ST. PETER — It’s hard to imagine what would possess a woman to spend three months alone in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean, risking her life and sanity to become the first woman to ever row across the Atlantic.
It took Tori Murden McClure a long time herself to figure out what her reasons were. She said it was just something she needed to do, believing mental enlightenment would come. But actually, the lessons learned were of the heart, as she realized how emotionally stupid she’d been.
“I finally figured out what I was suppose to learn,” McClure said Thursday night at Gustavus Adolphus College. “Love and friendship are good things. I had shut love out.”
McClure is an author, explorer and college president at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky. In addition to becoming the first woman to row across the Atlantic in 1999, she was also one of just two women and six Americans who were the first to travel over land to the geographic South Pole.
Her book, “A Pearl in the Storm,” is the 2013 Reading in Common book at Gustavus and the St. Peter Reads selection. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in Christ Chapel to hear McClure speak and read from her book, which is about her two journeys across the ocean in a 23-foot plywood boat with no motor or sail.
It took two journeys, McClure explained in her “CliffsNotes version,” because her first attempt in June 1998 failed as she left the coast of North Carolina, bound for France, and rowed right into Hurricane Danielle.
“I didn’t know the name at the time; I just knew it was really bad,” she said.
Locked in the water-tight cabin, she endured huge waves that capsized the boat numerous times, including end over end, she said. McClure endured Danielle, not wanting to endanger the life of someone else if she called for help. She waited until the next hurricane to make the call because the waves weren’t as big, she said.