Afloat.ie’s Rower of the Month for January made the announcement on last night’s Late Late Show, just days after returning home, as host Ryan Tubridy quizzed the Galway man on his motivations for embarking on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.
The 35-year-old finished third in the 12-boat fleet, fending off teams with greater man-power to complete the 5,000km crossing from the Canary Islands to Antigua in the West Indies in 49 days.
The tremendous achievement earlier this month is a far cry from where Hennigan was in his early 20s, jobless and drowning his sorrows in an East London flat after a difficult childhood.
Hennigan turned his life around on a year’s working holiday in Australia, where he qualified as a commercial diver, and spent the next 10 years working as a deep-sea saturation diver specialising in construction of oil rigs around the globe — “the most dangerous job in the world”, in his own words.
But it was a career perfectly suited to Hennigan’s adventurous spirit, and when the ‘extreme environment athlete’ announced last year that he would attempt a solo row across the Atlantic, the news was no surprise to those who know him.
“I was seeking a little bit more excitement, and I just decided I wanted to take more of a gamble with my life,” he told Tubridy.
Hennigan was well up to the task over years of embarking on endurance expeditions in his spare time, such as a solo trek across Lake Baikal in Siberia, and numerous ultra-marathons in extreme conditions.
But taking part in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge meant going all-in.
“I spent my life’s savings on this ocean rowing boat, so now I’m trying to pass myself off as an adventurer and public speaker,” he said with a smile.
Talking about the “range of emotions” he went through while out on his own in the open ocean for more than seven weeks, he admitted “it’s pretty hard not to lose the plot a couple of times”.
Hennigan was also candid about the toll it took on him mentally and physically — facing 12 hours of darkness every night, often without the light of the moon, and at one point being forced to tape an oar to his hand after losing his grip strength.
Still, the memories were worth it, as he described the “beauty of 50 sunsets, 50 sunrises, all spectacularly different. Every day just looking at that ocean and the sky and stars, seeing the Milky Way in all its glory — it can’t but change a man, it’s incredible.”
So what’s next for Hennigan? Another solo ocean row, as it happens: this coming June he plans to row from Battery Park, at the tip of Manhattan in New York, across the North Atlantic to Galway Bay.
“This is a lot tougher,” he says of his latest exploit. “There’s no safety of the race set-up; it’s a very treacherous route, with huge storms and currents.
“This is another step altogether. But I feel I’m not going into it with my eyes closed.”