- A lot of weird stuff floats ashore from the sea, but this has to rank near the top of that list.
The residents and beach bums in Palm Coast, Florida, got a real surprise on July 24. An actual, real-life UFO washed ashore from beyond the waves.
In this case, though, we’re talking about an Unknown Floating Object, instead of a flying one. It was a strange, hamster-wheel-like vehicle, held afloat by red buoys.
And then there was its… Occupant? Or should we say crew member?
It wasn’t an Atlantean or a visitor from a foreign planet, though. The whole thing was the latest stunt of Floridian extreme athlete, Ray “Reza” Baluchi.
Baluchi, 49, had been attempting the unbelievable task of walking from Florida to New York across the Atlantic Ocean. He set off on his oceanic journey from St. Augustine on July 23, but less than a day later he ran into some issues.
“The occupant [of the vehicle] … came across some complications that brought him back to the shore,” the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) said on its Facebook page.
Baluchi later told CNN that his tracking device started acting up, and his backup tracker had been stolen. As a result, he had no choice but to return to dry land.
His journey only got him 22 miles away from his starting point. But really, how many of us can claim to have traveled even a mile walking on water?
Oh, and Baluchi returned to shore in perfect health.
“The U.S. Coast Guard was contacted and arrived on scene to take over the case and ensure the vessel/occupant are USCG compliant for their safety moving forward,” the FCSO said.
An Expensive Vessel
Speaking of the Coast Guard, they were the reason for Baluchi’s bizarre adventure. Well, at least a part of it.
“My goal is to not only raise money for homeless people, raise money for the Coast Guard, raise money for the police department, raise money for the fire department,” Baluchi told FOX35 Orlando.
“They are in public service, they do it for safety and they help other people.”
Baluchi’s planned three-week journey, from St. Augustine to New York, would have seen him travel more than 1,000 miles over the sea. His vehicle, which he calls his “bubble,” is powered by nothing but his own two feet.
Officially known as a Hydropod, the vessel consists of a metal cylinder. As Baluchi walks in it, the whole contraption turns like a hamster wheel, with its two buoy and paddle-filled side wheels propels it forward.
Despite the failure of his attempt, you can’t really say that Baluchi hadn’t prepared for the journey. Over the years, he has sunk thousands of dollars into the Hydropod.
It features a hammock for sleeping, a satellite phone, a water filtration system, and a solar panel array. Baluchi had planned to feed himself with protein bars, ramen noodles, and fish he would catch along the way.
Unfortunately, someone had apparently nicked his backup GPS tracker and charging cables. At least that’s what the man claims.
When he beached at Palm Coast, Baluchi had planned to just pop into the store to buy a new charger and be back on his way. Unfortunately, his heroes in the Coast Guard weren’t on board with the idea.
The Coast Guard prevented Baluchi from taking back to the sea. Spokesman David Micallef told The New York Times that the lone mariner would have to comply with what’s known as the Captain of the Port Order.
According to the directive, Baluchi must have an escort vessel, certain specific safety equipment, and he must submit a voyage plan to the Coast Guard.
“Failure to comply with Captain of the Port Orders is punishable by a civil penalty of up to $95,881,” Micallef said.
“There may also be criminal penalties for violating the order.”
Baluchi himself isn’t too thrilled with the orders. He would prefer to do the journey alone, but he says that his team is in talks with an owner of the fishing who has expressed interest in sponsoring him.
More than having company for the trip, Baluchi is afraid of losing his hamster wheel.
“Now, I’m dead,” he said when asked how he would feel if his vessel was confiscated. “I don’t have a car. I put everything in my life in it.”
‘Never Give Up Your Dream’
Baluchi has tried similar ocean voyages before – with equally poor results. His first trip on the hamster wheel was in 2014, when he tried to walk from Florida to Bermuda.
At that time, the Coast Guard ended up having to rescue him off the coast of St. Augustine. They also slapped him with an order prohibiting him from embarking to the sea.
But, in 2016, Baluchi decided to ignore the orders and attempt the Bermuda trip again. He ran into issues three days into his trip and activated his emergency beacon.
We don’t think there’s any doubt that Baluchi means well with his stunts. He’s trying to raise money for good causes, but there’s a bit of irony at play here.
The Coast Guard – one of the supposed recipients of his fundraisers – are having to rescue him again and again. Each rescue comes with an exorbitant price tage.
For example, the 2016 rescue required a boat, an airplane, and a helicopter. The total cost of the operation ended up being $144,000.
Baluchi’s going to have to raise a whole heck of a lot of cash to make up for what he’s cost to the Coast Guard. Still, the man remains indomitable.
“One thing is I want show people, you know, is if sometimes you fail, never give up your dream,” Baluchi said.
If only he could find a cheaper dream.