AIDS Activist Rowing From Africa to New York Takes Rest at LBI

Journey Is in Memory of His Brother
Nov 03, 2015
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

After navigating the Little Egg Inlet, Victor Mooney of Queens, New York – who said he is a week or two away from completing a 5,000-mile journey from Africa to New York City in a 24-foot rowboat with no motor or sail – docked at Surf City Marina Monday afternoon to rest a bit and wait for the tide to change.

“Prior to coming here, I was looking at my charts and I thought, ‘Where can I stop?’ And I said, ‘Surf City, that just sounds like a place that would be fitting for me to go,’” he stated, resting against the rails of his boat, gospel music playing from portable speakers. “The folks at the marina, of course, were surprised to see me.”

Mooney’s last port of call was the Frank S. Farley State Marina at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, which he left Sunday morning.

“Coming through the New Jersey seashore has been so uplifting, seeing how people are recovering from Superstorm Sandy,” he said. “To see construction guys working and painting, and the resiliency of it all, is a morale booster for me. That was that same resolute with me coming across the ocean: I’m not giving up.”

Mooney, who spent his “second birthday at sea” when he turned 50 years old this past October, left the Canary Islands just off North Africa on Feb. 19, 2014 he said.

According to the Queens resident, he first tried to cross the ocean in 2006, but the trip quickly ended when his boat sank off the coast of Senegal. He said he tried again in 2009, but aborted the mission when his water system failed. In 2011, his boat took on too much water to maintain, and he spent 14 days in a life raft before being rescued by a Brazilian container ship.

Now Mooney is on the last leg of his fourth attempt in 10 years to finish his mission, which is devoted to encouraging people to get tested for HIV/AIDS. He lost one of his brothers to the devastating disease, and his other brother is battling the illness as well.

“This is in memory of my brother, and all those who have died of AIDS,” said Mooney. “I thought if I rowed from Africa, I could show the parallel of AIDS in Africa and also the United States. Unfortunately, the new cases of HIV/AIDS in certain parts of the United States are the equivalent to AIDS cases in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Although Mooney believes a cure for AIDS is on the horizon, he said the first step until then is testing, “which is critical.”

“That’s what this mission is about. It’s not a fundraiser; it’s to encourage folks to go to the doctor, to be responsible, to break down the walls of discrimination of people living with HIV,” he stated, adding that HIV/AIDS tests can be picked up at a local drugstore and taken in the privacy of one’s home.

At the end of his journey, Mooney noted, his vessel will be donated to the United Nations for permanent exhibition as a symbol for the fight against AIDS.

Despite the many trials and tribulations he said he has encountered along the way – including circled by sharks, which he said left holes in his boat, as well as pirated off the coast of Haiti, which he noted left him boat-less for a few months after being taken to Miami for repairs – he emphasized that the trip is not a victory and there is “no personal world record.”

“I hope the message of this row is to never give up,” he stated. “I dedicated a large amount of time to complete this mission, and now I’m about 65 miles to Brooklyn. I’m just asking the Father to give me his blessings so I can continue. It’s not a race.”

Mooney said his next major stop would be at Manasquan Inlet, before he travels to Sandy Hook, then New York Harbor and, finally, the Brooklyn Bridge. Along the way, he will remain cautious of the weather.

“Obviously I’m not in control of the elements. Rowing across the ocean really gives you a deep sense of humility.”

— Kelley Anne Essinger

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