In My Element and Finding Peace

I have to say that I am truly loving life right now, and the pace is just phenomenal.  But I know that this is just the start of a long road and in order to succeed over the next two years, the secret is going to be learning how to pace myself and also how to deal with my internal self as well as a more external self, especially with all the publicity and interest we are already starting to receive in terms of both Oceans Project Georgia and Coxless Rowers.  This is going to be especially important for living on a 23foot boat with three other girls for around 115 days and living a gruelling cycle of 2 hours of rowing and 2 hours of resting all day, every day.  And even before then, it is going to be important that we learn to control our own emotions and decision making processes as well as looking after each other.  So this is a very random blog today (and probably from now on, as time is very short and the list of jobs to do is never ending, but I’d like to still blog as much as I can!), and a little insight into some of the things that come into my daily life through three major undertakings: OPG as a new NGO, Coxless Rowers and our attempt to set 5 world records whilst rowing across the Pacific Ocean, and my PhD looking at plastic pollution from a trans-disciplinary perspective, as well as being filmed over the year as a new NGO and then filmed by another crew in relation to the row.  If that wasn’t high pressure then I can’t imagine what would be!  You are truly going to be seeing me under the microscope over the next two years and really getting to know me as a person, and I’m more than likely going to meet the real me too!! Exciting times ahead that is for sure!

For you to really get a feel for the journey ahead of me, I’d like to share this video made by a friend of mine Alastair Humphreys, who recently took part in a race across the Atlantic Ocean with three other guys.  I have to say, that it is undoubtedly the best video I have ever seen of an ocean row and really gives you a feel for what is involved.  Alastair is a great guy and I’d also really encourage you to check out his website, buy him a coffee, and read his blogs, especially if you are planning an expedition of your own:


Peace Fellowships in Thailand and Europe

In my quest to find grants that OPG can apply for as an NGO, I stumbled upon this very interesting project in Thailand.

The fellowship in Thailand consists of 14 days of Inner Peace Retreat, which focuses on meditation, peace and Buddhist studies. Presently, the fellowship will take place at Mooktawan Sanctuary in an island at the southern part of Thailand. Participants will enjoy meditating in a serene and peaceful near-forest environment. Well, many people say it′s a celestial hideaway on Earth.

The Thailand fellowship includes:

  • full or partial sponsoring of airfare*,
  • free accommodation,
  • free catering,
  • free local transportation,
  • free meditation retreat fee.
Everyone is welcome to join the fellowship. But to be eligible for the partial sponsoring of airfare, candidates must be between 18-30 years old.

I’m sadly too old to apply for the fellowship, but my Co-Founder of OPG isn’t too old, and after no encouragement at all, has applied and accepted a place.  I have to say I am pretty jealous as a fully funded trip to Thailand and the chance to meditate sounds amazing right now!!  But the great thing, is that he can bring everything he learns, back to the team here in Georgia and maybe even incorporate some of those things into OPG both for our sessions on Saturdays or into a little ‘time out’ during our Earthwatch expeditions over summer (funding permitting!).

I might not be able to attend the camp itself, but I am going to incorporate their online self development programme into my daily training programme for the row as I figured that some time out would be a great thing every day, and to give my brain a little rest and to help me process all the things I’ve been working on.  So much happens every day now and it is hard to keep an eye on everything, but to be honest, that is my favourite pace and I really love it, and being my own boss, and follow my dreams. I am going to ask the programme to come up with a plan for the Coxless Rowers though as we have so much going on over the next year prior to the row, that it could really help us in those times when we all feel exhausted and overwhelmed.  Though I have to say, both girls are just amazing and are the kindest and loveliest people you could ever hope to row an ocean with.  And I guess it is not surprising that we are all people who give to others through our work.  Laura as a Physiotherapist for the GB Paralympic Team, and Annabel as a Speech and Language Therapist for children born with a cleft palet.

Tea Drinking

One of the things I am most worried about in terms of the row right now, is the lack of tea that will be onboard.  Tea is my blood, and by tea, I mean tea with milk.  I simply can’t function without my cup of tea in the morning and if I have a worry of any kind or something goes wrong, a nice cup of proper tea, always seems to fix things, or at least give you a chance to stop, take a step back, reflect and fix things.  I can cope with a lack of sleep, non stop rowing, whatever, but no tea with milk is going to be my Everest! So as part of my ‘training’, I have decided to substitute my cups of tea, with cups of Liptons green tea with lemon, and it is actually very lovely to drink, and I am now down to two proper cups of tea per day.  I’m also hoping that being in the warmer weather will also help to reduce my levels of tea intake, as I know that when I lived in the Caribbean, you couldn’t get decent milk (it was usually off and very expensive after being shipped in from the USA) and I got into drinking green tea, jasmine tea, or mint tea a lot.  But I wasn’t under the strain that I am going to be between now and the row, and during the row, and to go for 6months without a decent cuppa is going to be a big challenge.  I could take powdered milk for sure, but we are going to be really tight on space and weight and I’d rather not take it if it ends up not tasting great, or is full of lumps.  We will need to make all of our own water too, so it won’t be as simple as sticking the kettle on every hour or so.  If you have any ideas for alternatives, hot or cold, then I’d love to hear them.  We already have sponsorship from NAKD bars, so will have lots of those to snack on.

