Return of the heroic oarsman

Former Connacht Rugby player and extreme adventurer, Damian Browne received a heroe's welcome upon returning to Galway on Tuesday following his 112-day transatlantic row from New York.

Welcomed by a booming crowd, Browne who is from Renmore, was driven by boat into the port by the Harbour Master, passing a guard of honour arranged by the rowing team from 'The Bish', the secondary school Browne attended in his younger years.

Arriving to deafening cheers, it took him nearly fifteen minutes to pass through crowds of well wishers and supporters to come to the make shift stage at the Docks where he was presented with a long awaited Supermac's Snackbox. Even though the end of the journey differed from Browne's original plan, with him being pushed by extreme wind out of his planned course and into dangerous elements, the significance of his monumental achievement was not lost.

"I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and I'm safe and uninjured. I've had a bit of an incredible reception here so I'm a little taken aback to be honest. Up to three days ago, I hadn't seen a person in 98 days and I had a bit of trepidation about this moment because of the overwhelming nature of so many people and having been isolated from people for so long," said Browne.

Crash landing

Browne's trusty steed, the Cushlamachree hit rocks at Na Forbacha shortly before 01:00, with dangerous winds and extreme darkenss throwing him off his planned westerly approach to Galway bay and into perilous elements. Upon recognising the degree of distress he was in, Browne contacted Project Empower's Land Support Officer, Chris Martin who informed emergency response immediately.

Speaking about the crash, Browne said he felt like he "had control" over the situation, until he didn't. "I felt I had control of the situation until I saw the two rocks. Basically what happened was I misjudged how close I was to the shore. I was looking around constantly head on a swivel, and there were two rocks less than 10 seconds from hitting me, so I swung the boat around like 270 degrees in an instant and started rowing out into the big breakers, but they were huge and one of them capsized me.

"That's when I knew I was finished."

Three Gardaí who were first on the scene, Garda Vincent Kelly, Garda Micheál Ó Ráinne and Garda Eoin O'Malley found Browne on the rocks and assisted him in returning home.

Damian's other half, Rozélle Bothma, who had arrived in Ireland the day before with the couple's daughter, was awoken to a knock on the door after midnight on Tuesday, October 4th and instantly assumed the worst, getting the fright of her life before she realised who it was.

"I was so surprised when there was a knock on the door, I thought it might be the Guards telling me that there had been an accident, so I was really worried. When I opened the window to look out, there was Damian. He just said, 'It's me," explained Rozélle holding the couple's 18-month-old daughter.

"We have a reunion planned, and after that we will see. We will just settle in and sort out life's administrations," said Rozélle, who has been holding the fort during not only this trip, but Browne's previous Everest expedition.

The beginning of the journey

The arrival of Damian Browne in Galway closed the 16-week expedition which began on June 14. Initially, there were two aboard the Cushlamachree, with Browne's long time friend, fellow former rugby player and Galwegian, Fergus Farrell, rowing the vessel towards Galway alongside him.

Health concerns led to Farrell having to leave the boat 14 days later, as claustrophobia of two big men in the small cabin led to anxiety and sleepless nights which in turn affected his body.

"I hated the cabin, it was like a sauna. I was rowing during the day but when I had to take my breaks, I wanted to sleep but I didn't sleep at all, and because of the anxiety I developed sleep apnoea as well. I was thinking I was sleeping when I wasn't and not getting enough oxygen."

The impact the lack of rest had on Farrell's body caused Project Empower's Chris Martin to organise a rescue, airlifting Farrell to safety back in Galway where he has now thankfully recovered and was part of the crowd to welcome Browne back to Galway.

The journey

Browne is one of only a few individuals to have rowed the Atlantic both ways, having previously crossed from San Sebastian to Antigua in 2018, a row which left his hands "claw like" for a substantial period after.

During his 112 days at sea, Browne kept followers updated on his journey via Instagram stories and through the Project Empower podcast; and as he crept closer to Ireland and packages could be delivered safely to him.

"I ate cold dehydrated rations for 87 days, so when I knew there was a boat coming out to take pictures, I was like Mam, I'll take four sandwiches please, and fizzy sweets, and crisps and peanuts. You think a lot about food out there because you're so deprived," he said, with a laugh.

When asked what he had gained the most from the Project, Browne's response is "gratitude."

"I just want to thank everyone who's here today, everyone who's supported me online with all the comments, shares and messages of support along the way. When I was at my deepest and darkest moments of despair, of which there were plenty, all I had to do was put on the phone and there were people connected to me and I didn't feel so alone."

Project empower continues to fundraise for four charities, Madra, Galway Simon, National Rehab Hospital and Ability West. To support, visit Project Empower's iDonate page online.


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