Aleksander Doba, a Polish adventurer who set out six months ago to cross the Atlantic in a 21-foot kayak, pulled into Port Canaveral in Florida on Thursday night, looking like a castaway.
His skin was bronzed and weathered, his beard long and tangled, but the 67-year-old’s mood was upbeat as he raised his arms in triumph after a remarkable crossing that spanned 5,400 miles.
However, Doba did not step out of his vessel; instead he vowed to continue another 60 miles south to New Smyrna Beach, his planned destination, a journey that should end Saturday or Sunday.
In December, he refused a rescue attempt by members of a commercial tanker after issuing an SOS signal, about midway across the Atlantic. He told the crew that his satellite navigation equipment wasn’t working properly, but that he was proceeding anyway.
On February 13, he lost a rudder in the Bermuda Triangle, 800 miles from the Florida coast. He also experienced equipment issues and was unable to send messages for 47 days. But he reached Bermuda, where he spent a month while repairs were made.
(His paddle from Portugal to Bermuda is believed to be the longest open-water kayak crossing in history. Previously, Doba had paddled 3,345 miles from Senegal, Africa, to Brazil, over a span of 99 days, completing that expedition in 2011.)
On March 23, Doba hitched a ride with a tall sailing ship back to a strategic location that he had strayed hundreds of miles from while fending off storms. That put him back in position to make Florida.
According to Canoe & Kayak magazine, even the last few days of fighting the Gulf Stream proved extremely challenging.
“For five months we worried about crossing the Gulf Stream,” Piotr Chmielinski, who has helped manage Doba’s expedition and served as translator, told Canoe & Kayak. “If he got northerly winds, the current and winds fight each other and you get choppy, breaking son-of-a-gun waves.
“And what happened [Thursday]? He got northerly winds. The conditions kept the fishing boats on shore. It was so rough, no one could believe a kayak could come from out there.”
Canoe & Kayak reports that Doba started paddling at the age of 40 and, according to his son, lived by this motto: “It’s better to live one day as a lion than a thousand years as a lamb.”
At Port Canaveral, he was greeted by members of the Polish-American Association of Sarasota, who chanted, “Go Olek!”
“This is a big deal,” Arthur Okula, president of the association, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “He needs to see that somebody is waiting for him.”
At New Smyrna, friends and another welcoming party will greet the retired engineer-turned-adventurer, who no doubt will be walking on wobbly legs.
–Pete Thomas, via GrindTv Outdoor
–Images of Aleksander Doba arriving at Port Canaveral and being greeted by a Coast Guard official are courtesy of Piotr Chmielinski