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TED2015

Dawn Landes: A song for my hero, the woman who rowed into a hurricane

March 18, 2015

Singer-songwriter Dawn Landes tells the story of Tori Murden McClure, who dreamed of rowing across the Atlantic in a small boat -- but whose dream was almost capsized by waves the size of a seven-story building. Through video, story and song, Landes imagines the mindset of a woman alone in the midst of the vast ocean. (This talk was part of a session at TED2015 guest-curated by Pop-Up Magazine: popupmagazine.com or @popupmag on Twitter.)

Dawn Landes - Singer-songwriter
Dawn Landes, with her bright, supple voice and her restless imagination, is drawn to create and collaborate. A master of singer-songwriter pop, she is now writing a musical called "Row." Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
In June of 1998,
00:12
Tori Murden McClure left Nags Head,
North Carolina for France.
00:14
That's her boat, the American Pearl.
00:19
It's 23 feet long and just six feet across
00:22
at its widest point.
00:24
The deck was the size of a cargo bed
of a Ford F-150 pickup truck.
00:26
Tori and her friends built it by hand,
00:31
and it weighed about 1,800 pounds.
00:34
Her plan was to row it alone
00:36
across the Atlantic Ocean --
00:39
no motor, no sail --
00:41
something no woman and no American
had ever done before.
00:43
This would be her route:
00:47
over 3,600 miles across
the open North Atlantic Ocean.
00:48
Professionally, Tori worked
as a project administrator
00:52
for the city of Louisville, Kentucky,
00:55
her hometown,
00:57
but her real passion was exploring.
00:59
This was not her first big expedition.
01:01
Several years earlier, she'd become
the first woman to ski to the South Pole.
01:04
She was an accomplished rower in college,
01:08
even competed for a spot
on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team,
01:10
but this, this was different.
01:14
(Video) (Music) Tori Murden McClure:
Hi. It's Sunday, July 5.
01:18
Sector time 9 a.m.
01:24
So that's Kentucky time now.
01:26
Dawn Landes: Tori made
these videos as she rowed.
01:29
This is her 21st day at sea.
01:32
At this point, she'd covered
over 1,000 miles,
01:34
had had no radio contact
in more than two weeks
01:37
following a storm that disabled
all her long-range communications systems
01:39
just five days in.
01:43
Most days looked like this.
01:44
At this point, she'd rowed
over 200,000 strokes,
01:46
fighting the current and the wind.
01:50
Some days, she traveled
as little as 15 feet.
01:53
Yeah.
01:56
And as frustrating as those days were,
01:58
other days were like this.
02:00
(Video) TMM: And I want to show you
my little friends.
02:03
DL: She saw fish, dolphins,
02:06
whales, sharks,
02:11
and even some sea turtles.
02:14
After two weeks with no human contact,
02:17
Tori was able to contact
a local cargo ship
02:19
via VHF radio.
02:21
(Video) TMM: Do you guys
have a weather report, over?
02:24
Man: Heading up to a low
02:28
ahead of you but it's heading,
02:31
and you're obviously going northeast
02:34
and there's a high behind us.
02:35
That'd be coming
02:37
east-northeast also.
02:39
TMM: Good.
02:42
DL: She's pretty happy to talk
to another human at this point.
02:43
(Video) TMM: So weather report
says nothing dramatic
02:47
is going to happen soon.
02:50
DL: What the weather report
didn't tell her
02:52
was that she was rowing right into
the path of Hurricane Danielle
02:54
in the worst hurricane season
on record in the North Atlantic.
02:57
(Video) TMM: Just sprained my ankle.
03:03
There's a very strong wind
from the east now.
03:06
It's blowing about.
03:10
It's blowing!
03:13
After 12 days of storm
03:15
I get to row for four hours
03:18
without a flagging wind.
03:20
I'm not very happy right now.
03:22
As happy as I was this morning,
03:24
I am unhappy now, so ...
03:26
DL: After nearly three months at sea,
03:32
she'd covered over 3,000 miles.
03:34
She was two thirds of the way there,
03:36
but in the storm, the waves were
the size of a seven-story building.
03:38
Her boat kept capsizing.
03:42
Some of them were pitchpole capsizes,
flipping her end over end,
03:44
and rowing became impossible.
03:47
(Video) TMM: It's 6:30 a.m.
03:50
I'm in something big, bad and ugly.
03:53
Two capsizes.
03:56
Last capsize, I took the rib
