Aleksander Doba successfully sea kayaks across the Atlantic

An obscure Pole named Aleksander Doba has pulled off a somewhat obscure first: Sea kayaking across the breadth of the Atlantic Ocean in 98 days, 23 hours, 42 minutes, the longest open ocean kayaking adventure ever.

Leaving quietly from Dakar on October 26 and spending much of the first two months fighting into relentless winds and currents which kept pushing him north, it seemed – if you followed the GPS tracker online – that the 64-year-old Doba was going in circles, or repeating some kind of weird figure-8 patterns.

A straight line from Dakar to his finishing point in Fortaleza, Brazil, would have been just less than 2,000 miles. Of course thanks to winds, storms, currents and the two hours he slept each night, there are no straight lines in ocean paddling. In the end he paddled a total of 3,352 miles (average speed: 1.4 miles per hour; average daily distance, 33.5 miles; longest day, 78.6 miles).

Doba is hardly a novice to the kind of physical strength and mental endurance necessary for long solo paddles. Though this time he embarked in a sophisticated, 23-foot kayak with monster roll bars and a pair of flotation cabins at either end – he had previously kayaked more than 40,000 miles, including a 2,600-mile trip around the Baltic Sea in 1999, a 3,300 mile journey from Poland to Norway in 2000 and a 1,200 mile circumnavigation of Lake Baikal last year.
A previous effort to cross the Atlantic, in 2004, lasted just two days thanks to an “unstable” boat. This time around it wasn’t until the middle of the expedition that he worried he might not be able to push the heavily-loaded kayak (1,200 pounds) all the way across, especially when in December he became mired in a series of storms that had him traveling in circles at the same time his automatic desalinator went down, meaning to create fresh water he had to hand pump four hours a day.

On January 8, he confessed to feeling like Sisyphus, who rolled the boulder uphill only to have it tumble backwards on top of him. “This is how I feel fighting the current.”

His expedition manager was his son, Chez, who stayed positive throughout that his old man would make it across. “He promised his wife he’s coming back. He’s not a man to break a promise, otherwise she will kill him.”

While Doba’s effort is the longest paddle yet, he now tops a short-list of other obscure long-distance paddle record holders (thanks to Canoe & Kayak):

In 1928 Franz Romer crossed the Atlantic from Portugal to Puerto Rico in a folding kayak dependent on just a compass, sextant and a barometer. After landing in St. Thomas and a brief sail over to San Juan Harbor in Puerto Rico, Romer again took to sea, bound for New York. Unfortunately, he missed a hurricane warning by one hour and steered straight into the storm. No trace of him was ever found.

In 1956 Hannes Lindemann spent 72 days paddling from the Canary Islands to the British Virgin Islands in a store-bought folding kayak, subsisting primarily on beer, evaporated milk, rainwater and speared fish. His mantra? “West … Never give up … Never give up.”

In 1987 Ed Gillet’s left from California heading for Hawaii; the crossing took him 63 days. Out of radio contact for eight weeks, he ran out of food, endured a 40-hour stretch of sleep deprivation and winds that nearly drove him north of Hawaii. He was described as being in a “hallucinatory state” when he arrived at Kahului Harbor on Maui.

Englishman Peter Bray was the first to paddle west to east across the Atlantic in 2001, without the tropical trade winds to ease his passage. His first attempt nearly cost him his life: Asleep after his first day at sea, he awoke to find his cockpit three-quarters filled with water and his pumping systems inoperable. Bray survived 32 hours submerged in 36-degree seas and spent the next four months learning to walk again. A year later, he launched again from St. John’s, Newfoundland, reaching Beldereg, Ireland, 75 days later.

In 2007 Australian “Adventurer of the Year” Andrew McAuley attempted the relatively short (1,000) crossing of the very wild Tasman Sea, from Tasmania to New Zealand. In 29 days he got to within one day – 30 miles – of Milford Sound, New Zealand where his wife and young son waited on the beach for him. He disappeared on that last day; his boat would be found, but never any sign of Andrew.

In late 2007 a pair of young Australians – James Castrission and Justin James – successfully crossed the Tasman Sea in a custom-built, double-kayak, in 62 days.

[flickr photo via jurvetson]