Grow your Own

As part of my training, I know that I really need to get myself in better shape, not just physically and psychologically, but also in terms of my nutrition.  I think I have finally managed to beat my addiction to m & ms, which was jolly hard as I live above a corner shop and the nice lady behind the counter always asks me if I want my m & ms when I pop in for milk, bread, or whatever.  Being as I am also on a really tight budget now I have left teaching in order to focus on applying for grants for OPG and my PhD m & ms are a luxury that I really can’t afford.  Though I’d be more than happy if they want to stock our row boat with a secret stash for the trip!  As we will be packing away the calories as we will easily lose around two stone, probably more, even with stuffing ourselves with food.  If that wasn’t an incentive to row an ocean then I don’t know what else is….eat what you like, and arrive the other end with a good physique, healthy tan, and having lost weight despite eating sweets and carbs all day!

Anyway, it got me thinking about nutrition in Georgia, and one of the things I love here is that everything is grown locally and is sold in season.  My first host family grew cabbages for a living, we must have picked and stored some 15,000 cabbages during my time with them, and they bring these to the big market in Tbilisi where all the little grocers and shopkeepers like Nikoloz who sells veg outside my apartment go and buy what they want and then sell them to the lazier customers, like me, who don’t want to go to the big market to buy just one or two things.

I was lucky to visit the big market with my neighbour Lali last weekend as I wanted some soil to grow my veggies.  The soil was 50tetri per kilo and sourced from a local forest, and even had lots of little worms and bugs in it and looks far superior to any of the processed soil that usually comes in grow bags.  I’m hoping that it was from a sustainable source, and isn’t full of pesticides and things, but I had a great time planting all of my seeds that I brought back from London in November last year.  The weather is already lovely in Tbilisi now, feeling like summer, and within just a couple of days I have lots of new shoots.

Sadly, I didn’t have time to collect all the seeds I had wanted during my trip to London and I’m hoping my friend can send me all the things I really want to plant but haven’t seen here as yet.  Like Lavender for my balcony, peppermint, bean sprouts, herbs, and flowers.

Last summer I also dried a lot of the seeds that I found in fruit and veg I had bought here too, and now those are also planted.  Now I have lettuces, about 5 different types of tomato, courgettes, mushrooms (not convinced they will grow as I have no manure), leeks, broccoli (3 different types), and peppers.  So I hope that these will not only taste great, but also save me money.

As a follow on from this, I’m also hoping to grow a few different things on our ocean row as a way of supplementing our diet, and since we are using so many new technologies and designs with our boat and the row, and are being really very experimental and pioneering, I’d like to incorporate the growing of ‘crops’ into that ethos somehow.  I know Roz Savage grew bean sprouts on her boat as a way of keeping her protein levels high during her row, but I was wondering about growing peppermint because it has so many healing properties and also makes really nice tea.  So would love any suggestions from others about this.  I don’t really have green fingers at all, but I love the idea of being self sufficient and as natural as possible.  I’ve been following this little site for a while and have written to Melinda in the hopes that she will have some suggestions for us on growing things on the row!

Mashed Potato and Gravy Lunch

I’m super excited about today’s lunch, and I guess that is kind of sad that I am even writing about lunch, but those of you living in Georgia or who are ex-pats, or living in host families, I am sure you will understand why this is just so exciting!  Now, I know that it is possible to make gravy from scratch and women have been doing it for years, but I’m a modern girl and this isn’t a skill that has been passed on to me, nor do I have the patience to cook up meat and make the basics of the gravy.  So, I was over the moon, when my last guests from the UK brought me two tubs of Bisto Gravy granules.  And my local green grocer also happens to have a little brocoli today, though apparently it comes from (in a whispered voice) Turkey, and isn’t Georgian.  I’m well aware of that, and in defiance, I don’t care either.  It is brocoli, it is green, and it is one of my favourite vegetables even if Georgians don’t use it in their cuisine.  So, I’m having a yummy lunch today, cheap and cheerful and a little nutritious too I hope.  Mashed potatoes, Bisto gravy, and crispy and green brocoli! You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see what I have for lunch in the future!!!

Wildlife Film News

Was fab to get a mention in the April edition of the Wildlife Film News too, sadly that crowdfunder site doesn’t work, which is incredibly frustrating, but great that we got a mention and extension of our network: Anyone who is anyone in the wildlife film making world subscribes to that, so it is a brilliant resource for anyone interested in wildlife film making.

