Inspiration between the pages 

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“Rowboat in a Hurricane: My Amazing Journey Across a Changing Atlantic Ocean”

By Julie Angus

Greystone Books

272 pages, $22.00

Well, 2009 is upon us. It’s time for new beginnings, priorities and attitudes. People will resolve to exercise more, eat properly, lose weight, get their finances in order, go back to school — make all kinds of New Year’s resolutions.

If you’re among this ambitious bunch — and even if you’re not — and are looking for a bit of extra motivation, consider Julie Angus, a Canadian woman who became the first female in the world to cross the Atlantic Ocean from mainland to mainland in a rowboat. Yes, a rowboat. You know, the kind with oars.

With the start of a brand new year, what better way to get inspired than to read about Angus’s incredible accomplishment?

She has chronicled the journey in, Rowboat in a Hurricane, a personal glimpse into the amazing experience that she undertook in 2005-06. At that time, while other women had traversed the Atlantic, none had crossed from the mainland of one continent to that of another, an almost 10,000 kilometre journey. So Angus set out to be the first, traveling from Lisbon, Portugal to the shores of Limon, Costa Rica.

As a biologist, Angus was also very interested in seeing the ocean up close and personal to gain a better understanding of the ecosystem.

“Ignoring the unseen was easy, and the very vastness of the ocean made it difficult to accept that minuscule actions on our part might have a profound impact. Through this journey I hoped to shift my understanding of the ocean to get an intimate sense of the life and dynamism that comprises it instead of viewing it as a vast, impenetrable expanse. I wanted to watch turtles as they migrated across the ocean and pelagic sharks as they hunted for tuna, to see pods of dolphins swim by and whales surface for air.”

But Angus didn’t make the decision to call a rowboat and the Atlantic Ocean home on a whim. She confesses that she is actually not a prolific adventurer or athlete. Rather, “I grew up a timid girl whose biggest risk was a collision with a telephone pole as I walked home from school with a Stephen King novel pressed against my face.”

She was only converted to a nature lover after moving to British Columbia. (I’m sure no one else in Whistler can relate to that.)

After much research and training, Angus ultimately decided to take the proverbial plunge. But the journey would be much more efficient as a tandem endeavour, so she set about finding an appropriate partner, which was no easy feat.

She must have really loved her fiancé, Colin, and felt incredibly secure in their relationship, because after her first partner fell through, she ended up recruiting him.

“Our big concern was what it could do to our relationship. In civilization we got along wonderfully, but what would happen when we were cooped together for months in a rowboat?”

Whew, that’s a true test of a relationship — living in a rowboat with the man you’re supposed to marry. After surviving that, I guess you could withstand just about anything.

Angus’s account of their journey is authentic, relatable, and most importantly, interesting — it’s riddled with little stories, sometimes emotional, sometimes just funny, about surviving at sea.

She describes the struggle to catch a massive Dorado fish two months into their trip.

“But our dinner was not yet guaranteed. The fish had slipped off the hook and was now careening around the deck, propelling itself by frantically flopping. If it got lucky, it might find an escape route down one of the scuppers, but we weren’t about to let that happen. I ran after it, trying to end its misery with a hit from the blunt end of the gaff. But I seemed to hit the deck more often than the fish and, by the time it was over, our boat looked like a slaughterhouse.”

As Angus is mournfully contemplating their decision to kill the fish, Colin is busy searching for lemon and olive oil for a pan-fry dinner.

Rowboat in a Hurricane has captured Angus’s incredible journey with a natural, fluid style. It’s an easy and inspiring read for even the secretly adventurous spirits among us.

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