Tori McClure Recounts Solo Journey Across the Atlantic

Tori McClure wrestled with temperamental winds and seas as she rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in her 85-day solo journey. Her efforts culminated on December 3, 1999, when McClure became the first female and first American to row across the Atlantic alone, as she told her Andover audience in Kemper Auditorium on Wednesday. The PA Admissions Office and Community Service Office invited McClure to tell the story of her grueling trip across the Atlantic, which spanned over 3,300 miles, to the Andover community this past Wednesday. “While clichéd, the journey was even more important to me than my goal,” said McClure. Before she crossed the Atlantic, however, McClure had already set the record of the first woman to ski across the South Pole by land. McClure took a year off from her doctorate program at the Harvard Divinity School in order to partake in the first land expedition across Antarctica to reach the South Pole. Amid the blinding Antartican ice storms and perpetual whiteness, McClure gained an understanding that “each person is part dust, and part mortal. And the adventures we take make us even more aware of our mortality, while teaching us humility and patience,” she said. After returning from Antarctica and earning her PhD, McClure began to work at a women’s shelter. She realized that many of the people who had the most influence at the shelter were attorneys, and so she decided to attend law school. McClure graduated from law school and then took up work in city government in Louisville, Kentucky. But she soon became disillusioned with the politics that prevented the city from receiving government grants. She then decided to “go for a little row,” she told the Kemper audience. McClure received sponsorship from an Italian watch company that endorsed high-endurance, record-breaking journeys. She decided that she would try to row from North Carolina to France. In a one-woman craft that she dubbed the “American Pearl,” she set out to sea with a light craft filled with dehydrated food and a few books. “What really helped me survive the 85 days of no human contact were the books. The books allowed me to really escape to another setting, even if only briefly,” she said. Unfortunately for McClure, her first attempt to cross the ocean was not successful—the summer of 1998 marked the second deadliest hurricane season in the North Atlantic. On September 5, 1998, McClure faced Hurricane Danielle, a storm that caused her boat to capsize over 11 times. The waves that surrounded McClure were over 70 feet high. After two days of constant turbulence in her “doublewide coffin,” McClure finally sounded the distress signal. She had rowed nearly two-thirds the distance to France, but was rescued by a ship and taken back to Philadelphia. McClure didn’t allow her failure, however, to prevent her from reaching her goal, she said. A year later, on September 13, 1999, McClure set out again, this time from Africa, to try to cross the Atlantic Ocean. She ran into another hurricane, Hurricane Lenny. McClure said that she realized “that I couldn’t see my helplessness as a demon or another obstacle I needed to destroy.” “My helplessness was a part of me, and if I embraced it, even though it was malevolent, it would make me stronger. All of humanity is fraught with obstacles, but love makes humanity bearable,” she said. Her second attempt proved successful, and she set the record on December 3, 1999. The next day, she asked her husband, Mac McClure, to marry her. Chad Green, Director of Community Service, said, “As remarkable as her adventures were, the beauty lied in the fact that they were metaphors for challenges that all of us face. Her message that we all have oceans to cross and we need to preserver through them, that was what stood out the most.” Mia Rossi ‘10, said, “I’ve never rowed or done an adventure to her extent, but her message applied to me because I think that we all think about the limits of humanity.” Marc Cutler, Instructor in Spanish, said, “The idea of being able to take a chance or go on an adventure is something that I feel we all face in all of our lives. It really relates to the basketball quote, ‘You only miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.’ If we don’t take the risks, like she did, we won’t know what we missed.” Peter Merrill, Instructor in Russian, said that he thought McClure’s message about the simplicity of life “once you know what you truly need” was very important. “I think we all focus to much on the superficial and forget that in order to survive in the wild or just survive in general, what little you need,” said Merrill.