June 14, 1998
latitude north 35:52, longitude west 75:34
the Outer Banks of North Carolina
In the end, I know I rowed across the Atlantic to find my heart, but in the beginning, I wasn't aware that it was missing. In January 1998, I asked my uncle, "If I write a book about my explorations, should I write it as a comedy, a history, a tragedy, or a romance?" With a twinkle in his eye, he said, "A romance—it must be a romance." He explained that I was too young to write my life as a history: "Who wants to read the history of half a life?" Tragedy, he explained, was "boring." Anyone over the age of thirty can write his or her life as a tear-soaked muddle. "There is no challenge in that," my uncle counseled. "Comedies are fine, but the greatest stories in life are about romance."
I didn't doubt that my uncle spoke the truth, but there was a problem. I had no experience with romance. None. I was thirty-five. Tragedy, I could write. Comedy, I could write. Even history, I could write. Romance was out of my depth. If I had charted a map of my life, I would have placed romance on the far side of an unexplored ocean, where ships would drop off the edge of the world and the legend at that edge of the map would read, "Here there be sea monsters."
I considered myself a thoroughly modern woman. As a graduate of Smith College, I embraced the notion that our culture had evolved to the point where a woman might openly take on the role of an Odysseus. Like the epic hero in Homer's Odyssey, women could be clever. We could set out on epic quests of our own choosing. Like men, we could be independent and internally motivated. Women could be tested and not found wanting in trials of courage, resourcefulness, endurance, strength, and even solitude. What I did not know was that exploring these vaguely masculine qualities would not be enough for me. I am, after all, a woman. It was not until my boat dropped off the edge of the world, into the realm of sea monsters, that I began to understand some of what I had been missing.
Let's face it: normal, well-adjusted women don't row alone across oceans. According to the records of the Ocean Rowing Society, in London, England, no woman had ever rowed solo across an ocean, but I didn't let this worry me. About midday on Sunday, June 14, 1998, I drove my old gray pickup truck towing a rowboat to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, a few miles south of the sleepy beach town of Nags Head, North Carolina.