The ORS Int. is the official adjudicator of ocean rowing records for Guinness World Records

 


 
Whatever happened to ... the woman who tried a trans-Atlantic row?
November 14, 2005

By TONY GERMANOTTA, The Virginian-Pilot

 

 

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.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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 Brest, France.

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 coffin.”

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 future.

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 vessel.

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 Louisville.

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 tony.germanotta@pilotonline.co
 

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