off the top of my ceiling with my back.
03:59
I've had about six capsizes now.
04:08
The last one was a pitchpole.
04:11
I have the Argus beacon with me.
04:14
I would set off the distress signal,
04:17
but quite frankly, I don't think they'd
ever be able to find this little boat.
04:18
It's so far underwater right now,
04:23
the only part that's showing
pretty much is the cabin.
04:24
It's about 10 a.m.
04:29
I've lost track of the number of capsizes.
04:32
I seem to capsize about
every 15 minutes.
04:34
I think I may have broken my left arm.
04:37
The waves
04:45
are tearing the boat to shreds.
04:46
I keep praying because
04:50
I'm not sure I'm going
to make it through this.
04:51
DL: Tori set off her distress beacon
04:54
and was rescued
by a passing container ship.
04:57
They found her abandoned boat
two months later adrift near France.
05:00
I read about it in the newspaper.
05:04
In 1998, I was a high school student
living in Louisville, Kentucky.
05:07
Now, I live in New York City.
I'm a songwriter.
05:11
And her bravery stuck with me,
and I'm adapting her story
05:14
into a musical called "Row."
05:17
When Tori returned home,
05:24
she was feeling disheartened,
05:26
she was broke.
05:28
She was having a hard time
making the transition
05:29
back into civilization.
05:31
In this scene, she sits at home.
05:35
The phone is ringing,
her friends are calling,
05:38
but she doesn't know how to talk to them.
05:40
She sings this song.
It's called "Dear Heart."
05:42
(Guitar)
05:45
When I was dreaming,
05:52
I took my body
05:55
to beautiful places
05:59
I'd never been.
06:02
I saw Gibraltar,
06:05
and stars of Kentucky
06:09
burned in the moonlight,
06:12
making me smile.
06:15
And when I awoke here,
06:19
the sky was so cloudy.
06:22
I walked to a party
06:25
where people I know
06:29
try hard to know me
06:32
and ask where I've been,
06:36
but I can't explain
06:39
what I've seen to them.
06:42
Ah, listen, dear heart.
06:46
Just pay attention,
06:53
go right from the start.
06:56
Ah, listen, dear heart.
07:00
You can fall off the map,
07:06
but don't fall apart.
07:08
Ooh ooh ooh,
07:13
ah ah ah ah ah.
07:15
Ah ah,
07:20
ah ah ah.
07:23
When I was out there,
07:26
the ocean would hold me,
07:29
rock me and throw me,
07:32
light as a child.
07:36
But now I'm so heavy,
07:39
nothing consoles me.
07:42
My mind floats like driftwood,
07:46
wayward and wild.
07:49
Ah, listen, dear heart.
07:52
Just pay attention,
07:59
go right from the start.
08:02
Ah, listen, dear heart.
08:06
You can fall off the map,
08:12
but don't fall apart.
08:16
Ooh.
08:19
Eventually, Tori starts to get
her feet under her.
08:26
She starts hanging out
with her friends again.
08:29
She meets a guy and falls
in love for the first time.
08:32
She gets a new job working
for another Louisville native,
08:36
Muhammad Ali.
08:39
One day, at lunch with her new boss,
08:41
Tori shares the news
that two other women
08:44
are setting out to row
across the mid-Atlantic,
08:46
to do something that she
almost died trying to do.
08:49
His response was classic Ali:
08:53
"You don't want to go through life
08:56
as the woman who almost
rowed across the ocean."
08:58
He was right.
09:01
Tori rebuilt the American Pearl,
09:03
and in December of 1999,
09:05
she did it.
09:07
(Applause)
(Guitar)
09:09
Thank you.
09:16
(Applause)
09:19

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Dawn Landes - Singer-songwriter
Dawn Landes, with her bright, supple voice and her restless imagination, is drawn to create and collaborate. A master of singer-songwriter pop, she is now writing a musical called "Row."

Why you should listen
Dawn Landes is a singer-songwriter whose thoughtful music you might have heard if you watch Bored to Death, House, Gossip Girl or The Good Wife. Along with releasing five albums since 2005 (and an EP inspired by yé-yé, ‘60s French pop music), she’s a frequent collaborator with contemporaries such as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Norah Jones and composer Nico Muhly.

She has appeared with the Boston Pops and the NYC Ballet and in Lincoln Center’s prestigious American Songbook Series, and spent the summer of 2014 working on a musical about fellow Louisville native Tori Murden McClure’s quest to become the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean.
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