By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Rimas Meleshyus has never shied away from taking risks.
In 1988, he fled the Soviet Union by seeking political asylum in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow fully aware of the consequences of failure.
“I’d be in jail,” he said, if caught by the infamous KGB. “I’d be in Siberia.”
Now, at 61, he’s taking another chance — or as he sees it, the adventure of a lifetime — by taking his sailboat on a trip around the world.
If successful, the self-taught sailor from Port Townsend, Wash., said he would set a record for smallest boat to circumnavigate the globe.
And it doesn’t get much smaller than his 24-foot vessel, named Pier Pressure, which was not built for open waters, let alone a trip across the Pacific Ocean.
But, as he demonstrated by his arrival Monday in Hilo Bay, it is possible with the right amount of will.
“I’m very determined,” Meleshyus said, when asked why he decided to go on the voyage.
“I’m a very adventurous person.”
Meleshyus speaks quickly — as if worried he might otherwise leave part of his story untouched — and with a heavy Russian accent as he describes his journey, starting from Oak Harbor, Wash., on July 29, and his life since arriving in the United States over two decades ago.
He thanks his adoptive country for the freedom he couldn’t find under the Communist regime, and says he proudly embarked on the journey while flying an American flag.
“I want to be the first person to sail (around the world) under the American flag,” he said. “I am very proud.”
Meleshyus said he only began sailing in 2011 after buying a similar sized boat.
He first set out on a round-the-world sailing trip the following year. That was stopped short when his boat got stuck on a reef in the Gulf of Alaska.
The current voyage is his second attempt.
Last year’s setback did little to shake his confidence, and Meleshyus said he is ready to take on the treacherous Cape Horn around the tip of South America, known for its heavy storms and icebergs.
“If I pass the Cape Horn I’ll be in the Guinness book 100 percent,” he said.
His biggest concern, he said, are whales, which can topple a boat its size. One hit his boat in June 2012 while in the Gulf of Alaska, and he feared then that it would sink.
Meleshyus’ journey so far has not been without its troubles.
He said his plan was to sail down the coast of North and South America, and wasn’t intending to arrive in Hawaii.
His outboard motor fell off the boat while passing San Francisco and he also lost some of the wires for his rigging off the coast of Mexico.
As a result, Meleshyus said he could only use his sail in light wind.
Unable to sail against the wind northward to California, and preferring to make repairs in the United States, he said he decided to let the winds take him westward to Hawaii where he plans to spend the next two months learning his land legs and making repairs.
Meleshyus estimates he has sailed 3,000 miles so far.
While in Hilo, he’s also asking for help with repairs, equipment and supplies.
From Hawaii, Meleshyus plans to sail to Tahiti and then to Cape Horn.
If unable to complete his journey this time, he said he will keep trying until he is in the record books.
“I don’t give up,” Meleshyus said.
“I want to be in history.”
He can be contacted at 808-937-9468, email@example.com or through his Facebook page.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.