Overcoming his disabilities
Dustin Reynolds was hit head-on by a drunk driver, and left for dead.
His left arm was ripped from his body in the 2008 accident in Hawaii; his motorcycle wrecked.
In hospital, having assessed the effect multiple severe injuries had on his body, doctors concluded death was imminent.
“I was on a hospital bed with a punctured spleen, punctured lung, aspirated, traumatically amputated arm, broken scapula and foot broken beyond repair,” said Mr Reynolds, who’d moved to the Pacific islands from Oregon six years earlier to expand his carpet-cleaning business.
“I heard my mother’s and father’s voices tremble and shake over the phone from thousands of miles away as they tried to be strong for me.
“Doctors told my parents, my friends and me, that I would likely die.”
Eleven years later, he’s on track to become the first double amputee to sail the world solo.
On a break from his quest last week, he made a pitstop in Bermuda as part of a crew delivering a yacht from Rhode Island to Grenada.
“My recovery was a long process,” the 41-year-old said. “At the time of my accident I had a very comfortable western lifestyle: nice house, business, Mercedes, fishing boat and an ill-fated Honda RC-51 motorcycle.
“I went bankrupt after the accident; I was half-a-million dollars in debt with medical bills.
“Three to four years was me getting stronger, and then dealing with all the financial aspects. Once I settled my debt with the Internal Revenue Service, I started looking for something else to do.”
A website naming people who’d circumnavigated the world on their own caught his eye.
Particularly interesting to Mr Reynolds, who also lost his left leg in 2008, was that there were no double amputees on the list.
That he wasn’t a sailor didn’t seem pertinent; he’d owned a commercial fishing boat and was “pretty experienced on the ocean”.
“I’d just never sailed. I didn’t even know anyone who knew how to sail,” he said. “I watched YouTube and started reading books on how to sail and then me and a friend did a one-month trip around Hawaii.”
Off Craigslist he bought a $12,000 sailboat — a 1968 35ft Alberg sloop — and on June 18, 2014 he set sail from Kona on the Big Island.
“My first stop was in Palmyra, an atoll about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii,” Mr Reynolds said. “It was my first time sailing solo and it was a bit scary. I had such a great support structure in Hawaii, a whole community around me.
“They’d had a benefit concert for me after the accident and another to help raise money for the sailboat and the trip — leaving that support was scary. I didn’t know if I would have back-up once I left. I was on my own for the first time since my accident.”
The 30,000 miles he’s travelled since have had highs and lows. Sponsors and a GoFundMe page have kept him going, as has the money he’s received from yacht deliveries like the one that brought him here.
“I was looking forward to Bermuda,” said Mr Reynolds, who was here November 5 through 10. “I went to the World Rugby Classic, which was fun; USA won, which made it even better.
“I [visited Bermuda with crew], but if I had been on my own I would have tried to spend at least a month to see more.”
His solo travels have taken him to Africa, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean and across Southeast Asia.
Travelling the 900 miles from Indonesia to Thailand was a 24-day slog that showed his boat was ill-equipped to get him around the world.
With crowdfunding and a loan, Mr Reynolds bought Tiama, a 35-foot Bristol sloop.
His decision on where to visit is based on “a lot of things”.
“It depends on local laws and regulations and the season,” he said. “A lot of it’s from yacht club bars — I talk to people and they say which places are good.
“There were a lot of places I wanted to see, some I was really excited about. I really wanted to go to Mauritius, but when I left Rodrigues the weather didn’t work out.
“I ended up going to Madagascar instead — but that was also amazing.
“The highlight so far overall was cruising to places like Madagascar and Vanuatu where the wildlife and people are amazing.
“The locals still have their customs and in the villages they would give me food for T-shirts and baseball caps. There are not really a lot of places left that are like that.
“I also loved the nature preserves and seeing how wildlife thrives when there’s no people around.
Mr Reynolds added: “The places that are completely protected are different from anywhere else and it’s amazing to see that.”
All that’s left for him to do now is finish the journey. His estimate is that he’ll be back in Hawaii in roughly a year.
“The worst part so far was the Solomon Islands where I was twice boarded by pirates.
“I was able to scare them off both times — I put a spotlight on them and yelled that I had a gun. Luckily, they believed me. It was probably my American accent.
“Neither time did they have weapons, they were just opportunistically trying to steal something, but I was up all night worrying. When it happened again, I did an overnight trip. I finally just sailed out and cleared off because I couldn’t sleep which is too bad, because the Solomon Islands are beautiful.”
What the future holds for him on his return home is “the million-dollar question”, the adventurer said.
There’s a book in the making, a movie about an adventurous side expedition to Antarctica in the works.
“I have a literary agent. I’m working on a book deal and hope to raise awareness for people with disabilities, but I’ll probably keep going.
“I have a bucket list of places I want to go and it keeps getting longer. Once I’m back to Hawaii I don’t have to [travel] solo any more.
“Maybe I’ll find a woman who wants to go with me. [This experience has been] tough on my personal life. I’ve built close relationships, but the time always comes when I have to carry on.”
• For more on Dustin Reynolds’s adventures visit www.thesinglehandedsailor.com. Follow thesinglehandedsailor on Facebook and Instagram
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