Paddling the Mediterranean
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Paddling the Mediterranean

Local man navigates many-legged kayak trip from Spain to Cyprus

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Dov Neimand

That may seem a pretentious term for someone who has done his seafaring not on a big ship, but in an 18-foot sea kayak. But it is fitting for an adventurer who has covered about 2,500 nautical miles, weathering strong winds and battling currents, and who has touched shore in seven Mediterranean countries, all under paddle power.

His journey was to take him from Barcelona, Spain, to Israel, but he ended the trip just short of his goal, in Cyprus, still covering a formidable distance.

“It was a personal odyssey,” Mr. Neimand said. “I traveled far outside the box. I saw wonders and lived legends. It was just amazing.”

While Mr. Neimand was soothing his sore muscles in Ma’ale Admim, Israel, where he lives, sighs of relief and pride were heard back in Teaneck, where Mr. Neimand’s parents, Jane and Jerry, admitted to having had the jitters over their son’s multiyear venture.

“It made me nervous when he was doing it, but I’m proud of him,” his mother said. “He tested himself against adverse conditions. Every night he had to figure out where to sleep, sometimes on yachts, sometimes on abandoned boats. He had all those languages to deal with.”

“It was a quest, something he had to do,” Mr. Neimand’s father said.

Dov Neimand, 30, a 2001 Torah Academy of Bergen County graduate, began his journey to reach Israel in Barcelona in October 2010. He paddled for 65 days and reached Naples, but then he had to return to Israel for graduate school at Bar Ilan University, where he studied mathematics.

Determined to continue the trip, Mr. Neimand left Naples on October 31, 2013 and arrived in Cyprus on July 1.

His parents and friends kept up with Mr. Neimand’s progress via his regular blog posts, which he is still posting on kayakdov.wordpress.com. (Even though he is back home, he is adding one new post every day.) He answered questions for this article by phone and email.

Imagine a bearded stranger emerging from the sea, longhaired and as likely as not to be unwashed, asking for a shower, an Internet connection, and a place to sleep, he said. He knew that he looked intimidating.

Mr. Neimand let his beard and hair grow during the trip. “As my hair and beard got longer, the fewer invitations I got,” he said

“The nicest people invited me into their homes,” he said, but reactions – and hospitality – ranged widely. Sometimes he was welcomed at yacht clubs, seaside bars, and hotels. At other times he was turned away unceremoniously.

Once he slept in a drainage ditch in Spain. Another time he spent a night in jail. That was in the Turkish portion of Cyprus, where police held him until visa issues were straightened out.

It was a tiny, cold, bare-cement cell, but in a way it was a welcome respite, Mr. Neimand recalled. “I slept so soundly,” he said. “I had been up paddling for more that 24 hours, fighting the current, and I was exhausted.

“They saw that I had a GPS and they didn’t understand,” he said. “They thought I was a criminal or a spy.” (Although global positioning systems are commonplace in North America, apparently they are not nearly as ubiquitous in Cyprus.)

Mr. Neimand’s scariest episode came in an Aegean crossing amidst the Greek Islands.

“I was near Mykonis, on a 20-mile crossing to Icaria,” he said. “It was terrible, the waves were scary and there was a crazy lightning storm. ” He saw ships in the distance and he was ready to abandon his journey. He called Mayday on the radio – a plea for help – but nobody responded. He had no choice but to continue his trip, and he succeeded.

Although he always paddled with a careful weather eye, conditions change very fast in that area, he said.

Mr. Neimand is proud of his nautical skills. At one point his main GPS malfunctioned, and he was wary of using his backup GPS, because he feared losing it overboard. So he turned to old-fashioned techniques, making many navigational decisions, working out the effects of wind and current.

Mr. Neimand brought considerable experience and training to his quest. He is a certified instructor. Last summer, in the area to visit his parents, he regularly paddled across the Hudson River to give lessons at the Downtown Boathouse in Manhattan, and at the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club. For many people, just paddling across the Hudson is an adventure.

He regularly practices his rolling techniques – that’s how a paddler turns the craft rightside up after it capsizes. An IDF veteran, he was trained as a combat medic, a useful skill when you’re out of range of help and have to rely on yourself.

