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Transatlantic Kayaker Declares: “Done With Paddling for a While…”

Aleksander Doba, a 67-year-old retired engineer and Polish kayaker steadily paddled on a solo, unsupported expedition across the Atlantic Ocean. He made his way across the Atlantic Ocean between Lisbon, Portugal and New Smyrna Beach, Florida starting October 5, 2013 and finishing the expedition on April 19, 2014. Doba spent 166 days, 23 hours, and...

Aleksander Doba, a 67-year-old retired engineer and Polish kayaker steadily paddled on a solo, unsupported expedition across the Atlantic Ocean. He made his way across the Atlantic Ocean between Lisbon, Portugal and New Smyrna Beach, Florida starting October 5, 2013 and finishing the expedition on April 19, 2014. Doba spent 166 days, 23 hours, and 38 minutes on the ocean and traveled approximately 6,710 nautical miles. Unfavorable winds in the western Atlantic Ocean forced Doba to stop in Bermuda for 30 days and repair a broken rudder. National Geographic has been following Doba’s expedition for months now, and was lucky enough to get the following interview.

If you missed this incredible journey, catch up with National Geographic’s previous coverage:

67-Year-Old Kayaker Finishes Transatlantic Crossing
67-Year-Old Transatlantic Kayaker 300 Miles From Florida
67-Year-Old Kayaker Needs Help Near End of Atlantic Crossing
Solo Transatlantic Expedition: Kayaker Declines Rescue
Retirement Plan: Transatlantic Kayak Expedition

What was the most difficult portion of your trip?
There were several tough moments in my expedition, but I must say that the end of the trip was the toughest and the most difficult for me. While I was talking to some sailors during my stay in Bermuda, I was warned off from paddling through the Gulf Stream area when the northern winds blow. The Gulf Stream builds sort of a great river inside the ocean that flows from south to north. If this stream meets the wind blowing from north to south, the weather and paddling conditions are terrible. The Gulf Stream was like a riding the wild horse. From today point of view it was fascinating what I observed on the ocean: very dynamic natural force, sharp and rapid waves that was very interesting for me. Fortunately I felt safe in my kayak. If I was safe in my kayak, I could admire the power of nature. I was trying to cooperate with this force, to make use of my equipment, and waves that could help me leave this part of the ocean. When I paddled out of the Gulf Stream, I was hit by the strong 20-25 knots and adverse winds that pushed me from east to west than to the north. I was pushed to Florida, but straight to Cape Canaveral rather than my planned destination in New Smyrna Beach.

After I calculated and analyzed the situation of my position and the weather conditions I realized I would not reach New Smyrna Beach straight from the ocean. After text consultation with my friend Piotr Chmielinski, who coordinated the final stage of my expedition, I made up my mind: I’m paddling to the harbor in Cape Canaveral, particularly because the wind was pushing me there. But then the wind changed its direction and began pushing me towards the southern part of Cape Canaveral. This coast was completely unknown for me (wild beaches etc). I had to concentrate with all my strength to fight this adverse wind and current so that I wasn’t pushed away from my course. The shape of the Cape forms the receding waves, so additionally I was facing this obstacle. But I did it! I got to the harbor in Cape Canaveral! It is a great satisfaction for me that I won this battle against nature.

What food did you miss the most?
Of course I missed fresh food, but the most of all I missed the meals prepared by my wife, Gabi. She cooks wonderfully. She makes such delicious cakes and sweets. For so many years of our marriage no sweets of her were wasted – me, my sons and the whole family gorge on her delicious pastries. Oh, I missed that a lot. No substitutes could be compared to homemade food prepared by my Gabi.

What luxury did you miss the most?
The luxury I missed the most is a comfortable sleeping place. In the kayak there is a tiny space for sleeping where I put two sleeping pads. But soon these sleeping pads became very thin under the weight of my body. In fact, at the end of the expedition I felt I had half of one sleeping pad instead of two of them. Of course I could rest, but it was not comfortable. So I must say I missed an ordinary bed.

What sort of problems did you have with your skin?
Just like in the previous expedition, this time I suffered from the similar problem—thrush. The same skin problems caused by the height temperature as I spent most of the time in tropical conditions, high humidity and continuous impact of salt on my skin as even the air was rich of salt.

Do you have a hero?
There is no one hero I admire, there are so many people and their achievements to be an inspiration for me. But I would like to mention the name of Ernest Shackleton, the Irish polar explorer, mainly in Antarctic at the beginning of 20th century. I often recall his words, “The sea is the natural force that no one can win, you may only be invincible.” He was a tough and brave man. During the hard times, I thought to myself that Shackleton had had to suffer many more difficulties, it was not freezing for me, just the waves and ocean around me, so it was not so bad.

What are your plans for the next month?
As for the plans for the next days and weeks the only person who knows is my friend Piotr Chmieliński. He is coordinating all things related to my stay in the US, all meetings and trips. So, if I want to know what’s in the plan for tomorrow, I ask Piotr. I do appreciate his help a lot and he the best in organizing all these things.

How will you relax after the expedition?
From the moment I stepped on the land and put aside my paddle I was resting all the time. I was stressed and tensed very much for last few days on the ocean, so I appreciate all these calm moments I have now. I must admit I do not miss paddling now. All other activities are pleasant, like meetings with people who I would like to share my experiences with. I missed people, contacts with other people so much. I’m not a solitary type person, so being with people is a great relaxation for me.

Will you need to make up for being away with extra quality time with your wife?
Of course, my wife is very important to me and I will be happy to spend some time at home with my family. My wife, my sons, and granddaughters are the most important for me and I miss being with then, living the everyday life with them. I’m very happy to be home soon.

What is your next expedition?
The next expedition will take place in about a week. The route is indicated between North America and Europe, as my next journey leads to my home via an airplane. And this is the only concrete plan I have at this moment.

Do you have a message for the younger generation or other people dreaming of adventures like yours?
The most important is to have a dream. Then just do not be afraid to leave your warm place in front of T.V. set and start to accomplish your dreams. You can do whatever you want to do in your life and never, never think it isn’t possible.

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Meet the Author

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