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For years now, the 45-year-old New Yorker has believed that for all its vastness, the Atlantic Ocean is ripe for conquest; That a lone man pulling a pair of oars can shove off an African beach and slowly, steadily, row partway around the globe to New York harbor.
This is an idea he has refused to relinquish, despite repeated failure. When the 24-foot wooden rowboat he built by hand for his first trans-Atlantic attempt in 2006 sank just hours into his trip from Senegal, he went out and got another, built by a professional. When that boat’s drinking water systems failed two weeks into his 2nd attempt in 2009, necessitating a rescue, he chalked it up to bad luck, rather than fate telling him “No.”
Now, he is trying again.
Mooney departed from a marina in the Cape Verdean islands at about 7:30 a.m. Saturday, according to the local port captain. He pointed his bow west toward the Caribbean, and if his luck holds, and his latest boat remains afloat, and his back stays strong, and he doesn’t go mad with loneliness, he plans to land in Brooklyn in six to eight months.
Speaking by telephone from the island of Sao Vicente on Thursday, Mooney said he was ready for the nearly 5,000-mile trip. He had already begun sleeping on his oceangoing rowboat to get his sea legs.
“We did some test runs. All the electrical systems are OK,” he said. “I’m enjoying these last minutes.”
Succeed or fail, there will be no fourth attempt, he vowed.
“That was the deal with my wife,” said Mooney, who has been on leave from his job as a publicist at the ASA Institute of Business and Computer Technology. “She said, ‘Victor, this is it. Write it down. This is a family contract.”
It is, of course, possible to row across the Atlantic. George Harbo and Gabriel Samuelsen of Norway did it first it 1896, traveling from Manhattan to La Havre, France. An Englishman named John Fairfax became the first to do it solo in 1969, sculling from the Canary Islands to Florida’s Hollywood Beach in 180 days. The Ocean Rowing Society lists a handful of successful attempts each year, most involving trips from the coast of Africa to the Caribbean.
Mooney plans an even more ambitious route. After reaching the Caribbean, he intends to turn north and row up the U.S. coastline to New York, nearly doubling the length of his trip.
That’s the plan, anyway. Mooney said that as “a sensible sea person,” he realizes the trip will take a tremendous amount of effort and he may have to put ashore short of his goal. Merely crossing to an island like Antigua from Cape Verde is a journey of 2,500 miles.
“I would prefer to go all the way to New York,” he said. “I’m fully stocked and prepared to go the whole way.”
The boat, he said, is a sound one, although its history, like his, is tinged with failure.
Originally called the Caliste, the 21-footer was left adrift by its original owner, the Frenchman Charlie Girard, after he abandoned an attempt to row from Cape Cod in Massachusetts to France. Girard was only 150 miles offshore when he gave up. A Canadian tugboat recovered the vessel. Girard later told the Cape Cod Times he couldn’t bear the psychological strain of the voyage. He had been at sea for just 10 days.
Girard donated the boat to Mooney, who rechristened it the Never Give Up – a sappy name, but one fitting its owner.
Mooney, a religious man who comes across as heartbreakingly earnest, says he is rowing to raise awareness of AIDS and HIV, and hopes that “for every stroke I take, someone gets tested.”
One of his brothers died of AIDS in 1983. Mooney is rowing in his memory. A second brother is HIV positive.
A native of Freeport, on New York’s Long Island, who learned to row as a kid and has been making long journeys in area waters for years, Mooney has now been raising money, building boats, training and talking about HIV almost continuously since 2003.
At sea, he will be alone in every sense. Supporters will not be following behind him in a motorized craft. He has satellite phones on board capable of transmitting data, but he won’t be spending his time blogging or chatting with friends back home. He said reporters wouldn’t be able to reach him once he left Cape Verde.
“I’m preparing for the isolation,” he said.
As for the danger of an ocean crossing, Mooney said he is confident he has the best equipment. Powered by a wind turbine and solar panels, his rowboat has two radar systems, two phone systems, a carbon fiber hull, three devices to make fresh water (a broken desalination machine is what doomed his 2009 expedition), and a hold stuffed with oats, organic food and 200 bottles of Coca Cola. It is also self-righting, in case he capsizes in a squall.
“I remain humble and cautious,” he added.
Indeed. A few days ago, Mooney sent out a tweet saying he still needed to raise the last $100 needed to pay for supplies and a tow out of the harbor.
People interested in following his voyage can check his position, tracked by global positioning system, at http://www.goreechallenge.com .