Remembering Aleksander Doba, Who Kayaked Across Atlantic
Original resource from explorersweb.com
The wild-bearded Polish super-kayaker Aleksander Doba died as he lived, in pursuit of adventure, passing away on the very summit of Mount Kilimanjaro at the age of 74.
Doba’s wizened but muscular frame and ancient, friendly face became familiar not just to the adventure world but to mainstream audiences when he kayaked across the Atlantic in 2017 at the age of 70 and became the first person to cross that ocean three times.
He was climbing Kili as part of a group but he split off to go at his own pace with his guides. He was not showing any symptoms of altitude sickness and he was in good spirits, his guides reported. When they met others near the first peak of Kilimanjaro, he told them he felt in great shape, shouted, “Wild Africa!”, and said that he was happy.
As Doba and his two guides reached the summit, Doba sat down to rest for a moment. He then lost consciousness. Efforts to resuscitate him failed, and he died shortly afterward. In such situations, a heart attack is often the cause, although we won’t be sure for some days.
Doba completing his second trans-Atlantic crossing. Photo: Iwona Bednarczyk-Jolley
In an earlier interview, Doba spoke of his desire to summit Kilimanjaro. “Kayaks did not dissuade me from other forms of exploring the world,” he said, admitting that he was fascinated by the name of this highest mountain in Africa. His planned tour also included a safari to two national parks, Tarangire and Ngorongoro, and a visit to the island of Zanzibar.
An avid river paddler and former whitewater slalom champion, Doba started kayaking in 1980. He circumnavigated Lake Baikal and the Baltic Sea and paddled 5,370km from his home in Poland to central Norway.
He first tackled the Atlantic at the age of 64. It wasn’t his idea. In 2003, a Polish professor contacted Doba, already a well-known kayaker, to get advice on paddling across the Baltic Sea. He managed to persuade Doba to cross the Atlantic with him from Ghana to Brazil. They were to use separate one-man kayaks and tie them together at night to sleep.
Doba after rudder repairs near Bermuda, 2014. Photo: Nicola Muirhead
The trip was a complete failure: Forty-two hours later, they washed back onto a beach, but Doba had found his new project. Once he was back in Poland, he swore never to kayak with a partner again and set about designing a craft that could make such a trip. By 2010, his kayak was ready. He named it Olo after his own nickname –- Olek.
In the fall of 2010, he began his crossing from Senegal to Brazil. This east-to-west route took him 99 days and was not at all pleasant. It was unbearably hot and humid, he was on the verge of sunstroke for much of the journey, his body was covered in salt rashes, he had an eye infection, and most of his fingernails and toenails peeled off.
His clothes became impossible to dry and irritated his skin, so he gave up on them and paddled naked. He also couldn’t hear anything for most of the trip, since he didn’t take his hearing aids with him: They weren’t waterproof, they were expensive and besides, there was no one to talk to, anyway.
When he finished, just one journalist and the Polish Ambassador in Brazil turned up to greet him. No one cared that he had just crossed the Atlantic in a kayak.
Aleksander Doba. Photo: Travel Journal
This last journey was his most dangerous, and he endured multiple storms, 55-knot winds, towering waves, and broken equipment. At one point, during a two-day storm, the rope to his sea anchor snapped. Wearing just a harness, Doba had to crawl out of the cabin to set a new sea anchor. He was shocked that he made it back to the cabin alive.
Then his rudder bent, and he was unable to fix it. He was furious that he had to accept help from a passing freighter. And the ship’s captain was not keen on letting a 70-year-old man who was sleep-deprived and covered in rashes head back off into the ocean alone. Doba insisted.
He was a true explorer until the end. Doba spent over a year completely isolated in the middle of an ocean. He has 10 Guinness World Records to his name. But above all, Doba is proof that age does not matter when you are determined. He will remain an inspiration for generations to come.
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