Hilary Heuler  /  AP
Victor Mooney seen on his boat off Goree Island near Dakar, Senegal. The photo was taken shortly before his bid to be the first African-American to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean fell short due to leaks in the craft.
updated 5/7/2006 8:02:11 PM ET 2006-05-08T00:02:11

A New Yorker’s attempt to become the first black American to row solo across the Atlantic ended when his homemade boat sprung a leak hours after he left the coast of Africa on Sunday.

Victor Mooney radioed for help after his boat started taking on water, according to a press release on his Web site. He was rescued by the Senegalese navy, but the 24-foot craft he built for the journey sank into the ocean.

The boat was made of what Mooney called “marine grade plywood.”

Mooney — a 41-year-old college publicist who had been preparing for the trip for three years — could not immediately be reached for comment. The press release said he will return to his home in New York.

Local authorities said Mooney was not hurt but did not sound likely to try the trip again.

“He said ’Never. It’s finished.”’ said Motor Diop Kane, of Senegal’s military police.

Mooney had said his voyage was to raise awareness of AIDS in Africa and memorialize the route that took African slaves to the Americas.

About 50 people had gathered on the beach to watch Mooney head off toward his hometown — many saying they wished him well but weren’t sure why he was undertaking the dangerous adventure.

“He’s crazy,” said Gaston Sabaly, who works at a restaurant on the beach. “Everybody wants to go to America, but not like that.”

No backup, on a dangerous trip
Mooney’s craft had no backup sail or motor, and he was rowing with no accompanying boat. He said the French military had promised to send planes over his route occasionally to check on him.

Fewer than 50 people have completed solo rows across the Atlantic, according to the England-based Ocean Rowing Society. Four have been lost at sea in the attempt and nearly 40 have had to abandon their trips, the group says.

Mooney had said he hoped to reach the Americas in about 120 days, reaching the Brooklyn Bridge by October.

His trip was delayed for nearly a month in Senegal to fix a keel broken by fishermen who tried to move his boat by rolling it on logs. He called the delay a surprise boon because it gave him time to know the local population.

The press release did not identify the source of the leak that ended Mooney’s trip.

The best laid plans
Mooney had wanted to raise money for AIDS medicine in Africa. He brought in only about $6,000 — about half what he spent on the trip. Mooney said the boat and its supplies were worth more than $100,000, but he got most of his materials as in-kind donations.

Mooney said he was traveling with three phone systems, three global positioning systems, solar panels, three water purifiers, an emergency life raft and “tons of food.”

“I have backup maybe three times over,” he said before departing. “I even have a backup rudder and three sets of oars.” He also had a computer and a satellite Internet connection that he planned to use to keep a Web log as he traveled.

Mooney trained for his trip by rowing around Long Island and New York City. He said he started with 30-mile rows, then worked his way up to 365 miles.

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