Katie Spotz, 22, To Row Solo Across The Atlantic

Just after Christmas, the young Ohio native will embark on a 2,500-mile journey from Dakar, Senegal to Cayenne, French Guiana. If she completes the three-month voyage, she will become the youngest person ever to row across an ocean.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

One 22-year-old woman, two oars, three months worth of dehydrated food and 2,500 miles of open water. Tomorrow, Katie Spotz leaves her home in - home state of Ohio for Senegal, where she plans to launch her 19-foot row boat into the ocean for a solo journey across the Atlantic some time around New Year's Day. If she makes it, she becomes the youngest person to row across an ocean alone.

If you'd like to ask Katie Spotz about her upcoming journey, how she'll do it and why, give us a call. We'd especially like to hear from those of you who have experience in oceanic adventure. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And Katie Spotz joins us now from member station WCPN in Cleveland. And nice of you to be with us today.

Ms. KATIE SPOTZ: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: So you leave tomorrow for Africa, any last minute second thoughts?

Ms. SPOTZ: Oh no, not at all. I've been planning this for two years. I'm just excited to start rowing.

CONAN: And I assume there is a raft of - excuse me, I didn't mean to say that - a whole bunch of last minute details you have to take care of.

Ms. SPOTZ: Well, the boat actually shipped out about three weeks ago, so most of my preparations are just getting the boat ready, so most of it is done.

CONAN: And I assume there's a lot of physical preparation on your part. You have to practice for this.

Ms. SPOTZ: Oh, definitely. When I don't have the boat, I'm able to train on a rowing machine, but I do work a lot strengthening the core and lower back. Because with rowing, if you lose your form, you lose your strength, so those are some areas that are really important in training.

CONAN: I assume the rowing machine is really different from rowing in the open ocean.

Ms. SPOTZ: Oh, definitely. I was able to do a lot of training rows on Lake Erie. And then, earlier this year, I did some training on the Pacific Ocean...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SPOTZ: ...with a woman who rowed, not only across the Atlantic Ocean but she rowed across the Indian Ocean as well.

CONAN: And I assume had some interesting things to tell you about what the experience is like.

Ms. SPOTZ: I think she described it as a - but it's like something about riding a bull more than rowing just because the constant waves and the constant movement. So it should make for an interesting trip.

CONAN: Well, the Pacific, I think, must have been instructive. Nevertheless, Lake Erie, well, it's fresh water. It's not as buoyant as saltwater.

Ms. SPOTZ: Yeah.

CONAN: It's different. Why are you rowing from east to west?

Ms. SPOTZ: Well, with ocean rowing, you have to go with the prevailing winds and currents. It'd be physically impossible to, say, row from Africa to South America. So I chose this route because it is - of the Atlantic, it is considered the more friendly route compared to the North Atlantic.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SPOTZ: And I'm leaving at this time of year because it's least likely to have any storms. But with that in mind, these boats have made it through hurricanes and 50-foot waves. The boat is self-riding so it can withstand pretty much anything.

CONAN: It's designed, as I understand, by an Englishman?

Ms. SPOTZ: Mm-hmm, Phil Morrison. Most ocean rowers are actually from the U.K. There's only been about 10 or 15 Americans to do this trip.

CONAN: And this is a growing ultra-endurance sport.

Ms. SPOTZ: That's right. More people have been on the moon, but there's - it's definitely growing.

CONAN: Why do you do it?

Ms. SPOTZ: Well, I've been doing challenges for a few years now, and I'm really passionate about linking up with charities. This row is called Row for Water, and my goal is to help a thousand people gain access to safe drinking water for life.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SPOTZ: So, yeah, a billion people don't even have access to this most basic human need. So I'm really passionate about being able to challenge myself and then raise awareness and funds for a good cause.

CONAN: But you could run 100 miles to do that. You could gather the world's largest ball of string or do something else. Why have you decided to do this particular challenge?

