06/08/2011 09:13 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Victor Mooney Comes Out Of Retirement To Try Fourth Row Across Atlantic Ocean

Victor Mooney has tried three times to row across the Atlantic Ocean, but he never came close to making it. Already this year, he spent 14 days in a life raft praying to be rescued.

When he was saved by a passing ship in March, he promised his family that his days of ocean rowing were over.

But now, just three months after he hung up his oars, Mooney said he's going to try to paddle from the Canary Islands to the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City this December.

(Scroll down for video and more pictures)

"I have a chance to finish this," said Mooney, 45, of Queens, N.Y.. "There's nothing else to do but to focus on this mission that I've dedicated over a decade of my time to."

If Mooney succeeds on the 5,000 mile jaunt, he would become the first African-American to individually row across the Atlantic. But the married father of four says he undertakes the perilous voyages not for the record books, but to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS, which infected two of his brothers.

His troubles on the high seas have always gotten more attention than his advocacy, however. His first attempt in 2006, which departed from Senegal, lasted only three hours before his craft, the John Paul the Great, sprang a leak and sank. In 2007, Mooney traveled west from Senegal again for 15 days before his desalination system went on the fritz and he required rescue.

The repeated attempts might sound reckless, but a Coast Guard spokeswoman said her branch of the armed forces doesn't discourage recreational mariners from risky outings.

"A lot of the rescues we take care of are recreation types," said Beverley Howard. "Our program is designed to assist mariners in any situation. If they're alert and they let us know what they're doing, we'll be that much more prepared to assist them."

Earlier this year, Mooney made what he said would be his final trip, regardless of the outcome. It began ominously, when his vessel the Never Give Up was cracked during transit to the Cape Verde Islands, his starting point.

Repairs were made and Mooney confidently shoved off, but he abandoned ship the first day at sea, because it began taking on water and allowed him only five to eight minutes to deploy a life raft, he said.

For the next 14 days all he consumed was water from a purifier, ginseng root powder and ginger candies.

He refused to fish after his first attempt, because an anchor on his line got hooked into the side of the lifeboat.

"I put all the hooks into the sea, because I was too afraid of puncturing the raft," Mooney said.

He had limited contact with the Coast Guard, using a satellite radio, because he wanted to conserve the batteries

A ship passed within sight of him, but did not stop to take him on board.

At night, he could feel large fish bumping against the bottom of the raft. He lost one of his oars trying to bat them away.

"The whole time, you can hear them nibbling on [the] life raft and circling my boat," Mooney told AOL Weird News. "The noise was so alarming that I had to put earplugs in so I could sleep."

His family only knew that he had a mechanical problem, not that he was desperately drifting 250 miles out to sea.

So his decision to plunge back into the water caught his loved ones off-guard.

"I don't know what to think of this," his cousin Joycette Pearse said, "and I don't know how he explained this to his wife and family."


Late one night over Memorial Day weekend, Mooney saw a Brazilian rowboat for sale called the Castaway and he immediately dreamed up plans for another trip.

"I was content with not rowing and just living a normal life," Mooney said. "But having just come from Brazil, it seemed like fate."

(When Mooney was rescued by the crew of the Norfolk, he was taken to Brazil.)

Quickly, he negotiated a deal to get the boat, which he said has been deemed ocean-ready by the Brazilian navy, for the bargain basement price of $10,000.

In August, he'll go back to Brazil to train on the rowboat. He'll embark on the fourth trip on December 1, which is World's AIDS Day.

"I'm most glad that I have another opportunity," Monney said. "When you go on these trips you prepare for the worst."

For more info about Mooney's trip, visit his website.