Trans-Atlantic Kayaker Resumes Voyage

67-year-old adventurer hitches ride on “pirate ship,” will continue to Florida


Photo Ricardo Bravo

Doba leaving Portugal on Oct. 5, 2013, bound for Florida. Photo Ricardo Bravo

By Jeff Moag

It’s been a long strange trip, and it’s about to get stranger.

This coming Sunday, March 23, trans-Atlantic kayaker Aleksander “Olek” Doba will load his kayak onto the three-masted sloop Spirit of Bermuda and sail some 325 nautical miles south, to the point he reached more than three months ago when his luck turned bad. Then, without resupplying, he’ll attempt to paddle the final 900 miles to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, the destination he has been trying to reach since leaving Lisbon, Portugal last October.

Starting in early January, a succession of powerful storms battered the 67-year-old Polish adventurer and the strange yellow kayak he calls “Olo.” He’d already paddled more than 4,000 miles, lost all communication with the outside world and declined an offer of rescue. Then for six weeks the wind and sea toyed with his psyche, blowing him in all directions, but mostly backwards.

Six weeks of circles: Doba's position track in January anf February. Courtesy Andrzej Arminski

Six weeks of circles: Doba’s position track in January anf February. Courtesy Andrzej Arminski

Finally, on February 13, another turn of bad luck. In the middle of yet another stormy night at sea, Doba lost his rudder. The 21-foot Olo was difficult enough to manage with a rudder. Without it, reaching Florida would be nearly impossible. Doba made the difficult decision to turn downwind, and let the storms push him to Bermuda.

There he could repair his kayak, and eventually finish his epic crossing from Portugal to Florida. He was determined not to take any assistance that was not absolutely necessary. He paddled to Ely’s Harbour in Bermuda under his own power, arriving in the small hours of Feb. 24.

After 142 days at sea, Doba could barely walk.

“I put my feet on the concrete and I felt that this concrete was shaking,” Doba told his friend and supporter Piotr Chmielinski. “I staggered as if I was drunk. I had felt very stable in the kayak, where I stood and did gymnastics. But when nothing under my feet moved, I began to waver.”

trans-atlantic kayaker

The kayak was home to Doba, and these barnacles, for nearly five months at sea. Photo courtesy Piotr Chmielinski

Doba took enough time to consume soup and a sandwich and then set about readying Olo for his return to the sea. The kayak was still loaded with provisions for six weeks, and once the rudder was repaired at a local shipyard she was seaworthy again.

The challenge, as ever, was the prevailing wind and current in the Bermuda Triangle. Expedition strategist Andrzej Arminski and a host of other experts agreed: Continuing to Florida from Bermuda would be impossible.

The trip from Portugal to Bermuda was already an impressive first. It constitutes the longest kayak crossing in history, longer even than Doba’s own crossing from Africa to Brazil in 2011.

Doba is proud of the accomplishment, but not satisfied.

“For me I achieved success at 75 percent,” he says. “To achieve full success I need to get to Florida.”

Doba conferred with Arminski and Chmielinski, and determined that the only viable option was to get a lift south, and to continue his voyage from his previous line of position, where the wind would be less likely to push him off course. The problem is that finding a ship to drop a 21-foot kayak and its bearded sexagenarian owner more than 300 miles from the nearest land is a tall order.

trans-atlantic kayaker

The three-masted Bermuda sloop “Spirit of Bermuda.”

That’s where the “Spirit of Bermuda” comes in. It’s not actually a pirate ship, though in the age of sail privateers and the Royal Navy alike favored fast and weatherly sloops like “The Spirit of Bermuda,” a replica built in 2006 as a sail-training ship. It’s mission is not to plunder or protect like its forbearers, but rather to introduce Bermudian youth to their country’s rich maritime history.

The Bermuda Sloop Foundation, with the financial support of Jim Butterfield, offered to carry Doba and Olo to his Jan. 10 position of 27N, 64W. The five-day roundtrip voyage presents an excellent training opportunity for a dozen young sailors. It also will introduce them to a rarity in this day and age—a true iron man of the sea.

“The trip is an opportunity for the kayaker to accomplish his goal, but it’s also a way of implementing the mission and vision of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation to help young people,“ Chmielinski says.

“Olek shows these young participants the strong determination in gaining goals, incredible power of the human being in struggle with nature, and that dreams come true if you really want it.“

Doba leaving Lisbon, Portugal on Oct. 5, 2013. He reached Bermuda 142 days later. Photo Ricardo Bravo Canoe&Kayak/Canoandes

Doba leaving Lisbon, Portugal on Oct. 5, 2013. He reached Bermuda 142 days later. Photo Ricardo Bravo Canoe&Kayak/Canoandes

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Add a Comment

  • Olek Doba

    On Sunday “Spirit of Bermuda” start with me and kayak to point N 27 W 64. I would like continuus my travel exact on “old route”. I would like finish on Florida in April. Olek

    • Luke R. Mullins

      We would like to wish you fair winds and following seas and look forward to seeing you in New Smyrna Beach in April!

      • Olek Doba

        Thank You, Olek

  • Lance

    Quite the adventure! Safe travels, Olek. I hope you make it to Florida safely.

