On April 19 at 4:18 PM, Polish kayaker Aleksander Doba, 67, became the first person to paddle across the Atlantic Ocean at its widest point – 5,400 miles from Portugal to Florida. Doba, with his unruly gray hair and beard, stepped off the dock and onto the grass at New Smyrna Beach weighing 26 pounds less than when he left Lisbon on October 5, 2013.
Doba first attempted to cross the Atlantic with a friend in 2007 at the narrowest point in the ocean, between Ghana and Brazil. The two quickly realized that ordinary kayaks were not strong enough to handle the open ocean and aborted the mission. In 2010, he tried again with a kayak specially designed by Andrzej Arminski, who built it at his shipyard in Szczecin, Poland. He arrived in Brazil 99 days after he started, becoming the first person to paddle a kayak across the Atlantic Ocean from continent to continent.
“That was just a warm-up,” Doba told Men’s Journal from New Smyrna Beach. “My ultimate goal was crossing the Atlantic at the widest point. And finally I am feeling satisfied.”
Doba had only one life-threatening encounter during his six-month journey – in the Bermuda Triangle where torrential winds made it impossible to continue. Doba spent six weeks struggling to cross the Triangle, paddling 100 miles forward, only to be blown 150 miles backward. Eventually, he was forced to give up when the relentless waves snapped his rudder. “I had no choice but to find help,” he says.
It took Doba 10 days to paddle the rudder-less kayak 300 miles to Bermuda, where he landed February 24. Locals led by Jim Butterfield, a sailor who has crossed the Atlantic dozens of times by boat, rallied around the wind-battered Pole. They fixed his kayak and brought him back out to sea in style, aboard a 115-foot schooner owned by the Sloop Foundation. “I could not have done this without them,” says Doba.
He estimates his tussle in the Bermuda Triangle added an additional 1,500-2,000 miles to the expedition, bringing his total mileage to more than 7,000. But he says that wasn’t his most difficult time on the open ocean. That came at the very end of his journey.
In order to land at New Smyrna Beach in Florida, Doba needed to paddle across the Gulf Stream, a powerful body of warm water moving through the ocean from the Gulf of Mexico up and around Florida to Europe. “It’s 168 times the size of the Amazon at its delta,” says Piotr Chmielinski, a Polish kayaker who was the first person to paddle the length of the Amazon in the mid-eighties, and provided Doba with land-based support in Florida and Bermuda.
When Doba reached the Gulf Stream, a storm was blowing from the north at 20-25 knots, creating dangerously choppy water. Doba felt he didn’t have any other choice but to cross. Once he was inside the stream, the wind increased, churning up the water into waves that would leave even the hardiest seafarer sick to his stomach. Doba sent a text to Chmielinski from his sat phone: I am riding this beast like a wild mustang.
He would eventually lose control of the beast, too exhausted to hold the course to New Smyrna Beach. On April 17, Doba diverted to Cape Canaveral Port and spent the night recovering in his kayak. In the morning, he set out again to complete the last 60 miles of the journey along the Intra-Coastal Waterway north to New Smyrna Beach.
What’s next for the world’s greatest ocean kayaker? Another Atlantic crossing, he says. “But his time by plane, so I can see my wife and family faster.”
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