Endings and Beginnings

Trials of a Week

This week has been the toughest so far as Director of OPG, as a member of the Coxless Rowers, and also in my PhD quest.  It is a week that has marked the end and the beginning, with sadness at time gone, and excitement at opportunities new.  It was always going to be this way, and like everything in life the end is always inevitable.  I’ve been working with some of the kids on OPG since January 2011 and others since September 2011, and I’m so proud of how far they have come and I’m excited about their futures and how amazing they are going to be as adults and leaders in the future.  With yesterday as our final session with the pilot group, its now full on organising future project, applying for funds, organising expedition logistics, and thinking long and hard about the coming year.  How things will fit together, and how things affect each other.  In light of events with Sarah and Charlie this week in being rescued from the Pacific Ocean (both unhurt thankfully), it also makes me feel the need to train harder and also to make project work.  Many of my Project Leaders are also in difficult situations, should they stay in Georgia for another year because of OPG, or travel and get more profesional development or earn money teaching in Korea or wherever.  Its a tough call for all of us, having invested so much and put heart and soul into our kids on project.  What will it be like to work with a new group now, to start from scratch, to not have that same connection we have grown with these guys to the point where we trust them and understand them well?  Safe to say the next few weeks, perhaps months are going to be a time for serious reflection, but also with little chance to breathe.


As Director, the pressure is really on me now, to get everything organised and ready and to begin a lot of travelling back and forth to the UK to start building team dynamics and to train with my team mates, and also (if I get the PhD place) to travel back and forth to Sweden for my research into microplastic pollution on maritime archaeology sites.  Now begins the start of PR building and preparation for future ocean row logistics and all that comes with that.


Perhaps the most daunting thing right now, is fear and ‘what ifs’.  My focus will soon change from OPG as number one priority to Coxless Rowers as number one priority (I suppose its a bit like welcoming a second baby into the world and knowing that the labour part is imminent!).  What if we end up not getting along, or at any point decide that the row should not happen, that we are not ready, or that we just can’t work together as a team?  We are, after all going to be spending 6 months together, on a 23foot boat, hormones and all, sleep deprived, and probably constipated from rehydrated food, and peeing in front of each other over the side of the boat in big waves.  I am coming in as the third member of the team and we have still to select the fourth, and I am joining an already established team of two, whose baby it is, and who I am trusting one hundred percent.  I’m about to travel to the UK at least one weekend every 6 weeks, investing money I don’t have, and that I need to find, on top of the money for the row itself.  The team have never been to Georgia, and I think they don’t understand how different life can be here at times, sometimes the water goes off, sometimes electricity, and as such you just go with the flow and make do with whatever you have and improvise the rest.  At the moment they are also caught up with a different set of responsibilities and commitments than me.  Both are very social people, and friends and family are most important to them, so they are busy with weddings and summer festivities and are struggling to balance friendships and relationships (or rather they aren’t??).  This means that communicating is often tricky, since they can visit each other or pick up the phone and chat easily about up coming issues, or go to the pub and chat over a cider together, but to communicate with me being abroad, involves a computer for skype, and scheduling appointments to work around the time differences between countries, and if they happen to get home late from work or meet friends on their way home and get chatting, I get a bit miffed because I’m waiting up until 3am or whatever for them to call. We always knew this would be one of the difficulties of training across two countries, and I think this will improve once we have more physical time together and iron out a lot of the politeness and formalities which are still there with us all being new to each other, and I know I often feel I am treading on eggshells, for fearing of saying the wrong thing and being kicked off the team, regardless of whether this is actually the case.

Differences are Not Always a Bad Thing

The stresses on us are very different, but no less serious or draining.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and will mean that whilst they may find waving goodbye to friends and family upsetting when we leave the shore on our 6month row, I will be the one keen to get away from that and to be just us and the ocean, and I will probably enjoy that remoteness and solitude and boredom much more than they will (in a perfect world I would be a hermit in a very remote setting!).  On the other hand, it does mean that perhaps I don’t have the support and clear sight that they will benefit from, especially in the run up to the row, that means I’ll probably be the most overly sensitive and hardiest to placate when things go wrong.  And where they can talk things over with parents or best friends, or even each other, I’m going to be left as main decision maker, not just for the row, but also for my own baby which is project, and for my PhD, and also for my longer term future in Georgia, adopting, and generating financial and physical stability here.  Added to by a sense of foreboding with the forthcoming elections and political changes in Georgia, which might make my future here uncertain.  Balancing that out is going to be my biggest challenge over the coming months, along with managing my relationship dynamics and being there to support and make tough decisions for project team and my row team.  That has become very evident this week, as well as perhaps trying to understand and reflect on my own personal thoughts and emotions, and trying to remain as impartial and unemotional as I can.

Fear of Failure

The past week has also increased my stress level in terms of thinking about failure, or if for some reason we don’t get on and I need to pull out of the row team, or if things impact in ways that I am uncomfortable with.    Most important for me is that I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into Oceans Project, and I don’t want to lose sight of the ethos of that or why we started.  What if sponsorship for the row is dependent on OPG being part of that package? What if the sponsor is a company whose ethos goes against OPG’s ethos, or they have bad press for some reason? What if I pull out because I don’t like how something might impact on OPG? Am I then letting the row team down if OPG was part of that package? And what about our 3 Patrons for OPG, if the sponsor does something crazy or requests us to wear brands which are against the ethos of OPG, how will it reflect on our Patrons?  If we get into trouble at sea, how will it be for sponsors and for OPG?  And to top of that, my research for my PhD needs to be something that fits with both sponsors and with OPG, and the university also need to be happy with whoever sponsors us and with the work of OPG.  This might sound a little OTT, but put it in this context, if I’m an advocate for children not being used for slave labour, and then I go around wearing clothes made by children who died during the process of making them, then the media would have a field day, and all credibility will be lost.  So it is important that the two sides of the coin connect.  Just as my promoting anti plastic and being environmentally friendly, and then I have a purpose built plastic boat and travel to Sweden and UK and all manner of other countries each week, lecturing people on how we should live our lives in a more sustainable way.  The singer KT Tunstall, also had an issue with this.  She sold millions of albums, and was concerned with the environmental impact of her sales, and what damage that might be doing to the planet. So for every sale she makes or mile travelled, she now plants a tree or doesn’t something to try and remedy that. Check out her house (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/mar/09/ethicalliving.energyefficiency)

