A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean

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Overview

"In the end," writes Tori McClure, "I know I rowed across the Atlantic to find my heart, but in the beginning, I wasn't aware that it was missing."

During June 1998, Tori McClure set out to row across the Atlantic Ocean by herself in a twenty-three-foot plywood boat with no motor or sail. Within days she lost all communication with shore, but nevertheless she decided to keep going. Not only did she lose the sound of a friendly voice, she lost updates on the location of the Gulf Stream and on the weather. ...

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A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean

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Overview

"In the end," writes Tori McClure, "I know I rowed across the Atlantic to find my heart, but in the beginning, I wasn't aware that it was missing."

During June 1998, Tori McClure set out to row across the Atlantic Ocean by herself in a twenty-three-foot plywood boat with no motor or sail. Within days she lost all communication with shore, but nevertheless she decided to keep going. Not only did she lose the sound of a friendly voice, she lost updates on the location of the Gulf Stream and on the weather. Unfortunately for Tori, 1998 is still on record as the worst hurricane season in the North Atlantic. In deep solitude and perilous conditions, she was nonetheless determined to prove what one person with a mission can do. When she was finally brought to her knees by a series of violent storms that nearly killed her, she had to signal for help and go home in what felt like complete disgrace.

Back in Kentucky, however, Tori's life began to change in unexpected ways. She fell in love. At the age of thirty-five, she embarked on a serious relationship for the first time, making her feel even more vulnerable than sitting alone in a tiny boat in the middle of the Atlantic. She went to work for Muhammad Ali, who told her that she did not want to be known as the woman who "almost" rowed across the Atlantic Ocean. And she knew that he was right.

In this thrilling story of high adventure and romantic quest, Tori McClure discovers through her favorite way—the hard way—that the most important thing in life is not to prove you are superhuman but to fully to embrace your own humanity. With a wry sense of humor and a strong voice, she givesus a true memoir of an explorer who maps her world with rare emotional honesty.

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  • A Pearl in the Storm
    A Pearl in the Storm  

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
One woman's rebellion against powerlessness places her in perhaps the most powerless situation of all-crossing the Atlantic Ocean alone in a 23-foot rowboat. McClure's unique debut memoir unravels, true to its setting, in a series of currents and waves. At various speeds and intensities, she reveals her life-or-death battle against the ocean, her inner demons and the motives behind her journey. Growing up a self-proclaimed misfit, she was haunted by guilt over being unable to protect her developmentally handicapped brother from the world's cruelty. Her attempts to do so produced a strong, solitary, athletic young woman, but her inability to completely shield him solidified her feeling of impotence. That feeling remained with her throughout her life, even as she worked to help the homeless, the disabled and the terminally ill. She cared fiercely about humanity but was emotionally isolated and blamed herself for failing to save the world. Driven to overcome this self-perceived weakness, 35-year-old McClure departed from the coast of North Carolina in 1998, planning to row the 3,600 miles to France. Isolated at sea for 91 days, battling three hurricanes and a loss of all communication while cherishing the beauty and bliss of the sea, she fluctuated between accepting and challenging nature. A stirring metaphor for life's unpredictable ups and downs, McClure's real-life journey was both propelled and hindered by the ever-transitory ocean currents. When the North Atlantic's worst recorded hurricane season forced her to request rescue at sea, she felt like a failure. Returning home depressed and unable to merge her now-divided self, she stumbled for the first time upon love-and a new plan toconquer the sea. On that voyage, yet another hurricane brought her crashing to her knees, but this time she learned to embrace her demons and forgive herself. Nearly ten years after the conclusion of her groundbreaking journey, McClure offers her reflections in contemplative, honest language, revealing her meaningful road to self-discovery. An inspirational story of losing pride, embracing humanity and accepting love.
Candice Bergen
“Tori Murden McClure is one of the most remarkable women I have ever met; her journey across the ocean is equal only to her journey of the heart. This is a story of courage, adventure, and personal discovery that will appeal to women—and men of all ages.”
Sena Jeter Naslund
“Unlike Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Tori Murden McClure’s true story of a woman and the sea and a boat named American Pearl is one of victory. If you want to be inspired, read this book. You won’t stop till you’ve finished.”
Roy Hoffman
“For those six billion or so of us on planet Earth today who will never row across an ocean, this extraordinary narrative by one fellow human who did so transports us to places beautiful, haunting, daunting, terrifying, and uplifting.”
Charles Gaines
“In this fine book, Tori McClure generously gives us at the same time a wonderfully told adventure story and a moving account of a storm-wracked journey through self-discovery into healing. . . .”
Jill Ker Conway
“The reader of this book encounters a rare spirit whose courage is an inspiration.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061718861
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/7/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

A vice president at Spalding University, Tori Murden McClure's firsts include being the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic and to ski over land to the South Pole. She holds several degrees, including a master's in divinity from Harvard University. Tori lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband.

