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Interview with Jim Shekhdar ( June 2000 )
Notes from tape recorded interview with Jim Shekhdar, Ilo Peru, a few days before his departure.

Kenneth F. Crutchlow

Jim Shekhdar


Born in 1946 in Lemington Spa, Great Britain. Lived in India from age 7-12.
Learned Hindi.Back home, went to University. Almost joined the Air Force.
Got a degree in civil engineering, so people would pay me to travel the world,
which I did for 15 years.

Had some problems with the British Water Polo Administration, so I went to
play in Australia instead. They banned me for claiming an air fare to an
international match. At first they said I could have it, then they wanted
it back, saying I should have gone by train. Water Polo was important to me,
my main sport, though I also played rugby and tennis.

Stayed in Australia for a year and half (1971), playing rugby and working
as an engineer. Went to New Guinea for a year to build roads. It was
primitive, a place where the natives still walked around with heads on
their belts.

Then went to Africa for 9 months, building airports. Then back to London;
thence on to Middle East to work for a Japanese company. I was the first
Western employee--quite an experience.

Married an English girl named Jane in midst of that. I'm still married and have
two daughters. Normal family life, except that I was overseas much of the time
and they were in England. In 1980, whole family moved to New Zealand;
stayed for 18 months. Moved to Las Vegas, then back to England.

Water Polo authorities had forgiven me and reinstated me. But then I was
banned for life again when I threw a referee  into the water. He was upset
because his watch wasn't waterproof. Now I'm reinstated again, eligible to
play, despite two lifetime bans.

In early 80s, launched a computer company, which quickly failed. Financial
problems followed. I had to get a proper corporate job, first with Xerox.
Worked long, hard hours. I like to succeed.

But I knew I wasn't a corporate animal. Eventually, I read John Ridgway's
book on ocean rowing. About that time, I did a MBA at the university, and
out of that came the idea to develop a business-simulation game and
combine it with Outward Bound type team building exercises.

I went to visit Ridgway, but he wasn't there. I phoned him to pitch the
business idea, but he wasn't interested. Met Chay Blyth at a boat show.
I was thinking of sailing around the world on my own (which he had done).
I asked him for advice, and he said to buy his book. That was all I got out of him.
He's a great salesman.

Then I heard about the Atlantic rowing race in 1997 and thought that
sounded cheaper than buying a boat and sailing around the world. I entered
that race, without a partner, ending up with David Jackson, whose partner
dropped out to get married. Neither of us had much money, and I didn't
have much time.

He and his dad built the boat. In all, the race cost us
nearly ё50,000 pounds ($80.00 dollars). I showed up at Tenerife two days before 
the start of the race; I was supposed to be there 10 days before, but I was working in
Romania. Poor David had to do it all himself. We made it to Barbados in 65 days.

Motivation to row the Pacific Ocean: I've had the Pacific dream for a long
time. The Atlantic was terrific, but the Pacific is three times as big. I
can no longer run 100 meters in 10 seconds, so I thought I'd focus on a
sport I thought I could do. As far as I was concerned, the Pacific had
never been rowed solo continent to continent, and I wanted to be the first
to do that. Peter Bird technically didn't do it; he had to be rescued at
Great Barrier Reef, though he was a great rower and I don't want to take
anything from him. Let's face it, rowing oceans gets easier and easier,
with all the equipment and the advances in boat building.

An acquaintance, a reporter for the IT supplement of the London Times, was
convinced that people would fall out of trees to give me money for a
Pacific row. But he decided he didn't have the time to pursue sponsorship,
and so nothing came of that. I had to get another job to pay for the row,
since I had few sponsors, except for Le Shark Casual Wear and Mobil.

My departure point was originally Equador, but I wrote that off long ago.
Chose Chile, because wind can't go anywhere but left. Only a small chance
of being blown to Mexico. The first 200 miles will be the most worrisome.

I believe I can cope with any situation. I don't believe there's more than
8 months of ocean out there. I have 8 months worth of food, at 6,000
calories a day. Most vulnerable part of the equipment is the water maker,
but I'm confident I've got what I need.

I have so much more equipment than for the Atlantic. So much communication
equipment, it's coming out my ears. I've got an EPIRB, Orb Com, 3 ARGOS tracking beacons, Inmarsat. Another sponsor, Globe.com, is paying for the communications.
It gives my position every four hours and allows me to send short messages.
I have ARGOS tracking , courtesy of Le Shark Casual Wear.

