New York oarsman Victor Mooney crosses Atlantic at fourth attempt

New Yorker survives shark attack and alarms tanker crews on epic trip

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 12:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 12:43am


Three times, Victor Mooney tried to row across the Atlantic. Three times he failed.

One boat sank. Another lost its freshwater system. A third sprang a leak and left him drifting on a life raft for two weeks.

As he planned for a fourth attempt, his wife made it clear it would be the last.

"I'm going to give you all the support you need, but this is it. We have to close the book on this one," Mooney said she told him.

Now the 48-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, has finally completed the 4,800km journey.

Mooney was recovering in the Dutch Caribbean island of St Maarten after reaching shore and ending a 128-day ordeal during which he lost 36kg. The trip was fuelled by his desire to bring attention to the need for HIV testing and to honour a brother who died of Aids in 1983.

"Not everyone has to row across the Atlantic. You can wear a red ribbon," Mooney said. "We all have a responsibility to do something."

Mooney left the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa in high spirits on February 19. But those soon faded as big waves and violent currents began to toss his seven-metre boat about, alarming nearby crews who radioed him.

"It was a tanker who said, 'Do you know where you're at? Are you OK? Are you in your right mind?'" Mooney recalled.

He settled into a routine, awaking at 4am, then rowing for about an hour at a time and taking 30-minute breaks until 7pm.

But the ocean remained rough for most of the journey, often erasing his progress. He would devour several portions of freeze-dried food in one sitting and eventually ran out.

He resorted to fishing until his tackle line broke, so he began to scoop fish up with nets or rely on flying fish jumping into his boat.

Then a shark attacked his boat and punctured it. "I can remember like it was yesterday," Mooney said. "They circle your boat. They go around, they go under, they go around."

As he neared St Maarten, he had a final conversation with a nearby tanker. "The captain said, 'Mooney, I have a big ship, do you need a rescue?'" he recalled. "I said, 'No, I don't need a rescue. I want a burger. Do you have a burger for me?'"

Medical officials have not yet allowed Mooney to eat that burger, feeding him instead small portions of oatmeal and light sandwiches as he recovers.

"I haven't weighed 64kg since sixth, seventh grade," he said.

Once he recovers, Mooney plans to row to the British Virgin Islands and then another 2,900-plus kilometres to New York and eventually home to Queens, where he runs a non-profit South Africa arts organisation.

But that will be it. It's a journey he will never do again.