An adventurous couple and their 2-year-old son will leave San Pedro today to circumnavigate North America in a rowboat, an expedition they expect to take two years.
Kathleen and Curtis Saville, who describe themselves as "modern-day explorers," have already rowed across two oceans in their 25-foot boat, the Excalibur Pacific. They spent 83 days in 1981 rowing across the Atlantic Ocean from Morocco to the West Indies, and 392 days beginning in 1984 crossing the Pacific from Peru to Australia.
They make the trips, they said, to learn more about marine life, oceanography, geography and the various people and cultures of the world.
"The hardest thing was the psychological aspect of it," Curtis said of the Pacific trip. Seeing nothing but the ocean for weeks at a time, the couple got exhausted easily, had trouble making the right decisions and found it difficult to continue believing in themselves, he said.
Retraced Thoreau's Route
The couple's first extended boat trip was several years ago, when they spent a week rowing across lakes and rivers in Maine, retracing the route that Henry David Thoreau took about 100 years earlier before writing "The Maine Woods."
Kathleen said that at the time "what we were sort of thinking about is that maybe we didn't want a 9-to-5 life."
They took the same trip last fall to see how their son would handle an extended trip. "He really takes to the boat quite well," Curtis said.
Christopher was scared the first time he went on the boat, his mother said, but he soon learned to compensate for the rocking.
"I think (a hardship) tends to strengthen you," said Curtis. "I don't think there's anything wrong with learning to cope with hardships of any kind. It makes you tougher, more adaptable."
The Savilles--he is 40 and she is 31--have been staying at the Cabrillo Beach Boat Yard and Yacht Basin while preparing for the trip, but their home base is Holland, Vt. They earn money by lecturing about their expeditions, appearing at boat and sports shows and writing and publishing their own books about their journeys and studies. In exchange for donated materials, they write detailed reports to companies about how their products withstand an expedition. They also advertise sponsors' names on their boat or their clothing and provide photos for advertising.
The Savilles built the boat in a barn in Rhode Island. They estimate that it would cost at least $100,000 to have such a boat built but many of the materials they used were donated.
2 Small Cabins
The orange, 800-pound vessel has sliding rowing seats in the center, which at 5 feet 3 inches is the boat's widest point. Two small cabins, one for storage and the other for sleeping, are at either end.
The sleeping cabin is just long enough for the Savilles to lie down. Christopher sleeps above their feet on a shelf originally used for the radio. Christopher can stand up in the sleeping quarters, but the best his parents can manage is sitting with their necks bent. "The boat's really sized for (Christopher)," Kathleen said. The adults maneuver around the cabin by grasping ceiling straps.
"That is probably the most seaworthy boat in the whole L.A. Harbor area," Curtis said the other day at the boat yard, preparing for the expedition. The boat is unsinkable, self-righting, self-draining, small and well-shaped to take storms and waves, he said.
During a rough storm off Australia, the boat was capsized by 35-foot waves but righted itself.
"It's scary," Curtis admitted. ". . . . I think you just develop a greater intuition about what actions to take and when, to better your chance of survival."
They expect weather conditions--which tend to be more changeable near the coastline--to make the coming expedition even more trying than past trips.
Before setting out on an expedition, the Savilles research the climates, marine life, ocean conditions, governments and political situations of the places they will visit, as well as talk to people who have been there.
As in past expeditions, they plan to row six hours a day each, which gives them some time "alone" on the boat. They usually anchor the boat at night at sea. To get information about changing weather conditions and political situations, they listen to the radio, their only means of communication.
The unrest in Panama, for example, may affect their plans.
The Savilles originally planned to leave Los Angeles Harbor, spend some time whale watching in Mexico's Gulf of California--also known as the Sea of Cortez--and then row south along the Central American coast and through the Panama Canal.
Now, Curtis said, they may wait for things to settle down in Panama.
"We're just going to take advantage (of the unrest) and spend a little more time in the Sea of Cortez and study the whales in a little more depth than we otherwise would have," he said.
"It's unfortunate when you have these political situations that get in the way," he said. ". . . . They're in the middle of a revolution, and it's not the time to go down there in a rowboat."