Transatlantic Solidarity with Aleksander Doba

It’s been over a month since the end of the Third Transatlantic Kayak Expedition by Aleksander (Olek) Doba. The North Atlantic route from the United States to Europe posed special challenges for the kayaker himself as well as for the entire group of people involved in achieving it.

Transatlantic Solidarity

By Piotr Chmielinski

It’s been over a month since the end of the Third Transatlantic Kayak Expedition by Aleksander (Olek) Doba. The North Atlantic route from the United States to Europe posed special challenges for the kayaker himself as well as for the entire group of people involved in achieving it. Once someone told me that people curious about the world who strive with determination to fulfill their dreams can always find someone’s selfless help. I experienced this when I had been getting help realizing the goals of the expeditions in which I participated; I also experienced it during Olek’s journey. When support was needed – there was always someone who willingly offered it. Now, it is time give thanks.

Sandy Hook, New York, USA

The start of the expedition was not easy. Olek set off at the end of May 2016, but after four days he was forced to stop the trip due to damage to the kayak caused by crashing onto the sandy shore of Sandy Hook Peninsula. Together with Dorota and Luis Muga and my son Alex, we pulled “OLO” up from the beach and Adam Rutkiewicz’s company transported it back to Poland for repairs, as the accident did not mean the end of the expedition.

A year later, on May 7, Olek paddled again from Sandy Hook, from almost the same place where, due to the fatal crash during the first attempt, he had stopped the expedition. The weather did not make it easy to get out to the open ocean. After breaking from the anchor “OLO” almost hit the rocks. With the help of the mussel fisherman, Randy Stevens, and the brothers Pete and Jeff Patach, the owners of the speedboat that towed the kayak, Olek managed to avoid the tragedy and he soon took off into the open waters of the Atlantic.

Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, USA

Olek did not get away from the US coast for a safe distance of 150 nautical miles, when the first of many of the storms expected in this part of the ocean appeared. He decided to wait through the storm in Barnegat Bay, where he had arrived five days after leaving Sandy Hook. However, strong tidal currents posed serious difficulties for entering the bay through the narrow isthmus between the rocks. This was pointed out by Jacek Pietraszkiewicz, who acted in the early weeks of the trip as the navigator, responsible for the strategy of the expedition and providing information about the weather. Taking into account that warning, Captain Chuck Tharp and I went in his fishing boat about 10 nautical miles into the Atlantic to lead “OLO” safely to the calm waters of the Barnegat basin.

Already on land, it turned out that it was necessary to buy new compasses and repair a damaged radar reflector. In this case, the help of mechanics Tim Brindley, his son Thomas and Howard Lawson turned out to be invaluable. As soon as the storm was over, we boarded Captain Alan’s boat to assist Olek along a narrow passage to the Atlantic. That was last time on the American side of the ocean, when we said goodbye to the kayaker together with Dorota and Luis Muga, Adam Rutkiewicz and Malgorzata Borowska-Piatek, who had kindly given him some sandwiches for the journey – at least for a few days of the journey!


The information that we received from Olek after a few weeks on the ocean electrified the entire support team of the kayaker – a rudder damaged during the storm rudder, made continuation of the expedition questionable. At least according to the first assessment of the situation. The kayaker-engineer quickly came up with a plan to construct a replacement control system that would at least work for some time, but completion of the expedition was no longer possible without a permanent solution. Olek decided that he would just drift, waiting for the help of one of the ships that may be near the “OLO”, where the necessary repair could be made. Except that a ship is not like a taxi, which stops with a wave of the hand.

The challenge seemed simple, initially at least – contact the ship’s owner or the ship’s captain, which might be close to the kayak’s location, bring the kayak to the deck, and weld the damaged parts of the rudder system, which should take only a few hours. In reality, it was not so easy – the traffic on the ocean was heavy, but there were no carriers in the close proximity of Olek. For weeks I contacted and talked to people who possibly could help and they, in turn, engaged in diligently seeking help for Olek. Among them were: Bożena Marszalek, H. Matuszak, Hanna Sobota from C. Hartwig Szczecin, Jan Darski from Spiethoff Poland, Bartosz Misztal and Krzysztof Gogol from Polish Maritime Shipping PP (Polsteam), Jacek Szulc and Andrzej Rozek from Ice Transport, New York and Stefan Danielski from Canada.

Information about our efforts to find a solution for helping the kayaker stuck in the middle of the ocean appeared in the media. Magdalena Czopik, Olek’s personal manager, posted it on Facebook. The response was extraordinary. Some gave contact to their relatives traveling in the Atlantic, others provided contact details to the ship owners, and others offered to deliver the helm themselves. Finally, it was concluded that the last option offered by Bartek Dawidowski, owner of the Bahamas’ “Poly” catamaran, and his crew was the most suitable alternative. It would have cost $14,500, but Olek’s safety was far more valuable. In fact, this offer was less expansive than others as hire of fishing boats from Bermuda that could cost $30,000-50,000 or from Newfoundland – $20,000 per day (minimum 5 days were needed),

I almost gave “Poly” a signal to take off when Bartosz Bilinski, a New York lawyer and sailor, tracked “Baltic Light”, a ship from Hong Kong with a Filipino crew on board, only one day away from “OLO”. He convinced the manager of the fleet Isaaq Ansari, who in turn persuaded Captain Wilfredo Milanes to divert off course to Panama and come to rescue the kayak from the country on the Baltic. Less than 12 hours later I received information from the Captain of “Baltic Light” that they had found Olek – which was not an easy task – and were already working on repairing the rudder.

