Transatlantic rower reaches BVI


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ST. THOMAS - After an arduous journey across the Atlantic in a specially designed rowboat, Victor Mooney is resting in the British Virgin Islands and getting ready for the final leg of his expedition.

Mooney, 48, survived a shark attack, dehydration and running out of food on the first leg of his transatlantic trip.

Why might someone do this?

To raise awareness and encourage people to be voluntarily tested for HIV.

Mooney's brother died of AIDS in 1983, when the disease was new and spreading across the United States at a rapid clip. A second brother currently is living with the disease, Mooney said.

"The stigma was just out of proportion," Mooney said. "That same level of stigma is just as prevalent today."

That stigma prevents people from getting tested, which leads to the continued spread of the disease, he said.

"The emphasis is to encourage people to get tested," he said. "So they can have the opportunity to live a healthy and productive life."

Mooney has always loved the water.

A New Yorker born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, he said the ocean was like his back yard.

He started his campaigns to raise awareness for voluntary HIV testing years ago by rowing around Long Island, but he soon realized he needed to make a bigger statement.

In 2006, he made his first attempt to cross the Atlantic but did not get very far before his boat capsized.

In 2009, he had a problem with his fresh water system and also had to turn around.

In 2011, unbeknownst to Mooney, the boat was damaged during shipping and sprung a leak. He spent 14 days floating in his life raft before he was rescued.

In this fourth attempt at the 5,000-mile trek, Mooney pushed off from Maspolamas, a town off the coast of Africa on Feb. 19.

He rowed by himself in his customized Brazilian-built boat, The Spirit of Malabo, for 128 days.

While traveling across the open ocean, a shark bit a chunk out of his boat.

"When it did happen, I was very sad, because I was so close," he said.

A deeply spiritual Catholic, Mooney brought only one book to read on his solo journey: the Bible. When he faced obstacles, he used the strength of his faith to get him through.

"Not having food to eat, I turned this into a spiritual fast," he said.

While the original plan was to row directly to the BVI from Africa, violent currents overpowered his 24-foot boat and rescue vessels near St. Martin helped tow him in to shore. The day he arrived in St. Martin just happened to be National HIV Testing Day, he said.

Mooney was taken to the hospital for dehydration and exhaustion; he had lost 80 pounds during the journey.

Mooney stayed at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino, where he was able to rest, exercise and gain his strength back, regaining 45 pounds.

The island community embraced him and his mission and through donations and support helped him recover, make repairs and upgrade the safety features on his boat. Upgrades included adding extra radar detectors and a second satellite phone, which will be crucial in communicating with the U.S. Coast Guard, which will monitor the expedition to his final destination.

He left St. Martin on Monday and arrived in the BVI on Thursday, because of the incoming storm he required some help and was towed in, he said.

"I'm very pleased and comforted for the support that I've received throughout the Caribbean," Mooney said.

While in the BVI, he is staying at Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, where he will prepare for the last leg of his journey to New York, and he will meet with officials and promote HIV testing.

"This has been a long journey that I've been fortunate to have the strength and stamina to continue," Mooney said.

To follow Mooney's journey, called the Goree Challenge, look on Facebook or the Twitter handle @goreechallenge.

- Contact Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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