Oil by Jill Hurley
Michael Hurley is an American author and attorney. He was born in 1958 in Baltimore, Maryland, educated in Baltimore County public schools, and graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1981 with a degree in English Education. He went immediately to law school at St. Louis University, where, in 1983, he and his partner were chosen as the winning moot-court team by a three-judge panel that included Justice William Rehhnquist of the United States Supreme Court and Judges Bright and MacMillian of the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The following year, members of the law school faculty selected Michael to receive the Milton Napier Award of the Lawyers Association of St. Louis as the top student in trial advocacy.
Justice William Rehnquist (center), Judges Bright (left) and MacMillian (right), and moot court partners Bryan Kozen (far left), and Michael (far right) at St. Louis University Law School, 1983.
This footage from the final round of the 1983 Moot Court Competition at St. Louis University Law School is a rare film record of Justice Rehnquist hearing arguments and asking questions from the bench. (Proceedings in the U. S. Supreme Court are not videotaped or filmed.)
After graduating from law school in 1984, Michael began his legal career in Houston as an associate in the litigation section of a thirty-five-lawyer firm then known as Taylor, Hays, Price, McConn & Pickering. He remained with the firm for nearly four years before leaving at the age of 29 in January 1988 to start his own practice. He began hiring associates, paralegals, and staff and was soon joined by his former wife Julie as a law partner. The firm represented Texaco as well as medical liability insurers in malpractice cases and general liability insurers in business and casualty litigation. By 1991, Hurley & Hurley was listed at number 41 on the Houston 100 by the Houston Business Partnership, based on year-over-year revenue growth for the previous three years, making it the highest-ranked law firm on the list.
While in Texas, Michael developed a keen interest in sailing that until then had been an experience only occasionally shared with his older brother Jay while growing up around Chesapeake Bay. In 1985 he bought his first sailboat, then sold it to buy a larger boat before ever buying a house. By 1992 he had qualified for and passed the U. S. Coast Guard’s Captain’s examination, entitling him to carry passengers for hire. That same year, after the birth of his second child, Michael moved to New Bern, North Carolina, in search of a quieter life in a small town where his children could grow up closer to family. During the six-month waiting period to obtain his North Carolina law licence, he worked on his 28-foot sloop, Intrepid, as a sailboat charter captain on the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound.
While building a busy trial practice in New Bern, Michael rekindled a love for wilderness canoeing and camping from his scouting days. As his children grew old enough to join him, he began writing and publishing stories about their expeditions together all over the United States and into Canada. They traveled in the North Woods style, in a wood-canvas canoe loaded with Duluth Packs, sleeping in lean-tos and cooking over an open fire with a reflector oven. Michael’s stories about the meaning and romance of wilderness life grew into a homespun literary gazette known as Hurley’s Journal. Published quarterly for eight years beginning in 1995, the journal offered essays, trip reports and hand-drawn maps. It became very popular among canoeing and wilderness enthusiasts, notably including Laurence Rockefeller, who signed his subscription renewals with an “L” enclosed with a check from the Rockefeller Trust.
The growth of the journal was such that Michael was forced to outsource the printing, mailing and marketing functions. His son Kip, who appeared frequently in photographs in the journal, would be recognized by complete strangers he passed on portage trails in Canada. Reader-rendezvous attended by subscribers and their families were held on lakes and rivers in Wisconsin, the Adirondacks of New York, the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, and the Peace River in Florida. Before the last issue appeared eight years later, more than ten thousand subscribers from forty-eight states had signed up to receive the journal.
In 2003, all of Michael’s essays from the journal were collected in his first book, Letters from the Woods. It was selected as a finalist in the Nature category for Book of the Year by the editors of ForeWord magazine. The Raleigh News & Observer called it “a deep and passionate tale of wilderness adventures. A celebration of universal truths. Well worth reading. Much in the style of Thoreau and maybe a dash of a couple of other Carolina writers, such as Robert Ruark and Jim Dean.” The Wilmington Star News said, “Hurley writes in the grain of Annie Dillard. Like Dillard — or like Hemingway in his Nick Adams stories — his immediate subject is nature but his deeper subject is often something else. The canoe trip becomes a small simulacrum of the larger spiritual journey. Hurley ponders his childhood ‘in an alcoholic family on the outskirts of normalcy,’ and he often thinks and writes about his son Kip, who frequently accompanies him on his excursions. Hurley, like Hemingway, glories in the job cleanly done, and the days stretch out like an endless summer.”
After the success of Letters from the Woods, Michael was signed by a literary agent and went on to secure a book deal with a major New York publisher, Hachette, for the publication of his first memoir, Once Upon a Gypsy Moon, in 2012. It was well received by the trade press and critics, including the Greensboro News and Record, which called it “a good tale, told well and honestly, one that has much to say to us whether or not we ever literally set sail in a small boat.” However, as a reverie on marriage and divorce from a man’s perspective in a predominantly female genre, it never found a wide audience. It failed to sell well enough to earn back Hachette’s optimistic $75,000 advance. For that reason it remains the only book Michael has sold to a major publisher.
