US man rows across Atlantic, reaches Caribbean
In this undated photo provided by G.C. Media, Victor Mooney rows the Spirit of Malabo in the Atlantic Ocean. Mooney who hopes to cross the Atlantic Ocean in honor of his brother who died of AIDS in 1983, passed the halfway mark, Sunday, May 11, 2014. He has tried the same feat three other times, without success. (AP Photo/G.C. Media)
FILE - In this May 7, 2006 file photo, Victor Mooney prays before climbing aboard his rowboat bound for New York, from Goree Island near Dakar, Senegal. The 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 naivetÃ©, plans to embark on his fourth attempt at the epic journey sometime this week. (AP Photo/Hilary Heuler, File)
This undated photo provided by G.C. Media shows Victor Mooney on the Spirit of Malabo in the Atlantic Ocean. Mooney who hopes to cross the Atlantic Ocean in honor of his brother who died of AIDS in 1983, passed the halfway mark, Sunday, May 11, 2014. He has tried the same feat three other times, without success. (AP Photo/G.C. Media)
This photo provided by GC Media shows AIDS activist, Victor Mooney of Queens sprinkles some iron ore on the Spirit of Malabo during the send-off ceremony for his Brazilian built rowboat at the Gateway Marina Sunday Dec. 1, 2013. Later this year, Mr. Mooney will make his fourth attempt to row across the Atlantic Ocean to encourage voluntary HIV testing from Las Palmas, Canary Islands to New York. (AP Photo/GC Media)
Victor Mooney seen on his rowboat bound for New York, aiming to become the first African-American to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean leaving from Goree Island situated around 5 kms from Dakar, Senegal Sunday, May 7, 2006. A Brooklynite with a hodgepodge of causes set off from West Africa Sunday in a rowboat bound for New York _ aiming to become the first African-American to row solo across the Atlantic. Victor Mooney said his voyage is about adventure and faith, plus an awareness-raising trip for AIDS issues in Africa and a memorial to a one-time slave route. (AP Photo/Hilary Heuler)
Victor Mooney, 39, practices on a rowing machine in shackles at the Slave House on Goree Island, just off the coast of the Senegalese capital, Dakar, on Feb. 5, 2004. Mooney is planning to row across the Atlantic Ocean to New York next year to raise money for HIV/AIDS awareness. (AP Photo/Todd Pitman)
Goree Island, SENEGAL: US rower African-American Victor Mooney leaves 07 May 2006 the island of Goree, for centuries one of the largest slave-trading centres in west Africa, to row across the Atlantic to raise money to fight AIDS and to memorialise his slave ancestors who died in these same waters and those who were deported from the continent to work in plantations in the Caribbean and in Americas. The 8,000-mile (12,900-kilometre) journey, entitled 'Goree Challenge', is due to take him to the United States via South America and the Caribbean in a 24-foot (7.3 metre) boat. Mooney, who expects his trip to take some seven to eight months, went to the UNESCO World Heritage site House of Slaves and paid tribute to its former prisoners. AFP PHOTO / SEYLLOU (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Victor Mooney seen preparing his rowboat bound for New York, aiming to become the first African-American to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean leaving from Goree Island situated around 5 kms from Dakar, Senegal Sunday, May 7, 2006. A Brooklynite with a hodgepodge of causes set off from West Africa Sunday in a rowboat bound for New York _ aiming to become the first African-American to row solo across the Atlantic.Victor Mooney said his voyage is about adventure and faith, plus an awareness-raising trip for AIDS issues in Africa and a memorial to a one-time slave route.(AP Photo/Hilary Heuler)
By DANICA COTO
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - 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 recalled her telling him.
Now the 48-year-old Brooklyn native has finally completed the roughly 3,000-mile (4,800 kilometer) journey.
Mooney was recovering Saturday in the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Maarten, a day after reaching shore and ending a 128-day ordeal during which he lost 80 pounds (36 kilograms).
The trip was fueled by his desire to bring attention to the need for HIV testing and to honor a brother who died of AIDS in 1983.
"Not everyone has to row across the Atlantic. You can wear a red ribbon," he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "We all have a responsibility to do something."
On Feb. 19, Mooney left the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa in high spirits. But those faded as big waves and violent currents began to toss his 24-foot (7-meter) boat around, alarming nearby boaters 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 paused, and the devout Roman Catholic, who had placed crucifixes all over his boat, reminded himself to be still.
The weather began to improve, and Mooney also received help from an oceanographer and meteorologist, among those he chatted with by radio while crossing the ocean, saying he never felt alone.
The African-American recalled that his journey took the path of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
"I asked my ancestors also for help to push me along," he said.
Mooney settled into a routine, awaking at 4 a.m., then rowing for about an hour at a time and taking 30-minute breaks until 7 p.m. But the ocean remained rough for most of the journey, often erasing his progress.
"Sometimes you can row 10 miles (16 kilometers), and then you wake up and you're 15 miles (24 kilometers) behind," Mooney said. "You get those days, and you're like, 'Oh, man.'"
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."
He felt the hit and scrambled to repair the damage while the shark chased fish milling underneath the barnacles attached to his boat. He reminded himself to be still again and prayed, thinking about his wife and other supporters.
"Sometimes just putting on deodorant, smelling that fresh deodorant was encouraging, inspirational," he said.
As he neared the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Maarten, he had a final conversation with a nearby tanker.
"He 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 140 pounds (64 kilograms) since 6th, 7th grade," he said with a laugh.
In St. Maarten, he plans to eat well and replenish his energy with help from doctors and supporters, including a government team from Anguilla - his intended destination - who visited him on Saturday.
Once he gains back his strength, Mooney plans to row to the British Virgin Islands and then another 1,800-plus miles (2,900-plus kilometers) to New York and eventually home to Queens, where he runs a nonprofit South Africa arts organization. It's a journey he said he never plans to do again, but he urged people to get tested for HIV and to keep fighting to find a cure for AIDS.
He recalled an audience that supporters arranged for him with Pope John Paul II in the early 2000s.
"When John Paul gave me his blessings on World Aids Day and said, 'Row,' that always stayed in my mind,' he said.