Northwich-born Roz Savage turned her back on a comfortable life to become an environmental campaigner

Roz Savage. Picture by Doug de Mark

Roz Savage. Picture by Doug de Mark - Credit: not Archant

Many people question their existence when they hit their 30s or 40s. It’s not uncommon to reassess decisions made in younger years or to look again at choices faced previously. For some people it changes nothing, for others it can be a turning point, but for Roz Savage it was an epiphany.

Roz arriving in Honalulu at the end of the first stage of her Pacific crossing. Picture by Phil Uhl

Roz arriving in Honalulu at the end of the first stage of her Pacific crossing. Picture by Phil Uhl - Credit: not Archant

Born in Nantwich to parents who both preached in the Methodist church, Roz studied law at Oxford, where she also became an accomplished rower, and went on to have a well-paid job in the City, a large house, a red sports car and a husband who also earned big money in the City. But she realised, when she began to reconsider her life, that she was not happy.

‘I had stayed in the job for so long purely for the money, based on the mistaken belief that money would bring happiness,’ she said. ‘I had reached the point where it was patently not true – I had a reasonable amount of money but I was not happy, the job itself didn’t feed my soul. It had taken me a long time to realise and I went on a quest to find out why it wasn’t working for me.

‘I wrote two versions of my obituary, one fantasy one with my life as I’d like it to be remembered and one that I was actually heading for. The fantasy one was about a go-getting, adventurous, live life large woman, not about having a big house and designer clothes. I realised I was climbing the ladder of success but that I’d leaned the ladder against the wrong building.’

Roz, a keen reader of adventure stories during her time at Northwich’s Darwin Street Primary School and Leftwich High, was led to her own adventures by another book. ‘I had not really thought about where things came from or where they went when I threw them away,’ she said. ‘But I read a book about native Americans who have, as I think a lot of indigenous people have, a more profound understanding of sustainability and our relationship with the planet.

‘I thought I had to do whatever I could to raise awareness and I decided to combine my love of rowing, this new-found environmental awareness and my yearning for adventure.

‘I was married at that point but we realised we were on different paths and we diverged. That lifestyle works for him but I realised it didn’t for me any more. It took me a few years but I gradually let go of the trappings of that lifestyle and let go of all the things that at that time represented security because I realised they were holding me back.’

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Her initial idea was to row around the world but the currents make that nigh on impossible so she downscaled her plans – slightly – to row across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

‘The idea popped into my head one day and wouldn’t go away,’ she said. ‘I spent a week trying to talk myself out of it but I came up with more and more reasons why it was the perfect thing to do.

‘I wanted to find out what I was capable of and to use my adventure as a platform to make people think more carefully about the effect of rubbish on our increasingly overcrowded planet.’

Roz gave herself 14 months to prepare for the Atlantic crossing and towards the end of her training she was spending 16 hours a day on a rowing machine as well as seeing a sports psychologist to prepare herself mentally, trying to raise sponsorship, having a boat built and completing courses in first aid and celestial navigation. But nothing could prepare her for what lay ahead.

‘I found out pretty quickly that rowing machines do prepare you for the waves. The weather was particularly rough that year with 20 foot waves and the whole thing was much more brutal than I expected. I was in a 23-foot boat in this tremendous wilderness for three and half months, never walking more than the three steps between my cabin and my rowing seat.

‘Within a week I had tendonitis in my shoulder which plagued me the whole way across. My cooking stove broke in the first three weeks. Three weeks from the end my satellite phone broke. My stereo broke so I had nothing to entertain me but my own thoughts. And at one point I capsized three times in one day.’

In spite of the challenges, Roz completed the race – not everyone did – and has since crossed the Pacific in three stages, and the Indian ocean, becoming the first woman to row the three great oceans.

‘My goal was to raise awareness, not money, that’s not what it needs. We are each making a difference and to me it seems pretty obvious that we cannot carry on the way we are behaving. Most people are pre-occupied with their immediate needs – and I don’t blame them for that, it’s understandable – but we can all make a difference.

‘If the answers were easy we wouldn’t be in the state we’re in. It all comes down to changing our thinking. Governments need to be more courageous and corporations need to take their share of responsibility, but individuals need to do their bit too.’

The 45-year-old who now lives in London with her new partner – another ex-City worker who has become involved in environmental campaigning – has written a book about her dramatic change of direction and gives talks across the country. She is also hoping to inspire others to make a difference.

‘I’m focusing on looking at what led me to my epiphany. I could only take on the big issues when I had sorted my own life and found my own happiness and I feel that could apply generally. When people aren’t happy in their own lives they don’t have the capacity to think globally. I am hoping to target other people who are where I was 15 years ago and to hopefully help them get back on track, to be happy in themselves and ready to act more widely.’