Michael went on to greater success with novels that he published under his own imprint, Ragbagger Press. The first of these, The Prodigal, won the $1,000 prize for Book of the Year from Chanticleer Reviews in 2013 and was optioned for film by the former head of Melanie Griffiths’ production studio. ForeWord Reviews called it a “masterpiece of artistic imagination,” and a reviewer for BookTrib listed it among the top five novels of 2013. Michael’s second novel, The Vineyard, received the Eric Hoffer Award for general fiction in 2014. Publishers Weekly called it “a riveting tale,” and Kirkus Reviews described it as “deliriously satisfying.”
After practicing as an insurance and medical malpractice defense-lawyer for five years in New Bern, Michael moved with his young family to Raleigh to accept a position as of counsel with the law firm of Yates, McLamb & Weyher, where he later became an equity partner and practiced for eleven years. He left Yates McLamb on January 1, 2009, taking some of his clients with him to form a boutique defense firm in Raleigh. He was selected for inclusion in North Carolina Super Lawyers (selection criteria at www.superlawyers.com) for ten consecutive years, from the first year the recognition began, in 2006, until his retirement in 2015, when his practice was acquired in a merger with the law firm of Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo.
The Nevermore moored in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia, in the West Indies in 2017.
After negotiating the merger of his law firm and deciding to retire from trial practice at the age of 56, Michael sold his house in Raleigh along with most of his possessions and prepared to travel. For two months beginning in August 2015, he walked all 535 miles of the medeival pilgrimage known as “El Camino de Santiago” (“the Way of St. James”) from St. Jean Pied de Port in the Pyranees of France to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. That experience would become the subject of his second memoir, Tales from the Camino. From Spain, Michael flew to London in October 2015, then traveled by train to Wales, where he had rented a room in a cottage in Ceinws to spend the winter finishing his third novel, The Passage. He met his future wife Jill after returning to London that Christmas for a performance of Handel’s Messiah in the Royal Albert Hall.
In January 2016, Michael began to look in earnest for a sailboat on which to continue his travels after his six-month tourist visa in the UK was due to expire in April. He found a 1967 model of the storied Nicholson 32 for sale at a shipyard in Essex. With a full keel, robust construction, and weighing in at almost 15,000 pounds, “Nick 32s” had been used as sail-training vessels for the Royal Navy. Eight of them had completed circumnavigations. He bought the former Morica and renamed her Nevermore, after Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, as a reminder to himself of his own mortality, the fleeting nature of time, and his renewed commitment to make the most of life.
On May 5, 2016, Michael set out alone aboard Nevermore from Calais, sailing through the English Channel and the busiest shipping lane in the world, out into the Atlantic, and offshore down the coasts of Europe and Africa. He arrived 18 days and 2,000 miles later on a nonstop passage to the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands.
Nevermore spent the summer hurricane season at the dock in La Palma while Michael returned to London. The following December, he flew back to La Palma with Jill to ready Nevermore for her maiden Atlantic crossing and Jill’s first sailing trip of any kind.
Leaving La Palma on January 10, 2017, Michael and Jill covered 3200 miles in 28 days before making landfall at St. Lucia in the West Indies. After the pair spent more than a year together sailing and living aboard in the Grenadines, Martinique, St. Lucia, and Antigua, Michael completed a solo passage of 1500 miles to America, arriving in Miami on March 25, 2018. Jill rejoined him there for the offshore passage to Charleston and North Carolina before they flew back to Europe to walk the Camino together for two months in the summer and fall of 2018. They were married in London in October 2018. They returned the following year to sail Nevermore on a six-day passage offshore around the Outer Banks from North Carolina to Cape Cod, where they spent the summer anchored off of Edgartown at Martha’s Vineyard and in Sag Harbor, New York.
On June 27, 2020, Michael set sail aboard Nevermore from Greenport, New York on Long Island on a solo transatlantic crossing to England. He arrived 35 days later in Plymouth, exactly 400 years after the Mayflower pilgrims had set sail from the same harbour in search of the New World. He created the Across Alone charitable giving campaign to coincide with this voyage, benefitting two sailing charities in the US and the UK that support disabed adults and at-risk youth. Altogether the campaign raised approximately 1500 pounds in small donations. The day after he arrived in Plymouth, Michael sold the Nevermore. He and Jill donated 100 percent of the proceeeds of the sale to The Ahoy Centre Charity in London.
Now living in London with Jill, Michael is working on several books and other projects. He is a member of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Woolwich and shares a continuing devotion to the Holy Rosary that was begun during his solo transatlantic crossing, during which he and others led by his sister Sharon prayed the Rosary each day at three o’clock for the intention of his safe passage.