Aleksander Doba - interview

23 February 2021

Aleksander Doba id dead 22.02.2021.

Here we present you the interview with him!

MWM: Do you remember your first trip in a canoe?
AD: Yes, I do. It was a long time ago, in July 1980. For the first time I was talked into a canoeing trip when I was already a very old man. I was 34 years old (laughs) and it was on the Drava river. It is really a great river - it was my first and still is a favourite one. It is there where, so to speak, I had literally my head over heels into the water. I swam a double kayak with a friend who was also at a canoe trip for the first time and we had all our luggage in a kayak. On the second or third day of canoeing, which was to last for two-weeks, we were sailing out from behind the corner. Suddenly we have seen our colleague-girl hanging on a tree and screaming "Help! Help!". We, as it befits two men - sailed to help her. We reached her, and of course we made many mistakes. First of all - we swam sideways into the obstruction and so the stream started to suck in our canoe under the tree. Thus - it pushed out the canoe of our colleague-girl. But in the meantime, when we tried to take her down from the tree, her canoe managed to sail away. I jumped into the river and started chasing him. Well, that is how "I fell" into the canoes, I liked it. In a year I took part in the next canoeing trip, and then I started to deal with the organization of canoeing trips and there were more of them and more often. And so it turned out that I currently have on my account the highest in Poland number of km on my canoe odometer - more than 94,000.

MWM: But you tried various extreme sports in your life? You flew gliders, parachuted?
AD: Yes, they were. Nothing can substitute flying, it is something wonderful!

MWM: Nevertheless, you have spent half of your life in a canoe? So how is it?
AD: Well, I fell in love with canoes, but the vicissitudes of life are different. I started flying in Poznań, then I moved to Police. There are different conditions to fly - worse. Well, I had to abandon this sport regretfully. For some time, flying was my passion. I spent 250 hours in the air, I won one diamond. Memories stayed with me. Ascending in the air with the birds, storks, it is something wonderful. Beautiful experience and the silence around...



MWM: When I have read about things you did in your life, I have found there mainly extreme sports. Do you think that you are in a sense addicted to adrenaline?
AD: Generally speaking I am not a risk taker...

MWM: (laughs) No, not at all...
AD: But I know that some things are associated with a certain element of risk. I do appreciate life itself. I do estimate the degree of risk. But the thrill means great fun. I have no great fear of a challenge. I am intrigued by it. Getting to know something else, something new. I was very disappointed by my first parachute jump. Well, when I was in a plane ready to jump and I looked down, and there were somehow about 1000 meters, I did not feel fear at all. I felt as if I was standing on a step in the tram and I was somehow disappointed by the jump. Maybe because I was already familiar with the altitude? It ended up with 14 jumps. I was not going to jump any longer. I got 3-rd degree of a parachutist and that is how the adventure ended. Yes, jumping is risky, but accidents can happen everywhere. Life is fragile and you need to take care of it. If you are doing something, you should be well protected. I liked and I do like hiking, too.

MWM: So tell me what is so special about canoeing that it is it you have chosen?
AD: For me it is a way of learning: country, countries, different continents, people, and the world. Of course, it takes a lot of experience to prepare and deal with longer expeditions in a canoe. It is not only a canoeing experience, but also a general one - life. I loved my early canoe trips, because then I had everything in the canoe. I was camping in wild, new, unknown places and it has always been a magnet for me. Exploring new places. My most interesting trip was a trip from Police to Narvik. For many people it would be a trip, which would be associated with a number of limitations and inabilities. I did not know Norway, I did not know the language, I had no friends there. There were so many barriers, and I was all alone. But for me, all these elements were the magnets attracting me, and I was not disappointed. This trip took me 101 days.




MWM: And where did the idea to swim the Atlantic Ocean come from?
AD: I do not know! Actually it was not even my idea ... 11 years ago, Paweł Napierała from the University of Zielona Gora came to me. He was with a friend and they began to tell me about their plans. I listened to them, I gave them some advice and we went to Dziwnów. There I showed them the biggest difficulties for a canoeist at the sea. Paweł wanted me to sail with them. They had plans, but it turned out that they were impossible to be realized, for various reasons. However, the idea has remained, which I liked very, very much.

