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The Life Out Loud: Conquering Fear on the High Seas

11/11/2013 10:42 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

When I first heard about Torre DeRoche's memoir, Love with a Chance of Drowning, I thought, "This woman is totally insane." Her story goes like this: When she was in her mid-20s, the recent Australian transplant met a man in a bar in San Francisco after one too many cocktails. A pretty standard girl-meets-boy story... Only eight months later, lovesick Torre agreed to take off with Ivan on a sailing trip across the Pacific Ocean in his rather small boat -- even though she had no prior sailing experience, suffered from seasickness in rough conditions, and was afraid of sharks. It sounded like a nightmare situation to me.

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My perspective didn't change much as I read the book. Personally, I still have no desire to embark on such an adventure. But my respect for Torre as a human being increased with each chapter. Torre is the living embodiment of my mantra, fear less, love more! I therefore was excited to interview her and learn more about what compelled her take this extraordinary journey, and how she has carried forward the lessons learned into her everyday life.

Torre left Australia for the U.S. at age 24 because she felt unfulfilled, like she was already having a midlife crisis. Her goal was to push herself out of her comfort zone and say yes to life. A few days before she left, she was playing a board game with her nephews and drew the question, "What is your greatest fear?" Torre replied, "Being in the middle of the ocean in the middle of the night."

How did her greatest fear become something she courageously set out to conquer? Love had a lot to do with it. Ivan shared with her his dream of fixing up his small boat and sailing it across the high seas not long after he and Torre met in SF. He painted pictures of adventure, romance, total freedom, and having unlimited access to some of the most remote, beautiful spots on the planet -- all at fairly low cost.

"At first I thought it was crazy," Torre confessed. But over time, she became intrigued. What a way to see the world, she thought. The only thing standing between Torre and the journey was fear. And she didn't want fear to be the reason she said no. So she read books, talked with people, enrolled in sailing classes, and committed to the first leg of the journey, down the Californian coast. She didn't make up her mind about the next leg -- a 26-day trip across the Pacific Ocean to the Marquesas Islands -- until the very last minute, when her love for Ivan and reluctance to be ruled by fear got the best of her.

Torre is careful to say that she didn't eradicate her fear of the open seas as a result of this experience. "I still can get very scared out there. The ocean is an inherently dangerous place, and it's hard to forget that. There is a very real, not imagined, possibility of sinking." What she did master was the ability to separate reasonable from unreasonable fears. Once she had determined that a fear was unreasonable, she could slowly let it go.

What's an example of an unreasonable fear? Torre said, "It's sensationalism and stuff you've heard in the news or seen in movies. Before I went, I had these nasty ideas from The Perfect Storm and Jaws. Those were unreasonable fears based on horror/adventure movies. Once I started to feel safe on the boat and it became my world, I could put those monsters aside and focus on real dangers, like watching the weather, fixing leaks, etc. I realized that the small, reasonable fears actually keep you safe because they make you more perceptive and ready to react."

Torre and Ivan definitely encountered some terrifying scenarios during their trip, like convulsing in a storm while every instrument on the boat was failing and the hull was leaking. But Torre was shocked and proud to discover that she swung into full survival mode, operating with clarity and not allowing fear to get in the way. "That was something I didn't know that about myself before. Often, fear is all about anticipation. When something bad is actually happening, you click into action and the anxiety goes away. It made me far more confident in my ability to cope with any hardships in life."

In fact, Torre found the entire journey immensely empowering. It showed her that, "We're more capable than we realize. Unless you're challenged with a worst-case scenario, you'll never know that about yourself. We have the tools we need in us to survive. We're always trying to prevent bad things from happening because we don't trust ourselves. But once you've been through a life-or-death crisis, you realize that you do know what to do. You'll fight."

As a result, Torre finds herself a far greater risk-taker in everyday life. "To truly have the prize, you have to go out on a limb. That's how you discover the most beautiful experiences on Earth." When she returned from her sailing trip, she decided to write and publish her memoir -- another courageous step. "Without that journey with Ivan, I never would have written a book. It would have seemed too ambitious," Torre said. "Now I think, 'Well, I sailed an ocean, so maybe I'm capable of this, too.' My advice to people is: Be completely unreasonable in the things you go after. Chances are, it'll pay off."

Photo credit: Ivan Alexis