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Read an Excerpt

A Pearl in the Storm

Chapter One

The Quest Begins

June 14, 1998
latitude north 35:52, longitude west 75:34
the Outer Banks of North Carolina

In the end, I know I rowed across the Atlantic

to find my heart, but in the beginning, I wasn't aware that it was missing. In January 1998, I asked my uncle, "If I write a book about my explorations, should I write it as a comedy, a history, a tragedy, or a romance?" With a twinkle in his eye, he said, "A romance—it must be a romance." He explained that I was too young to write my life as a history: "Who wants to read the history of half a life?" Tragedy, he explained, was "boring." Anyone over the age of thirty can write his or her life as a tear-soaked muddle. "There is no challenge in that," my uncle counseled. "Comedies are fine, but the greatest stories in life are about romance."

I didn't doubt that my uncle spoke the truth, but there was a problem. I had no experience with romance. None. I was thirty-five. Tragedy, I could write. Comedy, I could write. Even history, I could write. Romance was out of my depth. If I had charted a map of my life, I would have placed romance on the far side of an unexplored ocean, where ships would drop off the edge of the world and the legend at that edge of the map would read, "Here there be sea monsters."

I considered myself a thoroughly modern woman. As a graduate of Smith College, I embraced the notion that our culture had evolved to the point where a woman might openly take on the role of an Odysseus. Like the epic hero in Homer's Odyssey, women could be clever. We could set out on epic quests of our own choosing. Likemen, we could be independent and internally motivated. Women could be tested and not found wanting in trials of courage, resourcefulness, endurance, strength, and even solitude. What I did not know was that exploring these vaguely masculine qualities would not be enough for me. I am, after all, a woman. It was not until my boat dropped off the edge of the world, into the realm of sea monsters, that I began to understand some of what I had been missing.

Let's face it: normal, well-adjusted women don't row alone across oceans. According to the records of the Ocean Rowing Society, in London, England, no woman had ever rowed solo across an ocean, but I didn't let this worry me. About midday on Sunday, June 14, 1998, I drove my old gray pickup truck towing a rowboat to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, a few miles south of the sleepy beach town of Nags Head, North Carolina.

I'd already made the obligatory stop at the Coast Guard station. The officer in charge had done his best to talk me out of making the trip. More men had walked on the moon than had successfully rowed alone across the North Atlantic. Nonetheless, I stood squarely behind a very simple legal precedent: men had been allowed to leave the coast of the United States in rowboats bound for Europe. They couldn't very well stop me just because I was a woman. Once my boat passed the Coast Guard inspection, I was free to go.

I backed my twenty-three-foot rowboat down a ramp and launched the American Pearl. The boat was six feet wide at its widest point. The tallest part of the rear cabin sat four feet above the waterline. In the center of the vessel was a rowing deck about the size of the cargo bed in my Ford F-150. The rowing deck was open to the sky, but there was a watertight cabin at the back of the boat. I would enter the cabin through a waterproof Plexiglas hatchway that was nineteen inches square. This window-sized door between the cabin and the rowing deck was the main hatch.

To call the stern compartment a "cabin" exaggerates the space. The watertight sleeping area was slightly larger than a double-wide coffin. I couldn't sit erect without hitting my head on the ceiling, but I could lie down with a few inches to spare. In the floor that served as my bed there were eight small hatches. These opened into little storage compartments that contained my electrical equipment, tools, clothing, and other gear. Between the cabin and the rowing deck was a cockpit that was two feet wide and sixteen inches deep. This little footwell would serve as a kitchen, bathroom, navigational center, and weather station. There were two small benches on either side of the cockpit. One bench housed the desalination system that would turn salt water into drinking water. In the other, I stored my stove and cooking gear when they were not in use. Like my rowing station, the cockpit was uncovered and open to the weather.

I knew every inch of the boat, which I'd built with the help of friends in the bay of an old warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky. We'd 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 hadn't 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 couldn't afford to build a lighter, sleeker craft out of carbon fiber or Kevlar.

A Pearl in the Storm. Copyright (c) by Tori McClure . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 24 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2013

    Oh, the irony

    While overall I enjoyed this book, I realized that the author was incapable of seeing the irony of her words. She attended the finest elite school (who was paying all those tuitions and fees?), she was constantly globe-trotting on expeditions of her own creation, not one of which served any humanitarian purpose, and yet she writes that one of her roles (and that of her seemingly well-heeled husband) was to make the rich feel uncomfortable. She's all about social justice, but excuse her while she treks across Antarctica, or goes backpacking in Africa, or spends months on two adventures on the high seas finding herself. She is beyond self-absorbed. She depends on others for money and manpower to indulge in her hobbies, while working a government job that apparently afforded her a lot of time off. In the end, I no longer cared if she made it or not.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 18, 2010

    The best book I've read in I don't know when

    From the first page to the last, this is definitely one of the best written books I have read in recent years. The art with which Tori writes is a rare gift indeed. I felt like I was on the Pearl myself, and this is what a good writer will do; bring you along with them. Thanks for the ride of a life, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Absolutely Riveting!

