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Meet the Arab American Preparing to Sail Around the Globe Carrying the Palestinian Flag

posted on: Oct 25, 2017

By: Michaela Schrum/Arab America Contributing Writer

Sir Robin Knox- Johnston from the UK was the first man recorded to have sailed around the world in 1968 and since then, the Golden Globes have been a rallying point for sailing enthusiasts around the world. But on July 1st, 2018, Nabil Amra, a foreign exchange trader at the US Bank from Chaska, Minnesota and El-Bireh, Palestine, will make history as the first Palestinian American to sail around the world under the Palestinian flag, adding a new layer of excitement to the year-long race.

Amra has been sailing on the lakes of Minnesota for the past 13 years and has loved the sea since his childhood. As a young boy, Amra and his family loved watching the Olympics, and he always wondered why Palestine was not represented there because representation at the Olympics didn’t happen until 1996. “It was sometime near the last Olympics of 2016 that I contacted the Gaza Sail and Surf Federation to ask if they were going to field some competitors for the Olympics since [Palestinians] are a seafaring people with the talent to compete.” Amra was infuriated by their response.

Amra said that according to the Gaza Sail and Surf Federation “ Palestinians were forbidden to compete in the Olympics due to lack of visas, and bans on entering and returning to Gaza etc.”  A couple of years later, Amra saw an ad in a sailing magazine for the 50th anniversary of the Golden Globe Race and within 20 minutes, he had applied to enter the race under the Palestinian flag.

The Golden Globe race has 30 participants and very specific rules. Participating sailors must hand write logs, navigate with sextant on paper charts without electronic instruments, and speak to loved ones sparingly throughout the almost one-year-long race. There are also regulations about the type of yacht one can use; the one Amra will use is a Biscay 36.  Amra has accepted the challenge, and in fact, the many rules were a large motivating factor of the race for Amra.

While I had no experience using a ham radio and navigating with a sextant and Nautical Almanac before, I thought it would actually be a good equalizer for the novice like myself […] The vast majority of sailors these days haven’t used these tools either. While they are all great sailors, they would have to get familiar and handy with the tools, just as I would.”

(Left to right: Nabil Amra, Antoine Cousot and their Golden Globe yachts)

When asked about his motivation to enter this race, Amra gives all the credit to his heroes: Palestinians. “It has to be noted that after a childhood of reading all the sea stories I could get my hands on, I also wanted to compare myself against some of my early idols like  Sir Francis Chichester, Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, Bernard Moitessier, Eric Tabarly, and Nigel Tetley”.  He said that their tenacity has reminded him of that which is present in Palestinians. He recognizes that there are so many Palestinians that would love to enter ocean races but are not able to do it due to racism and the political situation.  Amra says “this is the definition of poor sportsmanship.”

Amra wants this race to open more doors for Palestinians in the future  “What I can tell you is that after this, there will be no quarter given for those that forcibly keep another from the world of sport. I will open this door, but those that come after will be the real heroes.”

Amra will be carrying Palestinian goods like Odeh roasted nuts, Palestinian olive oil, and Nablus soap to remind him of what this race is for. He hopes that letters can be sent to Falmouth, England before the race so that he can read them on the ship to keep spirits up.  

But no matter what, Nabil Amra remembers: “I’m a Palestinian American, the best of both worlds. No one can hold us down, ever. Maybe that’s why the motto of Team Palestine is the old famous saying “Don’t give up the ship!”


Live coverage of the race will be available HERE  throughout the year.