A 70-year-old grandfather attempting his third Atlantic crossing in a kayak has been turned back by heavy weather and will try again to clear the U.S. east coast later this week. Aleksander Doba left Sandy Hook, N.J. Monday, bound for Portugal in the custom-built 23-foot kayak he calls Olo. Doba, who has paddled the kayak across the Atlantic twice before, tried for five days to get the unwieldy craft into the open Atlantic.
The Polish adventurer made it about 30 miles offshore before the wind shifted and strengthened, threatening to drive his fragile craft into the barrier islands of New Jersey. Doba battled gamely, but with a contrary wind projected to increase to 25 knots and blow for days, he accepted the only viable option: Return to port and wait out the storm. He made for Barnegat Inlet, a narrow passage at the north end of Long Beach Island, slipping through the channel at about 7 p.m. Friday evening. He was safely moored in a marina an hour later.
Doba reached shore under his own power, though his friend and media manager Piotr Chmielinski was standing by in a chartered motorboat in case he required assistance. With the oceangoing kayak he fondly calls Olo tied securely to the dock, the duo plotted their next steps over beers and a couple of steaks.
The first order of business is to replace a broken compass. Next, they’ll wait for a viable weather window to resume the trip. Doba needs to get about 120 miles offshore, which will put him into the Gulf Stream and provide a much-needed margin of safety for just the type of weather shifts he experienced this week, and which he’ll surely encounter again. Doba needs at least three days of westerly or northwesterly winds to reach the relative safety of the open sea. Bad weather has already stopped him twice.
He first attempted the New York-to-Lisbon route last May, launching from Liberty Park in New York Harbor, trailed by a fleet of well-wishers, including Polish television, a documentary crew and a sizable component of New York’s Polish community. Difficult weather plagued him from the start and two days after his festive sendoff Doba went aground at Sandy Hook New Jersey, an inconveniently placed sandbar near the mouth of the Hudson River. The accident cracked the kayak’s hull in several places and delayed Doba’s attempt at a third Atlantic crossing for nearly a year.
On Monday, May 8, he resumed his journey from Sandy Hook in a repaired and refurbished Olo. The forecast called for several days of moderate northwest winds, building to near gale-force at the weekend. That would have been fine if the heavy winds had continued from the northwest, pushing Doba farther out to sea. Instead they shifted 180 degrees and the storm began pushing him back towards another New Jersey sandbar. Barnegat Inlet was his only chance to make it to the sheltered water, and it was something of a trick to hit the quarter-mile-wide channel from 30 miles out, in a 1,500-pound kayak that’s not exactly nimble in high winds. Doba managed it without incident. Now all he needs is a bit of luck with the weather. Stay tuned.