Posted by: admin | July 29, 2010

Beyond a Thousand Kilometers


SHANNON CHALLENGE 2010 Shannon Challenge The Boy of Hope

Helena Bergin

Donnacha Attig (his real name is Donald, but a friend of his thought that Donnacha was Irish for Donald, so he is now known under both names) is a 75 year old pensioner who has now started his second attempt to row over a ton of live aboard boat and gear solo the entire length of the Shannon and beyond. To make the engineless transit from the start of the Shannon Navigation at the Inishmagrath marker, on Lough Allen, in County Leitrim to the end of Shannon
Navigation at Killaloe, County Clare and beyond to the Port of Tarbert in the estuary requires dealing with 33 bridges, 6 locks, and nine lakes, single-handed and without mechanical power. To row and sail such a heavy boat single handed represents the ultimate challenge and requires enormous reserves of determination, stamina, commitment, physical and mental endurance.

His little live aboard cruiser, Omar’s River Bird, has racked up over 1,000 kilometers of engine-less transit from 2007 through 2009. The boat was designed and built by his son Omar, who was a boat designer in Donoughmore, Co Cork, as a camper boat to be used for cruising down the river by families who would love to get out on the water but could not afford a big motor cruiser. This is the only boat of this type that was built. Omar sold two in the first week but never built them because, as Donald says it, ‘Omar stepped into truth after a car
accident and moved in with the Lord’.

(At this point in the article there is a picture of the boat sailing close hauled.)
Omar’s River Bird pictured passing LRYC on Sunday 22 August. The boat is bigger inside than you might think. It has berths for a family, enclosed toilet room
and cast iron heating stove.

If you wonder what the two signs on the side of the boat means, it’s Mandarin Chinese for 23, his registration number in River Lee navigation. Under Irish navigation laws you have to have your boat registered and the number displayed but the law does not say anything about in which language….

Between the ages of 71 and 73 Donald was involved in establishing International Benchmark records in the fields of Endurance Challenge and Adventure Challenge. He really shows us that you can still live an active life no matter what age you are. All three of his Benchmark establishing efforts were witnessed by thousands of persons and recorded at length in the media and press. The members of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland supported, followed and chronicled the efforts. In 2007 the Lough Derg branch of IWAI awarded the boat and crew honorary membership in their annual Lough Derg rally. In the same year, the IWAI Cruising Club formally welcomed the boat into Foynes harbor, as it returned after completing the Benchmark establishing efforts at Tarbert. The club also made the crew and boat officially part of the 2007 Killaloe to Kilrush
Cruise in Company.

The official launch of the 2010 Shannon Challenge was from Carrick-on-Shannon in
the middle of August. The boat was then towed to the marker at the top of Lough
Allen which is the beginning of the Shannon Navigation. The Shannon Challenge is to draw attention to and raise funds for his charity In His Footsteps,(#CHY12973). The charity was started in 1998 when Don and
two of his friends saw the need for a small charity in India. A person they know, Maureen Clarke, worked voluntarily with disabled children in India. One of them was ten-year-old Tony, from Tamil Nadu, who he says has a remarkable intelligence and lust for life despite being born with no arms and only one boneless leg. He calls Tony ’The Boy of Hope’, a title for Tony was originally
coined by the RTE Crew from Nationwide that made the July 6, 2008 segment of the program called Boy of Hope. This charity has also built up a centre where they teach disabled children to use industrial sewing machines so that they can make a living by sewing. They are now building up a computer training centre for visually impaired people. These people live there until they have finished their education, found a job and saved enough money to buy a house for themselves.

Donald Attig was born in Pontiac, Illinois in 1936. His father was German and his mother was Irish, from Castleblaney, Monaghan. At various times, he has been an inventor, plastics engineer/formulator, boat designer, entrepreneur, yachtsman, gold prospector, forestry worker, home birth midwife, fireman on steam powered railroad engines, soldier, missionary, building contractor, roofing contractor, CEO, janitor, restaurateur, author, chaplain, social worker
and pastor. He has owned and operated several boat, plastic fabrication and
construction companies in many places in US. While still in his twenties Attig retired the first time to carry out a record setting voyage in a power cruiser, which he designed and built. In 1968 by permission of the Hon. Brian O’Kelly he became the first person to build a 3 mast sailing ship in the US under the Irish flag.

(picture inserted in magazine article) Donald Attig on Omar’s River Bird outside
Athlone Castle on Sunday 22 August

For ten years Attig and his family lived and voyaged on the 3 masted sailing ship. Attig sailed with his wife and new born son to Ireland in 1977 and traveled to many places from there, including ocean crossings. Two of his five children, Omar Brendan and John Paul, were born on the vessel. For years,
during the troubles in Northern Ireland, Attig and his son Omar operated free sailing excursions on the schooner, for at risk youth of any religion and others in need. After Omar was involved in the fatal car crash, Attig turned the ship over to the VEC Youth Reach Program. In 2001, on the day this gift was announced at Ballincollig, County Cork, President Mary McAleese personally thanked Attig for his gift and services to the Irish Nation.

