One Paddler, One Ocean
Aleksander Doba’s custom trans-Atlantic kayak measures 23 feet long and 39 inches wide, weighs 1,200 pounds fully laden, and features an enclosed cabin and a self-righting design. Photo: Lamin Sanyan, Arsoba Travel
Polish sea kayaker Aleksander Doba began an epic solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in late October beneath the radar of the paddling community. The 64-year-old from Police, Poland, launched without fanfare from Dakar, Senegal, on the east African coast, and pointed the bow of his custom-made, self-righting kayak toward South America. But over 400 miles into the crossing, Doba’s expedition is gaining notoriety in his home country and around the world—whether he likes it or not.
Doba has amassed more than 40,000 miles of sea kayaking since the early 1980s, ranking him amongst the world’s most accomplished paddlers. According to Bartosz Sawicki, the editor of a Polish kayaking website, Doba’s greatest claims to fame are three challenging expeditions: A 2,600-mile trip around the Baltic Sea in 1999; a 3,300-mile journey from Poland to Norway in 2000; and a 1,200-mile circumnavigation of Lake Baikal last year. All of these expeditions went largely unnoticed, and his Atlantic crossing began with much the same modesty: the only online reference to the expedition was an obscure Polish web page.
But Sawicki believes Doba should be celebrated around the world. To this end, he has posted a blog (transatlantic2010.blogspot.com) with real-time SPOT GPS messenger tracking and has translated Doba’s Polish website into English. Sawicki calls the trans-Atlantic journey “one of the biggest kayak expeditions ever taken.” Only three other paddlers have completed the crossing—Franz Romer in 1928, Hannes Lindemann in 1956 and Peter Bray in 2001. What makes Doba’s attempt unique, Sawicki explains, is that he’ll be doing it exclusively by paddle power (the others occasionally used sails) and is going continent to continent (other crossings have started and ended on offshore islands). Sawicki predicts that Doba’s course will cover over 2,500 miles. “It has a chance to be the longest paddling trip on the open ocean,” he says.
Time-stamped Nov. 3 at 8:30 p.m., the latest update (via satellite phone, apparently) on Doba’s English-translation site reads: “During the day 3 hour long storm with strong rain, which I could see coming from a distance. Thanks to which I prepared and locked myself inside. Kayak works great. After the storm a shark came close to about 20 metres (66 feet). He didn’t stay long enough for me to take a picture. Easterly Wind push me of course towards West. Daily heat makes me paddle during the night and make sleeping difficult. Which means I didn’t sleep much. Soon I’ll have to make up for it. All fine otherwise.”
This isn’t the first time Doba has attempted to cross the Atlantic. In 2004, he and fellow Pole Pawel Napierala tried it in a pair of retrofitted Prijon Excursion sea kayaks. The expedition was called off after two days when the boats proved too unstable when rafted together for sleeping. Despite this setback, Doba’s son, Chez, says it was only a matter of time before his father tried it again. “My dad isn’t a man who gives up easily,” he says. “Telling him ‘it is not possible, it is suicide’ will only encourage him to prove you wrong.”
This time Doba is paddling a 23-foot-long, 39-inch-wide sea kayak designed specifically for the crossing by Andrzej Arminski, a Polish yacht builder. The boat contains an enclosed sleeping compartment; fully loaded with food, water and survival gear, it weighs over 1,200 pounds. While he’s timed the crossing to avoid seasonal storms, Doba’s biggest challenge could be the searing equatorial heat—besides the usual difficulties of rationing food and water supplies.
Chez Doba is planning to meet his father in Fortaleza, Brazil, where Aleksander hopes to complete the crossing, in early 2011. “Of course he will make it,” says Doba. “He promised his wife he’s coming back. He’s not a man to break a promise, otherwise she’ll kill him!” — Conor Mihell