Rowing the Atlantic: To Pastures, and Oceans, New

Major Saf Greenwood was commissioned 12th December 2008 and twelve years later, will cross the start line of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – the ‘World’s Toughest Row’ – as one half of the female pair “Tideway Odyssey” raising money for two youth charities: London Youth Rowing and Youth Sport Trust.

Saf will be leaving the Army and is trying to balance resettlement and uncertainty over her end of engagement date with the small business of preparing for the biggest adventure of her life.  Her navigation of the perils and pitfalls of both adventures appears to have some overlap.

“I remember the evening I told my parents my decision very clearly. I was picking away at a bread roll having only returned from a 30-hour visit to Kenya that morning (and having contracted food poisoning, despite the short trip). Looking at the bread, I muttered that I wanted to stop some studies I had been struggling with so that I could have more time to pursue things I loved. My mother looked at me “Oh God, you’re going to row the Atlantic”. My mother isn’t a psychic, but she does know me very well.

Each time it was mentioned I felt a bit of me needed to scream “I want to do that” but I didn’t. Then in January, my coach mentioned that she was looking for another person to row with and I jumped at the chance without thinking about work or family (sorry). And so, at the start of February, I began to tell people that I was going to row the Atlantic.

I have always believed that you need to look around to ensure that you know the military remains the right career choice. You either leave the military or you die in the military; we all prepare for the latter before tours, reassuring our admin offices that we have done our wills and put our important papers together. Not enough people prepare for the former though. It’s easy to have blinkers on because we don’t want to see what else there is employment-wise (whether that’s because we don’t want to know what we’re missing, or because we want to pretend that there is the dream out there somewhere waiting for us). I’ve had a quick look every so often; have a bad day at work – Google job opportunities.

Then, just two weeks after telling my parents I was going to row the Atlantic and enjoying the job that I had (despite the hours), it suddenly came to me that it was the right time to leave.

I called the family on Sunday afternoon, spoke to my boss on Monday morning and put it on JPA on Tuesday afternoon. It was done.

Far fewer pros & cons than I had anticipated when making such a big decision. I already knew my pension entitlements, have no dependents and own my property. Compared to most people, I am in the privileged position of being the only person involved in the decision!

Now my spare room is filled with lists, charts, planners (and a rowing machine). The planners show dates of courses to do, red for resettlement, blue for Atlantic. I probably spend too much time on the Atlantic prep (which will only be two months of my life) than resettlement (the next thirty years); not only is the Atlantic the “closest crocodile to the canoe”, but there may be sharks close to my rowing boat so I feel that the time split is justified.

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