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Mapping a Slave Route Tribute / Boatman plans Atlantic trek to pay homage

Victor Mooney wants to experience as best he can what it

must have been like for captured Africans, bound for servitude in the West, to

cross the Atlantic Ocean in slave ships from the 15th to the early 19th


Next year on Feb. 1, the Woodhaven resident will embark on a unique

pilgrimage to retrace that route and pay homage to those who came by it to the

West. He will board a plane for Senegal in west Africa, then travel by ferry to

Goree Island off the coast of Dakar, the Senegalese capital.

From Goree Island, Mooney will embark on an 8,000-mile trip - rowing to

western ports of call for the slave ships, including Brazil; Venezuela; St.

Kitts and other Caribbean islands; Miami; the Carolinas and finally New York.

His schedule will bring him to Montauk Point, sometime in August or September.

Mooney, 39, the father of four children - ages 16, 11, 9 and 4 - will be

alone, although a support vessel will videotape his voyage and assist him only

in an emergency. But he will be able to stay in contact with oceanographers,

meteorologists and others guiding his trip through satellite and Internet

communication equipment on board a custom-built, ocean rowboat.

If he achieves his goal, he believes he will be the first person to make

such a journey. "It's something I feel led to do," Mooney said.

The spokesman for the ASA Institute, the College of Advanced Technology in

Brooklyn, has a lifelong love of canoeing. He is undergoing a year of physical

and mental preparation to endure what he expects will be the most demanding of

several expeditions on water that he has undertaken to raise awareness that

AIDS is still prevalent.

He's had some previous experience. Every year since 2000, he has paddled a

17-foot canoe around Manhattan and Long Island in what he called a Paddle for


He said he wanted to continue a legacy of the late Cardinal John O'Connor,

who helped people with the disease. Mooney, a parishioner at St. Bridget's

Church in Westbury, said he admired O'Connor's "compassion for people with HIV

and AIDS." Mooney is also motivated because AIDS claimed a relative.

His trips tout abstinence, he said, because "I believe that HIV / AIDS is

preventable one hundred percent."

The planned Goree Challenge is also intended to call attention to the

disease. "I have seen the devastation of HIV / AIDS in Africa," Mooney said.

Coinciding with the start of Black History Month next year, his trip is also

aimed at recalling the horrors of the slave trade.

Goree Island - also referred to as The Slaves' House - was the main point

from which millions of Africans were shipped into slavery along a route known

as the Middle Passage.

According to historians, the enslaved people were warehoused on the island,

shackled, fattened, branded and priced for sale, then forced to walk through a

"Door of No Return." Thousands died during the Atlantic crossing.

To make himself seaworthy for his trans-Atlantic rowing attempt, Mooney

wakes at 4:45 a.m. to train. He practices on a rowing machine, sometimes

wearing neck, arm and leg shackles that actually cause bleeding as he seeks to

replicate his ancestors' ordeal.

"I want to pay tribute, and to also endure the pain and suffering they went

through," he said. He won't, however, use the shackles during the journey. He

runs, works out on a treadmill, an indoor rowing machine and a high altitude

machine. He also gets massages and relaxes in a hot tub. Some of the routine is

repeated after work.

There are days when it's hard to get up, but Mooney is highly motivated.

"The main thing is to keep your focus on the big prize," he said. "Some

days you don't want to wake up, but your body and mind have to be ready. You

want to survive this, talk about it, but you have to keep your faith first.

Without my faith, I cannot move. I believe in God, and I know my strength comes

from him."

On the Atlantic, "My thoughts will be, 'I row by faith, not by sight.'"

His craft will be a 24-foot, plywood, boat that he expects to capsize

riding 40-foot waves but will right itself, he said. The boat will have a

sleeping berth and a compartment for shelter from rough weather. Mooney said he

will have a handheld light for signaling, and safety flares. He will row

during the day or night, whichever is navigationally expedient.

To his delight, he will be "actually rowing the route of the slave ships."

"When I looked at it, I said, 'wow!'" he said of the first leg between

Goree Island and Brazil. This 2,500-mile segment of the trip, which he expects

to complete in about 90 days, will be "the most challenging," he said. But he

expects his rowing to be facilitated by currents that flow from Africa to


"I educated myself on the currents and tides in the waterway by reading

nautical charts and books," he said.

Along the way he will eat canned food, energy bars and drinks, fruits and

green tea, and he will keep a journal.

If necessary, Mooney will apply lessons he learned from his "paddles," when

he had to grapple with heat exhaustion, biting green flies, and blisters from

paddling too long without rest.

Asked why he chose rowing, Mooney replied, "I love the water. As a child,

my father and I always paddled in the Adirondacks."

And how will he handle loneliness out on the billows of the second largest

of the five oceans? Mooney said he will enjoy nature, watching flying fish,

whales and dolphins, and keeping an eye on sharks, "knowing there must be a

God. You look at the sunrise, the sunset, the water," he said. "It just brings

you closer to spirituality."

An array of sponsors, inspired by his venture, are lending their support

and expertise.

Eastern Athletic Clubs, for example, gave him and his wife, Su-Ping, free

memberships. The tourism board in Thailand is sponsoring yoga lessons to make

him flexible and for mind-body balance to cope with being alone on the ocean

for an extended length of time.

Mooney has reached out to countries that sent him soil to take along on his

2003 Paddle for HIV/AIDS trip as a symbolic way to participate. He needs

$200,000 to pay for the boat, supplies and airfare. Corporations and

individuals have given $3,000, so far.

The trip is being organized by South African Arts International, an art and

artist exchange group that Mooney founded and directs. To help raise funds,

the organization is inviting 20,000 people to vicariously "take a seat" on the

rowboat by contributing at least $10 to have their name imprinted on it as

fellow passengers.

"When I'm rowing across the Atlantic, I will not be by myself," Mooney

said. "They can put their name or the name of a loved one on the side of the

boat, so I'm rowing with them. We call it the Middle Passage List. They're

taking a seat and joining me."

For further information on the project, call 718-744-0602.

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