When Tori Murden shoved off from the Canary Island of Tenerife
in early September, she had one simple--albeit ambitious--goal:
to become the first woman, and the first American, to row solo
and unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean. Murden, in her
23-foot boat, American Pearl, was looking at roughly three
months and 3,000 miles on the open seas with only her arms and
legs for power.
This was not the first time that Murden, 36, a development
director for the planned Muhammad Ali educational center in
Louisville, had tried an Atlantic crossing. In June 1998 Murden
departed from Nags Head, N.C., with hopes of reaching Brest,
France, in American Pearl, which is built of plywood reinforced
with fiberglass and covered with Kevlar. From the start her
journey was rough. After two weeks at sea she capsized and
damaged the boat's satellite communication system. That meant no
contact with the outside world for 78 days.
After 85 days at sea Murden was hit by the tail end of Hurricane
Danielle in the North Atlantic, 950 miles from her destination.
She hunkered down in her dark, coffin-sized cabin while 50-foot
waves threatened to make flotsam out of American Pearl. In the
early hours of Sept. 4, after having capsized five times, she
crawled out of her cabin to retrieve the
emergency-position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) from the bow.
Once on deck she saw the ferocious storm and realized that a
call for help would require some other soul to risk his life
trying to save hers. "I went through six more capsizes that day
with the beacon in my hand without pushing the button," says
Murden, who points out that American Pearl automatically rights
itself and also has a self-bailer.
Remarkably, she survived the storm, though she suffered a
dislocated shoulder and a concussion that forced her to abandon
her effort. She activated the distress beacon and was picked up
by a nearby container ship. Her injuries healed and within a few
months her desire to make the crossing only became stronger. A
year after her near-death experience with Danielle, Murden flew
from Louisville to Los Gigantes, Tenerife, where on Sept. 13 she
launched her second transatlantic attempt, bound for Guadeloupe,
reversing her direction and choosing a route that was shorter,
warmer and less stormy.
December 13, 1999
Two months into her east-to-west odyssey Murden was on target to
break the world record--73 1/3 days--for a solo crossing of the
Atlantic in a rowboat, set by Sidney Genders of Great Britain in
1970. That's when things started going wrong. The wind shifted,
and Murden found herself rowing against heavy seas. Sleeping was
difficult, and conditions worsened. On Nov. 15 Murden suffered
through an interminable night. "It was about 110 degrees inside
the cabin and very damp," she wrote. "I feel as if I have been
body-slammed by the governor of Minnesota, several hundred
times." Later that day Murden spoke to Diane Stege, a member of
the support team in Louisville that was monitoring her progress.
Stege explained the cause of the foul weather: Hurricane Lenny.
In the days that followed, Murden waited and wondered if Lenny
would come her way. On Nov. 20 she learned that Lenny, which had
been downgraded to a tropical storm, was heading straight for
her. Murden battened down the hatches in a torrential downpour.
By nightfall she had crawled into her cabin and changed into dry
clothing. Within minutes her boat capsized and then righted
Inside the cabin she worked to keep the boat upright. "It was a
really loud storm," says Murden, who set out sea anchors to keep
the boat from drifting too far. "Every time my anchor lines
tightened up, it sounded like a gunshot or a cannon going off."
She calmed herself by singing hymns at the top of her lungs. By
dawn the worst was over.
Eager by then to finish, Murden rowed through most nights. Early
last Friday morning she came into Bas-du-Fort on the southeast
coast of Guadeloupe. She had been alone on the ocean for 82 days
and 2,961 miles. Within hours of her arrival Murden was being
interviewed by CNN: "There are times that are incredibly
sublime, and you feel like you're at once that puny speck of
nothing and part of a grand universe. There are other times when
it's frightening and just lonely. And so along the roller
coaster there are grand moments and sad moments, but I wouldn't
trade them for anything."
Her next goal? "A shower, and a nap."
"I feel I've been body-slammed by the governor of Minnesota,
hundreds of times."