Out There

One year ago today I pushed out to sea from Australia in my dear little boat, Dippers. Destination:Mauritius. Fellow crew: nil. Chocolate stash: 500 bars. ETA: Who knew?

124 days later, I rocked up in Mauritius, mission complete. A lot has happened since the ocean, including Dippers’ move to pastures new. While speaking and writing about my trip, I am pushing on with plans for my next expedition, a complete loop of the planet – from ‘London to London: Via the World’. More on developments and other musings another time.

For now, a poem, written by poet Valerie Jack. I am intrigued by the clever way she has weaved bits from my blog, your commenteering and my tales to her own wordy wizardry, to create a very special poem about my adventure last year. I’d like to dedicate it to you, my readership too – for all the supporting. Happy days to you all.

What thinks ye? Do pop along to Valerie’s site to take a look at her other poems.

Out There

She says, in my mind the year is square:
she’s on the final corner looking at the row now.
Goals: sit up straight, learn poetry by heart.
Learn: the boils and blisters that will visit her at sea.
Training: cross-winds, head winds, heat and cool.
Pack: letters saying don’t open till the ocean.
Packed: 500 bars of chocolate.
Her Dad loved to canoe and sail before
those things and all others were taken from him.
Her body does what it’s told: the mind’s the engine –
hope and self belief hope hope hope and self belief.
She can’t wait to be out of sight of land,
she can’t wait for the warmth.
Good luck Sugar Plum, love Mum.xxx
She gets beyond nets pots reefs ships, big ships,
till big seas blow back faster than she can row,
and she’s a speck, a billy no mates, out of comms.
But she studies the back of her eyelids, rain on roof,
till sun comes, batteries juice up.

We say keep going Sarah your Dad would be so proud,
her cabin walls say fresh fruit’s overrated, Smile!
She tells us Albatrosses make her smile and stare,
and she’s found a tin of pineapple she’d thought
was gone already. She tells it so that we can hear
the whirr of solar vents, the oars creak in their gates,
the seat roll up and down, the fizzing waves, and gurgle slam.
We salute you, who have nothing but our desks to row.
She has seen the best pure blue ever invented,
bioluminescence under yellow moon,
a Wandering Albatross black out the sky.
We say we are 48 and have watched life pass us by [:(]
We have watched the Discovery Channel from our sofas.
Stripy pilot fish nibble remnants
from the cooking pot she washes overboard.
She says it’s pretty cosy, with the birds, the fish,
and us. We post the Ancient Mariner on her blog comments
in instalments. You don’t know me from Adam
but I’m following your progress.

Now she has stowed her land legs in the fore cabin
and left behind To-Do lists, she has only to decide
which shorts are least wet today. The rain is excellent
for sprouting lentils, and her hair grows savage,
at sunset Mozart plays his clarinet concerto,
plankton glow with each stroke.
We say we saw you skinny dip on Google Earth.
We say Sarah have you seen a moonbow yet?
A bright moon near to full is needed,
it must be raining opposite the moon.
But she has four musicless days under heavy sky.
Today she is not enjoying the silence.
Today she has a headache, has to give herself a talking to
to get back on the oars – silly, when the first few strokes
are the best of the day and it’s so much nicer outside
than in the hot and smelly cabin.
We say you are an exceptional person of great courage.
She joins the dots on her five day plot,
Aims for the 90th parallel by next week.

This week’s obituary: fork 3 of 3 died.
She’s tried everything – tape, twine and superglue.
She falls asleep at the oars and gets her ribs thwacked,
bilges out the footwell and gets thrown
into a salty washing machine on full spin,
has rotting feet and rotting bum, tries to remember
how funny it all is. Good things about today: today is over.
She says what is this sport where you can’t see
where you’re going? We say we’re going to
leave our grad schemes, join the army.
Tonight she sees a lunar rainbow *sighs*
Tonight she is a slick flat line across our screens.
She’s maxing out on the oars, five four three hundred
nauties to the beach, the last lap bell is going to dong now,
she stripes her face with blue and yellow,
mountains are getting bigger, bigger,
she hacks her hair short with a knife.
She says no loud noise or sudden movements, ok,
I haven’t seen or touched a person in four months.

