SYDNEY – SYDNEY (AP) — A British environmentalist has become the first woman to row alone across the Pacific Ocean, receiving a rock star welcome in Papua New Guinea after finishing a nearly 8,000-mile (13,000-kilometer) journey that nearly claimed her life.
Thousands turned out to welcome Roz Savage, 42, as she rowed her 23-foot (7-meter) boat named Brocade toward Madang on Friday. Several people paddled canoes alongside her as she cruised into the harbor, where well-wishers adorned her with colorful leis.
"I'm already starting to think about the next one!" Savage told The Associated Press on Saturday by telephone from Papua New Guinea, where she will rest for the next month.
Savage previously crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 103 days and uses her trips to promote environmental causes. The Pacific row was meant to raise awareness about climate change and plastic debris polluting the ocean. She wants people to use biodegradable trash bags and reusable grocery bags.
She estimates she made 2.5 million oar strokes during her 250-day trip, which was broken up into three different legs. She set off from San Francisco on May 25, 2008, and rowed 2,900 miles (4,640 kilometers) over 99 days to Hawaii. On May 22, 2009, she left Hawaii and rowed 3,158 miles (5,053 kilometers) — or an estimated one million oar strokes — before reaching the tiny South Pacific nation of Kiribati in September. She left Kiribati on April 19.
Although the weather was mostly calm, and her biggest health concern was heat rash, there was one moment during the journey when she became separated from her boat and feared she might drown.
Her boat hook fell overboard, and by the time she'd taken off her hat, iPod earplugs and sunglasses to swim after it, it had drifted far away. When she reached it and began swimming back to the boat, she was already tiring. She eventually abandoned the hook, but the boat was drifting farther away, and by the time she climbed back on board, she was perilously close to drowning, she said.
"That was a really, really dumb thing to do," she said. "I will certainly, certainly never do it again."
Her rowboat was equipped with a satellite phone and a desalination machine, allowing her to convert saltwater into drinkable water. She ate dried fruit, nuts, some freeze-dried meals and grew her own bean sprouts on board in a small pot. She was gleeful when locals welcomed her with a platter of fresh fruit upon her arrival in Madang. "I did some serious damage to that," she joked.
Savage said she officially finished the row late Thursday night but wasn't allowed to dock immediately because she had to clear customs the next morning. Instead, she spent the first night post-adventure on another boat — albeit a fancier one than the vessel that has carried her across the ocean.
Her first order of business after climbing on board? Taking a hot shower.
"It was such bliss to have a shower," she said. "You can get reasonably clean with a bucket and sponge, but it's really not the same."
She estimates she lost about 22 pounds (10 kilograms) during the trip, and said the heat was brutal, reaching 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 Celsius) "which is — for an English person — quite debilitating."
Savage said she is hoping to next conquer the Indian Ocean, rowing from Perth, Australia, to Mauritius next year. In the meantime, she plans to enjoy the sights of Papua New Guinea and has already been scuba diving.
"The diving here is amazing," she said. "It's really made me just all the more resolved to do what I can to preserve the oceans as well as the world in general."