Retirement Plan: Transatlantic Kayak Expedition

Map of weather across the Atlantic
Aleksander Doba, a 67-year-old experienced kayaker, currently battles winds, extreme exposure to salt water, and equipment failure as he kayaks solo across the Atlantic. This map shows approximately where Doba is now, 900 miles away from Florida.Click for larger view of the weather facing Olek as he nears Florida. Image courtesy Earth.

Rather than settling down in a condo in Florida, Aleksander Doba, a 67-year-old retired engineer and Polish kayaker, is spending his retirement about 900 miles from Florida’s coast—steadily paddling on a solo, unsupported expedition across the Atlantic Ocean. Battling storms, prolonged saltwater exposure, and multiple equipment failures, the sexagenarian has been making his way across the 4,700 nautical miles of ocean between Lisbon, Portugal and New Smyrna Beach, Florida since October 6, 2013. 

At a speed of three knots (30 miles per day) Doba has paddled approximately 3,800 nautical miles with 900 left to go to his destination. He is aiming to arrive between February 10 and February 20, 2014.

olek-cabin-boat
Doba’s boat, designed by Andrzej Arminski, is 21 feet long, 40 inches wide. Equipped with with solar panels for charging batteries, the cabin contains five months worth of food, including chocolate bars and his wife’s homemade plum jelly. Photograph by Ricardo Bravo, Canoe & Kayak/Canoandes

Due to his satellite phone failing, Doba hasn’t been able text or talk to anyone since December 20, 2013. We know he’s still on his way by the signals coming from his SPOT (a GPS personal tracker device), but even this minimal communication is at risk, as Doba rigged new connections on the SPOT to accommodate AAA batteries rather than the AA that failed. These new connections need to be protected carefully from any ocean spray.

Picture of Aleksander Doba's kaya, designed by
Andrzej Arminski, the designer and engineer behind Doba’s specialty kayak, is also coordinating this expedition. Photograph by Ricardo Bravo, Canoe & Kayak/Canoandes

Friends and family are concerned about how the polar vortex has affected the weather and wind Doba is now facing. There will be difficult currents and winds around the Bahamas and crossing the Gulf Stream current—which has speeds about 4-6 miles on surface—could push Olek too much to the north. He also could face a nasty headwind in the final stretch.

sleeping-not-olek
Doba’s sleeping quarters are extremely cramped and noisy. Photograph by Ricardo Bravo, Canoe & Kayak/Canoandes

I have not slept in days. The cabin is very small and noisy, with poor ventilation. I sleep a maximum of six hours a day in a few dozen installments. The waves are irregular. In addition to the usual noise, splashing and rolling, occasionally stronger or refractive wave collapses in the hull right next to your ear… I am constantly tired from lack of sleep.
—Aleksander Doba, Nov 27, 2013

Doba’s complaints are surprisingly minimal, even after strong storms pushed him back hundreds of miles toward Africa early on in the trip, he kept saying, “Could be worse.” He does detail some discomforts from his GooglePlus page when he can communicate:

  • “In the groin area, especially the thigh and buttocks—where the worst ventilation is—appear red spots with a diameter of 6 mm. These areas are very sensitive and itchy. After two weeks on the center spot a bulge appears. It’s whitish, 3 mm in diameter, and filled with liquid. After three weeks, symptoms begin to recede. The whole process takes one month. These affected areas itch constantly.”
  • “In the depths of the skin (especially hands) form white lesions with a diameter of 3-5 mm. Painful to the touch. Very dense in a place where I keep the paddle. Offend and hurt. Once I have dozens of these. Lasts about a month.”
  • “Conjunctivitis subsided after a week.”
  • “At the ends of my nails and toes grows a whitish creature that separates the nail from the fingertip. It grows deeper and deeper. It does not hurt, but I feel like I’m losing my fingernails.”

Of course, the medical recommendation for all these maladies according to Doba, was that he: “Stay away from salt water. Keep the skin dry.”

Image of a banner for Aleksander Doba second transatlantic expedition.
Every expedition deserves a poster as grand as this one.

 

This is second crossing of Atlantic for Doba. In 2010 he paddled from Senegal, Africa to Brazil, South America (3,400 nautical miles) in 99 days.

Doba’s good friend, Piotr Chmielinski, is organizing a welcoming reception which will include a doctor to check on Doba’s medical condition. Most likely, Doba’s biggest problem will be the skin rashes caused by the months of exposure to salty water without showering.

Picture of Aleksander Doba's boat underwater in the first transatlantic expedition
A view from underneath the boat on Doba’s first transatlantic expedition. Photograph courtesy Aleksander Doba

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Amy Bucci is a web producer for National Geographic. Her projects mainly cover National Geographic explorers, grantees and initiatives.