By MARY POPHAM
Alone in a rowboat in the middle of an ocean, Tori Murden McClure is in solitary confinement—time to reflect on her life and what has brought her to this trial. Having already obtained an degree from Smith College, a master’s in divinity from Harvard University, a juris doctorate from the University of Louisville School of Law, plus being the first woman to ski over land to the South Pole, McClure had more to prove to herself—to conquer helplessness.
She leaves the North Carolina shore in June 1998 in a 23-foot rowboat she built herself with help from friends. “Through solitude and exposure to uncertainty, I believed I would confront my demons,” writes McClure. “Beyond this confrontation, I expected to find a doorway to some higher intellectual awareness.”
Eating freeze-dried dinners, granola, nuts and candy, the author sets out to row across the Atlantic Ocean. Soon, she loses all communication and faces the worst recorded hurricane season, alone, with only her thoughts and sea creatures for contact. Using her skills to solve problems of leaky roofs, lost equipment, broken skin and bruised limbs, she records her day-to-day adventures.
McClure’s writing is as precise and thorough as her overall work ethic. She intersperses the physical elements of the trip with her mental calculations and review of her past. She engages her readers with technical details of working with her tools of survival—sextant, an early GPS, solar panels, satellite telephone, laptop computer, a Swiss Army knife—and wins them over with her revelation of honest emotions—feelings of helplessness facing hurricane elements, desolation that equals that of Captain Ahab, fear of failure and of being unworthy of this endeavor. As she records the obstacles of the trip and her increasing stress level, the flashback scenes become more frequent and go deeper into her background—her youth, her family and schooling.
McClure despairs at having to abort her first voyage. Admitting defeat from the assault of Hurricane Danielle, she calls for assistance. However, aware of the problems from firsthand experience, she has the courage to make a second attempt.
Between the ocean trips, with months of healing, both physically and psychologically, McClure accepts help in rebuilding her boat from the man she learns to trust and love, Mac McClure. She brings the reader into her heart as she finds love along with the fortitude to attempt her journey again.
On December 3, 1999, McClure is triumphant! She succeeds in a personal quest as well as one for history—she becomes the first woman to row alone across an ocean, and before she reaches shore, she proposes to Mac.
When McClure decided to write the memoir of her journeys, she declared it a romance. The book sets an example not only of what it takes to confront demons to win a physical contest, but how to access inner strength, to relax and let love come. A Pearl in the Storm is a hunt for adventure and romance; experiencing it through McClure’s exquisite honesty is the treasure.
Freelance writer Mary Popham lives in Louisville, Kentucky.