If you wish to make a contribution to this worthy cause, then the details are: In His Footsteps/ Account Number 18236065/ sort code 934267/ Allied Irish Bank, 33 North Main Street, Cork City. You can send a cheque, bank draft or postal order to Don Attig, Nano Nagle’s Anchorage, Donoughmore, County Cork. He can be
contacted on the mobile (evenings only while he’s rowing!) on (087) 9640805. After the challenge is finished: (021)7337303 His website is,

Inland Waterways News
By clicking on the following link the Article will come up. Boy of Hope Autumn Edition 2010[1]
Boy Of Hope Challenge 2010 has been successfully completed. At about 11:00 P.M. on Friday September 24th Omar’s River Bird returned to the place where it lives – Nano Nagle’s Anchorage, Donoughmore, Co. Cork. This year’s odyssey started there about 9:00 A.M. on Thursday, August 5th, when Jack and Zafor arrived to tow the boat “up the country” to Carrick on Shannon.  The boat was launched into the Shannon River at 6:00 P.M. that night.  In both 2007 and 2008, when we launched the boat on the rocky beach at the bottom of Lough Allen, the challenges came close to being ended by wind roaring across the lake toward the beach’s hungry rocks. In 2008, after rowing almost an hour against strong winds to make about 200 yards, a squall struck and the anchor caught about 30 meters from the beach. Two days later the wind finally dropped enough that I was able to raise the anchor and row off again. Not the best start! Over two full days gone – there were still 250  plus miles of over the bottom and many struggles to cover the distance to the top of Lough Allen, where Shannon Navigation begins, and then go down against the strong prevailing winds to the seaport of Foynes, passing through 33 bridges, 6 locks, 9 lakes and many hazards.  Only 30 yards progress had been made and all that still lay ahead!  In 2007, shortly after the launch, it had taken every ounce of Jack and my combined strengths to keep the boat off the beach’s rocks. Thus it was decided to do it smart in 2010. The boat would be launched at Carrick and then towed to the top of Lough Allen, avoiding the problems of 2007 and 2008. As the Scots say, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft gang aglay!” 

On Monday, the 9th of September, Des Gillette and his crew of merry pirates lashed Omar’s River Bird to a Tara Cruiser’s stern and towed it from Carrick to the markers next to Inismagrath Island. These designate the end/beginning of navigation on the Shannon.  The tow was made in one of those glorious sun filled days, which make boating anywhere, and especially on Europe’s most pristine river, a fantastic experience. This lent to the festive air on the journey. Little did any of us know that Boy of Hope Challenge 2010 would almost end in disaster within five minutes of its official beginning!

Omar’s River Bird was cut loose from the towing yacht at 5:30 P.M. and the yacht’s crew busied themselves taking pictures of the engineless live-aboard camper-yacht being rowed past the signs which mark the end/beginning of the official Shannon Navigation. Next they wanted some pictures of the boat being sailed past the markers. I raised the full sail. They took some photos, waved, and headed back toward Carrick. Just then a localized squall line struck and I had to drop sail and heave the oversized anchor off the stern of the boat. It caught just in time and disaster was avoided by a hair’s breadth. The rocks on the back side of Inismagrath Island were baring their potentially fatal teeth only a few meters from the stern. When the wind struck it sounded as though the steering oar had cracked, but mercifully it had not. A little after half past eight the wind dropped and I rowed off shore.  By 1:30 A.M., Tuesday the 10th, I was beat. It had been twenty one hours and thirty minutes since I’d began readying the boat for its tow to the top of Lough Allen. I went in very close in to the lee (safe) shore and dropped the anchor. My plan was to rest for a half hour or hour and then go on. At 6:00 A.M. I woke up to find myself on a windward shore – not a good place to be!  That was the start of Boy of Hope Challenge 2010.

At 10:15 on Tuesday, September 31 I passed through the Bridge at Killaloe/Ballina and tied up to the floating dock just downstream of the bridge. This marks the end of the official Shannon Navigation. The trip to that milestone had been by far the most difficult of all 4 Challenges and I lost track of how many times wind, rocks and other hazards almost put paid to both the Challenge and Omar’s River Bird.

On Sunday, August 5th my youngest son, Caleb Thomas, arrived at Shannon Airport – he has moved back to his native country, The Old Sod! My old partner in various endeavours and crime, Jack Donovan, drove up to Killaloe the night before and we picked up Caleb at the airport. He joined the crew at that time and we rowed away from the Killaloe dock at 9:40 A.M. Monday, headed for the Ardnacrusha Dam with locks which drop you and your vessel 100 feet, the dangerous passage through the Limerick Bridges, and the unpredictable Sea Estuary.

