Atlantic Kayaking Legend Alexander “Olek” Doba Dead at 74

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He survived three treacherous solo kayak crossings of the Atlantic, but not Mount Kilimanjaro.

Polish kayaking legend Alexander “Olek” Doba, who would have turned 75 this year, died on February 22, 2021, while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

“Whatever we don’t write, it won’t be enough,” eulogized longtime friend and fellow Polish paddling explorer Piotr Chmielinski on Facebook. “Dry facts won’t give up who Olek was and what he meant, but maybe that’s what we owe him in the first place…he was first man alone, without support, to kayak the Atlantic from continent to the continent (Africa to South America), using only the power of his own muscles, and the first to cross this ocean three times by kayak.”

What these eyes have seen: Doba, in his element.

As Doba’s family announced on Tuesday, “he died of the death of a traveler and reached the highest peak in Africa – Mount Kilimanjaro (in Tanzania on the border with Kenya).” According to reports, Dobawas fine with no symptoms of altitude sickness after summiting the mountain. Longtime guide Łukasz Nowak, founder of the Solo Travelers Club, said he reached the summit at 11 a.m. on Monday. Before taking the picture, he asked for a moment to rest. Later he lost consciousness and then his vital signs. Nowak reported that doctors have not yet confirmed the cause of death, but that in such situations, it’s often a heart attack,

On Sept. 3, 2017, Doba paddled into Le Conquet, France, capping his epic 4,000-mile journey crossing the Atlantic solo for the third time, this time from west to east. He landed at 12: 45 p.m., the exact same time he departed from Barnegat, New Jersey, on May 16.

The journey wasn’t without its pitfalls, especially with winds carrying him north to Great Britain and forcing him to change his original termination site from Lisbon, Portugal, to Le Havre, France. He changed them again after winds and currents wreaked havoc on his plans to cross the English Channel. As the crow flies his journey crossed 3,000 nautical miles, but in actually measured 4,150, with him paddling every stroke of the way.

In so doing, he became the only person in his right mind to ever attempt, let alone finish, the feat three times.

Doba nearing the end of one of his crossings.

“I’m thrilled to reach the world’s most difficult-to-navigate waters, the English Channel, as the finishing point of my third transatlantic kayak expedition,” he texted partner and supporter Chmielinski when he approached the English Channel.

Herculean Effort

“It’s a pretty Herculean effort, what he did, not just once, but three times,” says Joe Carberry, a former editor at Paddler and Canoe & Kayak magazines, who now is an editor at TheInertia.com. “Not too many people on the planet would ever even attempt such a thing. He is a legend in every sense of the word.”

Doba’s adventures began well before his transatlantic expeditions. In 1989 he sailed Poland with a canoe 1149 km in 13 days. In 1991 he sailed the maritime border of Poland (from Polic to Elbl ąga), and in 1999 he sailed alone in the Baltic Sea, covering 4,227 km in 80 days. In 2000 he rowed from Policia to Narvik, traveling 5,369 km in 101 days. He was also the first Pole to sail in a folding kayak around Siberia’s Lake Baikal, covering 1,954 km in 41 days.

In 2010, he set off in a seven-meter kayak from Dakar to paddle and sail the Atlantic alone, finishing in Brazil in 98 days, 23 hours and 42 minutes. In 2013 he made his second solo kayaking trip across the Atlantic, heading out of Lisbon to Florida. After 141 days, he landed in Bermuda to repair his craft, then setout again to Florida. His third and final Atlantic expedition began on May 5, 2017. “This one was significantly different from the previous ones due to the scale of difficulties,” Chmielinski says. “It led across the north side of the Atlantic, opposite direction to the previous two. It was also extremely exhausting due to the conditions prevailing on the ocean and weather conditions.”

Doba leaves his wife (Gabi), two sons and grandchildren.

Read New York Times story here: 

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