A couple of years ago, Charleston resident and businesswoman Louise Graff set out to row across the Atlantic with a crew of 16, aboard an experimental rowboat. The aim was to set a world record.
Graff, who is 50, is by no means an athlete but was determined to accomplish this quite extraordinary feat.
In a nutshell, the yoyage met with catastrophic setbacks. The expedition ran out of food, met horrible weather, and had boat and crew issues. But alas, they did make it across the Atlantic – from Morocco to Barbados!
Through it all, Louise - who spends much of her time working with cancer survivors in Charleston – was a kind of quiet hero, although would not admit to such.
At 7:15 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, a documentary film about the expedition, called The Big Blue, and the book about it, Little Ship of Fools, will make their U.S. debuts at The Terrace Theater on Maybank Highway.
Q&A with Louise Graff …
Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A: I currently live on Johns island and love loving there. I feel strongly in ‘paying it forward’ and giving back to the local Charleston community and beyond. I am blessed to be able to volunteer time and financial support to causes dear to me such as Dragon Boat Charleston. I get back so much more than I give! It is the ‘intangibles’ that give life meaning.
Q: How and why in the world – in your late 40’s- did you end up wanting to be a part of this adventure?
A: I participated in the Atlantic Rowing Race in 1997 in a tandem rowing boat with 30 other international teams. We were unsuccessful in this attempt as my teammate became very ill and we had to abort the crossing.
Thirteen years later the opportunity to row acroos the Atlantic unexpectedly presented itself. I couldn’t let the idea go, it grabbed hold of me hard and I pursued it and became the 13th member of the Big Blue crew.
Q: As part of a crew of 16, how did you handle rowing duties?
A: Rowing duties were handled with two hours at the oars with eight rowing at a time and two precious hours of ‘sleep’ around the clock nonstop.
Needless to say sleep deprivation was a challenging aspect of this journey, not to mention rowing in tulmultous seas with constant thrashing by waves.
Q: You were described as “by no means an athlete” by someone who contacted the P&C about you. Describe your fitness background and how you prepared for this?
A: I am not sure what it means to be an athlete but I have a fair amount of on water experience.
I rowed the length of the Yukon River in 1995 - 1,800 miles in 80 days – as well as numerous other rafting, kayaking and canoeing trips since then. I also have participated in four Louisiania marathon rowing championships.
For the Big Blue, I trained very intensely for 6 months working out 3 to 6 hours a day, 6 days a week. I varied my training routines with gym workouts, alot of on water time in my single rowing shell as well as yoga and swimming.
Q: Describe what’s going on this weekend? Will you give talks and will this appeal to people who may not be oriented toward rowing or maritime activities?
A: This Sunday is the screening of Kelly Saxburg’s documentary film The Big Blue chronicling our 47-day odyssey across the Atlantic from Morroco to Barbados at the Terrace Theatre.
Author Charles Wilkins will be in town for the premier and also signing copies of his new book about the row, Little Ship of Fools.
Yes, I feel strongly that both the film and book will appeal to many people from all walks fo life. It is about about pushing ones limits to the maximum, stretching those precious telemeres and getting out of ones comfort zone to experience life!