Imperial College London

The girls started their rowing lessons with trainers from Imperial College London today. We are going to be getting a lot of intensive training from Imperial over the next year, and I can’t wait for my own rowing bootcamp with them in a few months (funds allowing).

BBC Radio Bristol

The girls are also becoming regulars on BBC Radio Bristol too, and we will be followed by BBC Radio Bristol and speaking to them from the ocean fairly regularly during the row.  Great for OPG to get so much coverage outside of Georgia too.  If you are based in the UK, I believe you can catch up with the coverage here:

International Extreme Medicine Conference

This will be held in London this month, and some of my old colleagues are lecturing.  Really wish I could attend as it is sure to be a great place for networking and picking up advice and info for our ocean row.

Earthhour Georgia

Lots of our kids from OPG attended this with us, was great fun and nice to have a bit of social time with the kids and their parents too.  Few photos here, taken by the students:

Isla my dog had the best view as always!! And lots of fuss!! (Especially from the boys).  She was also on tv too.

ChangeMakers Website

We had a lot of interest in OPG from the Change Maker website, lots of things to follow up with and some great connections.  If you are running your own project, then it might be something worth setting up:

We were even nominated for two competitions by visitors to our page!

Actuality Media

We had a great response to our ChangeShop page from this company ‘Actuality Media’ who basically send film makers all over the world to document the work of NGOs and other such organisations and to show the work of the change makers.  One of the film makers is even Georgian, but lives in the USA and we are hoping that he will be one of the people to document the work of OPG over the year.

I especially like this organisation, because they really give young film makers the opportunity to make films which give them not just experience, but also a show reel or demo piece which can be used to help them in their own careers, and it is one of those organisations, where everyone involved seems to benefit.  This is just one video:

Pre-School Session about the Oceans

I’m very excited about attending a Pre School next week, to run a session for 3-4 year olds about the oceans, and will be joined with a couple of our OPG students who happen to attend the same school.  Is fantastic for OPG, because the school were not aware that they had students on OPG, and hopefully this will really help us to form great links locally and to get more support for their students and their school.

Even better, is the fact that our Oceans Ambassadors will not only get the experience of helping me to plan an educational session, but for those who don’t have school in the day, they will also be able to help me run the activities, all of which will count towards their experience speaking English as a second language, their confidence, experience as teachers, and it will all count towards their International Award for Young People.

It also opens up the possibility of us doing more outreach work in the future if this session goes well, and in the future I would really like to do other sessions like this at different schools as a way of raising interest in the environment, encouraging them to visit the Oceans Project International website (once it is built) and to participate in oceans project online, whilst also following the ocean row.  So that could be great.

Any ideas for working with 3-4 year olds always welcome:)

The New Website and Oceans Project International

So, this has been in the planning for a long time now, but was dependent on everything else, before it became a more concrete plan.  The idea is to basically take everything that we do as OPG and to turn it into a website, that anyone anywhere in the world can use, free of charge.  Any educational materials or videos that I make on the ocean row will then get uploaded to this website, and others can upload here too.

We plan to get the OPG workbook finished by September and to get this produced as an online book and a ‘mappazine’.  The idea for this is to try and save paper and therefore the environment, as much as is possible.  The current group of Oceans Ambassadors are busy drawing and writing for the book, as are the Project Leaders, and we will be looking for guests to contribute to the workbook as well.  It will not only contain the OPG syllabus which is linked the the BBC Oceans television series, but will also cover the snorkel diver theory, as well as information on how to raise money to participate in an Earthwatch expedition.

The plan is that, people can use the website as a stand alone tool, but better still, that they can purchase the BBC Oceans DVD online and download the OPG workbook that goes with it.  Then can then interact with explorers live from the field via a link to ‘Education through Expeditions’, and they can find their local International Award centre so that they can participate in that.  Later on, we would like to run some competitions, get them uploading their presentations of topics from the syllabus, and also get them out and about and collecting nurdles (little pieces of plastic pollution) from wherever they are in the world, so that they can send them off to a central office, where the plastic will be examined for chemicals attached to it’s structure, and to produce a world map of nurdle pollution.

It should be fairly simple to set everything up, but will be amazing for OPG and as an NGO that we can really extend our reach, and also connect young people around the world with our guys here in Georgia.

We will continue to run one intake a year from within Georgia, and from September will begin a special project for ex-street children and for one orphanage, with guys from our current group of Ambassadors acting as their mentors.  This will keep the day to day running of OPG fairly simple, which is going to be vital since I will be away and will be needing people here to manage the website, social media, and so forth during the ocean row!

