On December 20, 2013, some two and a half months after leaving Portugal in a 23-foot kayak, Aleksander “Olek” Doba lost all communications with his shore team. The 67-year-old Polish adventurer and his bright yellow kayak were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just beyond the halfway point of his estimated 5,200-mile journey from Portugal to Florida.
Two days after his communications went dark, a commercial tanker offered to take Doba aboard. Canoe & Kayak has obtained photographs of Doba standing in his kayak in heavy seas, waving off the rescue.
Though his SPOT Satellite GPS messenger had failed to transmit his location, the device emitted a “help SPOT assist” signal on the morning of December 22, according to Doba’s blog. The signal indicated that Doba was in need of assistance but was not in a life-threatening emergency. It’s unclear whether Doba pressed the ‘help’ button or activated the signal inadvertently while attempting to transmit his location.
The United States Coast Guard received the ‘help’ signal and asked a tanker in the vicinity to render assistance. After some searching, the tanker’s crew found Doba early in the morning of Dec. 23. The kayaker told them he did not want any assistance.
“When the ship approached Olek waved them away,” says Piotr Chmielinski, a Polish-American explorer who spoke with the management of the shipping company. “He told them that his satellite phone and SPOTs were not working, but he was going ahead anyway.” Doba has reason to be confident. This is his second transatlantic voyage in the kayak he calls “Olo.” The first, from Sengal to Brazil, was the longest open-ocean kayak journey in history.
Incredulous, the sailors snapped these photographs and left Doba to finish his epic journey on his own terms: alone and unassisted.
More than a month later, he’s still at it. Doba remains unable to communicate with the outside world, but the retired engineer has jury-rigged the SPOT and has been able to broadcast his position about once per day.
The position plots tell a disheartening tale, as in recent weeks a series of storms has pushed Doba more than 100 miles backward. He now has provisions for less than a month and more than 700 miles still to paddle. But as the enigmatic Pole told C&K Dec. 18 in one of his last sat-phone transmissions, "The kayak will survive and so will I. Anyway, do I have another choice?"
Photographs courtesy of Piotr Chmielinski