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Boat trouble scuttles row for AIDS

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All that remains of Forest Hills resident Victor Mooney’s attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean last month are calloused hands, a sunburn and an abandoned boat floating somewhere off the coast of Africa.

Mooney, 43, arrived home in Forest Hills April 29 after his second shot at rowing from Senegal to Brooklyn was short−circuited when his the two instruments that produced fresh water in his boat broke. The U.S., French, Spanish and Senegalese governments coordinated efforts April 16 to rescue the Forest Hills father of four who was trying to row a 24−foot vessel 8,000 miles to raise awareness about HIV⁄AIDS, a disease that claimed the life of one of his brothers in 1983.

Mooney now has another brother who is HIV−positive.

“The only signs of me rowing are callouses still on my hands and sunburn,” Mooney said in an interview Monday. “My boat is still somewhere in the ocean, and people are looking for it.”

Mooney returned to his job as a public affairs official at the ASA Institute of Business and Computer Technology last week.

Three years ago Mooney tried to make the same trip, but the boat he built in his garage was damaged just five hours after he launched. Mooney was able to catch the attention of a nearby freighter and he was rescued by the Senegalese navy.

He said all had gone smoothly for about 12 days after he launched his 1,500−pound ship April 1. He said he does not know why both his water−makers failed April 13.

Mooney thought this second voyage would be successful, especially since his ship had been designed by naval architects and crafted by professional boat builders.

He had trained for six hours a day for years, knew nautical maps like the back of his hands and stocked his boat with everything from government radios to satellite phones and military freeze−dried food. He had a laptop that brought him daily weather reports and provided him contact to the outside world, including his wife and children.

“I had rowed about 600 kilometers, and it was a heavy loss when I had to call for help,” Mooney said. “Emotionally it’s time for me to move on. I don’t see myself making a third attempt.”

There was a multinational effort coordinated by the U.S. embassy in Dakar, Senegal, to rescue Mooney.

“France deployed a military aircraft to locate my position in the ocean,” Mooney said. “They took aerial photos and circled me six times.”

A Spanish fishing vessel then carried Mooney from international to Senegalese waters, where the Senegalese navy brought him to the port of Dakar.

Though Mooney said he was disappointed he could not finish his voyage, he said his family is relieved to have him home.

“You only fail when you fail to try,” Mooney said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174

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