PORTLAND, Maine » A South Carolina novelist lost his storm-battered sailboat but saved his marriage during a failed Atlantic crossing that ended in his rescue by students aboard a maritime college’s training ship.
Michael Hurley’s 30-foot ketch, The Prodigal, was abandoned and left drifting 500 miles south of Newfoundland — about 2,000 miles short of his goal of Ireland — when he was rescued last week by students and staff from the Maine Maritime Academy.
Hurley and his wife, Susan, had decided to split up, but they began communicating again while he was on his journey. The rescue came three days after the couple decided to renew their vows, he said.
"We just had come to a point where we needed something to move us off dead center. This apparently was it. So there’s a silver lining in that. This was the impetus that helped us to change our marriage," he said.
The academy’s training vessel has responded to maritime emergencies in the past but Wednesday’s episode marked the first rescue by students on a training cruise, said Nathan Gandy, commandant in charge of midshipmen. The vessel returned to Portland, Maine on Saturday.
Hurley said his boat had been battered by back-to-back storms and was taking on water about 1,200 miles into his trip to Ireland.
Gabrielle Wells, of Kittery, Maine, was the student officer of the deck when the alert was received. The crew realized Hurley was about 29 miles away but couldn’t raise him on the radio, she said.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, hopefully," she said. "It was nerve-racking because we kept calling and calling and we had no answer. So we didn’t know if he was in his sailboat or in the water," she added.
Hurley, who lives outside Charleston, South Carolina, named his boat for his first novel, The Prodigal. The vessel was presumed to have sunk.
He said he had intended to draw on solo sailing adventure to Ireland to provide some fodder for a new novel, The Passage.
Now he said he and his wife intend to travel to Ireland later this summer to renew their vows.
"The Passage is about a guy who sails out of Charleston and discovers he has a stowaway on board. And he’s sailing to Ireland. This has altered the plot line of the book a bit," he said.