Galway man hopes to set new rowing record on Atlantic trip

Gavan Hennigan aims to row 5,500km under 50 days to beat Sean McGowan’s 2010 record

Gavan Hennigan will set off  on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge on Wednesday. Photograph: James Hearne/Digifluidproductions

Gavan Hennigan will set off on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge on Wednesday. Photograph: James Hearne/Digifluidproductions


A Galway man is preparing to set a new record by rowing across the Atlantic under 50 days.

Gavan Hennigan (35), from Knocknacarra, will set off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands on Wednesday.

Rowing 5,500km to Antigua, Hennigan is hoping to beat the Irish record set by Limerick man Sean McGowan, who completed the same challenge in 118 days in 2010.

However, Hennigan says his boat is a lot quicker than that used by McGowan and its speed will play a key role in helping him make it to Nelson’s Dockyard English Harbour in just under seven weeks.

Along with his faster boat, Hennigan is hoping his lucky charm, an all-Ireland Mayo medal won by his grandfather John Egan in the 1940s, will help see him through the solo voyage.

“I’m starting to get pretty nervous now, it’s all become very real ... Straight away over the next few days we are looking at 30 knots of wind, and there could be some big waves behind it, though we can probably get a push off that.

“But there are storms that will track south from the north Atlantic and come right through us.

“Last year, there were three storms and the whole fleet stopped for a day or two.

“There’s a distinct possibility that could happen this year and I just have to ride it out if it does.

“I’ve a sea anchor that acts like a big parachute and lets you hold yourself in the sea until it passes.”


Having spent 18 months in training, rowing from Galway Bay to the Aran Islands and Cork to Baltimore, Hennigan, who was an alcoholic and a drug addict by the time he was a teenager, hopes to raise money for Cancer Care West, and Jigsaw, a youth mental health charity.

“I had a lot of trouble in my late teens and early 20s with drugs and alcohol and mental health, so I just try to be a role model for younger people in Ireland so they can see that they can go out there and chase these crazy ideas and dreams.

“I think a lot of mental health issues could be solved with activity, I really believe that. I think if somebody is active and doing things they enjoy it can really give them a reason for living.

“Surfing, climbing, ocean rowing and my job as a sea diver, that is the stuff that keeps me going, it keeps me on the straight and narrow and continues to inspire me and get out into the world more and more.”

Armed with food for 90 days, a life raft, survival equipment, tracking devices, two solar panels and batteries, the challenge is Hennigan’s third adventure this year.

In February, he travelled 480km in -30 degrees to finish second in what is widely known as the world’s toughest adventure race, the Yukon Arctic Ultra.

He set the third-fastest time in history, racing non-stop for five days and completing the event in 123 hours with six hours of sleep.

In March, he complete a trek across 700km of Lake Baikal in Siberia, the oldest and deepest lake in the world, in 17 days.