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US man rows across Atlantic, reaches Caribbean



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.

Join the discussion

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dbear4u2 June 29 2014 at 4:32 AM

Fantastic. I wonder if his welfare benefits kept coming while he was doing this. Maybe if he used his time and energy and got a job ...... At least we can't say he is lazy. Kept him out of the hood and robbing people, so that's a good thing.

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6 replies
dreamgirlnj2006 June 29 2014 at 10:49 AM

Every time I look at 'comments' made on articles in huffpost or yahoo, I shouldn't be shocked at what I see. No racism in USA, nope... a man can't even honor his brother without someone bringing race into it. And the 'african american' comment? That connotation has been given to blacks, not something we 'adopted'; and to the one who mentioned the shackles - did you even read the article? He was in a museum about slavery and was practicing, AND getting a feel for what black brought in from Africa felt. Yup, no more racism in this country. WTF... Bobby Womack died and most of the comments online were about him being black.... people, go get a life. Stop reading articles that you think may 'upset' you. And stop making comments to incite even more hate in the country... a perfectly good article about a strong man having a goal, and you WHITE PEOPLE can only talk about his color.... nice...

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2 replies
Kate dreamgirlnj2006 June 29 2014 at 3:03 PM

I agree that it's pretty disgusting, but let's not go to another extreme and start blaming all white people. I'm white, and was so upset about Bobby Womack yesterday that I played Across 110th Street about 30 times in a row. I am also very upset by the people on this thread who are disparaging the remarkable thing that Mr. Mooney did; it was an amazing accomplishment, and I sure hope that on the next leg he'll be able to fit more food on his boat; losing that much weight is dangerous.

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Harvey & Ann dreamgirlnj2006 June 29 2014 at 4:54 PM

ONLY CERTAIN STUPID WHITE PEOPLE think that way. Most Americans now believe rgat we are all equal and should be treated with equal respect.

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forkliftman53 June 29 2014 at 9:58 AM

must be nice not to have to work instead just wasteing money

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3 replies
vendelavee June 29 2014 at 9:30 AM

And how did he get an extended leave of absence from his employer to do this? Do he have a regular job at all?

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2 replies
Gayle vendelavee June 29 2014 at 11:27 AM

Read the article dofus.

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Kate vendelavee June 29 2014 at 2:08 PM

If you read the article (which you obviously didn't bother to do, just jumped straight into making an idiotic comment), you would see that he runs an arts center in New York. He's the boss-- he can take time if he wants to.

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Beth June 29 2014 at 7:47 AM

Way to Go! And thank you for not giving up...you kept on trying and what a blessing to have a supportive spouse.
What an honorable thing to do for your late brother and to bring awareness to the HIV/AIDS ongoing crisis. God Bless the both of you.

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eisenstodt June 29 2014 at 1:51 PM

Thank you for trying and trying and completeing this. For your brother, for my friend Doug who died of AIDS in '85, for Michael ('87), and my b-i-l in '97. If now people would remember still ....

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FRED June 29 2014 at 6:12 AM

AIDS, a terrible disease, but no one that should be so political. We have spent BILLIONS on a disease that, for the most part, is contracted in ways most of us will never be part of. The money should have been spent on more diseases that affect the majority of people. If the gays didn't force the Red Cross to take their blood donations in the '80 before there was a test for it, the transfer into the normal population would have been either much less or none at all. Now that is a shame and a sham.

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1 reply
dreamgirlnj2006 FRED June 29 2014 at 10:54 AM

my my Fred, I didn't know that's how AIDS started.. thank YOU for your enlightening information. I was there in the 80's, can't remember any 'gays' jumping up and down at Red Cross saying 'take my blood, take my blood', but yup, that's how AIDS started in the USA. They sure did start a horrible disease in our 'normal population', didn't they? What an A..hole...
Ignorance.....

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oujoou June 29 2014 at 4:56 AM

THIS is a cool story . . rowing across an ocean for a brother who died of AIDS and to show the breadth of the human spirit. An African American too. :) Umm . . about the photo with the chains and the leather collar. :( Slavery is over. It's been over for a long time. Who put the chains on in the photo? YOU did. But if it gets you up in the morning . . so be it.

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2 replies
Michelle CD oujoou June 29 2014 at 7:07 AM

The chains and leaather collar were to train him to keep his entire body in sinc while rowing, not for slavery past.

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buknekkid oujoou June 29 2014 at 9:00 AM

African-American, I'm betting he never spent a minute living in Africa. A term that was unheard of until about 10 years ago when they wanted to just bring more attention to themselves and act like they need or deserve some more handouts. Guess what, I'm European-American and my ancestors built this country, his ancestors were black slave owners in Africa that sold the slaves to other blacks that then sold them to the English. The Americans freed them they should be on their knees thanking us.

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1 reply
buffalogal buknekkid June 29 2014 at 2:07 PM

The English, Spanish and Dutch chose to participate in the slave trade. They created the market. On our knees thanking the "Americans"?
Like you?
No.

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buknekkid June 29 2014 at 8:58 AM

BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, LOOK AT ME. I HAVE TO DO THIS FOR MY BROTHER. He had unprotected diseased sex and it's everyone else's fault he died. I must honor the man that had no regard for his life or anyone else's. PUKE

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4 replies
hotspringspark June 29 2014 at 2:10 PM

A complete, absolute waste of energy, time and effort. It has no meaning what so ever. Foolishness.

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