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Former rugby player Fergus “Gussie” Farrell who was medically evacuated from rowing vessel Cushlamachree 600 nautical miles out in the Atlantic late last month has said he is gutted at having had to leave his rowing partner Damian Browne.

Speaking on RTÉ Seascapes on Friday, Farrell has also paid tribute to the master and crew of the Singapore flagged tanker, Hafnia Shenzhen, which responded to a US Coast Guard request for assistance.

The tanker diverted, and Farrell was brought on board using the gangplank, and taken to the medical room for further assessment.

Farrell’s oxygen levels had dropped to 86 per cent on June 26th, and he was at risk of blood clots.

He described on Seascapes how his online medical support took just 30 seconds to assess the information and inform him his row was “finished”.

The pair were 13 days out from New York on an unsupported row to Galway, and were attempting to set a new Guinness world record in their purpose-built Seasabre 6.2m craft.

Fergus Farrell prepares to board the ship Hafnia ShenzhenFergus Farrell prepares to leave Cushlamachree and board the tanker Hafnia Shenzhen Photo: via Facebook

Farrell survived a traumatic spinal injury in 2018, learned to walk again and walked across Ireland to raise funds for the National Rehabilitation Hospital of Ireland Foundation in 2019.

The Hafnia Shenzhen took him to New York where he was taken to hospital for further tests and cleared to fly back to Ireland.

Browne is continuing the row solo to Galway as part of Project Empower, in aid of four charities, and has three oars left after he capsized three times.

Speaking on a Linked In post while on para-anchor for 17 hours, Browne said he had “no interest in capsizing again” but was a “sitting duck” in huge waves.

The position of rowing vessel Cushlamachree on July 17The position of rowing vessel Cushlamachree on July 17 with Damian Browne onboard

He said the boat was “decimated”, with the ocean ripping away oars and he nearly lost his seat.

He lost items including a -jet boil, ten-litre drinking container and compass.

He said it was the first time that he was “a little bit scared for expedition’s success”, with so much water in the cabin after the capsizes.

These are “very very very long hours”, he said, and the lyrics of a Johnny Cash song kept coming into his head – as in "Son, this world is rough, And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough"

“We’ll see how we go,” Browne said.

Listen to Fergus Farrell’s interview on Seascapes here

Published in Coastal Rowing

Galway adventurer Damian Browne’s transatlantic rowing partner Fergus Farrell has been referred for tests to a New York hospital after he was forced to leave their vessel, Cushlamachree, after almost 13 days at sea.

The pair had set off from New York in mid-June on an unsupported row to Galway, and were attempting to set a new Guinness world record in their purpose-built Seasabre 6.2m craft.

In a statement from MacDara Hosty on Project Empower’s Facebook page, he said it was with “huge regret” that Farrell had to depart on Sunday, June 26th at 4.45 pm, Irish time.

“Fergus is now doing well, has arrived back in New York, and is awaiting transfer to a hospital in New York where he will undergo tests,” the statement said.

“Chris Martin, who is operating as on-call land support officer for the team, was called by Fergus on Sunday, June 26th at 1 pm Irish time,” it said.

“Fergus had been experiencing severe exhaustion, and despite lots of rest was failing to recover,” it said. In 2018, Farrell experienced a traumatic spinal injury, was paralysed but learned to walk again the following year against all odds.

The statement said that Fergus “had started to experience tightness on the left side of his chest and had a very low blood oxygen percentage”.

“After consultation with our medical consultants and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) flight surgeon, it was decided that Fergus should be extracted with all possible speed.”

Weather conditions in the area were “benign”, with light winds and small swells of around a metre, and by 15.58 Irish time, the Singapore flagged tanker, Hafnia Shenzhen, had responded to a USCG request for assistance. The tanker diverted, and Farrell was brought on board using the gang plank, and taken to the medical room for further assessment.

“Fergus responded well to initial treatment on board the Hafnia Shenzhen, and the decision was made not to airlift him by USCG or Navy helicopter to hospital, electing instead for him to remain onboard the Hafnia Shenzhen until she docked in New York,”the statement said.

Paul Cleary, a friend of Project Empower in New York, arranged to transfer Farrell to hospital for tests and a full assessment.

“Fergus is hugely disappointed at having to leave Cushlamachree, but understands that his and Damian’s health and safety has, and always will be, the primary concern for Project Empower,”the statement said.

It said Damian Browne has chosen to stay with Cushlamachree, and would row the vessel solo to Galway over the coming weeks. Browne previously rowed the Atlantic solo from the Canary islands to Antigua.

“Project Empower wasn’t planned this way, and none of us wanted it to be this way,”it said. “Gussy and Damian were supposed to do this together and row into Galway docks together. We are all absolutely gutted that they won’t now get to complete it together,” it said.

The project expressed thanks to the staff at USCG District 1 rescue co-ordination centre, USCG sector New York, and Capt Sanjay Karki and crew of the Hafnia Shenzhen for their “rapid response, expertise and kindness in dealing with this situation as professionally and courteously as they did”.

It has been estimated that it will take 1.5 million oar strokes to complete the 5,000 km crossing. The pair nominated four charities to benefit from the row– Ability West, the Galway Simon Community, Madra animal rescue and the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) foundation.

