Round Island rowers complete their feat; make landfall in Mt. Sinai

06/22/2012 5:00 PM |

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Suffolk County United Veterans president John Lynch, third from left, welcomes Ryan and Chris Cuddihy and Aaron Williamson back Friday.

On its third try, the Round Island Row finally succeeded in its goal of rowing non-stop around Long Island.

And in the process, the endeavor raised more than $2,300 for the Riverhead-based Suffolk County United Veterans as of Friday afternoon, with additional contributions yet to be counted, according to Joanne Massimo, SCUV’s assistant director.

“I’m never doing this again,” row organizer Chris Cuddihy of Riverside said Friday after the crew competed the row in one week and six hours.

He is, however, devising other fund raising events for SCUV.

“I’m so happy they arrived back safe and I really appreciate all they’ve done for us,” said SCUV president John Lynch. “Without folks like that, our program really would not be where it is today.”

The row was first attempted in 2010 by Mr. Cuddihy, his son Ryan and two other men as a means of raising funds and awareness for SCUV, which runs a shelter for homeless veterans in Yaphank and has other programs aimed at helping veterans.

He did it again last year, with a crew of five and a converted catamaran, but the first two attempts fell short of the goal, thanks in part to boats falling apart, rough weather and crewman getting ill.

This year, the crew consisted of only Mr. Cuddihy, Ryan, also of Riverside, and Ryan’s friend Aaron Williamson of California, whom he met when both hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years ago.

The boat they used this year was a converted sailboat that was retrofitted with oar locks, a solar panel, a canopy and a desalination device to turn salt walter into drinking water. The boat also had a sponsor this year in Long Ireland Brewery of Riverhead.

The crew left the Mount Sinai Yacht Club on June 15 at about 6 a.m. and quickly made it through the East River before running into strong winds at Breezy Point off Brooklyn, where they had to anchor and wait for the winds to change.

“The wind was so strong it actually dragged the anchor and took us back into Jamaica Bay,” Mr. Cuddihy said.

They would anchor from time to time to avoid going getting blown backwards, but they made it around Montauk by Wednesday, and on Thursday, they were heading west along the Long Island Sound.

They got back to Mount Sinai Yacht Club at about noon on Friday.

While others have rowed around Long Island, Mr. Cuddihy believes this is the first time it’s ever been done with stopping, meaning without coming out of the water.

Along the way, they were interrogated by a Homeland Security vessel, they had a rescue helicopter descend on them because someone thought they were in distress, Mr. Williamson got sea sick twice and got better quickly, and they had eight foot waves coming over the boat.

Unlike previous years, they didn’t encounter rain, but they had to speed up their rowing in order to complete the row by Friday afternoon because a thunderstorm was forecast for Friday afternoon and night.

“This boat is like a lighting rod,” Mr. Cuddihy said. “We might have had to  come ashore if we didn’t finish early Friday.”

Mr. Williamson, who had no time to train when the crew after arriving by plane the day before the row, was on last year’s crew too. But he says he never had any rowing experience before and probably won’t have any more.

“I’ve done all the rowing I’m going to do,” he said. “I can check that off my list.”

Chris Cuddihy has done a number of endurance events in recent years, including being part of a crew that rowed across the Atlantic, and being one of two men to run seven ultramarathons on seven continents in seven days.

In the past few years, he’s done events aimed at raising money for SCUV, including the row and an annual “Riverfront 24,” run on Veterans Day, where people run around downtown Riverhead for 24 hours.

tgannon@timesreview.com

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