Whatever happened to ...
the woman who tried a trans-Atlantic row?
By TONY GERMANOTTA,
Tori Murden sets
foot on dry land in Guadeloupe, in the Leeward Islands, after
becoming the first American and the first woman to row across
the Atlantic. It was her second effort to accomplish the feat.
JOHN RILEY/ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO
On June 14, 1998,
Tori Murden pushed off from Nags Head on a trip for the ages.
Murden was determined to be the first American and the first
woman to row across the Atlantic.
Two months and a punishing hurricane
later, she would finally push her panic button and summon
rescuers. She was about 1,000 miles short of her destination of
Before she surrendered, her little boat had been capsized 18
times in the North Atlantic by Hurricane Danielle, a dozen times
in one day alone.
The worst were the waves that pitch-poled her 23-foot American
Pearl, tossing the 6-foot-tall adventurer around a watertight
cabin she later described as “not much bigger than an extra-wide
Often, the fiberglass and plywood boat would remain submerged,
and she would wait in the dark until it rolled over and popped
up, like a little cork on the raging ocean.
During one lull, Murden crawled onto the deck to get her
emergency rescue beacon. She wanted help, but decided that she
couldn’t ask another human to risk such a storm. “I went through
six capsizes holding the distress beacon in my right hand and
using the left hand to shield the SOS button from damage,” she
would later write.
Her right shoulder was dislocated by the beating, her left elbow
swollen to twice its normal size. She was in no shape to row 10
hours a day. Still, she is proud she waited two days after the
hurricane passed before pressing her emergency beacon.
When the search plane came overhead, she asked if she could
continue. She was warned that another storm, a Force 10 gale,
was approaching. She decided to give up.
A merchant ship bound for Philadelphia picked her up. She had
rowed 3,400 miles, but because of wind, storms and currents, she
had only traveled 2,700 miles from Nags Head.
The ship had to cut the American Pearl loose. Amazingly, it was
later recovered by an American oil tanker, taken to France and
flown back to Kentucky via UPS, Murden said from her office in
Louisville last week.
Considering herself a failure, she was stunned by the hero’s
welcome from her landlocked hometown.
The story didn’t end there. Another Louisville legend, Muhammad
Ali , finally persuaded Murden to finish her adventure.
“You don’t want to go through life as the woman who almost rowed
across the Atlantic,” she said Ali told her as she debated her
Murden tore into her recovered boat. She reduced its weight and
added more communications gear.
And exactly one year from her first trip, she set off again,
this time rowing the easier east-to- west route from the Canary
Islands to the Caribbean.
She was on track to set an all-gender trans-Atlantic rowing
record when her team told her another hurricane loomed on the
horizon. Murden battened down and was happy when Hurricane Lenny
turned out to be pretty well played out before it crossed her
After the storm, she called one of her supporters, Charles “Mac”
McClure, and proposed by satellite phone.
“I’m tired of living aboard rowboats,” she recalled telling him.
“When I get ashore, will you marry me?”
Mac said yes, and she finished her crossing. At 36, she had
become the first American and first woman to accomplish the
feat. Murden was also the first woman and first American to ski
to the geographic South Pole.
Today, Tori Murden McClure , a lawyer with a divinity degree
from Harvard, is the vice president for external relations,
enrollment and student affairs at Spalding University in
She is still on the water every morning, but now it’s in a
28-pound rowing shell.
She and the university’s president compete in women’s double
races, Murden McClure said.
The American Pearl is in storage across the river from
Louisville, but she isn’t tempted to take it out to the open
ocean anytime soon.
“I want to stay married,” she explained with a laugh.
Reach Tony Germanotta at (757) 446-2377 or firstname.lastname@example.org