Excerpt of A Pearl in the Storm by Tori Murden McClure
(Page 2 of 8)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
I knew every inch of the boat, which Id built with the help of
friends in the bay of an old warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky. Wed
conjured the vessel out of twenty-three sheets of marine plywood following
a British design by Philip Morrison. The rowing deck was
twelve inches above the surface of the water, and the tops of the gunwales,
or sides of the boat, were two and a half feet above the waterline.
If the boat hadnt been small enough to ride up and down on ocean
swells like a cork, any wave bigger than two and a half feet would have
washed over the sides. Water that washed in over the gunwales ran out
through four scuppers, or drain holes, at the level of the rowing deck.
The boat was designed like an old egg crate. Nine mahogany ribs
ran from side to side. Eight of the ribs were divided by bow-to-stern
stringers, one on each side of the centerline. These ribs and stringers
separated the inner hull into a checkerboard of watertight compartments. We glued the sections with epoxy, reinforced the seams with
fiberglass, and filled the voids with urethane foam. On the salary of
a city employee, I couldnt afford to build a lighter, sleeker craft out
of carbon fiber or Kevlar.
Of the eleven compartments under the rowing deck, seven stored
food, two housed my sea anchors, and two larger compartments in
the center of the boat next to the keel held my ballast tanks. For
ballast, I would use seawater. Each of the two ballast tanks held just
over twenty-five gallons. In rough weather, I would fill the tanks,
placing four hundred pounds of water weight next to the keel at the
bottom of the boat. This weight would lower the vertical center of
gravity, making it more difficult for the boat to flip upside down. If
the boat did flip, this ballast would help it to self-right. No one had
ever rowed across the North Atlantic without capsizing.
The American Pearl was laden with gear and food for a hundred
days. My sponsor, Sector Sport Watches, had chartered the motor
launch Sinbad for members of the press, and they had hired a fishing
vessel named Handful to tow the American Pearl to the center span
under the Bonner Bridge, which connects Hatteras Island with the
mainland. About a dozen friends had traveled from my hometown
of Louisville, Kentuckyhome of all great ocean rowersto see me
off. A few of them were with me aboard the Handful, but most were
relegated to watching from the press boat.
I wished that Gérard could have been there. Gérard dAboville
was the only person in my circle of friends who could truly appreciate
the labyrinth I was about to enter. This world-renowned Frenchman
had not only rowed solo across the North Atlantic but also rowed
alone west to east across the Pacific. Gérard had traveled to North
Carolina to assist me with final preparations.
Standing next to my six-foot frame, Gérard had seemed almost
diminutive. He was no burly Hercules, but rather a small man with
refined features. His manner was easy and unassuming, but at the
same time entirely elegant. To apply a phrase I learned at Smith College,
I lusted after his mind. Gérard had definite opinions about the
technical elements of my journey. When he saw the American Pearl
for the first time, Gérard had exclaimed, "It is a barge!"
As Gérard and I discussed knots, hardware, the rudder, and
cables, he made suggestions to improve the margins of my safety. He
was very concerned about the strength of my parachute-shaped sea
anchors, and he spent the better part of two days making improvements
to them. When the wind was against me, I would deploy the
sea anchors at the back of the boat, and like the parachutes that slow
race cars or the space shuttle, the sea anchors would slow the drift of
the American Pearl.
The anchors would help to keep the boat perpendicular to the
oncoming waves, making the boat less likely to capsize. I had three
different sizes to use in varying conditions. In adverse winds, but relatively
calm seas, I would deploy my biggest sea anchor. This anchor
would firmly hold the boat. In rough water, the boat must be able to
move with the waves or the sea anchor will either tear apart or break
the fitting to which it is attached. So, my storm anchor was my smallest
of the three. When conditions made it difficult to decide between
the largest parachute or the smallest, I went with the one that was
medium size. After all his work, Gérard wasnt satisfied. Doubt
tinged his voice when he told me, "I hope they will do the job."
We discussed the dangers of capsizing. Gérard explained, "You
think you will become used to it, but you never do. When the boat is
upside down, every time is as frightening as the first time." He told
me that hed been on deck during one of his capsizes on the Pacific.
Hed lost his temper and gone outside during a storm. With classic
understatement he said, "This is not good," but the pain of the
memory was written on his face. I waited, hoping that Gérard would
tell me more, but he stopped himself. It was as if he didnt want
to encumber my experience with too much foreshadowing. I told
myself, Ill not be going on deck during any storms, but when Gérard
suggested I lengthen my safety tether so I could get out from under
the boat in a capsize, I doubled its length.
Excerpted from A Pearl in the Storm
by Tori Murden McClure. Copyright © 2009 by Tori Murden McClure. Excerpted by
permission of Collins, a division of HarperCollins, Inc. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.