Ms. SPOTZ: Well, I found out about ocean rowing really randomly. I was on a bus in Australia just chatting with the person next to me and they mentioned that their friend rowed across the Atlantic two times. She did it once with her 50-year-old mother. So, ever since I learned about it, it's just been stuck in my head since - yeah, it's just been a dream mine, so...

CONAN: And what do your parents think? I have to ask.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SPOTZ: Oh, well, I mean, as with any parent, they would prefer me not to. I mean, safety is their main concern. But after seeing how much I've put in to this row, I think they feel more comfortable with what I'm doing and being able to keep in touch at sea is important for them, too.

CONAN: And do you have a way of keeping in touch with them?

Ms. SPOTZ: Yup. I have a satellite phone and a Toughbook, so a really heavy duty laptop. And that will enable me to make phone calls, do tweets and text messages and emails and blogs, as well. So - and aside from that, I'll have tracking. So anyone could go on the Web site - it's rowforwater.com - and see where I am at any given moment on the journey.

CONAN: If you didn't scribble that down quickly enough, we'll put a link to it on our Web site at npr.org, TALK OF THE NATION. And I guess we'll find a way to keep track of you during this voyage. One of the things you have to worry about, though, is the possibility of getting run into by another vessel, all of which are going to be much bigger than you.

Ms. SPOTZ: Oh, definitely. I have an AIS. This is a device that will enable me to see where other boats are on my GPS and them to see me, as well. And as soon as I see another boat, I'll get on my VHF radio and make sure they know to avoid running into me.

CONAN: Well, some of the time, though, you're going to be asleep.

Ms. SPOTZ: Yeah. The AIS has an alarm, so when I'm asleep, it will let me know and I'll wake up and get on the VHF.

CONAN: I read a story about your plans for the voyage, and you have to strap yourself in to go to sleep?

Ms. SPOTZ: Well, when it's rough, I can strap myself in. But just because it's bobbling around so much, it is more comfortable to strap myself in.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. SPOTZ: And that when I am rowing, I actually have a harness, because if I get detached from the boat, that would be extremely dangerous. So�

CONAN: Detached from the boat, other words, washed overboard.

Ms. SPOTZ: Yes.

CONAN: Yes, that would be - I assume you also have extra oars. There's not just two oars.

Ms. SPOTZ: Yes, definitely. There's pretty much extras and spares of everything.

CONAN: This is an interesting boat. I looked at a picture of it on the - in the newspaper. The New York Times did an article about it today. And it is - it looks almost like an old Spanish galleon with a raised bow and then a stern castle.

Ms. SPOTZ: There's actually only three of these boats in the world, and this is the one in the United States. So it's 19 feet long. There's a cabin for me to sleep and then another cabin for most of my food, and then hatches all lining the cockpit for more food and provisions.

CONAN: Very curious looking craft. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. We're talking Katie Spotz about her plan to row across the Atlantic Ocean. And let's start with Kim, Kim with us from Portland.

KIM (Caller): Hi. I was just wondering what kind of food you are taking with you, and I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks, Kim.

Ms. SPOTZ: Most of my food will be the dehydrated meals. So I have a little jet boil stove. I'll add boiling water to these packs, and that's about five or 600 calories. And then I'll be supplementing that with energy bars and energy gels, trail mix, very high energy type foods. And I'll also have a sprouting kit, so I'll have some fresh foods onboard, too.

CONAN: And do you have - are you going to take some fishing line and trail a hook off the boat?

Ms. SPOTZ: I have it as an emergency, but I'm trying to row about 10 to 12 hours a day, so I'm using most of my time to row.

CONAN: Just as an emergency. By the way, you mentioned a laptop. How are you going to power the laptop and the other communications equipment?

Ms. SPOTZ: There's two solar panels on each cabin, and that is about 150 watts. So that's how everything will be powered.

CONAN: Let's go next to Judy, Judy, also calling from Portland.

JUDY (Caller): Hi there. Hope your cold gets better, Neal.

CONAN: Thank you.

JUDY: Oddly enough, I'm taking a sailing trip myself on the QE2 on Sunday down to the Caribbean.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SPOTZ: Oh, cool.

