Monday, June 8, 2009

Alone Across the Atlantic

Have you ever wanted to challenge yourself, to do something to see if you could do it, see if you were capable? Ever just wanted to get away from everything—REALLY get away? These questions lie at the heart of A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean. Tori McClure was the first woman to row alone across the Atlantic Ocean, and this is her story.

McClure started rowing at Smith College, and had rowing mentors who had made the journey across the Atlantic. She decided to try it herself, in a 23-foot plywood rowboat she christened The American Pearl. The picture on the cover of the book, a very small boat in the middle of a vast ocean, gives you an idea of what kind of “living space” she had to work with on what was expected to be a 3-month long journey of thousands of miles. While many friends and sponsors assisted her with the building of the boat and financing for equipment, food, and other necessities, this was McClure’s journey to make alone.

McClure’s writing vividly brings forth both the day-to-day drudgery of her rowing routine, and the wonders that can be found when you find yourself alone in the middle of the ocean: being surrounded by dolphins, gazing at the night sky with no chance of light pollution to obscure the stars, coming upon a pod of whales. In describing the dangers she encountered, including a battering storm that she later found out was actually a hurricane, McClure brings to life the violence that can happen to small craft on the ocean. After reading descriptive passages about storms and what they did to her boat and her body, I was almost checking myself for bruises!

Just days after she set out, McClure lost all long-range communications, and was on her own but for a few radio transmissions with nearby boats. After her boat and her body took beatings during hurricane Danielle, she made the hard decision to set off her rescue beacon and be picked up by another boat. While she felt like a failure doing this, the months following her return to land gave her time to reflect on inner strength and what it means to face obstacles. After working for Muhammed Ali, and receiving encouragement from him, McClure made another, ultimately successful, attempt to cross the Atlantic in her rebuilt rowboat. She used what she learned from her first journey to be more prepared for her second—redundant communications systems, a lighter boat, and a padded ceiling were some of the enhancements for her second crossing.

This true story is inspirational not because it is the story of a superhuman feat, but the story of a very human one—having a goal, experiencing setbacks, and getting back on your feet and trying again. Part of being human is accepting the fact of your humanity, and defining what that means for yourself. McClure wraps the story of her finding herself into a great adventure tale. See the book’s official web site for some Q & A with McClure, videos, pictures, boat specs, and the list of books she brought along to read and listen to on her journey.

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