We were to start in Africa. I have thought to myself that I have not been there yet, so I can try. We had to start from the Ivory Coast, but there was a civil war – so we started from Ghana. In total, we were only 42 hours in the ocean. We were not well prepared theoretically, and currents surprised us – there were very strong currents that pulled us back. We sailed from the port into the ocean, and the second night I looked and I saw the light behind me, even though I swam south all the time. I woke Paweł and we paddled together but unfortunately we failed. We crash-landed on the beach near some village, so we were quite a sensation. People from the village came to see us, the police treated it as the illegal arrival because we had a one-time visa. We tried to explain them that we are more castaways. The hearing was held and eventually we succeeded to reach an agreement.

After this event, I felt unsatisfied because I spent only 42 hours in the ocean. Later Paweł tried by himself. First he swam to France, later he wanted to face the ocean all alone. He sailed from the Ivory Coast, but fortunately he felt bad, about an hour after departure and he came back. And thanks to it, he is alive. I thought to myself - a certain idea felt down, well, its time for me, after all it is possible. I began to do such theoretical plans, I sketched how a canoe built for such a trip should look like and I started looking for a producer of this canoe. The canoe should be 7 meters long and a meter wide. It should have a cabin in the front and a thick canopy protecting from the sun. What is the most important it had to be unsinkable and had a specific construction. After overturning upside down, the canoe should be able to "get up" itself. I came to Andrzej Armiński yard and after a few hours mens conversation, we decided that we would try to design and build a canoe for safe passage of the Ocean. Andrzej Armiński is a sailor who once sailed around the world alone! He competed in various regattas. He had three young designers who were strongly involved in this project.



After this event, I felt unsatisfied because I spent only 42 hours in the ocean. Later Paweł tried by himself. First he swam to France, later he wanted to face the ocean all alone. He sailed from the Ivory Coast, but fortunately he felt bad, about an hour after departure and he came back. And thanks to it, he is alive. I thought to myself - a certain idea felt down, well, its time for me, after all it is possible. I began to do such theoretical plans, I sketched how a canoe built for such a trip should look like and I started looking for a producer of this canoe. The canoe should be 7 meters long and a meter wide. It should have a cabin in the front and a thick canopy protecting from the sun. What is the most important it had to be unsinkable and had a specific construction. After overturning upside down, the canoe should be able to "get up" itself. I came to Andrzej Armiński yard and after a few hours mens conversation, we decided that we would try to design and build a canoe for safe passage of the Ocean. Andrzej Armiński is a sailor who once sailed around the world alone! He competed in various regattas. He had three young designers who were strongly involved in this project.

MWM: When you were swimming- what was the most beautiful moment in the ocean?
AD: During the first expedition, it was interesting that I swam somehow in the aquarium - fish were swimming next to me all the time. At first I thought they were barracudas or maki maki. It turned out, however, that they were maki maki. These fishes, about one meter long, are very fast. I felt like it was the guard of honour. They followed me all the time. They joined me after two weeks and they accompanied me till the end of the expedition. They can swim at speeds over 90 km/h! They jumped up to 4 meters and fell back into the water. However, after some time, I began to call them hyenas. I thought that they were waiting until I got into the water. During the day there were about 5, and at night - up to 10 on both sides of the canoe! Observing them was amazing. I have noticed that if something interesting was happening - in some way they were communicating and in the blink of an eye there were more and more of them. It was enough to go to the "toilet", and a flock of fish was staring at me! And how can you take care of your physiological needs? I was afraid of putting my hand into the water. I was afraid that it would end up badly for me. My hand would easily fit the fish mouth! Their favourite food were flying fishes. They hunted for them during all day and night. Sometimes they hit me.



