Sailing meets politics: Nabil Amra to compete in the Golden Globe Race

Nabil Amra is about to race his 38ft yacht around the world in the second edition of the Golden Globe Race, leaving France on the 1st July. Why’s this important to lefties? He’s flying the Palestinian flag.

I will be upfront here and say that I am one of “Labour’s racists” in that I view the genocide of Palestinians as unacceptable. According to reports in the BBC and other mainstream media outlets, that’s all you need to do to be an antisemite! You don’t even have to hate Jewish people or believe that Adolf Hitler was quite a nice chap – neither of which applies to me. 

I was watching a documentary about Paul Simon’s making of the Graceland album the other night and speaking of Apartheid South Africa he basically said that the world was aware of the privations that Black Africans felt under white rule, but he hoped that his album would show the deep inner beauty of those repressed. Can I attempt to show this of Palestine in this article? I do hope so…

The Golden Globe Race 

As well as a political junkie I’m quite a fan of sailing. I’ve written a couple of books on it and was lucky enough to discover in 2016 that an old shipmate of mine lives in the fishing port called Les Sables d’Olonne in Brittany. This is home to the Vendee Globe singlehanded round the world race. I was at the start and finish of the 2016-17 edition. He’s ashore this month and I will be at the Golden Globe start too. Sometimes we’re lucky who our friends are!

I’m one of many thousands of people who find that 25,000 mile circumnavigations are getting a bit boring on modern boats. They are essentially self-sailing robots that do obscene speeds with the crew / solo skipper just giving the boat advice as to where to go and fixing problems as they occur. I’m not denigrating the world’s great sailors like Alex Thomson – they are the gods of yacht racing and are undoubtably brilliant in their own ways. One guy, a highly skilled sailor in his own right, sailed a foiling Open 60 in the last race and couldn’t get the bloody thing going properly for a good 10,000 miles, by which time Alex Thomson had sailed his back to France. 

I just find that being able to sail around the world in 42 days (as did Francoise Gabart on Macif last year) a bit un-challenging. The Golden Globe answers that problem. While the Open 60’s and maxi trimarans basically skim over the surface of the water (and in years to come, just above on hydrofoils like you saw in the Americas Cup) the Golden Globe boats are basically the sort of yacht that I might buy for my family. They are displacement yachts capable of unholy speeds of 10 knots in a fierce following gale – certainly not 45kts plus on Macif. 

The last Golden Globe was finished by Robin Knox Johnson in 312 days. The current race demands that skippers will have to use astral navigation and not GPS. They will not be allowed outside advice on the weather – shore teams weather forecasting is the way the modern teams get around the world so quickly. They don’t have computers wired into their autopilots that calculate the perfect route based on air and sea conditions or the progress of the weather fronts overhead – they will use mechanical wind vane autopilots that steer according to the boat’s angle to the wind that moment. This is a challenge of old seamanship that every yachtsman and woman who has sailed any decent distance will thoroughly appreciate. OK, maybe not all – for some baffling reason the blue-jeans-and-six-pack-of-beer sailing website Sailing Anarchy have turned against it (I suspect ADHD is the issue as 300 days following a race is a tad long for someone who can’t concentrate…)

What’s this got to do with politics?

OK, so I’ve geeked out a bit on sailing. Time to focus on Nabil Amra. 

Nabil has a US passport but his Dad was born in Palestine. Nabil lived there for two years too, a US magazine feature reporting, “He grew up in Chaska and moved to the West Bank at age 12. His family intended to stay for a single summer, but arriving at the start of the 1987 Intifada, they ended up staying for two years. His school closed after the uprising started, and he joined other youth in demonstrations against the Israelis. Walking home after one demonstration, he said a jeep picked him up and he got a “week’s worth of beatings in a tin box.” “Maybe this will be my thumb in that eye,” he said. “…It was an eye-opening experience for a kid with no political leaning at the time to get wind that we were a third class citizen somewhere. And yet the people themselves were generous and gracious, and the hospitality like you’ve never seen before, for people that had nothing. Part of this is for them.””

His Dad served in the US Navy, and was aboard the USS Liberty when it was attacked by Israeli fighters, and Nabil spent much of his life in the US. While naming his boat Liberty II in his father’s ship’s honour,  Nabil’s sojourn in the country of his roots made him want to represent the country of his ancestors rather than that of his birth.

On the Golden Globe Race website he said, “My saltwater journey is just beginning! I’m preparing to start a new chapter in my life that has more to do with adventure. The Golden Globe Race came along at just the right time to turn an incessant daydream into reality. My eagerness is to sail under the Palestinian flag and to represent these forlorn people who have had little to be cheery about for a long time.”

Nabil is sailing in a field of competitors that are pretty hot sailors in their own right. Just look at Jean-Luc van den Heede’s profile – a 73 year old who is one of the best sailors in the world bar none. Nabil however is a genuine amateur adventurer who just enjoys sailing and quit his job as a foreign exchange trader to follow his dream. 

Is this enough?

Over the coming year, Nabil will hopefully sail around the world at jogging pace and will have to get around it in the way sailors had to do it for several centuries before the US put satellites up in the sky to make the job so much easier. If he’s under leaden storm clouds for three weeks in the Southern Ocean he will have to estimate his position every day, while his boat tells the world excepting him and his competitors just where he is by GPS.

If you want a hero of Palestine who isn’t at gunpoint or being abused by an apartheid repressive state, then please, just follow the Golden Globe Race this year. Be proud of your racism and support a man who is doing something far harder than many of us will ever do!

Rich Shrubb