In addition to the mentioned persons, Mr. Andrzej Arminski, the strategist of the previous two transatlantic trips of Olek and Jaroslaw Krzeminski, who provided the technical plans so that the welder, Menandro Jabat, was able to understand how the repairs needed to be performed.

Special thanks are also addressed to the editorial staff of “National Geographic-Poland” and editor-in-chief Agnieszka Franus, who enthusiastically joined in spreading the appeal for help to find solutions and for reporting on the progress and also Dr. William Kilpatrick of Virginia for his help in editing all my publications about the expedition in English.

By the storms

The end of the expedition was no less exciting. First, massive storms hit the Atlantic in the area through which Olek was paddling. Information about the current weather conditions provided by the expedition meteorologist Dr. Robert Krasowski, a cardiologist practicing in North Carolina, sounded menacing. Olek’s friends, who had followed him faithfully from the beginning of the expedition through Facebook, shuddered with anxiety as evidenced in comments under posts of the impending storms. The lack of a satellite signal, which interfered with communication, only heightened the fear if such a small vessel as “OLO” would be able to withstand the pouring waters, tossing it like a toy on monstrous waves in raging winds. Even the locator was not showing the current position of the kayak. A long time of waiting and finally a moment, almost like from the film “Apollo 13”, when Jim Lovell’s voice was heard from the screen: “Hello Houston. This is Odyssey. It’s good to see you again.” With Olek, it was not an audio message, but a few words sent by text informing us that he had survived the storms.

Rocky coast of France

The storms ended, but the winds were still very strong and often in an opposing direction, not helping Olek at all. As a result, while heading to France, the kayak was pushed north to the Isles of Scilly near Cornwall in Great Britain, where for the first time in more than three and a half months watching only the infinity of the ocean, Olek saw land. Once again it became terrifying, when the strong current started pulling him close to the rocks off the coast of the islets between which he was paddling. In addition, a battery that was needed to power the system allowing “OLO” to be visible to other vessels, especially at night, stopped working.

At my request, Alan Hartwell, Deputy Captain of the Port Hugh Town of the Isles of Scilly, at first not too happy with being awakened by me around 3 am, willingly went to check Olek’s location and possibly help him avoid a collision with the rocks. At that stage, Olek could have decided to finish his expedition because technically he had reached Europe, but he was still determined to complete his original goal to reach continental Europe.

Monitored by the Coast Guard of Great Britain, and then France, with whom I was in constant contact, he set off toward Le Havre in France, a target chosen, after resigning from the originally planned Lisbon in Portugal. Strong winds and currents made crossing of the English Channel extremely difficult. It seemed that the target was within reach, or rather the paddle, and yet was still unattainable. As a result, Olek decided to skip Le Havre, and finish the expedition in Brest. Due to the weather conditions, an approaching storm and the difficult conditions of the ocean, after a few days of trying to reach the shore, I convinced him to land at the historic town of Le Conquet, about 30 kilometers west of Brest.

Information about the planned landing of the Polish kayaker who was just finishing his transatlantic voyage at the shores of Brittany astonished the locals at first, but soon caused great enthusiasm among people who, during my week of preparation for Olek’s welcome, provided invaluable help. Let’s start with Guillaume le Marchand and Melia Decomble of Finist’mer Company, who with their motorboat set out with me to search for Olek and find him near the island of Quessant. Marc Jorand and Bernadette Abiven, representatives of the Brest Mayor’s Office, responsible for media affairs, were particularly involved in organizing the welcome and distribution of information on the expedition. The mayor, in fact, gave this event a high ranking, and opened the headquarters and media office in Brest-Marina for me to use for a few days.

It is impossible to forget about the residents of Le Conquet who, despite the heavy rain and cold on September 3 this year, made their way to the harbor by 12:45 pm to greet the man who had just crossed the Atlantic in his kayak for the third time. Among those also welcoming him were Olek’s son Bartek, who had brought a trailer from Poland to transport the kayak back home, Magdalena Czopik, and finally, I, Piotr Chmielinski – media coordinator of the expedition. Gabi Doba, Olek’s wife, and other son, Czeslaw, and all the friends of the traveler, were undoubtedly with us in spirit.

To those who helped me organize the activities related to Aleksander Doba’s

expedition, searching for and helping in difficult situations, as well as with

media coordination, I would like to thank you most sincerely for your support,

time and commitment.

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