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Double Interview with Sally Kettle and her Mum

Sally Kettle and her mumSally Kettle is an ocean rower and was the First Woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean twice from East to West. She made one of these extraordinary journeys with her mum.

We interviewed Sally and her mum about the lessons learned during sea-bound solitude and managing frustration when you’re in Florida (but should actually be in Barbados.)

Sally Kettle:

‘Therapeutic strops’ are helpful

I am rubbish at managing frustration. It is one of the things I learnt about myself on the voyage. I am terribly impatient with myself – and inanimate objects. I would usually throw a bit of a strop, then calm down and get on with it.

Use what you lack as a positive tool

Knowing that I didn’t have the physical strength to ‘battle’ the ocean really helped me be realistic about what I could achieve, especially when the weather wasn’t going our way.

Let your insecurities drive you

My unrelenting need to prove myself helped me achieve my first. When you are told you don’t have a bone of common sense in your body you can either accept that or prove that you do. I was teased as a child; if there was a stream to fall into, I’d fall into it. I was pigeon-toed and forever tripping over my own feet. I wanted to show my family that I wasn’t completely useless.

Men – become a feminist

It’s the best gift you could give your daughters, sisters, your mother, your work colleagues and all women around the world.

‘Man-up’ doesn’t mean ‘woman down’

But sometimes you do need to just grit your teeth, stop whingeing and go for it!

We are all role models – it’s not about the ‘what’ but the courage it takes to be it

We are all inspirational for one reason or another. It’s not a special title that has to be bestowed by others. We must accept responsibility for the fact that everything we do has repercussions. We all have unique experiences we can share; we just need the courage to share them.

You may not get everything right, but as long as you are going in the right direction, it will be ok

It’s true for boats and it’s true for life. Even if things aren’t going right, embrace the change …and find out what the weather is like in French Guyana. At one point mum and I were heading there – then a few weeks later we were in Florida instead. We were supposed to be rowing to Barbados…

View challenges as a chance to celebrate self-reliance

Being on the water for long periods of time made me love the challenge of repairing equipment, making decisions about our course and learning to ‘feel’ the boat. I didn’t like the solitude, however and neither did mum. So we spent a lot of time on deck together, even if we didn’t talk. We also went to bed together at night and I read mum stories. Those are special memories.

Take a bundle of letters from home with you when you travel

This was a comfort. We opened one on the boat every Sunday. It made us laugh when a friend decided to send us their local Indian take-away menu.

Deprivation breeds appreciation

At sea you discover you can live on very little. You begin to value what you wouldn’t expect. A made bed is bliss. A can of fruit salad can be like all your Christmases have come at once. When I came home my ‘things’ seemed incredibly heavy. I miss the simplicity of being at sea but I wouldn’t want to be there all the time – just long enough to remind me how lucky I am

To find out more about First Woman Sally Kettle, Adventurer, speaker and author, visit: www.sallykettle.com or tweet her at @sallykettle

Sally’s mum:

Men had the monopoly on this ‘first’ for so long

Because women weren’t allowed to be the first. There were, and still are, so many restrictions on women – clothing was one of them! I think the pill empowered women to do so much more.

A sense of humour helped me achieve this first

And having short hair.

It is important for women to celebrate what they achieve for themselves

Women tend not to be braggers. I personally find it very difficult to celebrate what I’ve achieved.

I often meet people who don’t choose the best for themselves

I didn’t want a life like that. I work with older ladies who have grabbed every opportunity and they inspire me. One of them once said to me, ‘do it while you can because there’ll be a day when you can’t.’ They said ‘yes’ instead of automatically saying ‘no’.

Ellen MacArthur was the first woman in adventuring that I looked up to

She followed her passion for sailing even though it’s not what you would have expected a Midlands girl to do. Also she’s not a big robust girl and she still managed to go round the world on her own.

Every man could learn from a woman to do his own version of ‘best’

Not just keep trying to do the best that the other bloke is doing!

A good mentor is important

Someone who has been there and can empathise. Positivity. Sense of humour.

I don’t think I am an inspiration

Although others may disagree. I did the very best I could do and that’s good enough for me.


Interview by Deborah Willimott





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