How much stuff can you stuff into an 18-foot kayak? Think packing your kid off for summer camp. And then some. And then some more. Here is a partial list of what Mr. Neimand took along.

For the boat: Two paddles, waterproof chart, compass, life jacket with attached knife and light, rope, emergency locator beacon, bilge pump, and two-way marine radio.

For the body: A 10-liter water bag, stove with fuel, whole grain pasta and rice, dried lentils, peas, fruits, and nuts. Also a toothbrush and paste, toilet paper, sleeping bag and roll-up mattress. Clothes for cool weather, clothes for hot weather, and street clothes for sojourns on land.

To keep in touch: A smartphone, a keyboard for the smart phone, and a battery charger.

Just in case: Alcohol, gauze, and tape, bandages, tourniquets, and two IV sets. He is, after all, a trained medic. He knows how to use that stuff.

Overall, Mr. Neimand traveled the coasts of Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. He brushed up on French and Spanish and picked up some Italian, but Greek and Turkish proved too difficult.

He didn’t abandon his Orthodox traditions or kashrut, relying on nuts and seeds and an occasional fish. When invited into homes for dinner, Mr. Neimand explained that he is a vegetarian.

He did not paddle on Shabbat.

Did he ever encounter anti-Semitism or anti-Israel comments? “Mostly no,” he said.

He recalled one Italian muttering under his breath that Israel is guilty of war crimes, an “uncomfortable” conversation with a family of Saudi Arabian tourists in Turkey, and a menacing comment about his Jewish name from the police at the Turkish Cypriot jail.

The farthest he paddled in one day was 45 nautical miles from Porto Badisco, Italy, just south of Otronto, to Othoni, northwest of Corfu. That crossing took 14 hours and 45 minutes.

Speaking of the physical challenge, “cardiovascular health is key,” he said. “Beyond that, core strength enables body rotation, and that’s the only engine I had. On the water nutrition is also vital. Without fuel my engine would stop. “¨The importance of training – skills, endurance, and muscles – cannot be overstated.”

The crossing from Cyprus to Israel was too long to tackle without a chase boat, so his journey ended there. The 135-mile trip would have taken 45 hours of paddling, so he hitched a ride for his kayak aboard a sailboat heading to Israel. He made it home by a more conventional means – an airliner.

Caution led him to cancel the final stretch to Israel. “I’m confident I made the right choice,” he said. “I think the ability to make that choice correctly was the product of my experience, and I’m proud to have gotten to that decision the way I did. From day one, my mission was to travel as far as I could, as safely as I could, and to learn as much as possible along the way. I successfully completed that mission and I have no regrets about the conclusion.”

His most pleasant experience “was setting foot on Cyprus,” near journey’s end. The friendliest people he met were “fellow mariners.

“On many occasions I was treated like a bum or a criminal on account of having long hair and no shoes. I didn’t like that at all.

“I’m home in Israel now, and proud to find people much more accepting,” he said.

Mr. Neimand hopes to return to his studies at Bar Ilan eventually. First, though, he has to replenish his bank account. He has been writing a blog – it is part travelogue, part kayaking how-to, and part personal odyssey. He plans to turn it into a book, or books. He also plans to lead a kosher weeklong kayak trip August 24-29 on the Northwest Forest Canoe Trail, which goes from New York State to Maine. For more information, email kayakdov@gmail.com.

John Pagani, a New Jersey resident who runs Kayak East, a company that gives lessons and leads paddling tours, and who has worked with Mr. Neimand in the past, said that Mr. Neimand traveled some very “challenging waters.

“Not too many people have paddled that distance. It’s like paddling cross country to California,” he said.

Given his love for the outdoors and nature, Mr. Neimand has completed a course and is certified to be a federal park ranger in the United States.

A passion for paddling runs in Mr. Neimand’s family, and his parents have been enthusiastic canoeists, both on white water and in the ocean on calm days. Young Dov started paddling by himself when he was 6, using a boat that his older brother outgrew, his father said.

What would Mr. Neimand say to someone planning an adventure like his?

“Good luck – and do you want a partner?” he said.

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