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A SLO local was rescued trying to row across the Atlantic. The boat just showed up a year later

Barney the boat
Courtesy: Ryen Cosgro
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Ray Byrne (right) and Ryen Cosgro (left) row their boat Barney across the North Atlantic Ocean.

Last June, San Luis Obispo local Ryen Cosgro set out on a journey with two friends that was unlike anything he had done before.

“The goal of the trip was to row a small boat from New York City to Ireland across the North Atlantic,” Cosgro said.

Cosgro and his crewmates Chris McCaffrey and Ray Byrne relied almost exclusively on Snickers bars, freeze-fried chicken tikka masala and oats for the three months they spent on their way to Ireland.

But after electrical challenges, the trip had to be cut short 2,100 miles in — about two-thirds of the way. The group abandoned their 25-foot boat, named Barney, and thought they’d likely never see it again — until they received a photo of it last month, nearly a year later.

Go Time

The trip’s inception came a number of years ago when Ray Byrne, who’s Irish and lives in New York City, decided he wanted to push himself to try something challenging that would ground him in the moment.

“I’m like a dog with a bone," Byrne said. "Once I decide, I’ll do anything to make it happen.”

Byrne had done self-supported treks in the past, but nothing like this. He really had no experience on the water.

“Nothing that would say, ‘Oh it’s a good idea to try and row across the North Atlantic,’" Byrne said. "No sane person would be like, ‘Oh, [that seems like] that’s a good idea for you.’”

But he knew it was possible to pull off because he'd seen similar voyages done before.

“Kudos to the guy who did it first,” Byrne said.

So after gathering a willing crew and preparing for the trip, the three men set out to sea in June of 2021 — a bit delayed by weather. But Barney the boat, who was named for Byrne’s father who passed away during the pandemic, was ready to go — at least for now.

And that’s when Cosgro said he fully realized exactly what he’d gotten himself into.

“The first morning I woke up on Barney, we couldn’t see land anymore. I was like ‘Oh this is real. We are fully committed to this — of being in the middle of the ocean for the next couple of months,'” Cosgro said.

Choppy Waters

The group started having issues with Barney early on. Things weren't working right and parts were taking on water. After eight days, their electrical system died.

Thankfully, using a satellite phone, they were able to coordinate being towed back to land to get a generator installed.

But after just a week and a half back on shore, they set out again to continue the trip.

Cosgro said they had interactions with animals like Minke whales and thresher sharks. But aside from that, they were by themselves in the ocean.

“We were out there alone," Cosgro said. "There was nobody following us.”

But, the crew generally tried to follow the North Atlantic Drift on their way to Ireland because it's a major shipping route.

“That was our safety," Cosgro said. "If something [went] horribly wrong, [we would] be within 100 miles of a shipping route where, in a number of days, we’d be able to be picked up.”

Eventually, that choice came in handy.

At some point, the boat’s desalination pump failed. Then their rudder was ripped off in a storm.

They were able to fix those things. But then, their generator failed two thirds of the way through the trip. It was getting hit with too much water.

The Hard Goodbye

“The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to look like they didn’t fit,” said Chris McCaffrey, the friend who originally called Cosgro about going on the trip.

He, like Cosgro, had led numerous guiding trips and expeditions prior to this voyage. He said they spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to move forward. But this was a totally different kind of experience.

“I don’t think I'd ever been in a situation before that I couldn’t just out-effort," McCaffrey said. "So that was emotionally just a really interesting thing to deal with.”

In the end, there was no safe way for them to continue.

“Oh man. I felt heartbroken. I felt hollow,” McCaffrey said.

Barney crew rescued.JPEG
Courtesy: Ryen Cosgro
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Byrne, Cosgro and McCaffrey are rescued by the crew on the Magnolia Express, an oil tanker traveling along the North Atlantic Drift.

So they contacted the Canadian Coast Guard, who connected them with an oil tanker headed in their direction. The group was safely picked up that same day, but they had to leave Barney behind.

Byrne said when they boarded the tanker, he felt a weight lift off his shoulders because it meant everyone made it out safely.

Even though he doesn’t consider himself very sentimental, he said that moment was hard.

“I’ve put years and years into getting that done," Byrne said. "And you just watch the boat drift away.”

They expected to never see Barney again.

“I had a fantasy that I’d be surfing in some foggy place in Northern Europe and it would just magically wash up on the beach,” Cosgro said.

An Unlikely Surprise

This June — nearly a year after they watched Barney drift away — someone on social media sent them a grainy photo of a pretty weathered boat.

And while the photo did seem a little fishy, they knew it was Barney.

“What had been our bedding and everything that was all nice, was just a bunch of barnacles,” Cosgro said.

The boat made it across the sea and was found off the coast of France — their American and Irish decals still decorating the vessel.

Now, the group is tasked with either picking it up from the French Naval yard, where it’s currently sitting, or paying to have it moved.

“The boat is pretty much done," Cosgro said. "But it has made the journey across the North Atlantic Ocean and has reached the other side.”

All three men agree that other big expeditions are in their future, but this chapter is closed.

Although they did feel a bit robbed of the glory of making it to their final destination, McCaffrey said, making it to Ireland never really was the point of the journey.

“There’s a little video clip. Ray is out on the oars, we’ve got the bluetooth speaker going, all listening to a podcast or something. Ryen and I are laying in the cabin. The hatches are all open. It's a beautiful sunset. Ryen's fishing out the back of the hatch. That little video clip — that was the point," McCaffrey said. "That’s way more valuable than getting to Ireland and drinking a couple of Guinnesses and going home.”

The group documented much of their journey on social media. You can read more about it and see pictures of Barney on Facebook and Instagram, under the handle "The Hard Way Home."

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.