Victor Mooney (48) set off in a 24-foot Brazilian built rowboat, christened Spirit of Malmo, to cross the Atlantic. The New Yorker left from Maspalomas, Gran Canaria on February 19th and arrived in St. Martin on June 26th.
My assignment to write about Mooney should have been a simple one; after all, I have interviewed Atlantic rowers before. I never thought for one moment that I would come away from the interview feeling spiritually refreshed.
Although Mooney rowed alone he insists a greater power accompanied him – the power of angels and God. And I don’t doubt it for a moment. Here is a man of immense and unshakable faith and regardless of your religion, or lack of it, being in his company fills you with joy.
Mooney lost his brother to AIDS and he made it his mission in life to raise AIDS awareness and encourage people to step forward and be tested for HIV. He could have done that on the streets of New York but instead he was called to row the Atlantic, something that took him four attempts and, on several occasions, almost cost him his life.
By the time he reached St. Martin, Mooney had lost 80lb of his body weight, having spent many days with little food or none at all. Talk of food led to an insight into his philosophy. In mid-Atlantic, a shark chewed a hole through the bottom of his boat and it began taking on water. “Understandable,” he says because the boat resembled a Big Mac in the middle of the ocean and the barnacles attached to the hull turned it into a feeding station for fish.
With the boat taking on water, Mooney prayed. Then he set about patching the leak. Throughout this drama, he showed little fear and, remarkably, absolutely no animosity towards the shark because “it was hungry like I was.”
The more we talked the more I realized that Mooney has a deep understanding of the natural world, a world he accepts as part and parcel of his immense faith in God, to whom he refers as The Father. Although strong in faith, he also has a powerful mind and body and Oliver Cromwell’s maxim: Trust in God and keep your powder dry, could have been penned with Mooney in mind.
The Goree Challenge Project, of which Mooney is part, helps put rowers on the water and supports them in their attempts to cross oceans. One of Mooney’s attempts to row the Atlantic ended with him bobbing about in a life raft for 14 days with little food. And, whereas once would be enough for an ordinary man, he won’t quit. But if, like Mooney, you’ve had an audience with the Pope and the Pope has blessed you and told you to “go out there and row,” then what else is there to do.
The Atlantic part of the row is over but Mooney says, “It’s not finished yet.” Once he has recuperated and the boat is ready, he will leave St. Maarten for the British Virgin Islands before heading north to finish at New York’s Brooklyn Bridge … A row I don’t doubt he will complete.
Nothing seems capable of standing in this man’s way. His unshakable faith in God and his belief in the goodness of ordinary people, has brought him all the help and support necessary for him to complete the voyage. And he sees his stay in St. Maarten as just another in a long line of blessings.
The people and businesses of St. Maarten/St. Martin certainly welcomed the oarsman into their hearts providing him food, shelter, and repairs to his body and boat. Someone in Anguilla started the ball rolling after Mooney chatted with them via satellite phone. That same person later became concerned about his safety and passed his position to the French Sea Rescue Services. During the night, the French lifeboat went out and offered him a tow, which he graciously accepted. Mooney was examined at the hospital in Marigot, where a French doctor did blood tests and laughing, said, “There’s nothing wrong with you, you can get out of here, just go and get some rest. We have to save this bed for a sick person.”
Later, Island Water World took Mooney under their wing and hauled his boat at their flagship store/boatyard in Cole Bay. Using materials donated by the chandlery, Custom Fit Marine set about repairing the boat free of charge. In the meantime, Mooney was given accommodation at the Sonesta Maho Beach & Casino Resort and later the Bel Air Beach Hotel. The American Consulate also played their part in his recovery and offered support for his onward journey.
“Sint Maarten said they would put me back on track, so I could finish the mission. People have been encouraging and uplifting, but it’s not over. This is just a pit stop, and it’s been one hell of a pit stop,” Mooney said.
To learn more about this amazing man and the Goree Challenge, visit: www.facebook.com/SpiritOfMalabo