“Feeling very low. Violent motion of boat threatens injury w/ every task. Ruff seas, rain. Mental fatigue. Demons of failed marriage, estranged children R here.”

That was the final text message writer Michael Hurley sent to fans tracking his solo, transAtlantic voyage from South Carolina to Ireland before determining he could not go on.

About 1,200 miles into the 3,400-mile journey he was taking as research for an upcoming novel, Hurley discovered Wednesday morning that the hull of his 30-foot sailboat, Prodigal, had been damaged in the previous night’s storm.

“When I woke up that morning, the cabin was full of water,” he said Saturday. “I couldn’t make any progress.”

Hurley’s own story could have ended in tragedy had it not been for the fortuitous, nearby presence of a Maine Maritime Academy training ship, the State of Maine. Within less than two hours, the training ship and its crew located the disabled Prodigal and took Hurley safely aboard.

The Charleston, South Carolina-based author and his rescuers, most of whom are trainees at MMA, docked at Ocean Gateway Terminal in Portland on Saturday following a three-day saga that Hurley described as “less eventful than it might have been.”

The State of Maine was about 29 nautical miles from the sailboat when Hurley discovered his predicament. The training vessel already was on its way to Portland before continuing on to Cobh, Ireland; Norfolk, Virginia; and Searsport, ending in Castine, where the academy is based, on July 27.

The State of Maine’s captain, Leslie Eadie, was contacted by the U.S. Coast Guard Regional Coordination Center in Boston regarding a sailboat that had been battered by storms and was taking on water. Hurley, the only person aboard, had radioed for help.

“They alerted vessels in the area, and we were one of the closest,” Eadie said. “He was actually just 10 miles east of our intended course toward Portland.”

When the ship reached Hurley’s boat, he was “looking pretty tired and pretty frazzled,” Eadie said. Fortunately the author, a retired attorney and experienced sailor, did not appear to be suffering from any serious physical injury, he said.

The State of Maine’s crew lowered a 50-gallon bucket three times for Hurley to place as many of his belongings as he could fit before taking him aboard and leaving behind the sinking Prodigal. Hurley said he remembered to grab his passport but forgot to retrieve his wallet.

“I had to call from the ship and cancel my credit cards,” he said.

The 500-foot, 16,000-ton training ship was originally commissioned as the USNS Tanner and served as a Navy oceanographic research vessel before being converted in 1997 to accommodate the training needs of the college. It is the fourth vessel to bear the name State of Maine.

Cadet Chief Mate Gabrielle Wells and Cadet Second Mate Jacob Merk were two of the students aboard the ship when it received word of Hurley’s distress call.

Merk, a senior at the academy from Cincinnati, said it was the first time he had been involved in a real-life rescue.

“It’s what you pray for – practice,” he said.

Wells, a senior from Kittery, said the rescue operation taught her the value of staying organized and maintaining good communication among the crew.

“Be prepared,” she said.

Hurley, who is 57, said he was impressed by the skill and professionalism of the crew members, most of whom are in their late teens or early 20s.

On the three-day voyage to Portland, he had the opportunity to speak with the students, share meals with them and watch them at work.

“It was a privilege to sail with them,” he said.

Hurley said his brush with disaster will alter the plot of his next novel, “The Passage,” and most likely will bring about the demise of his long-distance sailing hobby.

It also has rejuvenated his struggling marriage.

“My wife tells me she wants a pop-up camper, so I take it we’re going in a different direction,” he said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

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