Author Tags: Food, Maritime, Travel, Women
Julie Angus' Rowboat in a Hurricane: My Amazing Journey Across a Changing Atlantic Ocean (Greystone 2008) is her story of rowing across the Atlantic, from Lisbon to Costa Rica. More than 200 people used oar-power to cross the Atlantic before her, including 18 women, but none had crossed from the mainland of one continent to the mainland of another (10,000 kilometres). Most oar-powered crossings have connected the Canary and Caribbean Islands (5,000 kilometres). Angus did it with her then-fiance, Colin Angus, who was completing a round-the-world expedition using human power only. During their 145-day journey, they were hit by four cyclones, including two hurricanes. She received National Geographic's Adventurer of the Year Award.
"Two Norweigians in 1896 became the first two people to row across the Atlantic," she writes. "Between the first transatlantic rowboat voyage from New York to England and my planning in the summer of 2004, 208 additional rowers had succeeded in crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Six people had died trying, and dozens had required deep-sea rescue. The number of successful ocean crossings is low, especially when compared to other extreme endeavours such as climbing Mount Everest and skiing to the South Pole."
In her Olive Odyssey: Searching for the Secrets of the Fruit That Seduced the World (Greystone 2014), Julie Angus describes sailing from Spain to the Middle East with her husband and a baby that won’t sleep, to investigate the history of the olive. While collecting DNA samples from olive trees in an effort to determine where the first olive tree originated, they follow the route of ancient Phoenicians and describe how and why oil became an important commodity. There is, of course, some obligatory investigative feasting on inky black tapenades and chicken drizzled with green-gold oil in Cassis. Along the way they witness olive harvesting in Greece and visit what they are told is the oldest olive tree in the world, in Corsica.
Julie Angus of Courtenay has two bachelor's degrees, in psychology and biology, and a master's degree in molecular biology from the University of Victoria. She has written for a variety of publications. Following the Atlantic crossing, she and her husband undertook a human-powered journey from Scotland to Syria, on bicycles and in boats, which was to be the subject of a co-authored book.
Rowboat in a Hurricane: My Amazing Journey Across a Changing Atlantic Ocean (Greystone 2008) $22 978-1-55365-337-0
Olive Odyssey: Searching for the Secrets of the Fruit That Seduced the World (Greystone 2014). $28.95; 978-1-55365-514-5
[BCBW 2014] "Women" "Maritime"
Rowboat in a Hurricane: My Amazing Journey Across a Changing Atlantic Ocean
from Joan Givner
Since two norwegians rowed across the Atlantic in 1896, more than 200 people have used oar-power to claim the same feat, but none prior to Julie Angus and partner Colin Angus rowed from one continental mainland to the other—a distance of 10,000 kilometres.
Most oar-powered crossings connect the Canary and Caribbean Islands (5,000 kilometres). Six people have died trying; dozens have needed deep-sea rescue. “The number of successful ocean crossings is low,” writes Julie Angus, in her memoir, Rowboat in a Hurricane: My Amazing Journey Across a Changing Atlantic Ocean (Greystone $22), “especially when compared to other extreme endeavours such as climbing Mount Everest and skiing to the South Pole.”
Julie Angus’ compelling story of her 145-day oar-powered journey from Lisbon to Costa Rica shows she can narrate as well as she can navigate.
While risking her life making a trans-Atlantic crossing with her partner Colin Angus—who was completing a round-the-world expedition using human power only—she vividly describes being hit by two hurricanes and two cyclones, encircled by a great white shark, battered by a huge amorous turtle and almost demolished by a wooden fishing boat at full cruising speed.
Their slow-moving rowboat also narrowly avoided a collision with a twenty-eight-thousand tonne tanker. Only the rowboat’s lightness saved it by causing the bow wave of the tanker to toss it aside.
There are wonderful moments as well as terrors—such as an unexpected solar eclipse, the appearance of exotic birds, whales, porpoises, dorado and pilot fish which survive by following larger fish and living on their leftover scraps. A group of four pilot fish that attach themselves to the boat become cherished pets and are given names—Ted, Fred, Ned and Oscar. Ted and Fred swim 6,000 kilometers beside the boat, accompanying them all the way to Costa Rica.
Angus’ adventure started with an internet search for a boat designed for rowing on oceans. The search turned up a seven-meter-long boat, weighing 350 kilograms empty and 800 kilograms when fully loaded. She flew to the north of Scotland to inspect it and arranged for its delivery to Lisbon, the point of departure.