    I was excited to read this book after the glowing reviews it received; however, I was also a little skeptical because of the number of glowing reviews. Within the first two pages, I was hooked! This book was better than the reviews led me to believe (which is saying something). It is well written, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and a page turner. I highly recommend this book to one and all. I plan to have all of my children read it because the life lessons included are powerful. I can't say enough positive about this book. Read it!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2009

    Insightful story of a woman's search for her self

    I especially enjoyed the section of the book dealing with her first journey across the Atlantic. I would recommend to others; would make a great gift book for graduates, young adults... anyone really.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2009

    A very personal journey, not just time in a rowboat.

    Rather than just catalog what would be in and of itself an interesting challenge, Tori gives us a life journey, full of lessons of the heart and mind. Everyone I know who has read it is both amazed at Tori's tenacity and strength, and awed at her capacity to entertain and open her soul. Well worth the read for anyone, but especially for those who would like an example of a life well lived, and an example that change is always possible.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2009

    My Nightmare/Her Reality

    I don't go into water deeper than my knees unless I can see my feet on the bottom. I definitely don't go on cruises. I say I saw "The Titanic" at a very impressionable age. I live in Louisville, home of Tori Murden McClure, and was very interested in the daily news accounts of her adventures on the "high seas." I was not disappointed, but very impressed, to read her autobiography along with her tales of rowing across the Atlantic. Unbelievably high seas--suspended vertically by her anchor--loss of all communication--encounters with sea-going vessels--and this was just the first try! The book was so riveting that I finished it in 2 days (I do have a life). I was even more impressed to meet her at a book signing at Barnes & Noble. In spite of how she describes herself, she is a slight woman with hands that look incapable of rowing anywhere. And in spite of all her accomplishments and her commanding presence , she is a delightful speaker and very easy to talk to in person. I have recommended this book to my granddaughters, and look forward to another book by Tori Murden McClure.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2009

    Real Woman - Real Journey - Real Read

    Purchased and read the book after hearing the author at a local book signing event. She is personable and her writing is her true voice. Although I knew what the book was about and what would happen, I simply could not put it down. I enjoyed the back and forth and the literary references as a way of gaining more information in a non traditional manner. I hope she writes another book so I can learn more about such a remarkable woman and her real life adventures.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 3, 2013

    A Wonderful Story of Courage and Love on the Ocean!

    I was not aware of this book until I was required to read it as part of a college assignment. Unsure of who Tori McClure was at the time, I had my doubts. However, when I began reading I was quickly proven wrong! This book is an engaging story full of Courage, Adventure and Love! A must read for outdoor enthusiasts and for those trying to find the will to try something new! Don't doubt this book, it is Amazing!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    FASCINATING

    THE AUTHOR WAS THE COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER AT THE COLLEGE IN OUR COMMUNITY THIS YEAR AND I WAS IMPRESSED. THE BOOK WAS ALL I EXPECTED AND MORE AND I HAVE RECOMMENDED IT TO FRIENDS

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2012

    I really enjoyed this book. It helped me understand people who

    I really enjoyed this book. It helped me understand people who do dangerous things.
    I loved the story of her growing up years. I read the book in almost 1 sitting; I had to get some sleep.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 16, 2014

    This is a Must Read folks. True story of amazing woman who was b

    This is a Must Read folks. True story of amazing woman who was both the first female to ski to the south pole and row across the Atlantic, and the lessons in life she learned. I could hardly put it down. Beautifully written, powerful, & inspirational.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2014

    Exciting Read

    A story of true courage and grit. Although the journey is not something most people could understand even WANTING to do - it was a look inside the mind of why someone would want to endure so much pain and suffering. More than just the rowing journey - a journey of the heart. I liked it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2014

    Get out of under three dollars list

    You are too much

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2012

    Engaging!

    This piece of literature was thrilling and kept me reading

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  • Posted December 16, 2011

    Adventurous or crazy? In hindsight does she ask herself the same?

    I read this for book club. Where were this woman's parents? What possesses a human to push and push? You will be so relieved when she "gives up" on her first attempt. The book is anti-climatic after her rescue, but still very thought provoking.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2009

    Great graduation gift!

    This book inspires us to look at education and inter-personal relationships in a brave new way. The author's voice is full of truth. She relates her triumphs and her sorrows but remains hopeful that each of us will join her in making the world a better place. She values individuality and demonstrates that leadership can happen in unexpected moments. I have purchased three copies of this book - all of them as gifts (except for the first copy). Tori Murden McClure is the real "wonder woman" and I feel so lucky that she bravely shares her personal story with all of us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2014

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