No guts, no glory:

Our exclusive photo shows ocean kayaker and explorer Aleksander Doba in choppy waters after being dropped off by the Spirit of Bermuda more than 300 miles offshore. He had thumbed a ride after storms blew him off course during his epic journey from Lisbon to Florida. Our Nicola Muirhead was the only journalist on board the Spirit and she took this shot as the sloop doubled back to check on Mr Doba roughly an hour after he went solo. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead



It was February 19 when Aleksander Doba — world-renowned kayaker and explorer — was pushed towards Bermuda by a series of storms. He was cast off from his route of 27N, 64W while trying to reach Smyrna Beach, Florida.  

Doba had been travelling across the Atlantic in his kayak OLO, since October of last year. He started from Lisbon, heading south towards Florida, and in three months he had travelled over 2/3rds of the Atlantic Ocean with his kayak before he was thrown off course.  

Much to the frustration of the 67-year-old kayaker, whose dream and goal is to complete the longest crossing of the Atlantic without any outside aid or assistance, Doba drifted north to Bermuda, after his rudder was damaged in the water, and the ocean’s currents were too strong to paddle against.

Aleksander Doba, also referred to as ‘Olek’, made his way to Ely’s Harbour in Somerset at midnight on February 24 and was followed to the island by a local fishing boat called the Frog Cutter



Support crew: Aleksander Doba, centre left, and Piotr Chmielinski, centre right are pictured aboard the Spirit of Bermuda with part of the crew of The Spirit of Bermuda as they head to the point of drop-off. *Photos by Nicola Muirhead


The kayaker refused any assistance or additional supplies from the fishing boat, making sure that his arrival to Bermuda, like the rest of his expedition, was completely self-reliant.  

Piotr Chmielinski, a kayaker and explorer himself, as well as Olek’s friend of 10 years, had already been waiting on the island for Doba’s arrival on shore, preparing the media for his landing. 

Their original plan was to get OLO repaired as quickly as possible so that Olek could return to his coordinate of 27N, 64W, and push on to Florida.  

With the help of Steve Hollis from Ocean Sails upholstery, and Wilfred Outerbridge’s Machining & Welding business in St George’s, Olek’s rudder was quickly fixed. However, despite having managed to restore OLO to its former glory, Olek would spend a month in Bermuda before finding a way back out to the ocean. But in that month, he quickly became a part of the town of St George’s, and was often spotted by residents riding a rented peddle bike from the town, down to Kindley Field Road in gale force winds, according to Steve Hollis, who recalled to the Sun Olek’s adventurous spirit and kind nature.




Journey: Aleksander Doba bids farewell to Bermuda on March 23. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead


“It’s quite phenomenal,” Hollis explained, “… his whole mindset was just wonderful, his smile and everything about him. My hat’s off to him, I think the explorers of the world are getting fewer and fewer, and when you come across somebody of his intellect, and his total togetherness… he’s just a great human being, and I think in this modern world we’ve come across a very unique explorer on a quest of the unknown.”

It was on the day of his departure, on Sunday March 23, that I met Aleksander Doba for the first time on Ordnance Island in St George’s. 

He was waving to the crowd that had gathered to say goodbye, as the crew from the Spirit of Bermuda prepared for the 325 mile journey south to his last coordinates — and I would be travelling with them on the island’s iconic schooner… to the middle of nowhere. 

When I asked Olek about his month on our island and the time he had spent here, he told me: “When
arriving in Bermuda, I found the reefs to be very treacherous and unfriendly,” he smiled. “But that did not reflect in Bermuda’s people.”

“I was first really surprised by how Bermuda reacted. 

“After arriving here and getting my rudder fixed, the support and interest people showed in my quest overwhelmed me. 

“I believe that Bermudians can understand my situation and truly wanted to help me continue with my journey, because of their ancestry coming from the ocean, they could understand me and I could understand them, and they could recognize my achievement of making it across the ocean from Europe on my own.”



Rolling ocean: Kayak adventurer Alexsander Doba contemplates his journey as he heads towards the drop-off point amidst rough seas. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead


But it was thanks to one Bermudian in particular, Jim Butterfield, that Olek’s wish to complete his expedition was realized. When Butterfield had heard about Olek’s quest to find a way back to sea, the long time supporter of the Sloop Foundation and the Spirit of Bermuda, decided to sponsor the trip in collaboration with Butterfield & Vallis (Bermuda’s largest whole-sale food distributer) so that Olek and OLO could make their way back to their last location.

“I was shocked in the moment when there was a movement of people trying to help me to continue my voyage back out to sea,” Olek explained. 

“Jim Butterfield was essential in getting me back on track, and the Sloop foundation, in cooperation with Jim, allowed me to fulfill my dream of reaching Florida.”

