In his memoir, Once Upon A Gypsy Moon, Michael C. Hurley shares his deepest feelings of sorrow and longing as well as the discoveries of joy, dreams, and love realized during his passage. This is not a coming-of-age story but the story of a man searching his soul to find what is worth saving. He opens his heart and bears all, causing readers to feel the emotions of his words.
Recently divorced, jobless, and desperate to find himself and redemption, 51-year-old Hurley sets out solo from Annapolis on a 1,000-mile journey to Nassau aboard his aging 32-foot sloop, Gypsy Moon. Although he admits that many thought him crazy, he believed that escaping his complex world was a way of focusing on finding out what was most important in life.
He writes of Gypsy Moon: “ … her worth to me was measured more in dreams than dollars. She was a magic carpet … my partner … a tangible reminder that, despite all that had occurred to make my life so much smaller, there was still a reason to dream big dreams … ”
As his personal journey begins, Hurley is lonely and self-doubting. After encountering his first storm, he realizes that it is time to commit to the voyage offshore — and he finds he is terrified to even start. But he is also determined to go on, and so the journey begins. He encounters many stops and starts and in no way does he experience smooth sailing.
While stopped in port to have repairs completed, through an online dating service Hurley connects with a woman who just happens to live near his next planned destination. After corresponding and finding they have much in common, he meets Susan, who becomes the love of his life and, later, his wife.
Hurley has his most traumatic experience during the last leg of his journey — sailing (again singlehanded) from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, to Panama, a 1,000-mile passage via Cuba and Haiti. On the second day of his trip, he has a change of heart and decides instead go north to Miami — and then go home for good. He attempts to reach Susan, but his satellite phone won’t work well enough for him to tell her of his change of direction.
Then the wind and the wave conditions worsen. Hurley’s head is slammed against the cabin top, and he realizes too late that his sails need to be reefed. The jib halyard splits at the top of the mast and the jib collapses and things continue to go wrong. He finds himself dead in the water, some 300 miles from Jamaica and 600 miles from South America, with no jib sail or engine.
It seems a miracle when not one, but two, ships radio that they are near enough to save Hurley. Sadly, he has no choice in the end but to abandon Gypsy Moon, possibly the most difficult decision he makes throughout his over two-year journey.
Hurley’s writing prose is revealing and poetic, making his memoir a great read for those who go to sea, and those who only dream of going.
“A ship’s wake tells you where she has been, not where she is going.”