Goree, Senegal - An African-American left an island off Senegal in west Africa on Sunday to row across the Atlantic in memory of the slaves deported from the continent to the Americas and to raise money to fight Aids.

"I just pray to God He would give me the strength to row across the ocean to raise that awareness and to memorialise our ancestors who died in these same waters and those who lived and worked in plantations in the Caribbean and in Americas," said Victor Mooney, 41.

The departure point for Mooney, who works as a public affairs officer in New York, was the island of Goree, for centuries one of the largest slave-trading centres in west Africa.

The 12 900km journey, entitled "Goree Challenge", is due to take him to the United States via South America and the Caribbean in a 7,3m boat.

"I hope at the end of this journey, mechanisms can be put in place where one million Africans can start receiving HIV medicine," Mooney said.

"That's my dream, and the goal."

He said he had set up an Internet site where contacts on dry land could communicate with him and also make donations.

Before leaving, Mooney, who expects his trip to take some seven to eight months, went to the Unesco World Heritage site House of Slaves and paid tribute to its former prisoners.

In each cell he covered his body with dust under the eyes of two African American women of advanced years, described as his "spiritual mothers".

Then he crawled along the corridor leading to the door known as "the gate from which no-one returned", threw himself into the sea and climbed aboard his boat, called the "John Paul the Great" after the late Pope John Paul II.

Asked about his trip, which will cover 3 000 miles before he makes his first landfall, Mooney said: "I would say 16 hours (of rowing) a day. Perhaps two hours rowing, half-hour rest, around the clock. The first two weeks will allow me to adjust to the Atlantic Ocean and to acquire my sea legs."

"I don't have a model, I'm just dealing with the elements," he said.

"The mission is over when I get to the Brooklyn Bridge."