The Sloop Foundation and its youth outreach programme on the Spirit, which focuses on character development through experiential learning on their 112ft schooner for M3 students between the ages of 13 to 14, was something that Olek connected with immediately. “Olek is familiar with the goals of the sloop foundation and he had a chance to look at their documentation, explaining what the foundation does,” Chmielinski explained. “He is very happy that the people of Bermuda try to take care of their next generation and get them associated with the ocean, because the ocean is around Bermuda all the time.

“Knowing how to operate the ship, how to work together with the captain and the crew, for students, that is a great, great idea, and he will be missing that feeling getting out on the water.”



 

Dramatic: The moment that the Spirit of Bermuda rolled onto Aleksander Doba’s kayak breaking the wings. Shortly after the accident, Doba gave the thumbs up to say he was happily on his way to complete his record-breaking attempt to kayak solo across the Atlantic in the fastest speed. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead


On Tuesday, March 25, at 1:35pm, Aleksander Doba was unloaded from the Spirit of Bermuda just 23 miles North from his intended drop off at N 27 Degrees, W 064 Degrees, due to the fact that there was a fast approaching low pressure system that threatened the mission to launch OLO. The coordinates of his actual launch were N 27 Degrees 23.7 minutes, W 064 Degrees 02.5 minutes.

With confused seas of about four to six feet, and winds of about 15 knots, OLO’s departure from the Spirit was a challenge. Just moments after being lowered into the ocean from the ship, with Alexander Doba inside his kayak, both vessels rolled into each other, and the collision irreparably damaged the wings of Doba’s kayak.

Olek insisted that he be released, despite the damage, with no indication of feeling disappointed or shaken by the event. The crew’s next task was to detach the kayak from the Spirit, before the next roll of waves could cause any further damage. Throwing the lines to OLO, Olek spoke to Piotr from the water, insisting that he go on.  

After the crew of the Spirit had finished making storm preparations for the journey home, the ship returned to Olek to confirm he was safe to travel to Florida, and what we saw was amazing. Olek was smiling, and waving, and snapping pictures of the Spirit as she approached him, seemingly unaffected by the event that had clipped his wings only an hour before. Doba began to paddle back towards the ship, holding the ropes and lines from the Spirit in his hand, insisting that he return the ropes back to the crew. Doba was adamant that all was well, and signaled to the ship with two thumbs up.



Shortly after the wings of the kayak were broken, Doba gave the thumbs up to say he was happily on his way to complete his record-breaking attempt to kayak solo across the Atlantic in the fastest speed. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead


Piotr Chmielinski, confirmed to the Spirit that Olek wanted to go forward with his quest.  Chmielinski assured the crew: “He is in the ocean and in the direction of Florida, even with some damages to the kayak. Olek said to me, ‘I am fine! I want to go on!’ and the last thing he wanted was to be taken back on board the ship… He is in good spirits, even after being unloaded from the Spirit of Bermuda.”

At 4pm, the Spirit turned northwest, en route back to Bermuda, and Olek in turn, continued on south in hopes of completing his dream of kayaking across the largest body of ocean, from Lisbon to Florida.

Upon our return to Bermuda, Piotr immediately checked the progress of his friend, and related to the Sloop Foundation and the crew of the Spirit of Bermuda that he was making fast progress to Florida, even more so now without his wings.

“So far Olek is progressing well, and has moved from the point of unloading on Tuesday March 25 at 27 23’708” N, 064 02’379” W, to a position of 26.06 N, -64.99 W, according to his SPOT link. So far the wind direction is helping Olek to go south and towards Florida.”

Looking back, before Olek and OLO were launched into the wild ocean, I asked Olek about any future plans or expeditions. He smiled playfully at my question, as we came closer to his drop off point, and said: “The un-precise plan is to make a loop and finish in Europe, getting out from the United States.” He then paused for a moment, laughed and added, “… Maybe then that’s enough, ya?” 

Piotr Chmielinski knowingly added: “He will always be busy planning the next adventure, even his wife Gabi has said this about him that it is impossible to keep any future plans because he’s always on the go… and it’s not that he doesn’t want to be with his family, it’s just his personality!”

Olek’s final message that he wanted to convey before venturing out alone towards his final destination was this: “I am wishing everybody to have dreams, and do not stop until you fulfill your dreams, and that is a message to everybody. You can do it, and don’t stop until you do.” 

To track Olek visit

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0szBxW4jcKnyGlT77RbG3HZYg40WsncsR

Link to wind map:

http://earth.nullschool.net/#current/wind/surface/level/orthographic=-39.08,14.97,441

See more photos here:

Aleksander Doba