Browne is well familiar with what is ahead, having spent 63 days 6 hours and 25 minutes at sea completing the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge to Antigua in 2017-18.

The existing world record for an unsupported row was set over 120 years ago by Norwegians George Harboe and Frank (Gabriel) Samuelsen who were the first pair to attempt it.

Browne, who spent 16 years on the rugby pitches of the Celtic League, English Premiership and French Top 14 Championship and was part of the winning 2012/13 Heineken Cup team with Leinster Rugby, has climbed in the high altitude Pamir mountains in Afghanistan.

He has summited Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mont Blanc in France and Gran Paradiso in Italy.

After retiring from rugby, he completed the six-day, 257 km Marathon des Sables in the Sahara desert, also known as the “toughest footrace on Earth”. He then spent 18 months preparing for his solo row across the Atlantic.

At sea, he endured nine-metre swells, a badly cut head, capsizes, encounters with whales, sea and pressure sores, lost an oar and experienced complete steering failure with still over 2000 nautical miles to go to Antigua.

Fergus Farrell is a lifelong friend of Browne’s. Both played underage rugby together for Connacht and Farrell was a self-employed businessman who experienced a traumatic spinal injury.

On October 26th 2018, Farrell ruptured his T9, T10 and T11 spinal discs in the middle of his back. One of the ruptured discs leaked into his spinal cord. After an operation in the National Spinal Unit at the Mater Hospital, Farrell says he noticed his motionless feet and asked his surgeon if this is how he would be for the rest of his life?

He says the surgeon put his hand on Fergus’s shoulder and “calmly told him he had been extremely unlucky”.

Farrell, who was then paralysed from the waist down, moved to the NRH and set about his recovery.

On October 26th 2019, a year after his surgery, he miraculously completed a 206km walk from the site of the injury at his yard in Athenry, Galway to the NRH in Dún Laoghaire.

Farrell attributes his recovery to his “stubbornness, thickness and determination”, and he also raised €70,000 for the NRH.

Farrell has said he is determined to give his second chance of life everything he can give. He has said he wants to show people that “the mind is a positive and powerful part of everybody’s lives” and that “when challenged correctly there are no limits to what you can achieve”.

Browne’s continued progress can be tracked on their website here Listen into Lorna Siggins 2020 podcast with the pair here

Published in Coastal Rowing

A Waterford man is set to row across the Atlantic in aid of a charity that repatriates Irish people who die overseas.

Réamonn Byrne, originally from Kilmacthomas but now based in New York City, is the driving force behind ‘The Hard Way Home’ expedition, a journey to row unsupported across the North Atlantic from New York to Ireland. The team will consist of Byrne and two Americans who will row in shifts 24/7 for sixty to seventy days to make the crossing.

Waterford rower Réamonn ByrneWaterford rower Réamonn Byrne

Byrne initially had a different team and hoped to make the crossing last year but Covid restrictions meant his international teammates couldn't travel to attempt the trip. In the Shackleton tradition of 'Need Guy to Row Ocean', Byrne put an advert on an adventure forum, seeking new crew members. Chris McCaffery and Ryan Cosgro, two skilled outdoor professionals, were recruited.

While all the crew have accomplished ultra-endurance backgrounds, none have significant experience on the open water. To fill that gap, Byrne has hired Peter ‘Stokey’ Woodall who has 300,000 nautical miles under his belt, including 30 plus Atlantic crossings in a variety of craft. He’s been training the team for the past six months and will serve as a weather router and expert guide for the duration of the crossing.

Physical training for the team has consisted of lots of cardio hours and strength training to put on the weight necessary for the trip. Byrne himself has added 30 pounds to his usual running frame in preparation. The team is bringing one and half million calories on the boat to fuel the journey consisting of freeze-dried expedition meals, dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, oatmeal, jerky and various protein supplements.

Fixing the rudder at the boatyard in Far Rockaway, New YorkFixing the rudder at the boatyard in Far Rockaway, New York

"I bought the boat for $25,000 from an Irish guy in Vancouver," said Byrne. "He had built it tough to row the North-West Passage, to bump into ice floes and be pulled ashore. Turns out they didn't need it to be built that tough, and they never made it fully around the passage. "

"The boat's called Barney after my father, which was his nickname. He passed away about six months ago and didn’t really get a send-off with Covid and all so hopefully when we arrive into Dungarvan we’ll do him proud."

The journey will raise funds for the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust (KBRT), a charity that helps bereaved Irish families repatriate loved ones who are lost tragically abroad. Kevin Bell was just 26 when he died in a hit and run in Woodlawn in New York. Byrne used to live in the same neighbourhood and saw the charity as very fitting one for the journey being undertaken. “His family took something that is incredibly hard and turned it into a service that has helped hundreds of Irish families. I find the Bell family inspiring," Byrne said.

The Hard Way Home launches in mid-May when the team can get a five-day window of good weather to get offshore. To follow along with the journey, go to and @thehardwayhome on Instagram where the team will be posting regular updates from the ocean. Byrne added that while he has several US sponsors, only Waterford Greenway Bike Hire is onboard from the Irish side and he would love to remedy that. All info is available on the website.

Published in Coastal Rowing