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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 November 2007, 01:56 GMT
Sea triggers a wave of emotions
By Andrew Segal
BBC News South West

Debra Searle finishes her Atlantic Row. Picture: Debra Searle
Debra Searle arrived in Barbados after deciding to row solo
The emotions the sea and its power can generate can often be all-consuming.

Ocean rower Debra Searle found this out while crossing 3,000 miles (4,830km) of the Atlantic between 2001 and 2002.

Aged 27 when she took the challenge, she landed in Barbados in January 2002 after setting off from Tenerife three-and-a-half months earlier in a 23ft (7m) long craft.

Debra, from Plymouth, was supposed to make the trip with her husband Andrew, until he developed a fear of the ocean after two weeks. She decided to carry on solo.

'Bizarre transition'

During that time she faced many challenges, including enduring two hurricanes, shark-infested waters, constantly having to watch for shipping traffic which could mow her down, and never sleeping more than 20 minutes at a time.

But, despite the fears, the tears and feeling so at one with the ocean that she was scared of finishing and re-adjusting to life on dry land, the voyage gave her a love of the sea that has never left her.

You can go from tranquillity to the next minute being in the most bad-tempered, stroppy ocean you could possibly imagine
Debra Searle

"I've never experienced peace and calm like that," she said, referring in particular to days when a lack of wind and waves resulted in a completely flat ocean.

"It's like a mirror and there's a sensation that is almost like you're flying because there is very little difference between the blue of the sea, the horizon line and the sky.

"It almost feels like you're floating in a giant bubble, and the sensation that comes with that is unlike anything that you get on dry land.

"But then it's having that extreme, knowing you can go from that moment of tranquillity to the next minute being in the most bad-tempered, stroppy ocean you could possibly imagine being in.

"You've got to try and appease its anger and work with it because there's no way out. You don't have the chance to walk away from it and hide in a house somewhere."

During her row, she also underwent what she called a "bizarre transition" from being regularly terrified to accepting such extreme changes in conditions as the norm.

Debra Searle
Debra has encouraged others to become interested in the sea

She said: "It got to the stage that the day before I arrived in Barbados I was in tears on the satellite phone saying 'I can't come back in to dry land' because it felt like everything would be foreign and I wouldn't know how to respond.

"It was amazing how it could happen so thoroughly."

Her fascination with the sea is something Debra has also helped encourage in others, such as when she captained a dragon boat crew of 18 young women who paddled across the English Channel in August.

The Sisterhood raced a male team (the Brotherhood), completing the task in 3 hours and 42 minutes - only 12 minutes behind the boys, which Debra herself said was "not bad for a bunch of girls".

She said: "It changed their perception forever. They will always have that thing inside that will say: 'I conquered that stretch of water.'"

"I get back on the water and I feel totally at home. There's a level of comfort I feel about it that draws me back time and time again. I wanted the girls to get the other side of the Channel and feel that."

Women and the Sea is a series of features by BBC News Interactive South West which will be appearing on the BBC news website all this week.


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