67-Year-Old Kayaker Needs Help Near End of Atlantic Crossing

Aleksander Doba faces a broken rudder's threat to his Atlantic kayak crossing.

Doba left Portugal, in his kayak on October 6, 2013, bound for Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Aleksander Doba, a 67-year-old kayaker who is attempting a solo, unsupported crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, needs a new rudder.

The rudder on Doba's custom kayak broke in a storm on February 13 in the notorious Bermuda Triangle. That was within days of the estimated completion time for his months-long voyage, according to social media posts by Andrzej Arminski, a kayak designer who built Doba's vessel, called OLO.

Arminski noted on Google+ that Doba is unhurt, but that he will not be able to paddle against the stiff trade winds with a broken rudder.

Since January 1, after three months of steady progress across the Atlantic and 90 percent of his journey complete, Doba has been fighting unexpected storms and paddling in circles.

Communication with Doba has been tricky because he has been unable to contact his support team since December 20 due to a technical glitch with his satellite phone. The connection was reestablished on February 6 with a text from Doba that said, "Finally, after 47 days it is possible not only to receive text messages but also send them too."

He also has been able to broadcast his position to Arminski on a GPS personal tracker device, called SPOT. The AA batteries used by the tracker failed, but Doba rigged up a new connection with AAA batteries, although they must be protected carefully from ocean spray.

Doba, a retired engineer from Poland, left Lisbon, Portugal, in his kayak on October 6, 2013. He was bound for Smyrna Beach, Florida, 4,700 nautical miles away. Doba had been aiming to reach Florida between February 10 and February 20, 2014.

Doba's friend and supporter Piotr Chmielinski, also an adventure kayaker, told National Geographic that he plans to go to Bermuda on Monday, February 17, to assist in repairs to Doba's kayak. The Virginia-based Chmielinski says he hopes to help Doba at sea, if possible, to minimize disruption to the journey. They may need to seek the nearest harbor, most likely Bermuda, to make repairs to the boat.

After that, Chmielinski says he hopes Doba will be able to complete the final leg of his paddle to Florida. He still has five weeks' worth of food left, maybe more if he continues to catch flying fish.

Chmielinski had already been planning a celebration for when Doba arrived in the Sunshine State.

"Strong Kayaker"

The attempt is actually Doba's second Atlantic crossing. In 2010 he paddled from Senegal to Brazil, a distance of 3,400 nautical miles, in 99 days.

According to Arminski, Doba started running into trouble in early January, about 700 miles south of Florida. The kayaker struggled against strong winds that were buffeting him in the wrong direction. At that time, he was effectively spinning in circles as he tried to steer for Florida.

"Let us hope that this incredibly strong kayaker finds good luck again," Arminski wrote on February 6. "Forecasts, however, are rather uncertain and, unfortunately, the expected weather is not forecast to change to a more favorable pattern in the coming days. But we will not give up hope!"

Doba's supporters say he is in good health, although he gets only a few hours of sleep each night, huddled in the cramped and noisy compartment of his kayak. He has been suffering from rashes on his body, and his fingernails and toenails are wearing away from prolonged exposure to saltwater.

False Alarm

In the worst case, Doba does have an emergency button to push for help. And he has used it once before, by accident.

On December 23, the U.S. Coast Guard received a help message from Doba, in the middle of the Atlantic. The agency asked a tanker ship in the area to investigate.

Doba waved the massive ship on, telling them that he pushed his alarm button by mistake. He said he didn't want any help because he was trying to complete the paddle unaided.

The team has retained Global Rescue, a private medical evacuation company, to assist Doba if he gets into serious trouble.