Aleksander Doba, a Polish adventurer who set out six months ago to cross the Atlantic in a 21-foot kayak, pulled into New Smyrna Beach on Saturday, looking like a castaway.
His skin was bronzed and weathered, his beard long and tangled, but the 67-year-old’s mood was upbeat as he raised his arms in triumph after a remarkable crossing that spanned about 6,000 miles.
The official end of his odyssey, which began last October 5 in Lisbon, Portugal, came two days after he had pulled into Port Canaveral, Florida, to receive a greeting there. But “Olek” Doba refused to disembark until he reached New Smyrna Beach, where he kissed the ground and was greeted by hundreds of well-wishers.
One of the well-wishers, a visitor from Delaware, told Doba that he was “the toughest man on earth,” according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
“And I told him that if there’s anybody that claims to be tougher, I want to see them paddle from New Smyrna Beach to Portugal,” Steve Griffith said. “And then I’ll believe them.”
Adam Barringer, the mayor of New Smyrna Beach, referred to Doba as “Aleksander the Great,” and presented the paddler with a bottle of champagne.
Few will argue that his was not a great accomplishment, fraught with obstacles.
In December, he refused a rescue attempt by the crew of a commercial tanker after issuing an SOS signal about midway across the Atlantic. He told the vessel’s captain that his satellite navigation equipment wasn’t working properly, but that he was proceeding anyway.
On February 13, he lost a rudder in the Bermuda Triangle, 800 miles from the Florida coast. He also experienced equipment issues and was unable to send messages for 47 days. But Doba reached Bermuda, where he spent a month while repairs were made.
(His paddle from Portugal to Bermuda is believed to be the longest open-water kayak crossing in history. Previously, Doba had paddled 3,345 miles from Senegal, Africa, to Brazil, over a span of 99 days, completing that expedition in 2011.)
On March 23, Doba hitched a ride with a tall sailing ship back to a strategic location that he had strayed hundreds of miles from while fending off storms. That put him back in position to make Florida.
According to Canoe & Kayak magazine, even the last few days of fighting the Gulf Stream proved extremely challenging.
“For five months we worried about crossing the Gulf Stream,” Piotr Chmielinski, who has helped manage Doba’s expedition and served as translator, told Canoe & Kayak. “If he got northerly winds, the current and winds fight each other and you get choppy, breaking son-of-a-gun waves.
“And what happened [Thursday]? He got northerly winds. The conditions kept the fishing boats on shore. It was so rough, no one could believe a kayak could come from out there.”
Canoe & Kayak reports that Doba started paddling at the age of 40 and, according to his son, lived by this motto: “It’s better to live one day as a lion than a thousand years as a lamb.”
At Port Canaveral, Doba was greeted by members of the Polish-American Association of Sarasota, who chanted, “Go Olek!”
“This is a big deal,” Arthur Okula, president of the association, told the News-Journal. “He needs to see that somebody is waiting for him.”
That was no problem at New Smyrna Beach, where the retired engineer-turned-adventurer has friends and many fans.
He told the News-Journal: “The feeling when I (arrived) here in New Smyrna Beach was fantastic, so many people, so friendly.”
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