By all accounts, the big obstacle to a six-month solo voyage is isolation.
So I'll have a voice phone that because of its coverage will probably work
60-70% of the time. I may keep my sanity, unless I use it too much and the
phone bill gets too high. Then I'll go insane anyway.

Weight of the loaded boat is pretty irrelevant, I think. I've got 800
kilos of boat and 115 kilos of myself. Quite a lot, but the way I see it,
if you haven't got much weight, you've got a lot of windage. If the wind's
going the right way, that's a good thing; but if it's not, it's a bad
thing. By the time I get to the Great Barrier Reef, I should have only
about seven inches of draft, which should get me over most of the rocks.
So I'm happy with it. It's a big boat. I would've built a smaller boat if
I'd had the money.

I'm warned that the boat will turn over several times, but I'm confident it
will right itself. It's got a steel keel, which will give it an extra
up righting moment; it's got floats on the top, and 150 liters of water and
food down in the hold. Besides, they don't call it the Pacific for nothing.
Way down south, it gets rough, but in north it tends to be calm. I may be
going the wrong route--it may not be exciting enough.

Communications and Safety: I'll have a computer on board, FAX, two
Stellar trans receiver units from Israel, and a Magellan as backup. I also
have a Mini-M voice communication system. It's not global, but nearly so.
They guarantee coverage for 60% of the journey, but I expect to get 80%. I
get a reduced rate, but it's still expensive. I'll pay $2 a minute to call
out; people calling me will pay $3.50. I won't be receiving many calls.

Of course, I have EPIRB , and the ARGOS tracking beacon has an emergency
button: if I get in real trouble and have to be rescued. But I don't plan on that happening.

I have a system that will be activated if I fall overboard and can't get
back in the boat. But I'm afraid I'll blow the boat up, so I'm not going
to activate it. I'll also have a 50-meter drag line, so I should be able
to get to that rope. I'll wear a harness, though not all the time. When
David and I rowed the Atlantic, we promised each other we wouldn't allow
the other out on the boat without being hooked on. That lasted about two
days. We used it only when it was rough.

I've been looking forward to the Pacific row for two years. It'll be a
hell of a lot easier rowing the ocean than getting to the start. It's been
ridiculous and very expensive. Last fortnight has been particularly
frustrating, but the whole two years has been difficult.

I gave up asking for sponsorship 6 months ago, and I've received far more
sponsorship since I stopped asking. I've had some tremendous help--from
people in Chile, from people in Peru, but for most people it simply doesn't
register what I'm doing. There are two typical reactions when you tell
people you're rowing the Pacific Ocean. One is,"Oh, we're going to
Plymouth for the weekend".The other is, "You're joking. It's never...;
Oh, that sounds difficult; how you going to do that?"

That's why I made the promotional video. But nobody sees it. It costs
money to send out videos and many people aren't interested. I cannot find
any spirit of adventure in Britain. I simply can't find any! There are
people who know people who use corporate money to back an expedition, but I
don't think it's because they're excited about adventure. Companies are
run by bean counters.

But I don't care. I'm not doing it for the press coverage, the publicity.
My friends and family are in touch; I'm going to do it! This is for me!
As my wife Jane has said, it's probably the most selfish thing I've ever
done--and I've done a lot of selfish things.

Health: I've got an arthritic hip, so I put myself on the waiting list in
the UK for a new hip. I was going to begin the row on May 29 because my
daughter's 21st birthday is May 28. On the ninth of May, I got a letter
from the hospital saying,Your number's come up--we're ready to give you a
new hip.I put that on hold. I've been waiting two years for this row.
I'm in pain, it affects my ability to maneuver quite a lot, but it's okay
when I'm rowing. If I row more than 14 hours a day, it'll probably start hurting.
I've had tennis elbow for the past 18 months, but that's almost gone. I've
got some seasickness pads that you put on the back of your neck after you
feel sick instead of, say, taking pills before. That sounds good to me.

On my website, I describe myself as arrogant, and that's true. I'm not
proud of it, but I'm aware of it. And I don't think people are hurt by it.
Kenneth F.Crutchlow of Ocean Rowing Society , when he first realized I was serious
about rowing an ocean, advised me not to be too flip, to take it seriously.
I take myself seriously, but not too seriously. I'm probably more
concerned about my well being than anyone else in the world, so I'm going
to look after myself. But that doesn't mean I cannot laugh at myself as well.

Well, I treat it as I treat life--as a game. Calculated risks are a part of it. I like to set
myself goals. Trouble is: if you achieve them, you have to set something
more difficult the next time...

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