After years of rowing around local waters in New York, Victor Mooney thought that if he rowed across the Atlantic Ocean it could bring additional attention towards the global AIDS crisis. Mr. Mooney had already lost one brother to AIDS and had another living with HIV. His mission would be to encourage voluntary HIV testing. Mooney would need plenty of help to make this happen, both financially and spiritually.
As a devout Catholic, Victor Mooney received an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on World AIDS Day in 2004. This moment was made possible by the Diocese of Rockville Center in New York and Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
In 2006, Mooney built his first rowboat in a Brooklyn, New York garage that took three years to complete. He left from Goree Island, Senegal and his journey lasted only one hour after his boat took on water and sank. He was rescued by the Senegalese Coast Guard.
In 2009, in a second boat, Mooney tried again. This time in a professionally built boat, he departed again from Goree Island. His row was cut short about four-hundred miles off shore. The watermaker on the boat wasn't working, so it was reccommendd to abort the mission.
In 2011, in a third boat, Mooney departed further North from Cape Verde Islands. This boat was damage during shipment from New York and repaired by the best way possible Mooney knew. Again, early on the row, the boat took on water and Mooney had to deploy his life raft. On his second day, a commercial ship was within fifty feet from him. Mooney recalls a person looking at him and later the vessel continued in the opposite direction. Mooney would eventually be picked up ten days later by MV Norfolk, a dry bulk container ship and brought to Sao Luis, Brazil.
In 2014, in a fourth boat, Mooney departed Las Palmas, Canary Islands, which is off the coast of Northwest Africa. This time, he had a another professional built boat that was sponsored by the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. During the row, Mooney ran out of food for two months and lost eighty pounds. A oceanic white tip shark would also put a hole in his boat. He was only able to slow down the leak until reaching land. After one-hundred and thirty days, Mooney arrived in Sint Maarten, Dutch West Indies.
After healing his body at Sonesta Maho Resort and pro-bono boat repairs by Island Water World and Custom Boatworks, Mooney continued to British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. With a tropical storm approaching, Mooney was advised to divert his path towards Haitian waters. Mooney would later be high-jack by pirates from Tortue Island in Haiti on October 29, 2014. His boat was completely damage, while he feared for his life. With the help of US Coast Guard, Haitian Coast Guard and Republic of Equatorial Guinea, Mooney recovered his boat and sent it to Miami for repairs.
In February 2015, Miami based RMK-Merrill Stevens began pro-bono repairs on the Spirit of Malabo. The boat was repaired and the safety equipment replenish in several months. Mooney departed from Miami in May. He rowed via the Intracoastal Waterway and made stops in Georigia and South Carolina. In North Carolina, Mooney hit a submerged cypress stump and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. The Spirit of Malabo was again dry docked and Everett Marine of Columbia would provide pro-bono boat repairs.
Mooney continued to Virginia and Maryland. While rowing through Delaware, a fallen tree in the Assawoman Canal would prevent him from continuing. The local fire department would have to cut the log, so Mooney could pass by. Free from the broken log, Mooney rowed to New Jersey, Staten Island and finally arrived at New York's Brooklyn Bridge on November 30, 2015. On arrival, a waiting ambulance took him to New York Methodist Hospital, where he was admitted and stayed for several days. Mooney lost heat on his boat and had symptoms of pneumonia.
Mooney's row wasn't about records, but for HIV/AIDS awareness. The feat would be the first for an African-American and Mooney became the first person to solo row from the coast of Africa to New York. The boat, Spirit of Malabo has been released to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.
Partnerships, Integrity and Perseverance