When I was 16, I was working at the New York Boat Show at the Coliseum watching over the 26′ outboard boat with which my dad (with help from my brothers) had crossed the North Atlantic the summer before. Across the aisle were Kathleen and Curtis Saville, a quiet couple, with an infant, watching over their 25′ boat with which they had rowed across the Pacific a year earlier. I remember talking with the Saville’s and learning they had departed from Peru in 1984 and by the time they arrived in Australia a year later, Kathleen was pregnant! They wrote a book about the experience, Pacific Voyage: Rowing 10,000 miles in 392 Days (now out of print). And this wasn’t their first Ocean crossing; in 1981 they had rowed across the Atlantic, making Kathleen the first woman to successfully do so. Today I decided to “google” the couple, and learned that Curtis died in 2001 in the Eastern Desert of Egypt while on a solo desert mountain expedition. Clearly theirs was not an average life.
On the site www.oceanrowing.com, I found this memorial tribute to Curtis Saville:
Curtis’ other expeditions include exploratory mountaineering along the Virginia Glacier on the South East edge of Baffin Island in the High Arctic. This was part of the Canadian Polar Continental Shelf Project. In addition, Curtis Saville was a French horn player. Educated a Juilliard School of Music (B.A.) and Yale University (M.F.A.); he was a Peace Corps Volunteer in La Paz, Bolivia in the 1960′s and taught music and writing.
Generally when someone has accomplished a remarkable feat, you’ll find other remarkable achievements along the way. In February of this year, John Fairfax, the first man to row solo across the Atlantic in 1969, died at the age of 74. Fairfax’s obituary in The New York Times reads like an early 20th Century adventure novel.
At 13, in thrall to Tarzan, he ran away from home to live in the jungle. He survived there as a trapper with the aid of local peasants, returning to town periodically to sell the jaguar and ocelot skins he had collected.
He later studied literature and philosophy at a university in Buenos Aires and at 20, despondent over a failed love affair, resolved to kill himself by letting a jaguar attack him. When the planned confrontation ensued, however, reason prevailed — as did the gun he had with him.
In Panama, he met a pirate, applied for a job as a pirate’s apprentice and was taken on. He spent three years smuggling guns, liquor and cigarettes around the world, becoming captain of one of his boss’s boats, work that gave him superb navigational skills.
In Werner Herzog’s 2007 documentary film Encounters at the End of the World, Herzog visits McMurdo Station in Antarctica and meets a handful of extraordinary people for whom working in Antarctica is but one adventure they have experienced. When I first saw this film I thought it might have been partially fabricated (how could Antarctica attract so many daredevil poets and amateur philosophers?). But the more I learn about “seeker” personality types, the more I realize that their most publicized feat is usually far from their only one.
Art & Boats is my ongoing series of interviews and stories about artists who build boats, sail, explore and challenge themselves on the water. For background on Art & Boats, read the first entry.
It’s hard to believe that just 100 years ago there were still world maps with areas marked “unexplored.” I recently read that the only uncharted places left on earth were the ocean floors. With the exception of those places under water or ice, every corner of the planet can be observed via Global Positioning Systems. Sophisticated vehicles and satellite devices make adventures, like those of legendary Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett, a romantic notion of the past. Even Fawcett’s mythical lost city of “El Dorado” now shows up on Google Earth.
Artist Marie Lorenz is a modern day explorer, though the territories she traverses are not uncharted, just neglected. Lorenz accesses commercial or disused waterways around New York City in her own custom-made small wooden boats. She visits the canals, rivers and uninhabited islands that form the invisible, industrial and archeological backside of the city. Traveling with one other passenger, Lorenz encounters more freighters and barges than fellow leisure craft. Her journeys have taken her along the Harlem River, Bronx River, Gowanus Canal, Coney Island Creek, and to abandoned islands like North Brother, where the infamous Typhoid Mary was quarantined in the early 1900s. Read my interview with Marie on glasstire.com.