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Go, Olek, Go! 67-Year-Old Transatlantic Kayaker 300 Miles From Florida

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67-year-old Aleksander Doba begins the final leg of his trans-Atlantic expedition; photograph by TK

Aleksander “Olek” Doba, a retired engineer from Poland, left Lisbon, Portugal, in his kayak on October 5, 2013. He is paddling for New Smyrna Beach, Florida, 4,700 nautical miles away. If successful, he will be the first person to kayak between the most distant points located on the coasts of Europe and North America. He is anticipated to finish his voyage on Thursday or Friday, April 17 or 18.

“Haitian girls wanted to greet me with flowers, but I passed Haiti too fast,” invariably good humor stays with Aleksander “Olek” Doba, who departed from Lisbon, Portugal, and is paddling solo in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. However, from this playful text sent a few days ago, and the apparent data from SPOT (observation points on the map designating his current position), we learn that Doba is approaching Florida, the conclusion of his expedition, at a fast pace.

If his kayak had a sail, it could be said, that after months of grappling with storms, hurricanes, and a broken rudder, Doba has finally caught the wind in his sails!  Following a short break due to his forced landing in Bermuda, he returned to the waters of the ocean on March 25, at the exact location where his original route was interrupted by a broken rudder, and he quickly continued in the direction of the American coast.  In less than two weeks he has paddled almost half of the remaining 700-mile route, and in the last four days he has covered nearly 250 miles.

Where is such speed is coming from? First, quite favorable north and northeasterly winds have pushed Doba in the desired south and southwest direction. Secondly, the kayak has no wings (a roll bar of sorts), an important design element of  OLO, the name of Doba’s kayak, which would bring the kayak to the upright position if it capsized, but at the same time it was a slowing element due to the air drag.

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Launching Aleksander Doba’s kayak back into position from the Spirit of Bermuda; Photograph by Nicola Muirhead / @nicolaanne_photo

Doba and his kayak reached the point of 27N;64W on the deck of the sailing ship Spirit of Bermuda, thanks to help from James Butterfield and the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, to continue his journey in the Atlantic. During the launching, the kayak with Doba on board was pushed against the sloop by a violent gust of wind. The roar of falling water and noise of the wind drowned out the cracking sound of the wings breaking off. Fortunately, Doba wasn’t hurt, but a basic question was raised among the sailboat crew: whether he could carry on without the safety provided by the wings?

But Doba had no doubts. After salvaging the navigation light and active antenna radar from the broken wings, without hesitation he started paddling to meet his dream—to be the first in history to kayak between the most distant points located on the coasts of Europe and North America. A few days later, it was apparent that OLO was handling the waves without the wings very well, and was moving much faster than before.

But one problem remained. For security reasons it was necessary to install the dismantled warning signals on the kayak as quickly as possible, which was not an easy installation. However, Doba, not for the first time, proved that his knowledge of engineering and his inherent ingenuity was the source of an unusual, but practical solution, as he wrote in his report from April 4:

“My dear ones, after ten days it is not bad, actually it’s good! Navigational light was mounted on the first day … on a pitcher; diffuser made of Coca-Cola bottle and bulb is placed 16 inches above the cab. Active radar antenna is attached to a mast made of a paddle at the same height as the wings–this project took me five days to complete.”

After those ten days, Doba summarizes all the advantages and disadvantages of paddling in the kayak deprived of the wings, in his report:

“Cons: light and antenna—a stopgap. Favorable winds—supporting forces weaker. When drifting, despite the use of three drift anchors mounted on the bow, kayak is set sideways to the waves or at 45 degrees; with the wings, it was set directly with the bow to the waves. This is the biggest downside. Pros: greater stability of the vessel—less wagging, less resistance under unfavorable winds. Without the wings is better!”

But the most important message was where Doba wrote: “I am so glad that after the emergency break, I can continue my Second Transatlantic Kayak Expedition.”

At the time of departure from the Spirit of Bermuda, Doba expected that he would arrive in Florida within five to six weeks. However, the pace at which he is now moving may result in a shorter timeframe. If there are no new obstacles, Doba can be expected at the port of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, as early as a week!