JUDY: And as much as I envy the fact that you're going to do this in a rowboat, I think it's the difference being camping and staying in a Four Seasons, you know�

CONAN: I think - I don't think there's going to anyone to bring her a drink with a little umbrella in it.

JUDY: No, no, no. And, of course, four o'clock tea. You know those British. And - but I mean, are you going to leave an email address for people that want to support you in spite of the fact that we, you know, prefer the QE2 over a rowboat, that we could support your cause?

Ms. SPOTZ: Oh, definitely. If you would like to do that�

JUDY: Yeah.

Ms. SPOTZ: �the Web site is rowforwater.com

JUDY: Will that be on the NPR Web site?

CONAN: We'll put it on the TALK OF THE NATION site, sure.

JUDY: OK. Perfect.

CONAN: OK.

JUDY: OK. Well, cheerio.

Ms. SPOTZ: Thank you.

CONAN: And bon voyage.

Ms. SPOTZ: Thank you so much.

JUDY: OK. Bye-bye

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Ian, another caller from Portland.

IAN (Caller): Hey, guys. Hey, I am curious what sort of music you'll be listening to to inspire you to row for so many hours for so many days and weeks and months.

Ms. SPOTZ: Well, my favorite is Imogen Heap. I do like a lot of electronic-type music, and I have well over a hundred audio books, a lot of Comedy Central and podcasts. But, yeah, there's lot of audio entertainment.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

CONAN: But that - because loneliness, I assume, is going to be a problem.

Ms. SPOTZ: Well, before I started meditating, perhaps I would have left like, you know, worried about that aspect. But, for example, I did a 10-day meditation retreat where I was meditating 12 hours a day. It was 10 days straight without any kind of human interaction or reading or writing. And that was more difficult than any other challenge I've completed. I've been doing endurance challenges for about four years now. And I think meditation is definitely a big tool for me to help cope with the isolation.

CONAN: And meditating while rowing is not a problem?

Ms. SPOTZ: Well, I guess I feel like rowing is like an active form of meditation, where I become more aware and present and, yeah, connected.

CONAN: How long is all this likely to take? I read you expect or hope to make about 30 miles a day.

Ms. SPOTZ: Yup. And it will take me about three months. So I probably won't see another human being for three months.

CONAN: And that's if you hit the landfall you hope to hit.

Ms. SPOTZ: Yup. With ocean rowing, you are very vulnerable to what the weather gives you. So I hope to land in Cayenne, French Guiana. But if I miss that, I'll be aiming to land in Georgetown, which is another 500 miles, or two more weeks of rowing.

CONAN: I was going to say it, 30 miles a day, just start doing the addition, and I'm sure you've worked that all out in your head. We're talking with Katie Spotz, who leaves tomorrow for Senegal. And on around New Year's Day, she's going to put her rowboat in the water and row alone across the Atlantic Ocean. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's go next to Ken, Ken with us from Manhattan, Kansas.

KEN (Caller): Yes, how are you?

CONAN: I'm good, thanks.

KEN: Well, good. A question I've got is that have you any information about the tracking of migratory whales or large pods of whales that would be possibly intersecting your transit?

Ms. SPOTZ: You know, I haven't really followed it closely, but this boat is actually used - another person went across this January through March. He did see a few whales, one shark and lots of fish and birds. But other than that, I'm not sure of what I'll see.

KEN: Oh, well, OK. Well, just watch out for the very large whales. Sometimes, they're very curious as to what you might be doing.

CONAN: Have you encountered them yourself, Ken?

KEN: No, I was in the Coast Guard, and we unfortunately hit one and we think we killed it because the water behind the wash prop was pretty red.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much for the call.

KEN: Be safe. Good luck.

CONAN: All right...

Ms. SPOTZ: Thank you.

CONAN: ...I hope - well, certainly that wouldn't a problem if you hit it with a rowboat. It might be the other way around.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's talk with Tim, Tim with us from Wilmington, North Carolina.

TIM (Caller): Hi there. How are you?

