First person to canoe solo across Atlantic makes it in 76 days

Alex Guthro

LOVES Wooden Canoes
March 26, 2012

Pablo Gorondi

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY—After 76 days, Gabor Rakonczay — isolated and incommunicado for nearly 50 of those after his canoe capsized — has become the first person to paddle across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe to the Caribbean.

Rakonczay, who began his adventure in Lagos, Portugal, on Dec. 21, and stopped for several days in the Canary Islands for rest and supplies, reached the island of Antigua on Sunday, he told The Associated Press in a phone interview from the Caribbean nation.

When his 7.5-metre canoe capsized at sea, the Hungarian adventurer said he managed to save it but his communications equipment was damaged and he had not been in contact with his family since Feb. 6.

Rakonczay made the journey without a satellite tracking system which would have allowed him to signal that he was all right. So his wife, who stayed behind in Hungary, could only hope for the best.

“The supplier raised the price at the last minute and I decided to leave without one because it was not possible to postpone the trip,” the 30-year-old said from Nelson's Dockyard in southern Antigua.

“This trip was the first time I didn't have a tracking system and the first time I really would have needed one.”

During the nearly seven weeks he was out of reach, Viktoria, his wife, gave no indications that she was anything but totally sure that her husband was alive and that only equipment failure was to blame for their lack of communication.

She kept posting entries on their web page nearly every day, speculating about Gabor's position and how the weather conditions were affecting his voyage on the canoe nicknamed “Vitez,” which means “valiant” in Hungarian.

Rakonczay said that in his solitude he often thought about what his loved ones were likely going through, and was heartened by the faith and confidence of his family in his abilities during the long silence.

“I was positively surprised in those at home ... because everyone was certain that if I run into any difficulties, I'll be able to solve them,” Rakonczay said. “It was a great relief to reach port because it meant completing the journey and because my family could finally know for sure that I was OK.”

While he lit smoke flares on three separate occasions to signal ships passing nearby, he was not able to communicate with any of them.

“Some slowed and even changed direction as they likely picked me up on their radars,” Rakonczay said. “But I was often surrounded by waves 4 metres high and the canoe is less than one metre high, so it's most likely that they simply weren't able to see me.”

The uniqueness of Rakonczay's crossing was confirmed by the London-based Ocean Rowing Society International, which adjudicates such feats for the Guinness World Records.

Atlantic crossings have been made in rowboats and kayaks, but not a canoe, in which a paddle with a single blade is used.

“We were disappointed he had no satellite tracking on board,” said Tatiana Rezva-Crutchlow, editor-in-chief of the society's website. “We are very pleased to hear that he has arrived.”

In 2008, Rakonczay and his wife successfully rowed across the Atlantic together, but this solo challenge had been in the works for a long time and he reached his destination some 20 days faster than planned.

“I was very interested in discovering what it's like to be all alone on a ship in the ocean,” Rakonczay said. “It was my childhood dream.”