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Sea kayaker refuses rescue after sending help signal

At midpoint of transatlantic trip, Olek Doba might have mistakenly pressed 'help' button on GPS messenger; adventurer currently struggling in Bermuda Triangle

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Sea kayaker Aleksander “Olek” Doba waves to would-be rescuers in mid-Atlantic on Dec. 23; photo courtesy of Piotr Chmielinski via Canoe & Kayak

A polish adventurer attempting to become the first to kayak from Europe to North America inexplicably waved off a rescue attempt last month after sending out an SOS signal midway through his 5,200-mile journey.

The crew of the commercial tanker called in to give him assistance was incredulous when he refused help, and now the 67-year-old sea kayaker is battling headwinds—or mysterious forces, perhaps?—that have him paddling in circles and running low on provisions within the Bermuda Triangle.

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Sea kayaker Aleksander “Olek” Doba’s position plots on Monday, showing him going in circles within the Bermuda Triangle; from Doba’s blog

Aleksander “Olek” Doba, who began his Portugal-to-Florida trek on October 5, lost all communications with his shore team on December 20, according to Canoe & Kayak, which just obtained photos of Doba from the tanker.

On December 22, Doba’s SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger transmitted a lower-level distress signal that indicated he was in need of assistance, though not the kind that was life-threatening.

The U.S. Coast Guard picked up the signal and requested help from the nearest vessel in the vicinity.

“When the ship approached, Olek waved them away,” Piotr Chmielinski, who spoke with the management of the shipping company, told Canoe & Kayak. “He told them that his satellite phone and SPOTs were not working, but he was going ahead anyway.”

It remains unknown whether Doba pressed the “help” button intentionally or inadvertently activated the signal while attempting to transmit his position.

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Sea kayaker Aleksander “Olek” Doba looks back to his would-be rescuers as he stands in 23-foot kayak in the Atlantic Ocean; photo courtesy of Piotr Chmielinski via Canoe & Kayak

“Olek is just one of a kind,” Canoe & Kayak editor Jeff Moag told GrindTV Outdoor. “He’s 67 years old, paddling across the Atlantic Ocean for the second time, and facing all kinds of adversity. His sat phone stopped working a month ago, his desalinator and locator beacons are on the fritz, and the storms keep pushing him backwards. Despite all that he waves off a rescue and just keeps going. He just won’t quit.”

profile shot from google+Tough and determined, and belying his age, Doba is obviously no stranger to this kind of adventure.

Three years ago, Doba took 99 days to paddle from Senegal, West Africa, to Brazil, a 3,345-mile trip—the longest kayaking journey in duration on record. Doba has already surpassed that record at 113 days and counting, as of Monday.

Doba still can’t communicate with the outside world, though his GPS unit continues to mark his position each day and it’s posted on his blog, maintained by his son.

“The position plots tell a disheartening tale, as in recent weeks a series of storms has pushed Doba more than 100 miles backward,” Canoe & Kayak wrote. “He now has provisions for less than a month and more than 700 miles still to paddle.”

As he told Canoe & Kayak in December before his satellite phone went out, “The kayak will survive and so will I. Anyway, do I have another choice?”

Perhaps not, now that the commercial tanker has moved on.

Photo by RicardoBravo1

Sea kayaker Aleksander “Olek” Doba near the beginning of his second transatlantic kayak trip; photo by Ricardo Santos, Canoe & Kayak/Canoandes

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