Damian Browne became the first person to row from New York to Galway last night when bad weather pushed him onto the rocks at Furbo Beach around 1am on Tuesday morning.
The Galway native finally made it home after rowing for 112 consecutive days across the Atlantic.
At his official homecoming this morning the tired and exhausted Mr Browne arrived at the Port of Galway. Flying the Irish and Galway county flags he cruised into the docks around 11am to massive cheers from hundreds of people lining the edges of the port.
Out in force were students of his old school St. Joseph’s Patrician College (The Bish) who welcomed him home with a great roar as Mr Browne stood tall waving to all the happy onlookers.
Visibly shaking from the epic journey he told RTÉ: “I expected a few people but I didn’t expect this. It’s an innocuous Tuesday in October like. That they’re going to take so much time out of their day to come see me is just incredible.”
It was not the ending he had envisioned he admitted to Virgin Media after stepping onto the pontoon. Originally Mr Browne had wanted to row directly into the Port of Galway and finish there. But big waves capsized him last night as he was looking for a quiet spot around Bearna to hunker down, resulting in a broken oar and a change of plan.
Mr Browne explained: “I saw two rocks that I knew were there but I thought were further out. So I had ten seconds to whip around and head straight out to sea but as I did that a massive wave just caught the front bow of the boat. And I wasn’t perfectly perpendicular, I was at a bit of an angle and it capsized me. Then I flipped over and broke an oar. Once the oar was gone there was nothing I could do.”
Using his last ounces of energy he made his way through the sea of people to find the familiar faces of his family. Embracing each one passionately he eventually found his partner Rozelle Bothma amongst the crowd. Rozelle told Galway Pulse: “It was like he never left. It took time to register that he had been on a boat for 112 days.”
Similarly delighted to have him back was his dad Joe Browne who said: “I can tell you that it’s fantastic, it’s brilliant. It was a long arduous journey and obviously the most difficult part at times was when he was shoved back after rowing for hours. Because you do like to see rewards for his efforts.”
With a smile stretched across his face he continued to say: “It is great to get him home and all is well that ends well.”
Surprisingly, after such an incredible physical effort, Joe said that his son was “walking well” and had “got his land legs back fairly quickly”.
Rowing under the title of Project Empower, Damian raised over €45,000 for four charities, the Galway Simon Community, the NRH Foundation, Madra and Ability West.
A Madra volunteer commented: “We’re so delighted he’s gotten home safely. He’s very special to us as an ambassador.”
Damian rowed on his specially built boat, affectionally nicknamed the ‘Cushlamachree’, for around 16 weeks. He set sail for Ireland from Manhattan back on June 14th. An odyssey to rival Homer’s, he encountered raging storms and wild Atlantic weather. All the while documenting his journey on Instagram as he slowly made his way across the pond.
Speaking for the family Mr Browne’s father shed some light on what it was like for them knowing he was all alone in the Atlantic. He said: “That is the toughest part. Knowing where he is and knowing how vicious the North Atlantic can be. We talked to him every week for an hour on the GPS. The waves were so enormous that he was being tossed around like a cork.”
“But he suffered it. He endured it and he got going again and made it,” Joe added.