If we don’t get on as a team at any point and I have to pull out, then that means I won’t be able to collect my Phd data, and potentially sponsors may also pull out of the row, leaving the team in dire straits.  Equally if I were to get kicked off the team at any point, it would look bad for OPG, and our Patrons who have been supporting us throughout and tweeting about us, plus I’ll feel bad towards everyone who has invested in me and supported me throughout, and my reputation will be a bad one.

I hope that none of these ‘what ifs’ happens, and I have considered them throughout, and when making my decision to apply for the team, but its a huge case of trust and it was always going to be difficult to join an already established team, and coming in as the spare part as it were.  And I’m sure that these things will all be resolved once we start our intensive training together, but its that initial daunting realisation of the amount of financial investment ahead now, and really giving my all with no guarantees or assurance of what may happen.  And also the realisation and acknowledging that not only does my team here have to be fully ready to run OPG without me whilst I’m away over 6 months, but also that any feck up, could potentially result in my losing absolutely everything.

Its also good to highlight here that I’m not having any doubts, nor do I lack any confidence in myself or my dedication, but rather that I’m doing something that is difficult for me as an independent person, and that is to put all my faith and trust in others and to be open to the fact that at any point they could change their minds and let me down, and that my situation is actually very different and unique to that of any of my team mates from either the row or from OPG or my PhD, so that is going to make for a very lonely and stressful ride over the coming year, but also one that I still consider worth while, and which I am ready for.


Project sessions may have finished for the summer break, but now the hard work really begins for me, both in processing how I have grown, where I worked well, and where changes need to be made, and also in upping the pace and intensity of my work, and really having the courage to go it alone, to be strong and to make decisions which may be hard and which may mean putting other things before friendships with my Project Leaders or whatever.  That’s going to be really hard as someone who has spent their life trying to avoid confrontation at all costs!  And I’m sure I won’t be popular with others at points on that journey, but for things to work out long term, I need to step up to that challenge and do what is best for everyone.  A bit extreme, but it reminds me of one of my Admiralty Interview Board (AIB) questions when I applied for the Royal Navy as Surgeon Sub Lieutenant. They wanted to know how I would balance my role as a Doctor, trained to save lives, with my role as a soldier, potentially having to kill people, in other words, killing smaller numbers of people for the good of millions of people, and I guess on some level, it is the same principal here, that sometimes I’ll have to have harsh words or criticise my friends or team mates when I believe that their decision or behaviour has the potential to affect, potentially our lives in the long run.  Nothing is worth the risk of a life, and I’ve had to do a similar thing once before, when the Leader of our arctic expedition was so desperate for sponsorship that he decided we would all wear the same gloves and only eat a certain brand of food.  I disagreed strongly, because each person needs to use equipment which works best for their physiology, I felt the style of gloves was wrong for gripping onto the poles and didn’t provide sufficient coverage for our needs, and the health and safety of the team should alway come first.  It was one of the most heart breaking decisions of my life, having trained and raised money and really wanting to go on the expedition, it was my life’s dream.  But also one of the best decisions I have made, since the whole team that went, got frost bite on their hands and didn’t have sufficient food, and ended up being given provisions en route and being ‘rescued’ by another friend who was on a  solo expedition and lucky enough had sufficient rations to give the team.  Had they not met with her, they could have potentially died or best case lost fingers and noses.  All because a sponsor wanted them to wear a certain brand of gloves.  I guess its a similar thing to summit fever when climbing Mount Everest, and also one of those decisions made out of fear and not wanting to lose your dream or to let others down.  I’ve still a huge amount of respect for that Expedition Leader and I know how hard it was to make a decision either way and to have the responsibility of others on your shoulders and to carry that burden alone.  In those days, I was more headstrong and was also more ready to lead, which is a huge difference to how I feel with the row, as I’ve put all that leadership energy into OPG, and I’m more than happy to go with the flow on this one, to trust those logistics to the girls and to follow whatever plan they want me to follow.  But I also have the benefit of age on that front, and I’m getting old enough to care a bit less about what others think about me.  My priorities are different and I’m more confident in my own abilities but also know my limitations and personality more now.  I understand my own baggage and perhaps other people better than I did then.

Whilst I’m fully confident in my own abilities right now, I can’t help but admit to being a little scared about the decisions of others and how they will impact on me and on my future, I’m massively afraid of failure, and I know that I now have to focus on putting that energy into keeping busy and pushing forward with work, rather than being worried by others, or by trying to say the right thing or toe a line that I can’t toe right now.  I’ve no idea what the future will hold, all I know is that it feels right and I have to have faith in myself and keep doing what I am doing, even if I have to make decisions which others may not like, along the way.



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.
This entry was posted in Autobiographical Things, Being a Medic, Britishness, Death and Dying, Explorers, Family, Friendship, Georgian Life, Health and Fitness, My PhD: Environmental Psychology, Ocean Rowing, Oceans Project, Plastic Pollution and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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