MWM: And what was the worst moment in the ocean?
AD: The worst moments were during the second expedition. It was in the northern waters, cooler, where winds are stronger. Anyway, it was a longer route, and these 8 storms ... Andrzej Armiński was supervising my expedition. It was him who sent me the weather forecasts, moreover, it was also him that I have arranged the date and the route with. The term of the expedition we have chosen when there is winter in Poland, because then there is no hurricane season. For half a year in the Atlantic there is the time of hurricanes - it begins at June the 1-st and ends at November, 30-th. I took off on Oct. the 5-th that means that during two months of my trip the hurricane season still lasted. In fact, at the time they most often occur around the Caribbean Islands, but before I swam there - it was already after the hurricane season. But storms are throughout the year.

I was informed about storms, so I tried to go off course, but in fact it was more just for my psyche that I am trying to do something, because in all I couldn’t do much. I mainly prepared myself to not losing anything and to damage nothing. When strong winds started, it took a floating anchor, to protect my canoe from being pushed by the wind too quickly and in order to save it and myself. Despite its special design and durable material - waves hitting canoe from its side were very dangerous. During the storm I lock myself in the cockpit and that’s it. Nights were the worst, because you just cannot sleep. At night you can see nothing, during the day, you can even watch waves breaking. Huge breaking waves are really fascinating. The canoe was very durable, basically unsinkable. Paradoxically, the water did not do any harm to my canoe. I did feel badly in the Bermuda Triangle. But who would feel well there? In this area, a lot of ships boats and canoes got missing. I had strong winds there, but I had never breakdown. And at the end of the trip I felt pity that this trip is coming to an end.

MWM: And what about sharks?
AD: And there were sharks, indeed! But they were not as many as I thought. My first encounter with sharks has looked like this: during the first expedition, probably on the second day after departure from Dakar, the heat was incredible. I could see neither people nor land. I thought to myself, "oh – I what about swimming around my canoe". I went to the stern of the canoe, I sat down and put my feet into the water, I was happy that I would be swimming in this big pool for free, so I moved my legs spontaneously in the water. I looked like a young, cheerful boy, not an old man, it was so spontaneous. And it saved my life! Then I saw a fin about 20 meters from me and it was swimming fast, zigzagging to me. So I raised my feet. I did not see the shark, but apparently the sound of my legs was some kind of encouragement that I was a big fish, an easy meat. And what if I would jump into water? I do not know what would have happened. After this event, the desire to swim was gone. But after all there were not many sharks. I met maybe a dozen of them during these months. This shark discouraged me to take a bath, although it is fun. And then there were only maki-maki fish, which followed me all the time.

MWM: Do you need to have any special mental and physical abilities, to survive in a canoe on the ocean?
AD: You should have strong mentality and I think I can say that I have one. During the trip along the Amazon river, bandits who attacked me, robbed me for three hours - from the beginning I have decided that I have to survive. I tried to calm them down and to convince them that I am not a threat and that I let them do everything - so why would they kill me? I tried to talk with them all the time - when I forgot the words in Portuguese, I spoke Polish ones. Strong psyche is the basis in the ocean. It is much more important than physical shape. Of course, experience and training in canoe are also important.



MWM: What values do you appreciate in people?
AD: In people I appreciate most of all honesty and openness to others. I hate lies.

MWM: And what is the most important thing in life?
AD: I think you have to be a good person. Cheerful. Joyful. Generally I generally feel myself more like an American than a Pole. When two Poles at my age meet, they usually fight who is more ill. And when two Americans in the same state of health meet, there comes a question, "Whats up" the other one replies that hes all right. I have a positive attitude towards life, I am an optimist.

MWM: And if you had another life, would you do canoeing?
AD: I have just fell in love with a canoe, it is a great fun. I have some successes in canoeing, but for me the main driving force is exploring new routes, places, people and myself. I have spent half my life on it, thats true. I recommend tourist canoeing to anyone. A canoe trip across the Atlantic may not necessary be good for everyone.

MWM: Plans for the near future?
AD: Id love to canoe with ... my wife.