Did you ever read Eat, Pray, Love? Did you like it? I didn’t — and when I saw the movie on a flight, I wanted to throw a shoe at the screen. I’m not really a “chick flick” movie guy (exceptions: Love Actually and The Notebook, two great movies). But then my friend Torre DeRoche published her love story, Love with a Chance of Drowning, about meeting the man of her dreams and sailing across the Pacific despite an intense fear of the ocean.
To my surprise, I really enjoyed the book. It was less of a love story and more of an adventure story about getting over your fears. I found the book to be descriptive, funny, and inspiring. (Also, she is a much better writer than I am.) So today, I virtually sit down with Torre to learn how a girl who was afraid of water sailed across an ocean with a man she met at bar.
Tell us your story. How did a girl afraid of water end up on a boat?
In my mid-twenties, my life in Melbourne had stagnated, so I quit my job and booked a one-way flight to San Francisco. Not long after I got there, I met a man in a bar who had a humble boat and a ready-to-go plan to set sail. Since I’ve always been terrified of the ocean, I had no interest in his adventure, but he was fun to be around so I kept seeing him.
Over many months, he charmed me with pictures of the remote islands of the South Pacific, and I found myself wondering what it would be like to reach such a paradise by the power of the wind.
Curiosity got the better of me, and I grew excited by the challenge of facing my fear. I was also in love. So I decided to jump aboard and island-hop across the Pacific to Australia on a leaky, 32-foot boat.
For that matter, how did an Australian girl who doesn’t like water fly over an ocean to end up in California?
I was scared of a lot of things: the flight over, starting from scratch, loneliness, finding a job and a place to live, making friends, and getting by on what little savings I had. But I forged ahead because I had always wanted to live in the US, and because I felt that if I didn’t face my fears and go, I’d be sentencing myself to a predictable, boring life.
You weren’t afraid of ending up on the “Lost” island?
When you’re floating mid-Pacific in a boat that’s smaller than a bedroom, you’re far too vulnerable to let yourself get worked up about fictional stories. It was the creepy, real-life threats that I feared, like freak waves, white squalls, or orcas attacking and sinking the boat (yes, this really happens!).
When did you get over your fear?
After we spent 26 days at sea sailing from America to the Marquesas, I felt pretty invincible. I was still nervous about deep water and long sea passages (see above for reasons why), but the throat-clenching, phobic fear that I’d felt at the start of the voyage was gone.
With your book Love with a Chance of Drowning, how did you go from self-publishing to being published by a traditional publishing house?
I queried agents for six months and, after having no luck with that, I decided to self-publish. A couple of weeks after launching, I received a Twitter message from a Hollywood producer who had chanced upon an excerpt of my book through a series of random clicks. He wanted to know if the film option was available.
A month after self-publishing, I received two offers: one from the UK publisher and one from the Hollywood producer. Armed with two offers, it took me about four days to sign with a New York agent. From there, the book went to auction, and we quickly sold to five publishers around the world. The film rights were also optioned.
What’s life like now as a big-time author?
I’m hand-fed caviar and peeled grapes around the clock by an entourage of Herculean men in leather thongs. No, that’s a lie. Life as a published author is exactly the same, only with a vague understanding that a bunch of strangers are reading my words right now.
I’m asked to sign books, which never stops being strange. At a book event, someone said to me, “Could you please write a little piece of wisdom in my book?” I’m not very skilled at wisdom-on-demand, so after a long, thoughtful pause, I wrote, “Thanks for coming tonight.” Whoa — watch out, Dalai Lama!
I always find it weird people want my signature too.
It really makes me wish I’d invented a cooler signature.
What do you want people to get out of your book?
On its most basic level, Love with a Chance of Drowning is a lighthearted, fast-paced travel memoir that takes the reader across the Pacific Ocean via a string of remote islands aboard a leaky boat. It’s a love story set on a sailboat, but it’s not just for armchair travelers, sailors, and romantics.
At its heart, it’s a book about going up against fear and taking big risks. If you have the courage to step outside your comfort zone with an open mind and an open heart, the world and its possibilities becomes infinitely larger. Big risks yield big rewards.
It may force you to question your own life decisions, it may give you the inspiration you need to embark on your own scary adventure, or it may simply take you on a hair-raising boat trip through the South Pacific with a terrified woman and her clumsy-but-lovable Argentinean boyfriend.
Is there a movie in your future?
Somewhere in Hollywood, Love with a Chance of Drowning is being adapted into a script right now. If all goes to plan, there will indeed be a film. Watch this space.
What were some of your top three moments sailing the pacific?
- Smelling land for the first time after 26 days at sea.
- Meeting a beautiful 60-year-old woman who had been sailing for 40 years, and learning that she also had a fear of deep water. She taught me that adventurers are not always fearless, which inspired the name of my blog Fearful Adventurer.
- Being welcomed with huge bear hugs by islanders in destinations accessible only by boat. We were taken in like family.
I’ve always wanted to sail around the Pacific. How do you do it? What if I don’t want to buy a boat? Any advice?
There are a few ways to see the Pacific without having to buy your own boat:
- The Aranui — This is a freighter ship that delivers food and goods to various remote islands around French Polynesia. It also takes passengers on its route through the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, and the Society Islands. The ship doesn’t stay in port long, but you’ll get to see many remote islands that can only be reached by boat.
- Crew on someone else’s boat — A lot of sailors take on crew to help with the sailing and chores. Many of them want people with prior experience, but if you’re a particularly charming backpacker with the right attitude, you can hitch a ride across the Pacific on anything from a structurally questionable wooden boat to a Fortune 500 CEO’s mega-yacht. You may end up with a lovable captain, or a complete freak — but that’s all part of the adventure, right?
- Charter a boat out of Fiji, Tonga, or Tahiti — There are a number of companies that offer charter boats. You can hire a skipper and crew, or you can bareboat. From Tahiti, you can sail a couple of days northeast to reach the Tuamotus. There you’ll find some of the most beautiful — and treacherous! — atolls in the world.
What would you tell a person who wants to try something new but who is afraid?
I believe that if you get that nagging urge to try something new and you find yourself hesitating because of fear, the only reasonable path to take is to follow through with it. If you do, possibilities will open up and you’ll get an incredible sense of empowerment from breaking down your own perceived boundaries. If you don’t follow through, the opposite will happen. Your world becomes smaller. You’ll lose faith in yourself. A little piece of you dies, and regret grows in its place.
And really, isn’t that a hell of a lot more scary than whatever it is that’s holding you back?
What’s next for you?
I haven’t figured that out yet! I’m so focused on trying to get through this wild adventure of writing and publishing a book that I haven’t yet had a chance to plot out my next moves.
As far as writing goes, I would love to attempt fiction next.