MIAMI, FLORIDA - Victor ‘Long River’ Mooney, of Flushing, New York, returned to the Spirit of Malabo, a twenty-four foot ocean rowboat under repair at RMK Merrill Stevens on March 16. Mooney was a guest of the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. As part of his historic visit, Mooney explored the Seminole Tribe of Florida Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum and slept in a traditional “Chickee”.
"Chickee" is the word Seminoles use for "house." The first Seminoles to live in North Florida are known to have constructed log cabin-type homes, some two stories tall, with sleeping quarters upstairs. The chickee style of architecture - palmetto thatch over a cypress log frame - was born during the early 1800s when Seminole Indians, pursued by U.S. troops, needed fast, disposable shelter while on the run.
The rowers’ visit coincided with National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NNHAAD). NNHAAD is a national mobilization effort designed to encourage Natives (American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians) across the United States and Territorial Areas to get educated, get tested, get involved in prevention and get treated for HIV and AIDS.
Mooney, 49, became the first descendant of Native American ancestry to row across the Atlantic Ocean last year. His aim was to encourage voluntary HIV testing. Mooney has lost one brother to AIDS and has another one living with the disease. Over a ten-year period, Mooney has made this transatlantic attempt three others times and failed.
Mooney faced many challenges along the way. He lost 80 pounds, a shark put a hole in his boat, he suffered from sleep deprivation and was robbed off the coast of Haiti after successfully crossing the Atlantic Ocean. His severely damaged boat arrived in Miami last month by cargo ship. After repairs, Mooney will continue his final 1,500 mile leg of a 5,000 mile transatlantic row to New York City.
The Brazilian built ocean rowboat will later be donated to the United Nations as a symbol for an AIDS free generation during the opening session of the General Assembly in September.
Days before he was set to sail to New York, Mooney told the AFP, "I believe a cure is on the horizon for AIDS, but until we have a cure, education and testing is paramount to reach an AIDS-free generation.”