Man Hoping to Travel From Florida to New York in Hamster Ball-Like Vessel Washes Up South of Where He Started
“They’re laughing. They’re taking pictures of me. I know what I’m doing. I am not dumb," 49-year-old Reza “Ray” Baluchi recalled of the moment he popped out of the hydro pod on the beaches of Palm Coast, Florida.
Athlete Reza “Ray” Baluchi’s ambitious goal to travel from Florida to New York in a hamster ball-like device in the Atlantic Ocean to raise money for first responders ended abruptly when sheriff’s deputies found him washed ashore just hours after he began his trek.
And even though Baluchi’s device, which the incident report described as a “metal frame with enclosed buoys, manually powered by running," was damaged in the process and now left on the Palm Coast beach, he plans to resume his journey as soon as he can get a new plan together.
“My team is working on getting me a boat,” the 49-year-old told CNN. “They’re working on that, to get some fishing company. They’re wanting to sponsor me.”
Baluchi, who fled Iran at a young age and has pursued other athletic feats in the name of activism, explained that he had meant to take the 1,000-mile journey beginning in St. Augustine over the next three or four weeks.
He explained he spent nearly a decade and thousands of dollars crafting the device, which he called a hydro pod, according to The New York Times. To prepare for the trip, Baluchi stocked the hydro pod with a satellite phone, a water filtration system, a solar array, neoprene wet suits, a hammock for him to sleep in, and nonperishable foods like granola and instant noodles, the New York Times reported.
The hydro pod, which stays afloat thanks to its shell made of aluminum and plastic balls, runs on the power of his own two feet, the Times reported.
In the device, he planned on running as far into the ocean as the Gulf Stream, which he'd hoped would've propelled him up the East Coast, making the rest of his journey to New York a breeze.
But just hours after his trip began on Friday, he realized his back-up GPS device and charging cables weren’t on the hydro pod, and he cut his trip short about 22 miles south of where he began, hoping to pick up new equipment.
“I open the top door and jump out,” he told the Times. “They’re laughing. They’re taking pictures of me. I know what I’m doing. I am not dumb.”
Baluchi’s referring to beachgoers and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, who shared photos of the vessel on their Facebook Page before contacting the US Coast Guard, announcing that “the occupant of the vessel is safe with no injuries!”
Thanks to the US Coast Guard’s involvement, however, Baluchi’s next run will be all the more complicated. Despite having a vessel registration form with the state of Florida, a spokesperson said the next time he launches, he will need an escort or support vessel, specific safety and navigation equipment and a voyage plan, the Times reported.
"I don't want it, [it's] more exciting if nobody follows you," Baluchi told CNN. "I don't want to spend money on a boat, I want to raise money for organizations."
But failure to comply may land him with a civil penalty of more than $95,000 with additional criminal penalties, the spokesperson said, according to the Times.
This is not the first time he has attempted to travel long distances by sea in his hydro pod.
He made two similar attempts to run from Florida to Bermuda in the pod in 2014 and 2016, CNN reported. The Coast Guard had to rescue him in 2014, and in 2016 the Coast Guard towed him back to shore, saying he violated their order not to embark, according to CNN.
Baluchi, however, has had plenty of successes as well. He has spent years on the road, cycling from country to country “[delivering] a message of peace every where he went, shared love and began to experience life in a way many people only dream of,” he said on his website.
In the United States, he travelled to New York following 9/11 “to show Americans that Iranians are peaceful,” and in 2007, he ran the perimeter of the country in order to raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Denver, his website said.
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