The boat had two tiny cabins—a forward one to serve as a cupboard and an aft one, as big as a small closet, for living quarters. Between the two cabins was an open deck with sliding rowing seats positioned in tandem. Sealed compartments below deck held supplies.
As for a bathroom, “I soon learned that the best way... was to hang my derriere over the side while sitting on the outer rail. The life-lines made a secure backrest and it was much more relaxing than the bucket.”
In rough weather a six-meter rope with one end secured to the boat acted as an umbilical cord in case one was washed overboard.
Along the way, the reader learns about the toxicity of salt in large quantities: twelve grams are enough to kill a human being, and a single teaspoon of seawater contains enough salt for the whole day. Their desalination unit (the size of a sewing machine) had a heavy-duty pump that forced salt water past a semi-permeable membrane at high pressure. This produced drinkable water with 97% of the salt and minerals extracted. In two hours the unit could yield ten litres of clear water.
The continual spray of sea salt made clothes unbearably salty and the fabric chafed the skin and caused salt sores. It became easier to stop wearing clothes and row in the nude.
In the midst of a hurricane, when survival seems unlikely, Angus meditates on her inability to believe in an omnipotent being. Religion has always been a source of confusion and disruption for her—the result of continual conflicts between her Muslim father and Catholic mother that marred her childhood. She also broods on the anxiety she is causing her parents, a situation brought home by a telephone conversation with her father. “Hi Dad, it’s me,” I said, happy to hear his voice. “Things are going well, and we’ve made it almost eight hundred kilometers from Lisbon...”
My father cut me off. “Honey, things AREN’T going well. I just heard on the news that the most northeastern hurricane in history has formed—Hurricane Vince. I looked up its coordinates on the National Hurricane Center website, and it’s only six hundred kilometers away from you.”
“Which direction is it heading?”
“Straight towards you.”
By contrast, phone calls to her mother provide some comic relief. When Julie Angus tries to give her mother a sense of their normalcy of life mid-ocean by describing their celebration of Colin’s birthday with a glass of wine, she succeeds only in raising her mother’s fears about the combination of boating and drinking. “Most boat accidents happen when people drink!” her mother tells her.
For all the drama and the rich textural detail, this voyage had a serious purpose.
With bachelor’s degrees in psychology and biology, and a master’s degree in molecular biology, Julie Angus hoped to get a more intimate sense of the life and dynamism of the Atlantic, and to see for herself the environmental damage documented by others.
Rowboat in a Hurricane therefore describes with dismay and alarm the amount of trash floating in the water, most of it plastic. It is eaten by jellyfish, which in turn are eaten by other creatures so that the toxins move up the food chain, making killer whales the most contaminated species on earth.
The voyage reinforced Angus’s sense of the interconnection of land and sea, of how the health of life on land depends on the vitality of the oceans. Human activity has caused fish stocks to dwindle, turtles to become endangered, and coral reefs to die. Thus this book is a testament both to human courage and to human destructiveness.
Angus deftly weaves personal detail into the story, fleshing out her small cast of characters. Her fiancé, Colin Angus, a distinguished sailor and explorer, had not been her first choice of shipmate because she feared the strain on their relationship. However, when her chosen female partner opted out, and Colin’s male companion in a separate adventure also parted ways, the couple seemed fated to undertake the Atlantic crossing together.
Happily, the journey strengthened the relationship and they were married in August of 2007, two years after their departure from Lisbon. Following their Atlantic crossing and wedding, the Courtenay-based couple undertook a human-power journey from Scotland to Syria, on bicycles and in boats. Julie Angus has since received National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year Award.
--Review by Joan Givner
[BCBW 2008] "Explorers" "Maritime"
Olive Odyssey: Searching for the Secrets of the Fruit that Seduced the World
from Joan Givner 2014
Having crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat for her first book, Rowboat in a Hurricane — earning herself the distinction of being National Geographic Explorer of the Year — Julie Angus gained the support of National Geographic for Olive Odyssey: Searching for the Secrets of the Fruit that Seduced the World, this time exploring the Mediterranean by sailboat. “I have to say,” says Joan Givner, who reviewed Angus’ first book for BCBW, “this is one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time.”
Olive Odyssey: Searching for the Secrets of the Fruit that Seduced the World by Julie Angus (Greystone $28.95)
ulie angus’ mission in olive Odyssey is to discover how the olive tree spread from the Middle East to the other side of the Mediterranean.
A Master’s degree in molecular biology equips her for an in-depth study of olive trees, combined with her proven resourcefulness as an adventurer.
Since Phoenician sailors were probably responsible for its propagation, Angus and her husband follow their trading route, gathering samples from ancient trees along the way. The resulting account is part travelogue and part compendium of facts about olives and olive oil.
