By Conor Mihell
Published: January 31, 2011
In October, when 64-year-old Polish paddler Aleksander Doba launched his custom 23-foot kayak on the west coast of Africa and set off across the Atlantic Ocean to South America, Bartosz Sawicki said the endeavor had the makings to be "one of the biggest kayak expeditions ever taken." Now, with Doba only a day's paddle from Fortaleza, Brazil—having paddled almost 3,200 miles of open water in nearly 100 days at sea—Sawicki is convinced that his friend is nearing completion of one of the greatest sea kayak journeys of all time.
"We now know that Aleksander's expedition is the longest in history” for continuous time and distance at sea, said Sawicki, the editor of a Polish kayaking website and blogger responsible for Doba's unofficial website, in an email interview with C&K.
Doba is not the first to paddle a sea kayak across the Atlantic—Franz Romer did it in 1928, Hannes Lindemann in 1956, and Peter Bray in 2001. But Sawicki said Doba's effort has been all about doing it the hard way. First off, his route did not coincide with favorable ocean currents to assist his passage—in fact, Doba spent most of his time at sea being pushed back to Africa but the Equatorial Counter Current, see earlier C&K coverage—and, he paddled an unpredictable area known as the "Intertropical Convergence Zone." "It is known as a nightmare for sailors," said Sawicki.
After being mired in a series of storms and frustrating ocean currents for well over a month, Sawicki says the expedition's turning point came just after the New Year, when Doba finally escaped a strong current that was pushing him back toward Africa. Since then, he's covered up to 85 miles per day, catching fish along the way to supplement his diminishing food rations and desalinating water by hand after his automated unit broke down. All told, the expedition has reinforced the Polish paddling community's image of Doba.
"He is the toughest guy I've ever met," said Sawicki. "He is not playing, he is not doing it for fun. He is a hardworking person [who] can't be stopped in his goal. Moreover he is over 60, which also gives him enormous experience. He knows his body, and its limits."
Doba is encouraging paddlers in Brazil to follow his GPS tracker and join him as he nears the South American coast northwest of Fortaleza. Stay tuned to Canoekayak.com for more updates.