With only twenty dollars in his bank account and his sailboat Rudis, Dustin Reynolds accomplished something no other recreational sailor has ever done on his own.
On December 4, 2021, he departed Kailua Kona, Hawaii, USA, completed the first solo circumnavigation of the world by a double amputee (arm and leg).
The self-proclaimed “lone sailorcompleted a seven-year voyage around the world by boat, beginning and ending in his home state of Hawaii.
Sailing around the world is no mean feat, but it’s even more remarkable in Dustin’s case. This is because the inspirational skipper lost his left arm and leg.
But what prompted him to undertake such a long journey?
In 2008, a drunk driver hit Dustin while he was riding his motorcycle.
Along with losing two limbs, Dustin suffered a punctured spleen and lung, a broken shoulder blade and a fractured foot beyond repair.
“My health insurance company put me aside $440,000 and I was financially ruined.”
“About four years after the accident, I went bankrupt and paid off my tax debt. I had a carpet cleaning business and a fishing boat that I was able to exclude from bankruptcy, which at the era had been out of maintenance for four years,” Dustin continued.
With no money or credit to reinvest and a strong desire to redefine his life, Dustin began looking for something else to spend his time on.
When he met a website featuring people setting sailing records around the world, he knew he had found his calling.
“There were no double amputees on the roster, so I decided to do it,” Dustin said.
“I sold my business and my fishing boat for $12,000 and bought a sailboat. I spent a year fixing it and learning to sail from books and YouTube videos.”
With minimal experience but plenty of ambition, Dustin jumped on his 45-year-old budget sailboat and set sail with his friend Brandon for a month-long trip around the Hawaiian Islands for training.
Upon returning from this trip, the explorer fixed a few other things on Rudis and departed on June 18, 2014 on what would be a record trip of a lifetime.
“The 940 mile trip to Palmyra was my first time sailing alone,” Dustin recalls.
“I don’t think anything could have fully prepared me. Mostly I tried to get the boat in the best possible condition, spare parts for everything you can think of, and plenty of food and rum.”
Dustin walks (and swims) using a prosthetic leg and has adapted to life with one hand.
His boat is not specially designed for a disabled person, so he uses his teeth instead of a second hand to raise the sail.
Dustin admits he often encounters challenges that traditional sailors don’t normally face.
“My biggest worry would be falling overboard. There’s no one to come back for me.”
“There are tons of challenges doing it all one-handed and tiring doing it all alone,” Dustin continued.
Despite its obstacles, the sailor says sailing isn’t as dangerous as most people think.
“I honestly think cruising around the world is statistically safer than driving in city traffic,” he said.
Surprisingly, he said his biggest hurdle wasn’t navigating one-handed, but the fact that his engine and transmission never seemed to cooperate.
During his expedition, Dustin also frequently ran into trouble carrying out maintenance work on his sailboat due to a lack of funds, but managed to raise money he needed to continue.
Having to spend most of his modest disability income on these major repairs meant that other parts of his sailboat were routinely neglected.
“I started crowdfunding while I was in Thailand, and it was a lot easier from there.”
During his great voyage, the lone sailor had a unique opportunity to visit 36 overseas countries and territories.
In fact, although his voyage lasted seven and a half years, he mentioned that the total time spent at sea was only 11 months.
His longest time on earth was during his 10-month visit to Indonesia.
“I absolutely loved Madagascar and Vanuatu. Both have unique cultures and wildlife, and the locals were very friendly and traded with the sailors,” Dustin said.
“I also loved the natural reserves of Chagos, Palmyra and the Andaman Islands.”
As for his most cherished body of water, Dustin says the Pacific Ocean sweeps across the bridge.
“The Pacific is definitely my favorite. It has so many beautiful islands and unique cultures, and great fishing and diving too.”
On the other hand, Dustin considers the Indian Ocean to be the most difficult to navigate.
“Every trip I’ve done in India has been tough,” he admitted.
“The Cape of Amber and the Cape of Good Hope were probably the hardest parts of my whole trip.”
To prepare to navigate from one country to another, the adventurer visits a cruise planning site which lists the rules and regulations for each country.
He then makes the necessary adjustments on his sailboat and prepares everything that is necessary before his next stopover.
Originally, Dustin planned his journey to last five years, but it ended up taking over seven years due to issues with his sailboat and COVID-19 restrictions.
Prior to circumnavigating the globe, the longest time Dustin has ever spent at sea was on an overnight trip from Oahu to Hawaii.
During his epic voyage, he spent 24 days at sea three times.
The ocean stretch from Bali to Mentawai stretches for nine hundred miles and delayed Dustin due to lack of wind and a non-running engine.
His next big stretch of sea was on the 3,100 mile voyage from Ascension to Grenada, then another 3,000 miles from the Galapagos to the Marquesas.
“No matter how tired or lonely I felt, the finish line was always in sight, usually with a burger and beers.”
Dustin’s sailboat contains the bare necessities to keep him afloat.
He sleeps in the main saloon so he can easily hear sails and alarms and wake up quickly.
To Stay logged in to the earthly world, Dustin learned to be both patient and creative.
“I only had internet when I was on land and used a Garmin inReach® to chat with friends and receive weather updates via text message,” he said.
“I only received this device about a year into my trip while in Fiji, and it definitely made a difference.”
Despite humanity’s reliance on technology, Dustin admits going offline for a while was a very welcome “inconvenience.”
“After more than 300 days alone at sea, I had already thought of almost everything one could think of,” he said.
“I appreciate the lack of internet and distractions. It’s nice to just be with your own thoughts and reflect.”
The marine life he encountered was often a fascinating travel companion.
“Whales, seabirds and dolphins were always welcome, although the seabirds loved to poop on my solar panels,” Dustin recalls.
“My most unique encounter was with a juvenile whale shark which swam to my boat about 250 miles southwest of Mentawai. I had been calm for almost a week and jumped in and I swam with him for about 45 minutes.”
Dustin’s around-the-world itinerary was as follows:
• Hawaii, United States
• Palmyra, Northern Line Islands
• Tabuaeran/Fanning Island, Kiribati
• American Samoa
• Solomon Islands
• Luisade Islands
• Papua New Guinea
• Thursday Island/Darwin, Australia
• Andaman Islands, India
• Sri Lanka
• Chagos Islands
• Richards Bay/Durban/Port Elizabeth/Cape Town, South Africa
• Saint Helena
• Ascension Island
• St. Vincent
• St. LUCIA
• British Virgin Islands
• US Virgin Islands
• Rhode Island/New York/North Carolina, USA
• San Andrés, Colombia
• Panama Canal
• Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
• Marquesas Islands
• French Polynesia
• Hawaii, United States
Dustin says the reality of his new record title has yet to sink in and thanks the people who believed in him and supported him throughout his journey.
He is especially grateful to his mother, who is his proudest and biggest supporter.
“My mom was definitely against me doing this at first and she’s always nervous when I go to sea,” Dustin said.
Dustin is also grateful for every skill he’s learned and every friend he’s made along the way.
Although Dustin has dropped anchor and concluded his high seas getaway, his adventures have only just begun.
The solo sailor hopes to eventually win a record title for the first double amputee to land on the moon.
“I think I’ll need a lot more successful crowdfunding to fund that one,” he joked.
Dustin also hopes his experience will teach the world that no matter how tough things get, there’s an ocean of opportunity out there waiting to be discovered.
“I lost my arm, my leg and was financially ruined. But somehow it led me to a great adventure.”