Valerie Jack
A note from the poet
I wrote ‘Out There’ after trawling my poem-catching net through her blog, and after meeting Sarah in person, and conducting a sort-of-interview with her, which was for me a new experiment in gathering material. These two sources provided a lot of material, because Sarah has seen and done amazing things, and tells them vividly. A lot of ‘my’ words are Sarah’s words. She says she likes the way I have woven together little bits from her blog and our chat, and I’m thankful for that response, though still slightly uneasy about whether I can really say this is my poem, that I have written. It did take a lot more weaving and crafting than Duchamp’s urinal…

Reading the blog, I became interested in the comments left by Sarah’s online followers. The comments made it clear what an inspiration they took from her achievement – they were living vicariously through her daily updates. I do my share of vicarious living too, in writing about Sarah, and others living a life-less-ordinary aboard boats and tiny islands. Yes, I live on a boat too, but a narrow boat on a Hertfordshire canal is at the tamer end of the spectrum of boat life.

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9 Responses to Out There

  1. dick and maggie says:


    london to london can be done by many routes.

    may you choose the alaska highway as part.

    approx km 1350 from dawson creek, bc, you reach “jakes’s corner”, and if a small detour is possible, it’s 100km south to atlin, the world’s most beautiful spot. if not possible, we’d love to meet you on the highway and wave some cheering. and pass you a grog. and a mars bar.

    you will alway be in our hearts, you wonderful lessthanordinary creature.

    dick and maggie

    atlin bc canada

  2. Steve says:

    Hi Sarah,

    What a great poem. I was brought up on poetry that rhymed and scanned(e.g. The Charge of the Light Brigade) and had never encountered freeform blank verse so well crafted and of such interest both from the subject matter and its English expression. Valerie Jack has produced a wonderful piece – another thing inspired by your drive to row the Indian Ocean and build a testament to your Dad.

    Your new project sounds very ambitious. I wonder if your world record row has spoiled you for “normal living” – I suspect “normal living” didn’t suit you at all anyway.

    It seems a long time since I waved you off from Fremantle on your second departure. A lot has happened to me in that year too, although more suitable to my advancing years than rowing an ocean.

    Very best wishes for your new project. It doesn’t sound as though “London to London” is likely to include Australia. In any case if there is anything I can do to help please let me know.


    Steve RPYC

  3. Nick Reid says:

    That’s a fantastic poem, Valerie. I love the rhythms and the final line, I always like it when a writer has me adding extra lines in my head.

  4. Sarah the images we all have in our heads, of adventure, trial, courage and achievement are there because you allowed us all to share your space in Dippers on that huge ocean with your own thoughts and experiences. The poem captures the rush of the row in technicolour. Anniversay socks on everyone. Susie Hewson

  5. Jill Fenby-Taylor says:

    That is such a brilliant poem! I am pulling on a pair of happy socks now to celebrate.
    jill x

  6. Happy socks and Happy Anniversary Sarah! “London to London via the World”. What a fantastic title for your next book!!!!

  7. TERRY BRADLEY says:

    Hi SARAH
    Great to hear from you once again , Spect you had gone away for a bit solicitude
    Time has certainly flown ,its twelve months already,but you have
    been so inspirationly & adventourus ,we are always waiting
    foe your next blog
    Great Poem ,exactly as your venture panned out to a tee .
    Happy Anniversary , HAPPY EASTER
    TERRY B !!!!!!!! WEST, AUSSIE

  8. Sarah says:

    I love this the more I read it. Every reading gives me something new, something different. I’m glad you’re all enjoying it too.

    Here’s to more adventures and more poems to come!


  9. Robert D says:

    There’s something about poetry that puts things into perspective. It says it like it is, in very few words. Song lyrics are similar but (of course) entwinned with sound to give more feeling. Don’t know if Valerie’s can be adapted to music in some way – be nice to find out some day. Perhaps one of your fans can help in this, Sarah?

    BTW: Can you play a musical instrument?!

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