage says her idea to row across the Atlantic would embody those values.

"It was environmentally low-impact. It was adventurous. It would give me a feel for the size of this planet that we live on. And most importantly, it was sufficiently unusual that it would get people's attention."

Savage did have some experience. She was a member of her college rowing team at Cambridge and had continued the sport with a rowing club in London. Despite some initial fears that the project was too big and ambitious, Savage took the plunge. She quit her job, traded her home for a custom rowboat and equipped it with an electronic geopositioning system, satellite phone, stereo music system, VHF radio and a webcam, which allowed her to bring along virtual adventurers.

Hard-won ripples of change

On Savage's 2006 solo Atlantic crossing, viewers shared the anguish of her oars breaking and the effects of tendonitis in her shoulder and saltwater sores on her back. They also saw a brave soul who never gave up, no matter the conditions. It took Savage 103 days to make the grueling crossing from the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain to Antigua in the Caribbean.

In 2008, she was off again, this time to cross the Pacific. The first leg of that journey - from California to Hawaii - Savage dedicated to raising awareness about ocean pollution. She introduced online visitors to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the floating mass of discarded plastics twice the size of Texas, America's largest state behind Alaska. She says people wrote they had adopted reusable grocery bags, coffee cups and water bottles.

"I really felt that I was starting to spread those ripples of change," she says.

(Click to view slideshow of Savage's journey.)

Inviting others to join her quest

In mid-May, Savage will begin rowing westward in the second stage of the Pacific crossing, a journey from Hawaii to Tuvalu, the Polynesian Island nation midway between Hawaii and Australia. She wants people who follow her adventure to take steps to reduce climate-changing carbon emissions in a campaign called Pull Together. She says participants will compete in a virtual race, matching her daily strokes with steps.

"When they upload their steps, they will get feedback on how many calories they have burned and how much CO2 they've saved, driving home that message that it's good for their bodies and good for the planet," Savage says.

Savage will compile those steps into a petition that she will deliver in person to delegates at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December. Negotiators from 192 countries will be busy hammering out a global warming treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

Savage hopes to convey the message that people everywhere are engaged in helping the planet one little step - or one oar stroke - at a time.