The North Atlantic can be unforgiving: temperatures consistently in the 40s, notoriously turbulent waters, dangerously large swells. It’s the perfect environment, New York restaurateur Réamonn Byrne reasoned, to celebrate his 40th birthday by rowing a 25-foot boat from New York to Ireland in a venture called “The Hard Way Home.”
“I’ve always had an all-or-nothing personality” says Byrne, owner of Worthwild in Chelsea, who describes his former self as totally off the rails. After a decade of routine nights with cocaine and pint glasses of Captain Morgan, he sobered up and reshaped his reality into becoming an ultrarunner. He’d tick off runs upward of 100 miles and took this itch for adventure all the way to the Sahara Desert, where he completed the Marathon des Sables, a six-day ultramarathon event that shakes out to be roughly the distance of six regular marathons.
The mental and physical exertion was enough—until he needed a more intense fix, one that involves “high-stakes problem solving with some suffering thrown in,” Byrne says of his forthcoming oceanic pilgrimage.
Byrne, who grew up in Kilmacthomas, Ireland, christened the 3,000-mile journey “The Hard Way Home.” His goal, apart from the obvious of surviving, is to raise $20,000 for The Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, a charity in northern Ireland for bereaved families. Kevin Bell was just 26 years old when he died in a hit-and-run accident in New York, just outside where Byrne used to live in the Bronx’s Woodlawn neighborhood, known as Little Ireland.
“His family turned something incredibly hard into an amazing service to so many people,” says Byrne. “It’s inspiring. It just seemed to be the perfect fit,”
The Hard Way Home journey will begin May 15 and follow the Great Circle route, the shortest distance over the Earth’s curve from Montauk, NY, to Dungarvan, Ireland. The expedition is unsupported—as in no safety boat on standby—but Byrne will keep company with two men he met virtually through an ocean rowing forum. Joining him is Boulder resident Chris McCaffrey, 21, a professional mountain guide; and 25-year-old Ryen Cosgro, founder of outdoor guiding company Iris Expeditions, who’s living in a custom campervan in Far Rockaway, NY.
McCaffrey, who’s cycled across America, and Cosgro, who’s hiked the Pacific Coast Trail, jumped on Byrne’s mission to row in two-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 60 to 75 days.
“You have to learn to find comfort in the uncomfortable,” says Byrne. “Discomfort is linear. It’s like getting used to a noise. For instance, withultra running, 80 miles kind of feels the same as 30 miles, in my experience.”
The physical preparation for The Hard Way Home is just a minor factor, he admits, though it takes up a chunk of his schedule. Since December 2019, he’s steadily added 30 pounds onto his usual 165 frame, mostly through weekly strength training sessions, complemented by running 40 miles, rowing four hours, and a few 30-minute swimming intervals. Lately, he’s also been rolling out of bed at 2 and 4 a.m. to cycle on his NordicTrack bike to simulate the odd hours of activity he’ll endure.
Priming for the expedition has already cost Byrne $45,000 out of pocket of the $75,000 total, some of which is supported by a few sponsors, including Rerouted, a Colorado-based used adventure gear company, and Athletic Brewing, a non-alcoholic craft brewery.
Making sure the team stays well-fueled is one task that Cosgro is overseeing. So far he’s amassed 600 pounds of provisions (worth 1.5 million calories) in the form of freeze-dried meals, oatmeal, powdered coconut water, dried fruits, jerky, rice-and-bean burritos, chocolate, and supplements. He’s calculated each man should consume roughly 6,000 calories a day.
“Not only will we push our bodies extremely hard, we won’t be getting proper sleep, which makes it difficult to process 100 percent of the calories we’ll consume,” Cosgro says. “Quality food on this expedition isn’t only a necessity, it’s also huge for morale and can make or break the trip.”
The crew is still figuring out how to fit it all on the one-ton carbon-fiber-and-wood boat, which has undergone a full makeover since Byrne purchased it in Vancouver in August 2019. He rewired the electrical system, put in new solar panel chargers, and refitted a desalinator for fresh water, crucial not just for providing drinking water, but also for cleaning skin to lessen the risk of salt sores. Though if that happens, Byrne says he won’t shy away from sharing about it through social media (follow along on Instagram)—using a satellite phone and a Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) to stay on the grid.
World renowned sailor Peter Stokey Woodall, who’s successfully executed 30 transatlantic crossings, has been mentoring Byrne and the gang for the past six months, teaching them via Zoom about celestial navigation, seamanship, marine regulations, and emergency procedures. Both Cosgro and McCaffrey are Wilderness First Responders, should the trio need medical attention during the expedition. Byrne says Plan Z is to inflate a raft and activate the EPIRB, a device used to signal distress and alert search and rescue. But overall, he’s self-assured about the precarious adventure.
“To be honest, because of modern communications, it’s immeasurably safer than it would have been when guys started doing this 40 or 50 years ago with no GPS,” says Byrne.
As for what he most anticipates with The Hard Way Home: “That transcendent moment on the ocean, under the stars, getting everyone there alive, and hopefully these three strangers leaving New York will arrive in Ireland as brothers.”