CONAN: I'm good, thanks.

TIM: I was just learning if there was going to be any kind of support boat going alongside?

Ms. SPOTZ: No. Actually, ocean rowing is a self-supported sport. So everything I need will actually be on the boat - all the food, all the supplies. But if I do need help, I do have an EPIRB, which is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, which is - links via satellite. And that would be my way to call for help if I needed it.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Tim. And I - there have been instances of major rescue efforts mounted to find people who have been on adventures like yours. And I wonder if you considered the idea that in that possibility - and certainly you're not planning to be there, but in that possibility, diverting a lot of resources.

Ms. SPOTZ: I'm not really sure what to say. I mean, I feel like that - I just feel called to do this, so I just really feel inclined to follow that calling and do as much as I can to help people get safe drinking water.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. This Linda, Linda with us from Philly.

LINDA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Linda.

LINDA: How are you?

CONAN: Well, I'll get over this cold eventually. I swear I will.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LINDA: I'm really impressed with Katie, and I just wanted to know what kind of provisions you've made for any kind of illness or dehydration while you're at sea.

Ms. SPOTZ: Well, I have a very extensive medical kit, from everything from dental and vision. I pretty much have my own little pharmacy. Lots of seasickness meds. What I can expect out there is to get blisters, perhaps sunburn and a bit of chaffing. But, yeah, so those are the most common injuries at sea.

CONAN: There's going to be no one to give her a cold, so she's going to be OK there.

LINDA: True. That part of it she has covered. Well, good luck and I'm going to look you up online.

CONAN: All right, Linda...

Ms. SPOTZ: Thank you.

CONAN: ...thanks very much. Let's go next to Joe, Joe with us from Chilmark in Massachusetts.

JOE (Caller): Hey, how are you doing?

CONAN: OK.

JOE: I just want to - yeah, say you're doing a great job. It sounds like a great thing you're doing. I was curious, there's sort of a long history of people rowing across the Atlantic under much different circumstances. One guy in particular was Harold Blackburn. And I wonder if your guest has ever heard of him. He was a Gloucester schooner man that got lost off the ship. He was in his dory in the Grand Banks and got blown away from the ship when the fog came in. And he ended up, at one point, rowing to Newfoundland. But then they used to have races across the Atlantic. Are you familiar with him at all?

Ms. SPOTZ: I am familiar with Woodville, and they do host races across the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. The first 12 ocean rows were the historic ocean rows, so perhaps he was one of those, where they didn't have - they had an open shell boat. They didn't have desalinators or any kind of GPS, but not sure if that's...

JOE: So this one - this is long before that, where they actually did it in a dory. It's like in the early 1900s.

Ms. SPOTZ: Oh, OK.

CONAN: So - and not on purpose. Just had to do it.

JOE: Not on purpose. And what strikes me is that I'm glad that you're doing it in this day and age, with how well prepared you are. But in these cases, these guys might have (unintelligible) and some heart attack if they were lucky.

CONAN: If they were lucky. And water would have been a real problem.

JOE: Yeah. And also, the other thing, I've been across the Atlantic, and you should have a great time. If everything goes nicely, it's such a beautiful place to be, you know? And it's - the occasional time when you have to rush through the storms it's a drag, but the rest of the time it's very placid.

CONAN: Joe, thanks very much for the call.

JOE: Take care.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And Katie, we wish you the best luck.

Ms. SPOTZ: Thank you.

CONAN: And we'll try to keep up with you, if we can.

Ms. SPOTZ: That would be great.

CONAN: All right, we hope to talk to you while you're on the way. Katie Spotz leaves tomorrow for Senegal, where she will soon begin her solo attempt to row across the Atlantic. And she joined us today from member station WCPN in Cleveland. And we wish her, again, the best of luck.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY, a conversation with Julie Holland, the doctor in charge of the weekend shift at Bellevue's psychiatric ER for nine years.

Rebecca Roberts will be here on Monday. I'll see you again on Tuesday. Have a great weekend, everybody.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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