Tbilisi Zoo

I’m also really excited, because two of our Project Leaders for OPG work at Tbilisi Zoo and are also International Award Leaders.  This means that together they are able to set up a project at the zoo, for our young people to volunteer once a week as part of their International Award for Young People.  This is a fantastic opportunity for our participants, and I have to say, that I am incredibly jealous of all the things they have been doing so far!  Each student has chosen an animal that they would like to become an expert in, the most popular seems to be snakes.  Each week, they shadow the keepers at the zoo, and get to work with animal, feeding it, studying it, and photographing it.

Once I have a little more time, I really hope to apply for funds for this very special part of OPG as it will not only help our young people, and the conservation of Georgia, but will also help to raise the standards of the zoo, which is pretty basic at the moment.  It would be amazing to send the kids and keepers on some conferences together or to get them doing mini research projects, or to buy a camera that they can use to take quality pictures which could be published or made into short films.  Or even, to invite world experts to come to Georgia to work with them, or to use funds to write plaques or to enrich the environments of the zoo creatures somehow.  Everyone has taken the International Award on board in such a professional and superb way that it really is a huge credit to both kids and Leaders, and is sure to make Georgia a very special place in which to take their Award.  If I was a University lecturer and received an application from a student applying to study Biology, I’m sure I would be blown away to hear that they had been on expedition, volunteered at the zoo, and got an award from Prince Edward for it!!!  Kudos to our Leaders and kids for sure.

I don’t remember whether I showed you these two new videos made by our young people to help them raise funds for their expeditions, but I’d really like to share them here anyway:

CGP Web Books

I’ve always been a massive fan of CGP books, aside from the fact that they are made in the UK close to where I used to live, and I remember when they first started with just a couple of books.  But this time, they have really raised the bar, and I super love these web books:

We are hoping that CGP will agree to transform our OPG workbook into one of these web books so that it can be downloaded from CGP or from our international website.  I hope you agree that they are fab books, and best of all, it means that no ink or paper will be needed in publishing them, and the cost can be relatively small, perhaps even with a little bit aside to put in the charity pot to help us get this resource or a laptop and internet to communities that lack such things.

Physical Fitness and Bex Life

Being in Georgia is going to a massive drawback in terms of fitness, especially as both of my team mates have their own physiotherapist and personal trainer and are really making use of all the training and research offers we have so far received as a team.  This means that I am really going to need to think outside of the box in terms of making sure that I am disciplined and training hard.  This week I went on a four mile walk, but between filling in grant applications and catching up on emails and all the numerous jobs that come with setting up and running an NGO, submitting a PhD proposal, and organising a 7000mile ocean row, it can be tricky to fit in time to train, especially when you don’t have a gym or even a decent pair of trainers, and zero funds.

So, I’ve come up with what I hope will be a cunning plan, on my quest to become fit again, and this comes in the form of my own personal trainer Bex, who is based in New Jersey, USA!

Bex is the mum of four, and runs her own fitness crusade on You Tube and was voted as one of 16 of the best fitness and yoga instructors in the world and has her own Youtube fitness channel.  I just love her ethos and that she is such a regular but energetic and passionate person, and I’m especially excited by the fact that she has a wormery in her kitchen, chickens in her garden, and she strives to live a healthy life in all senses of the word.

Not sure if it will pan out as yet, but it really would be ace if she comes on board as my official trainer and joins my support crew during the row.  Check out her info here:

The Cantab

Had some great chat with these guys recently and one option is for us to carry out some cognitive tests on ourselves during the ocean row, for other scientists to use in their research and perhaps for us to.  I’ve come across the CANTAB many times in my work as a neuropsychologist and the great thing here is that they have computerised versions of the CANTAB which would be perfect for seeing how sleep deprivation and things, affects us during the ocean row:

RSS Feeds

I was very excited this week to finally discover what they were! They are quite cool really, basically just a more sophisticated way of book marking pages and getting any updates directed to a special page. Great huh! Now just have to figure out TUMBLR, etc!

Maritime Archaeology in Sweden

Not sure if I mentioned this one previously, but basically, OPG and Stockholm University have submitted a joint funding application, which, if successful, would enable two PhD students in maritime archaeology, to come from Sweden to Georgia in September and to teach our guys on OPG.  Then in October, four of our Ambassadors (aged 12 upwards) and myself will go to Sweden where we will scuba dive and get hands on experience in maritime archaeology.  The archaeologist will also be contributing to our book and to the new website, and we have lots of plans for more collaborations in the future, including funded places for our guys to study for archaeology degrees in Sweden when they are older.  We should find out the outcome in May sometime.

Am also planning to incorporate something into my own PhD too, probably in relation to plastic content of sand found around maritime archaeology sites, and then the guys from Sweden can join me on the ocean run and we can dive together in Hawaii and Samoa, looking for evidence of nurdles.

And Finally…..

I finally sent off the application form to Lush, so now just have to wait……..


About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
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