Excerpt of A Pearl in the Storm by Tori Murden McClure
(Page 7 of 8)
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The palatability of food bars is inversely related to their nutritional
value. I had bars from Mountain Lift, PowerBar, Clif Bar,
Tigers Milk, and a half dozen other companies. My favorite energy
gel was GU. Some bars and gels tasted good and some did not. Some
were good for me and some were not.
By 12:15 p.m., I was rowing again. If I planned to cross the ocean
in less than three months, I couldnt afford to be leisurely about the
rowing schedule. For each hour at the oars, I allowed myself a fiveminute
break. If a bathroom break ran longer than five minutes, I
would subtract time from the next break. At first this seemed a little
hard-nosed, but five minutes every hour translated into an hour of
daylight lost in a twelve-hour day.
When one is rowing a barge across an ocean, every ounce counts.
Not counting my sponsors polo shirt and shorts, which I packed
away for my arrival in France, I had three shirts and three pairs of
shorts on board. I had a Gore-Tex jacket and trousers for foul weather.For
cold, I packed two fleece jackets and a warm cap. For the heat, I
had a white sunsuit and a baseball cap with flaps to protect my neck
and ears. I had a thin fleece sleeping bag and a heavier Polarguard
sleeping bag. Packing an extra jacket or an additional sleeping bag
was out of the question. When the Coast Guard had inspected the
American Pearl, Id had a life raft aboard. After the inspection was
complete, Gérard questioned whether I actually planned to take the
Technically speaking, the Coast Guard specifications for a
twenty-three-foot vessel didnt require a life raft. Admittedly, the
Coast Guard didnt have rules for transocean rowing boats. According
to their records, no American, male or female, had ever rowed
solo across an ocean.
Gérard argued that, unlike my food stores, the forty-pound raft
wouldnt get any lighter. The extra weight would slow me down.
Even if it added only a week to my trip, that might mean the difference
between success and failure. Gérard was clear: "A heavy boat is
a slow boat." With the storms certain to arrive in the fall, he told me,
"a slow boat is more dangerous than a fast boat."
The American Pearl was, Gérard argued, "an extremely wellequipped
lifeboat." Constructed from wood and foam, the boat
might break up, but it wouldnt sink. Sailors have an adage: "The
only reason to use a life raft is if you have to climb up into it." In the
end, I elected to leave the life raft behind. This allowed me to justify
a simple trade: the forty-pound raft went out, and a ten-pound library
came in. I knew I could spend a quarter of a year without people,
but going a quarter of a year without books was unimaginable.
In a compartment under my sleeping pad, in dry bags of black
vinyl, I stowed away books by Plato, Shakespeare, Milton, Melville,
Emerson, Viktor Frankl, Martin Buber, Dante, Anne Morrow Lindbergh,
and many others. I packed books about Alexander the Great
and Winston Churchill. I even took along my grandfathers Bible.
Books were such an indulgence that I kept the extent of the library a
guarded secret. I certainly didnt tell Gérard about the books. I was
less secretive about the small library of books on tape and educational
lectures. These were relatively light, and because I could listen to
them as I rowed, no one questioned whether they would merit their
That e vening , I reached into the compartment under my mat
and pulled out John Ciardis translation of Dantes Inferno. I reread
the opening line. "Midway in our lifes journey, I went astray from
the straight road, and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood." I am
thirty-five: midway in lifes journey. Have I gone astray from the straight
road? I am alone on a dark ocean.
At the entrance to the Inferno, Dantes guide, the poet Virgil,
tells him, "Here must you put by all division of spirit and gather your
soul against all cowardice." I believed I was fully prepared for my
ocean journey. The first circle of Dantes hell was reserved for the
"virtuous unbaptized." The ocean had not yet baptized me; I still
thought of myself as virtuous. I hadnt any concept of how deep into
the inferno the ocean would take me. Rowing into hell was not my
intention. I wish I could say that the devil made me do it, but I took
up the quest all by myself.
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.