  • Kazimierz Maćkowiak

    Olek take care. Good luck! See you in Poznan.

    • Olek Doba

      Kazik, Poznan, to oczywiste! Of cors see you in Poznan!

  • Stefan Danielski

    well written.I believe this time Olek will have fair winds and smooth sailing to Floryda.

    • Olek Doba

      Stefan, tylko nie dmuchaj w moim kierunku. To maja robic w Europie.

  • Beeleensky

    Go Olek go ! :)

  • Policzanka

    Mr Doba – Good Luck! Its sooo close!!!! Go OLO, go! Poland believes in you!

    • Olek Doba

      Dziekuje tajemniczej Policzance, pozdrawiam serdecznie, Olek

  • Janek Szalkowski

    following seas mr. Doba, all the best!

  • Mirosława

    Dmuchamy, dmuchamy ile pary w płucach! :) Rozpędzimy huragan, byleś dotarł do celu!

    • Olek Doba

      Dziekuje bardzo!

  • Bartek

    You are my hero, really!

    • Olek Doba

      My old son is Bartek too! Thank you!

  • John

    and on the other side? also intend to canoe? wow! thats great challenge.

  • Rob/Chicago

    Love from Chicago!!! May it bring good luck and friendly currents.

  • Maciej Zalewski

    great time, great adventure, and one of the best adventures! We look forward to a visit to Poznan Traveller’s Club. It might work for some time.

    • Olek Doba

      Do Poznania wroce – na pewno!

  • Oyibo AAP

    Soon C&K readers will be quiet fluent in Polish language! ;=)))))) Thanks Olek!

    I am reading and can’t believe your determination. My pension system informed me that in 2016 I can start drawing my hard worked $$$. Olek: can I charter your kayak then? Can we go together across, let say, Baltic sea?
    No words will express my admiration for your courage and determination. Go Olo, go! See you in Florida or elsewhere.

    Andrew Pietowski Abuja, Nigeria
    PS. Now in NIgeria is a hot inland hell: 40 to 42 C. Last year in March I read 46 deg C. Sea kayaking has advantages: you can take a plunge in cool ocean waters. Just joking. Avoid the sharks at any cost! a

    • Olek Doba

      Andrzej, jak bedzie okazja to poplywamy razem! Tylko za bardzo nie przegrzej sie w tej Nigerii. Takie temperatury to daja sie we znaki, wspolczuje. Pozdrawiam serdecznie, jeszcze z Bermudow, Olek

  • Pat McCloskey

    Good luck Olek! I look forward to reading about your arrival in Florida.

  • Jack

    Brave Man!! Thank you.I another time belived in human.

  • wywrotka

    olku. jestem z tobą każdego dnia. jesteś wielki i cudowny. Pozdrawiam cię Twoja wierna fanka i przyjaciółką Wywrotka

    • Olek Doba

      Aga, dziekuje za mily komentarz. Akcja likowa i komentarzowa trwa. Niedlugo zaczne tylko nie wiem czy to bedzie dreszczowiec czy spokojna podroz. Ciesze sie, ze dzieki mnie wpadlas w kajaki. Calusy z Bermudow, Olek

  • Chris

    All the best…. Olek!

  • Emilia A. Wylandowska

    Olku, good luck!! :) I szczęśliwego powrotu do Polski! Uściski z Gdańska :)

    • Olek Doba

      Emilio, dziekuje, obiecuje wrocic!

  • Georg Schierle

    Good luck Olek i look forward to reading abaut you arrival
    in Florida. Alles bestens für Dich Olku viel Glück und zum wiedersehen in Florida.

    • Olek Doba

      Thanks Georg I think all would be a good!

  • Luis Muga

    Olek, jesteśmy każdą minutę z Tobą. Trzymaj się dzielnie! No i wiosłuj, Olek, wiosłuj!

  • Kamila

    You go, Boy! Fingers crossed and God /whoever is up there/ bless You, i believe You can do it! Trzymam kciuki i wierze ze Panu sie uda! Jak sie czegoś naprawdę chce i robi sie to z miloscia to Wszechświat nam sprzyja! :)

  • ewa kacprzyk

    Drogi Olku. Dziękuję że mogę choć mentalnie uczestniczyć w Twym tak zacnym przedsięwzięciu. To przygoda mojego życia :-) …Dajesz Nam siłę bycia lepszym. W stosunku do wszystkiego co spotykamy na swej drodze…

  • Marucha

    No Olek 142 dni to niezły wyczyn, ale z Bermudów na Florydę nie będzie łatwo.
    Trzymam kciuki.

  • Adhemar

    Mr. Doba – Showing support and admiration aaaall the way from Virginia Tech! Have a safe final stretch in the rough winds!! so proud!

  • Malgorzata1951

    Good luck Olek!!!!Do zobaczenia wkrotce

  • lucky7

    Go Olek Go, you are one inspiring man!!

  • Wojtek

    Panie Olku. Cała Polska życzy Panu realizacji celu. Trzymamy za Pana kciuki !!!

  • Christina McIntyre

    Olek – we continue to watch your amazing progress – a true inspiration! Thank you.

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