The couple’s odyssey starts in Spain, where for $11,000 they buy Isis, a 28-foot-long, second-hand sailboat. Their quest to find where the first olive tree originated takes them from Spain to the French Riviera and on to Corsica, where they tour the island by car and camp overnight. Eventually they arrive in Sardinia, make a side trip to Italy by ferry, and return to sell the sailboat. From there they fly to Greece, explore Crete and finally end their journey in the Middle East. Along the way they befriend a series of lively characters as they visit olive growers and experts in olive oil factories, museums and laboratories.
En route, Angus extols the health benefits of consuming olive oil—fewer cases of Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer, as well as greater longevity in regions where its consumption is high. That said, likely few readers will care to follow one centenarian’s recommendation for longevity: drinking a cup of olive oil daily.
Angus also provides good advice on choosing oil. Caution is essential because the olive oil business is one of the most corrupt in the world. Fraud has been rampant from the beginning. A fifth century Roman cookbook lists tricks for disguising rancid or fetid oil; a Greek book gives a remedy for restoring oil into which a mouse has drowned, spoiling the flavour. (Suspend a handful of coriander over it!)
In the 1980s adulterated oil sickened twenty-five thousand people in Spain and killed a thousand. In 2011 two Spanish olive businessmen were jailed for selling thousands of litres of olive oil that was mostly sunflower oil. Others were arrested for selling a mix of avocado, palm, sunflower, and vegetable oil.
Place of origin for both olives and oil is often given incorrectly, since outside the European Union, laws for protecting origin and quality are unenforceable. Kalamata olives sold outside Europe have probably not even been grown in Greece. In order to remedy this situation, the Institute of Plant Genetics in Umbria is working to create markers that detect the source of the oil. Fortunately Canada, unlike the U.S., has an accredited government laboratory that tests olive oil. Even so, inferior oil on the supermarket shelves is commonly mislabelled. Adjectives such as “light,” “pure” and “extra light” are applied to substandard oil that is refined using chemicals, a process that strips away both flavour and nutrients.
The highest grade of oil bears the label “extra virgin” and comes from the first pressing of the olives, done by mechanical means, without using heat or chemicals. The acidity level is crucial and should be less than 0.8%. It must also pass a vigorous test. If it falls short, it drops to the next category—“virgin” olive oil, with an acidity level of up to 1.5%. Oil that is really unsatisfactory and not fit for human consumption (this includes 50% of Mediterranean oil) can be used for industrial purposes. Yet it is often chemically refined, sold as cheap oil in supermarkets, and used in restaurants and pizzerias.
Advice for ordinary consumers and cooking experts on the hazards of selecting olive oil is perhaps the most practical aspect of the book, but Julie Angus also provides guidelines for hosting an olive oil tasting party (there are 250 types of olive oil flavours compared with wine’s 450) and also appends a series of recipes. One is a Provencal recipe for cooking a chicken in a cup of olive oil with forty cloves of garlic.
For those who wish more background information on the food they ingest, Angus outlines the history and mythology of the olive tree and olive oil. Its uses have ranged from the medicinal and sacramental to the military. The Romans used it to lubricate their military machines. In the Middle Ages, boiling oil was poured from the battlements of castles to scald unwelcome invaders. At the Trevi olive museum in Umbria, she finds a bizarre list of folk remedies that include boiling a lizard in oil to reduce baldness and ringworm and boiling rusty nails in it to cure eye pain.
The travelogue part of the book is no less engaging than the scientific research. The couple weathers storms and mechanical difficulties with the boat, and the fact that they bring along their 10-month-old son adds to the personal side of the story. Angus is still breastfeeding Leif, who turns out to be colicky baby, causing his mother many disturbed nights. Nevertheless, along the way he develops a surprising taste for red pepper gratin and anchovies on toast. He even contributes to the research by testing the bitter olives from ancient trees. A historian notes that there is a similarity between the immature palates of babies and those of early humans.
Angus’s initial interest in olive oil was sparked years earlier by a visit to her Syrian relatives who served fruit and oil from their own olive groves. The greatest disappointment of the trip is that the civil war prevents her from concluding it in Aleppo where it began. Yet she feels triumphant when the bags of samples are examined for their genetic structure at the Institute of Plant Genetics. They are found to provide evidence that it was the Phoenicians who spread the olive tree throughout Europe. 978-1553655145
Since reading Olive Odyssey, Joan Givner says she has become very discriminating in her selection of olive oil. Her latest young adult novel is The Hills Are Shadows (Thistledown Press).