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Atlantic rower hangs up oars

Victor Mooney, of Forest Hills, center, after he

Victor Mooney, of Forest Hills, center, after he was plucked from the sea about 250 miles west of the Cape Verdean islands by the crew of a cargo ship bound for Brazil. (April 7, 2011) Credit: Handout

After a decade of training and three failed attempts to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat, Victor Mooney is calling it quits.

He has no regrets but thinks it's time to move on after being lost alone in a life raft for 14 days on the Atlantic amid gale-force winds and stormy weather, he said Thursday. Mooney, 45, of Forest Hills, had launched a 21-foot, high-tech boat off Cape Verde near the west coast of Africa on Feb. 26.

Before his voyage, Mooney had promised his wife this would be his last attempt to cross the ocean in an effort to raise money for AIDS medicine and awareness for AIDS testing. For him, this is personal: A brother died of AIDS, and a second brother has been diagnosed with HIV.

Mooney's two previous attempts ended in failure. In 2006, his self-made boat sank and he was rescued by the Senegalese navy. In 2009, Mooney ran out of drinking water and was rescued by a Spanish tuna boat. In his third attempt, Mooney's boat sprang a leak as soon as it was launched from the island of Sao Vicente off Cape Verde.

"A few minutes earlier the fishermen had waved goodbye, and I was still in eyesight of land when the boat started leaking. The current and wind was strong and it blew me westward," Mooney said Thursday. "I immediately deployed the life raft. I never had a chance to row."

On the second night of floating aimlessly on the life raft, Mooney spotted a ship and waved his flashlight. He said someone on the ship saw him, but didn't offer to help, leaving Mooney feeling abandoned. "That was a turning point," he said. He sustained himself by drinking purified seawater and eating ginseng roots and herbal powder that his wife had packed for him.

This gave Mooney the will to live, he said.

"I couldn't accept seeing my family throw flowers into the ocean," said Mooney, the father of four children, who is now an unemployed office worker. At night as he floated over the sea, Mooney said he screamed and cried into the darkness, "God is my fortune" from Psalms 21 to keep his spirits up. He said the psalm goes on to say: "God said: 'I will protect you and your home.' I took it literally."

Mooney returned home on Sunday from Brazil, where he'd made land after he was plucked from the ocean by a Brazilian cargo ship. "It was 14 days of solitude that came full circle," he said. "This chapter has come to a close."

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