Rowing champ is truly extraordinary

Hers is a story of solitude at sea for months on end, with only the raw power of nature to break the silence.

She's rowed thousands of miles and survived countless ocean-borne perils, from dehydration to 20-foot waves threatening to capsize her 23-foot vessel.

It's no wonder people keep asking Rosalind "Roz" Savage, whose travels will be the subject of a new exhibit at Newport Beach's ExplorOcean museum, if she's read "The Life of Pi."

Unlike the movie, the 45-year-old British adventurer didn't have a tiger to contend with, but Savage has shattered world records and made headlines by rowing three oceans without a chase boat and with only one satellite phone, which she used infrequently to contact land.

"Facing the power of nature has given me a better idea of where human beings stand in the overall scheme of things," she said Tuesday, talking while en route to a speaking engagement in Florida. "Mother Nature's got a pretty good way of showing who's boss."

Starting April 4, a display featuring Savage's tricked-out rowboat, along with some of her onboard supplies and a rowing simulation machine, will teach ExplorOcean visitors about surviving on the open water.

Savage said she also hopes visitors will be inspired to "recalibrate" and rethink their impact on the planet, as she did.

"I had two epiphanies," she said. "The first was a personal epiphany" after working as a management consultant for 11 years. She realized the "yuppie" materialistic grind wasn't making her happyand opted to strive for "a legacy I was proud of."

The second epiphany came, she said, after reading a book about the Hopi people of the American Southwest.

"Like many indigenous people, they believed we have to take care of the earth," she said. "It's a two-way deal, not a one-way deal. I was struck by how obvious and very true that was. I was sort of horrified I hadn't seen things in those terms."

That, she said, was why she started rowing oceans in 2005, when she crossed about 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua.

Since then she's earned recognition for her efforts from the United Nations, National Geographic, the Royal Geographical Society and the Explorer's Club of New York, among others.

After rowing across the Pacific Ocean in three stages, then the Indian Ocean, Savage put down her oars in 2011.

Savage's boat will be on display for the foreseeable future, said ExplorOcean President Rita Stenlund.

The exhibit, dubbed "Roz Savage — Five Million Oar Strokes," will join artifacts from the life of late local paralympic gold medalist Nick Scandone as part of the extraordinary people exhibit, Stenlund said.

"We're very excited about adding her to the gallery," she said. "The ultimate mission will be to add others [whose stories] not only will touch locals" but have "global reach."

Savage said she's excited "to have my boat telling my story even when I'm not there."

She will be there, however, for the exhibit's opening. A celebration is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the museum.

And yes, Savage wrote on the frequently asked questions page of her website, she has read "Life of Pi."

"The second time I listened to it on audiobook, while I was on my boat, which is about the same size as his life raft," she wrote. "It made me very glad that the only animals I have on my boat are of the stuffed, squishy variety."

Twitter: @jillcowan

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