Caleb Thomas really had a baptism of fire, so to speak! Too many adventures and close calls to relate in one epistle. We were driven or intentionally fled onto mud banks 4 times in the estuary. The closest call was the mad dash onto the mud bank just up stream of the Shannon Airport fuel dock and inside the man made break water. A really violent storm developed, out of nowhere, and far beyond anything which had been forecast. Smashing waves tore the back two feet off of Omar’s River Bird and tore the pipe encased port side lee board restraining chain off the boat. Thus crippled, it would have been unwise to continue on in the violent waters so I drove the boat past the breakwater and onto the mud bank. We set the anchor and rode out the heavy winds from 12:40 P.M. on Sunday September 12th till 11:35 A.M. on Thursday the 16th, when we were able to lift anchor and start rowing toward Foynes at slack tide, with the prospect of a favourable tide in about an hour. During our stay in this place of refuge we looked forward to the low tides, when Omar’s River Bird sat serenely on the mud bank. The rest of the time we were treated to a constant motion that would bring to mind an oscillating automatic washing machine!

The Shannon and its Estuary were not done with us yet. They took one more serious swipe at Omar’s River Bird and it’s crew!  Across the Shannon Estuary and downstream of our storm anchorage the medieval structure of Beagh Castle still guards Medieval port facilities. At the downstream terminus of this long abandoned complex is a finger of rocks which curl out into the Shannon Estuary like a scorpion’s tail. As we were happily passing by this romantic looking spot a strange current gripped Omar’s River Bird and pulled it inside the little bay while shoving it toward the hungry rocks’ jagged teeth. It took all the effort Caleb and I could throw into the oars and some Divine intervention to tear the little vessel from harm’s way. The Challenge was ending as it started – fraught with danger and requiring every last ounce of strength coupled with over 50 years of long distance cruising experience to survive!  Omar’s River Bird finally berthed safely at Foynes Yacht Club and among its wonderful boating community at 1:50 P.M. on Friday September 17, AD 2010.  Mission Accomplished!!!!

As a footnote to the trip I might mention that our first guests at the Yacht Club berth were a well experienced middle aged yachtsman and his adult son. The pair related to us that they almost lost their boat in stormy weather on Lough Derg because one of the two large diesel engines overheated and failed. The remaining engine had great difficulty in bringing their vessel safely through the troubled waters and neither of them had thought they were going to make it. Their boat is an ex British Admiral’s double cabin cruiser which was used as an auxiliary vessel by a British Aircraft Carrier. This really brought home to Caleb what we had accomplished. As of this date he is the youngest person to crew an engineless boat with live-aboard capability both from Killaloe to the Shannon Estuary and then down the Estuary to the Seaport of Foynes and I’m the oldest to do so.  Normally when a new benchmark is established in the categories of Adventure Challenge and/or Endurance Challenge within weeks or months someone tries to equal or best it. As of now no one has attempted to duplicate the four challenges. Before they were attempted it was thought that these were bridges too far – things that could not be done – impossible nightmares!  To date those who have looked into making similar attempts have been dissuaded when they discovered the enormity of what is involved.

Course for yours truly there is always next year!  God bless!

Below this is the post which I made just before the starting on BOY OF HOPE CHALLENGE 2010. I do hope to post some photos between here and there soon. 

Hello to all our friends and interested parties in Cyber land, receive greetings from the 300 year old cottage in Donoughmore, Co. Cork, Ireland!

God willing, on the first Thursday in August Shannon Challenge 2010 will commence. We plan to hook Zafor’s van up to Omar’s River Bird at false dawn. The little vessel is currently “moored” at the site of what was the highest boat building company in Ireland, until my son, Omar, (RIP) stepped into truth in AD 1995. From there we will voyage overland to Carrick-On-Shannon where the official launch will take place. As always my partner in high-jinx, Jack Donovan, will be riding “shotgun” on the journey “up the country”.  The vessel will then be towed to the marker at the top of Lough Allen which is the beginning of Shannon Navigation. In both the 2007 and 2008 efforts Omar’s River Bird came close to disaster when launching on the rocky beach at Cromungan. Not wanting to tempt fate a third time it was decided to tow the boat to the top of the Shannon. This also eliminates the unnecessary row from the bottom of Lough Allen to the marker at its top which is the official beginning of the Shannon Navigation. When Omar’s River Bird is cut loose from the tow our challenge commence at the official beginning of Shannon Navigation

The little live aboard cruiser has racked up over 1,000 kilometers of engine-less transit from 2007 through 2009. During those Challenges many international benchmark records in both adventure and endurance challenge have been established. Hence this effort is “beyond a thousand kilometers“.  As always we are trying to highlight our fundraising for our very special boy, Tony, and the project in India. And showing the world that the best part of life starts at retirement. I entered my 75th year of life on February 2 this year and never had it so good!

A picture taken by the Enniskillen Impartial Reporter Newspaper as I was on my way to the first engine-less transit of the Erne Navigation in AD 2009.

At the end of it all I hope to have some photos and comments to add to the site. Please keep the effort and the fundraising in prayer. The photo above was taken by the Enniskillen Impartial Reporter Newspaper as I was rowing through that town, while making the first engine-less transit of the Erne Navigation in a live-aboard boat. The date was August 13, 2010.

Thanks and God bless,        Donnacha Attig


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