© 2024 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Man Found After 137 Days Adrift In Sailboat. And It's Not His First Rescue

One thing you can say about Rimas Meleshyus: He's definitely persistent.

"I'm a very determined person," he told the Whidbey News-Times in 2015. "I'm very strong."

Meleshyus, who is in his mid-60s, departed Hilo, Hawaii, aboard his 30-foot sailboat Mimsy in June and was rescued a few days ago off Saipan, a U.S. territory north of Guam.

His satellite communicator failed. He had to jury-rig a sail out of a bedsheet after he said the boat's mainsail broke. His last plaintive message sent via satellite tracker was a short text to anyone following his voyage: "No response from fiji coast guard yet. My tilles broken no contrals for boat its dangerous current pushing unknoow strong gale was couple daays ago at night," he wrote, apparently referring to the "tiller" on his small boat.

He finally managed to contact the U.S. Coast Guard by radio and was towed into harbor 137 days after leaving Hilo. It's a journey of some 3,300 nautical miles that adventurous small-boat sailors typically make in a little more than a month.

"I'm so happy," he told Saipan's KSPN 2 Television after making landfall. "I'm emotional because, long time at sea."

As emotional as it must have been, it was pretty much old hat for Meleshyus, a Soviet emigrant who left the USSR in 1988 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

This is what he had to say when he was rescued by the fire department off Hawaii in May 2016 after a 46-day drift from California with limited supplies aboard: "You dream about food, you dream about water. You cannot image no water no food," he told Hawaii News Now.

Meleshyus lost his first boat, a 24-foot sloop, in 2012, after a 34-day passage across the Gulf of Alaska in which he says he hit a whale and was knocked down several times in storms.

He ended up running aground on a remote Aleutian island and was found a week later by a passing fishing boat. He initially refused rescue, hoping instead to refloat his beached vessel. Two days later, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter picked him up.

But wait, there's more: In February 2014, Meleshyus, aboard another 24-foot boat, left Hawaii and arrived in San Francisco Bay after 56 days — more than twice as long as it might normally take. Since he couldn't figure out how to sail into the bay, he was towed into harbor.

Following a refit and resupply, he set off westward across the Pacific again and drifted for months before a major search was launched to find him. He was eventually rescued off American Samoa.

Meleshyus, who often posts photographs of himself in yacht-club-style sailing garb, complete with commodore's cap and holding an old copy of National Geographic magazine, has gotten more than one free boat from benefactors and puts out frequent pleas for donations of equipment and supplies via his Facebook page.

He has gained a reputation among sailing aficionados — many of whom follow him on social media — for his unique style of cruising. On multiple voyages across big stretches of ocean, he doesn't so much sail as he drifts, something he calls "Kon Tiki-style," a reference to anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl's 1947 drift across the Pacific in a balsa wood raft meant to prove his (since discredited) theory that it was South Americans who settled the South Pacific.

Meleshyus also has stated frequently that his voyages are "the biggest adventure in American history." Promoting his latest voyage, he affixed stick-on letters across Mimsy's hull, proclaiming: "The Expedition Sailing Alone Around The World Nonstop!"

One fan on Facebook had this to say after Meleshyus' ill-fated voyage to Hawaii last year:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
More from Hawai‘i Public Radio