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Crossing the Atlantic on a Kayak: Aleksander Doba’s Incredible Journeys

The most daring kayak expeditions in human history

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Has anyone ever paddled a kayak across the Atlantic?

Aleksander Doba (September 9, 1946 – February 22, 2021) was a Polish adventurer known primarily for his long voyages crossing oceans.

He crossed the Atlantic Ocean three times by kayak and set new records for the longest open-water solo kayak trips ever attempted.

He was named 2015 Explorer of the Year by National Geographic and completed an eastward kayak trip across the Atlantic in 2017.

Crossing the Atlantic on a kayak is an arduous journey that requires tremendous physical and mental strength.

The most dangerous part of crossing the Atlantic in a kayak is the unpredictable weather conditions. Doba has been caught in storms with winds up to 100 mph and waves over 30 feet high. He had to be constantly vigilant and prepared for the worst to survive such extreme conditions.

What makes a boat capable of crossing the Atlantic?

Aleksander Doba has sailed across the Baltic Sea (in 1998, 80 days, 4,227 kilometers), from Police to Narvik (in 2000, 101 days, 5,369 kilometers), and around Lake Baikanar (in 2009, 41 days, 2,000 kilometers). 

After getting funding from all over Poland, he decided to plan his most tenacious adventure yet. He needed a custom-made oceanic kayak, which was 7 meters long and around 2 meters wide and would probably be the best.

Designed by Polish shipbuilder Andrzej Armiński, Olo (Dobas’ nickname for the kayak) was divided into five different watertight compartments, included a sleeping cabin, and had space for enough supplies to survive half a year alone at sea. Olo was also outfitted with the latest GPS technology and satellite trackers, and unique accessories for long expeditions.

It’s built to withstand the challenges of open water crossings and has emergency beacons, radios, and navigational equipment to help see the kayakers safely across the sea.

Aleksander Doba’s first voyage to Brazil

Thousands of miles of open water lie ahead of him, with strong winds, tricky currents, and powerful storms set to test his strength, determination, and endurance.

Doba set out on his first voyage across the Atlantic in 2010 at 65. His trip covered 5,394 kilometers and from Senegal in West Africa to Brazil.

After resting there for a few days, he initially planned to continue paddling north along the shores of the Americas to Washington DC. However, he eventually changed his mind and decided to transport his transoceanic kayak to Peru instead.

He then embarked on a journey down the Amazon River, but he had to quit after being attacked and robbed twice.

Aleksander Doba’s second voyage to Florida

On October 5, 2013, aged 67, the Polish kayak­er departed from Lisbon, Portugal, for a second transatlan­tic voyage, intending to paddle 5,400 miles across its widest point. On April 19, 2014, he arrived in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. He paddled 6,300 kilometers across the Atlantic Ocean for 196 days.

When his 7.5-meter canoe capsized at sea, he said he managed to save the boat, but his communications equipment was severely damaged, and he hadn’t been in contact with his wife for six days.

Rakonczay traveled from Poland without a satellite tracking system, which would have allowed him to signal that he was OK. His wife, who stayed behind, was hoping for the best.

“This trip was my first time without a tracking device, and I would have needed one if I had been lost.”

During the nearly seven months he was out of contact, Viktoria, his wife, did not indicate that he was anything but utterly sure that he was alive and that only technical issues were to blame for their lack of communication.

She posted entries on their web page almost daily, speculating about Gábor’s position and how the climate affected his journey on the canoe called “Vitez,” meaning “valiant” in Hungary.

Doba told the newspaper that he would often think about what his loved ones must be going through in his solitude and was encouraged by their faith and confidence in him during the long silence.

“I was pleasantly surprised by those at home.” Because everyone was confident that if I ran into any difficulties, I’d be able to solve them, he said. It was a great relief to arrive at the port because it meant completing his journey and because his family could finally know for sure that he was OK.

Aleksander Doba all alone in the middle of the sea

On September 3, 2018, Doba completed his third solo transatlantic kayak journey when he kayaked into the port of Le Conquet, France, from Barnegat Bay in May 2017.

He was at sea continuously for 110 days. He used a 23-foot kayak, which weighed 1,500 pounds when fully loaded. He struggled against storms during the trip; his rudder was severely damaged and had to be fixed by sailors from a merchant ship he was able to hail.

This third Atlantic expedition has not been an easy one to launch. After trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean from the West Coast to the East Coast last year, Doba had his boat smashed against the rocks at Sandy Hook, near New York City. That ended the attempt, as it took a long time to repair the damage to their boat.

The Polish kayaker struggled against storms during the trip, his rudder was damaged, and he had to be repaired by seamen from a merchant ship.

He went through more than ten tropical storms during his last ocean crossing, with wave heights over 10 meters high, and flipped several times. He had a rash caused by too much salt intake, his eyes got infected, and he couldn’t move his legs properly for some time. Most of us would consider torture, but Aleksander Doba considered it a challenge.

Isolation was also an essential factor in these expeditions. After some weeks at sea, Alexander became so disoriented that he couldn’t tell if he was still able to hear when he shouted to himself.

Even though Aleksandr Doba had a mobile telephone to contact his family and Arminski, he used it mainly for emergencies. He was in the middle of nowhere when his prepaid phone credit expired since he forgot to top it up.

Doba was prepared to handle any unexpected situation â physically and mentally. He had dreamed of these expeditions for years and was very motivated, no matter the circumstances.

“You need to be 150 percent confident because 100 percent is not enough,” he said when I asked if he’d ever been scared on these trips.

Legendary kayaker Aleksander Doba died on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Aleksander Doba died while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on February 22, 2021. According to eyewitness accounts, he felt well throughout the journey, but after arriving at the top, he asked for a two-minute break before taking a picture. He then sat down and just fell asleep.

His son said the cause was asphyxia resulting from high altitude pulmonary edema.

Doba is not just an extreme kayaker. He has the soul of an adventurer.

He has paddled extremely long distances across Europe and the world, parachuted 14 different times, and piloted hang gliders for 250 hours. Fans sometimes refer to him as a “superhuman.”

A documentary film about the life of Aleksander Doba called Happy Olo was released in 2017. Several books have been written about his adventures, including three written by Doba himself.

Aleksander Doba exemplifies how determination and hard work can overcome any obstacle. He is one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever heard of and an inspiration to many people trying to follow their dreams.

Despite the risks, Doba was motivated by the challenge and the sense of adventure that comes with crossing the ocean in a kayak.

He has shown that it is possible to traverse one of the most challenging environments on Earth using nothing but a kayak and some determination.

Check out Aleksander Doba’s website to learn more about his extraordinary expeditions.

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