To passing boaters, he likely looked like a hamster in a ball, bobbing up and down in a blow-up bubble in the Atlantic Ocean en route to Bermuda — across the Devil’s Sea.
Reza Baluchi was on a mission to trace the Bermuda Triangle — 1,000 miles to Bermuda, 1,000 miles to Puerto Rico and 1,000 miles back to his starting point in Florida — to raise money for needy children through his charity, Plant Unity, he said. But on Saturday, three days and 70 nautical miles into the voyage, the U.S. Coast Guard had to airlift the exhausted athlete from his floating sphere off the coast of St. Augustine, Fla.
Baluchi, 42, climbed inside the vessel on Wednesday with few belongings — protein bars, bottled water, a satellite phone as well as his green card and passport. He had planned to “run” from Florida to Bermuda inside this “hydro pod,” an inflatable capsule made of plastic, 3mm thick. He would move at night and sleep in a built-in hammock during the day — as temperatures topped 120 degrees. He would fish when he got hungry.
The U.S. Coast Guard first located him on Thursday after someone called about a reportedly disoriented man in a bubble near the Miami coast asking how to get to Bermuda.
The U.S. Coast Guard audio:
Coast Guard: “Based on this information, do you wish to stop your voyage and embark the Coast Guard vessel?”
Baluchi: “I did two years’ practice for this.”
Coast Guard: “I understand you’ve been practicing two years for this. So you are declining to stop your voyage at this time and embark the Coast Guard cutter?”
Baluchi: “I don’t know what I can do.”
Coast Guard: “You can either stop your voyage and get on the Coast Guard cutter and come back to shore or you can choose to continue on your trip, but the Coast Guard cutter will be leaving … ”
Baluchi: “Okay, I am continuing to go.”
He turned down the rescue — until two days later.
On Saturday, an exhausted Baluchi switched on his personal locating beacon, a tracking device used by vessels in distress, and a Coast Guard search-and-rescue crew responded.
Airplane and helicopter crews along with a vessel were dispatched to Baluchi’s location, 70 miles from St. Augustine in the Atlantic Ocean. Then a rescue swimmer hoisted him from the bubble into the helicopter, and the team transported him to Air Station Clearwater in Florida, where he was evaluated by medical personnel, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Baluchi later told the Miami Herald he didn’t mean to turn on the beacon and that he wasn’t disoriented — that people only thought that because he was sleeping during the day.
“I never quit,” he said. “It’s not me.”
Baluchi said the issue now is that his bubble is lost at sea — along with his green card and passport.
“Our concern is not the bubble,” Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Mark Barney told the newspaper. “Our main concern was to get him out of the water.
“It was caught up in the same Gulf Stream he was caught in. If it didn’t sink, or unless someone retrieved it, the stream shot it up north. It’s a very powerful current.”
Baluchi, an Iranian exile, was granted asylum in the United States more than a decade ago after being arrested in Iran for so-called “pro-Western and anti-Islamic activities,” according to the Associated Press. He has made U.S. news in the past while trying to break long-distance running and cycling records, including one six-month run around America’s perimeter and a seven-year bike ride across 55 countries on six continents.
According to his Web site, Run with Reza, last week’s journey was an attempt to raise money “for children in need” and “inspire those that have lost hope for a better future.”