| 11.3°C Dublin

Naked Adventurer tells of 'life-and-death' rescue

A BUMP on the head put paid to the 'Naked Adventurer's record-breaking attempt to row solo across the Indian Ocean.

Safely back on dry land in Australia yesterday, he revealed he was nearly killed as rescuers picked him out of the open waters.

Keith Whelan (30) said he could have drowned or been crushed when a huge wave capsized his rowboat as he drifted up alongside the hull of his rescue vessel -- a 250m-long Japanese cargo ship -- on Tuesday.

Mr Whelan, an events manager from Athy, Co Kildare, had been attempting to become the youngest man to row solo across the Indian Ocean before a cut on his head forced him to call for help.

He had set off from Geraldton, north of Perth, on May 7 but was hampered by terrible weather and had managed to row just 200km of the 6,000km to Mauritius before making the call for help to a team member in the UK via satellite phone.

The 'Naked Adventurer' -- so named because he rows naked to avoid painful sores caused by clothing drenched in saltwater -- was drifting for 11 hours before the cargo ship 'Fujisuka' came to his aid.

His colleagues had made contact with the water police in Australia, who were able to direct the Japanese ship to Whelan's location.

Yesterday he recounted his near-death experience after coming ashore in Bunbury, near Perth.


"As I came within a few feet of the hull, a big wave came from behind and overturned my vessel," he told the Irish Independent.

"I was underwater, with my boat on top of me pushing up against the hull of the cargo ship."

The adventurer managed to free himself but still had to climb a swaying 50-foot rope ladder to the safety of the deck of the 'Fujisuka'.

Whelan had called for help when a freak wave knocked him out of bed. He suffered a nasty cut to head and said he made the decision to abandon his record-breaking attempt because he couldn't stitch the wound himself and feared it would get infected.

"You never know how you will react in a life-and-death situation," he said.

"Thankfully, my survival instinct kicked in and I managed to fight my way through it."

The "amazing" Japanese crew welcomed him on board and glued his head wound closed before bringing him back to shore in Australia.

Mr Whelan is not a particularly experienced rower, but said it was a "freak occurrence" that halted his attempt and promises to return next year to complete his task.

When asked if he will do anything differently next year, he joked: "I might wear a helmet to bed."

The adventurer was undertaking the challenge to benefit the HIV/AIDS charity Keep a Child Alive.

Irish Independent