Minnesota sailor trying to call attention to plight of Palestinians sees his journey cut short due to vessel damage caused by gale-force winds.
By Dave Gahary
Nabil Amra, 43, the Palestinian-American who quit his job to set off on a 30,000-nautical mile, nine-month race on July 1, is back home in Minneapolis, Minn. after his boat was damaged in some rough seas. Prior to embarking on this race, Amra was a successful currency trader, and quit his job to draw attention to Mideast issues. This reporter interviewed Amra for the May 21 & 28 edition of this newspaper in preparation for his trip and sat down with him again recently for a wrap-up on what happened.
Amra began by making mention of the support he received, especially from readers of this newspaper.
“I want to thank you and many of your listeners and those who subscribe to the publication,” he said. “They sent me letters—which I brought on board—and donations, and just great words of encouragement, and I can’t thank you enough for that. Especially in dark times, it’s nice to go back to an encouraging letter from someone who I’ve never met before but has similar interests and thoughts. So that support has been fantastic.”
Amra started off gangbusters but ran into some rough seas.
“I was one of 19 starters and was in 11th place around the Canary Islands,” he explained.
The Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago located 62 miles west of Morocco, has long been considered a bridge between the four continents of Europe, Africa, South America, and North America.
During some gale-force winds about two weeks on the water, Amra ran into trouble.
“Eventually my self-steering gear broke, a big weld on it that I had no way of trying to rectify,” he said. “I was maybe 150 miles past the islands but the wind was straight up the rear right behind me. I had a grim choice: Do you continue 900 miles to the Cape Verde islands?”
Cape Verde, an island country spanning 10 volcanic islands in the central Atlantic Ocean, lies around 350 miles west of Africa.
“So, I had to make my way back to the Canary Islands in the face of the katabatic winds coming off the volcano,” he added.
Katabatic winds carry high-density air from a higher elevation down a slope from gravity and can move down elevated slopes at hurricane speeds.
“It was a brutal three-day journey back to the islands to seek repairs,” he explained, “and when I got there I realized I was essentially unrepairable. So, that was the end of my race.”
Amra doesn’t believe sabotage was involved because “the same breakage happened to two other boats in the same gear in the same spot,” though he told this writer that the boats “were unattended for periods of time.”
While the race is still going and barely half over, with eight people left, it’s uncertain whether anyone will finish. The leader right now “is the oldest man in the race, 73-year-old Frenchman Jean-Luc Van Den Heede.”
“The gap between first and second has opened up to a couple of thousand miles,” explained Amra. “He’s in a completely different weather system.”
AFP asked Amra if, now that he’s out of the race, he could get his job back.
“I visited the old office,” he said. “I was amazed at how quickly I was replaced, on one hand, and on the other, I kind of had my thoughts that after a venture like this, the chances of going back to the bank in that capacity were probably going to be diminished.”
“I feel as though this was something that had to be done,” he said.
It’s a safe bet that Amra will be back in the race, or some kind of race, in the future.
Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, prevailed in a suit brought by the New York Stock Exchange in an attempt to silence him. Dave is the producer of an upcoming full-length feature film about the attack on the USS Liberty. See erasingtheliberty.com for more information and to get the new book on which the movie will be based, Erasing the Liberty.
This story is interesting and personal for me in a couple of ways. First, as a sailor I had a similar adventure on a smaller scale in a smaller body of water and probably a smaller boat (mine was 30 feet and I imagine Amra’s was quite bigger as an ocean racer). And I have similar views on Palestine, which I believe is the cause of what should be an international shame, of how crimes against it by Israel have been ignored.
I set out on one leg of my single handed trip around Long Island Sound on a day when I should have turned back to port as soon as I reached open water. There were small craft warnings and not another boat visible in an area that has good recreational boat traffic. I did make it to the next port but after terrible conditions for eight hours where i could not leave the tiller (conditions were too rough to let my simple auto pilot take over).
The other thing I was thinking was that it might have been a good thing that Amra did not complete his journey. It is improbable that the Israeli coast guard or navy would have allowed him to make port and publicise it. He would have been at the least arrested, if not worse in the lonely waves of a location far out at see, way beyond view of the shore or any possible witnesses. If they could have monitored his radio transmissions and determined nobody would know what happened, the worse could happen. So maybe Amra is a lucky man after all.