Sunk, but undefeated, Brooklyn man tries solo row across Atlantic
A tenacious New Yorker who has been trying for nearly a decade to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean, but has been plagued by bad luck, shipwreck and maybe a little early naiveté, plans to embark on his fourth attempt at the epic journey sometime this week.
Victor Mooney, 48, of Brooklyn, left Wednesday for a roughly 3,000-mile row to the British Virgin Islands.
After landing in April or May, he plans to resupply his tiny boat and row another nearly 1,800-plus miles back to New York. Along the way, he’ll live on freeze-dried military rations, a variety of herbs and green tea and whatever fish he can yank from the sea.
“I feel very confident,” Mooney said by telephone last week from a marina in Maspolamas, Gran Canaria. “Everything is checked, double-checked. … I’m ready.”
This impossibly long, lonely path is one Mooney has set out on before. But so far, his tale reads less like “The Old Man and the Sea,” and more like the one told in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” about a land-obsessed monarch who stubbornly builds his castle on swampland only to have it repeatedly sink or burn.
Mooney’s first trans-Atlantic attempt, in 2006, ended when a 24-foot, wooden rowboat he’d built himself sank off the West African coast just hours after he’d pushed off from a beach in Senegal.
Three years later, he tried again with an oceangoing rowboat boat built by a professional. Its drinking water systems failed after two weeks at sea and he had to be rescued.
In 2011, Mooney set off from the Cape Verde Islands in an even more sophisticated boat. But that vessel, dubbed the Never Give Up, had apparently been damaged in transit and sprang a leak shortly after he put to sea.
He escaped in a life raft then spent two weeks drifting 250 miles on the open ocean.
“It was quite humbling,” Mooney said of the disaster. “The first two days I cried like a baby because I didn’t want to die.”
A devout Roman Catholic, he consoled himself by reading a waterlogged Bible, especially Psalm 91, which promises that angels will protect the faithful. Finally, he was picked up by a cargo ship headed for Brazil.
Before that trip, Mooney had vowed to his wife that it would be his last, whether he made it or not. But he was barely on dry land in Brazil before he was plotting another attempt.
This time, Mooney says he has taken his preparation to another level.
His Brazilian-built oceangoing rowboat, he says, is his best yet. He spent months getting familiar with the craft by training around Long Island. He has better communications equipment aboard. More care was taken packing and shipping the boat. He’s taken it out for extensive trials in the Canary Islands to make sure everything is working.
This time, he’s also getting support throughout the trip from an oceanographer, Jenifer Clark, and meteorologist, Dane Clark, a husband-and-wife team in Maryland whose previous clients have included Diana Nyad, the long-distance swimmer who last year became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage.
Their role will be to make sure Mooney stays on a course that takes advantage of the Atlantic’s ever-changing currents and weather. Rowers who get caught on the wrong side of an eddy can wind up moving backward, they said.
This time of year, Mooney isn’t likely to encounter any major storms, but the sea — as always — will test his mettle.
“It’s not a pleasant row,” Dane Clark said. “There are some pretty big waves that build up in the trade winds. Six-, eight-, nine-foot seas. It’s not going to be easy. He has to be prepared to capsize.”
Mooney’s boat, a capsule-like affair, is designed to offer protection even in high seas. Like all of his attempts, he said, this one is being done in honor of a brother who died of AIDS in 1983.
The New Yorker is one of several people to attempt an east-to-west crossing of the Atlantic this winter. Successful crossings happen annually, according to statistics kept by The Ocean Rowing Society. Failure and high-seas rescues are also common.
“A series of failures, a lot of times, leads you to a victory,” Jenifer Clark said. She cited the travails of Nyad, whose attempts to reach Florida from Cuba began in 1978, and were foiled repeatedly due to jellyfish stings, asthma and bad weather.
Mooney said he is committed to finally making it.
The stubborn king in “The Holy Grail” lost his first three castles to the swamp, as other kings ridiculed him as daft.
“But the fourth one stayed up!” he told his son. “And that’s what you’re gonna get, lad. The strongest castle in these islands.”
Here’s hoping Mooney is just as successful on his fourth try.
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