Deep Blue Sea

Gavan Hennigan from Knocknacarra is the inspirational adventurer who has seen more in his 35 years, than most people will see in a lifetime. This December, Gavan will undertake the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge, rowing 5,000 kilometres solo across the Atlantic Ocean. He shared his incredible life story of strength, perseverance and dedication with Claire O’Farrell. Galwegians, prepare to be proud; for Gavan is an unsung hero we can claim as our own.


Chatting to Gavan you could be forgiven for thinking that you have never achieved anything of note. However, despite the phenomenal accomplishments this man has to his name, he is incredibly down to earth and genuinely friendly. Gavan Hennigan has not always been the picture of health that he is today. From the age of 16 to 21, he developed an alcohol and drug addiction that nearly killed him. Finding himself in a desolate flat in London, close to death and addicted to hard drugs, Gavan managed to return to Galway to get clean. “I had to start a whole new life. I have been clean and sober since, and it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

After coming through his debilitating addiction, Gavan turned his life around by creating a focus. At 21 he visited Lahinch to try surfing, which started a monumental chain of events. “I remember surfing as being a real buzz from doing something that wasn’t just getting messed up. I ended up going to Bali surfing and then on to Australia on a working holiday. While I was there I did a course to become a commercial diver on the oilrigs.”

Just four years after what was almost the end of his life, Gavan had travelled the world diving and was living on a tropical island. “This company were flying me all over the world, and I was living in Bali between jobs surfing all the time. It was beyond my wildest dreams really.” Through surfing, Gavan became interested in snowboarding. “Most normal people go to a resort and get a lift up and down the mountain, whereas we started climbing the mountain ourselves, and then snowboarding down.”


With a newfound lust for life, Gavan took the next step in his career to become a deep-sea saturation diver – one of the toughest and most dangerous jobs in the world. “We go down about 200 metres, to do that involves living inside a small decompression chamber. Three to six of us live in there for 28 days at a time. We spend six or eight hours working, and then go back to live in the chamber.”

Decompression after dives can last up to seven days sitting in a confined space. During one of these decompressions, Gavan read an article about the toughest races in the world. “I found the Likeys 6633 Ultra, which is a 350 mile self-sufficient marathon in the Arctic. I was always into fitness, but I had never run a marathon. I had been to the Arctic before and I have been on many expeditions, so I understood the conditions and the organisation involved.”


With no previous training in long distance running, Gavan decided to go for it. “I came back to Ireland and started training like a madman, dragging tyres around the mountains of Connemara. I was going up Croagh Patrick with weight vests in the middle of the night and sleeping up there. I remember it being minus fifteen and wishing it was colder!”

Only twenty people have ever finished the Likeys 6633 Ultra since it began eight years ago, and Gavan was one of them. Following that incredible feat in 2015, Gavan went on to compete in the Yukon Arctic Ultra earlier this year. He was placed second overall, with the third fastest time ever since the race began in 2003. The race took him just five days to complete. “After that I signed up to the Talisker Row. I thought anything is fair game now, and I wanted to see what kind of challenges I could set for myself.”


A mere three weeks after his success in the Yukon Arctic Ultra, Gavan went on to cross the frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia on foot. The Russian freshwater lake is the biggest and deepest in the world, holding 20% of the worlds freshwater. He is one of only a handful of people to have ever undertaken the journey solo and unsupported. “I knew I really needed to challenge myself on my own, because that is what the row will be like.”

The Talisker Whiskey Challenge is 5,000 km across the Atlantic, which Gavan will also attempt solo. “From a challenge point of view, having to make decisions by yourself is very empowering. That’s what I like about it. I look at the row as a one-time shot. I have ninety days of supplies, but I hope to do it in sixty.”

Alongside the preparation that is going into Gavan’s latest expedition, he has been doing some public speaking at schools in order to share his incredible story. “I know there are plenty of young people in Ireland in the same predicament as I was. I had low self-esteem and I didn’t believe I could do anything, but in a few short years, I’m about to row across the Atlantic.”

The inspirational Galwegian has spent his life chasing highs that are both physically and mentally demanding. “With the row, it’s the mental side that is definitely going to be the hardest thing. I have built resilience over the years and getting clean has been a huge foundation.”

Gavan is supported by Ocean Fitness in the Salthill Hotel, and is currently seeking sponsorship for his expedition on the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. He has committed everything to the row. “It has turned into a full time job. I have decided to be a little bit bolder with my life and just go for it; you only live once after all. We will see where it takes me, but it’s been an exciting ride so far.”


To learn more about Gavan’s adventures, log on to, and follow him on Facebook at and Twitter at


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