BY CONOR MIHELL
Somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean, midway between Europe and North America, Polish sea kayaking super hero Aleksander Doba is spending Christmas alone in a 23-foot-long, 39-inch-wide kayak. In October, the tireless 67-year-old departed Portugal. Next stop: Florida. It’s Doba’s second Trans-Atlantic sojourn, a sequel to his impressive 99-day, 3,345-mile crossing from Africa to South America in 2011. In an exclusive Canoe & Kayak interview conducted by text message through his son, Chez, Doba says his current expedition “is about 50 per cent more difficult. On the previous crossing the winds were much lighter.”
According to his Twitter feed, Doba hit the midway point of the estimated 5,200-mile crossing on Dec. 18. He says he’s encountered about 50 tropical storms, each lasting up to seven hours, with storm-force winds and 22-foot waves. Opposing ocean currents that have pushed him backwards have added to the suffering. “In the worst sleepless night I had to let the winds take me east, [back towards Europe],” he says. “Breaking waves were hitting my boat very strongly as if a ram was hitting me.”
Doba couldn’t fit six months worth of food into his kayak, so he strapped some of it to the deck in waterproof containers. Now, 14 weeks into the expedition, he’s managed to free up enough space in his cockpit to fit all his supplies—and repurpose the storage containers for another use. Doba, who worked as an engineer, cut up the boxes and used them to create a cowling for his sleeping cabin. He’s also made three updates to his rudder system.
All the while, Doba has soldiered on, balancing 10 to 12 hours of paddling with catnaps. “I sleep a maximum of six hours [per day] in several stages,” says Doba. “The cabin of my kayak is very small, noisy and has very little ventilation.”
Doba’s daily travails involve updating his website through his satellite phone, a sketchy procedure that involves standing outside the cockpit to ensure reception and “protecting my non-waterproof phone [to] send and receive messages,” he explains. “Large waves bring much excitement as the kayak wobbles a lot.”
Doba insists he’s still on pace to meet his goal of finishing in 120 days. To achieve this, he has one Christmas wish: Easterly tailwinds of 15 knots. “The kayak will survive and so will I,” he says. “Anyway, do I have another choice?”