Fearless or foolhardy? Regardless of what others think, immigrant aims to set record

Rimas Meleshyus, who fled Russia in 1988, is hoping to make history next month by setting off from Oak Harbor on a circumnavigation in a San Juan 24.  - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
Rimas Meleshyus, who fled Russia in 1988, is hoping to make history next month by setting off from Oak Harbor on a circumnavigation in a San Juan 24.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

Some call him courageous. Some say he’s crazy.

Others think he’s a bit of both.

Whatever your opinion of Rimas Meleshyus, he plans to sail out of Oak Harbor next month and into history.

“I want to be famous. I want to be in books,” Meleshyus said. “And I want to do under American flag.”

The 61-year-old, Russian-born U.S citizen is planning to circumnavigate the globe in a 24-foot sailboat he recently purchased from the Oak Harbor Yacht Club for the bargain price of $500.

He plans to set sail in July and travel nonstop — a 10-month passage — to the southern tip of South America, also known as Cape Horn.

Famous for its rough weather, large waves and icebergs, it’s also known as a sailor’s graveyard.


IF SUCCESSFUL, Meleshyus will be the first person known to make the crossing, much less complete a full circumnavigation, in a San Juan 24  ­— a light-weight weekend sailer designed for racing on inland waters, such as Puget Sound.

While he said he is hoping the feat will earn him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, Meleshyus has already developed something of a name for himself, particularly in the sailing community.

He made headlines in newspapers across the West Coast last year when his first ocean passage, a 34-day journey across the Gulf of Alaska, came to an end on a small island 50 miles east of Dutch Harbor.

MELESHYUA RAN aground and spent nine days marooned on the remote Alaska island before being rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. That trip was also made on a San Juan 24.

According to Meleshyus, the trip may have ended poorly but the tiny vessel held its own, surviving gales, close encounters with ships and at least three knock downs — instances when the mast touches the water due to the vessel being hit by waves or strong winds.

Meleshyus even claims his boat was hit by a gray whale.

Weighing up to 36 tons, the massive mammal struck the boat so hard that he was ejected from the cockpit.

“If not for safety harness, I would be dead,” Meleshysus said.


BORN IN Sochi on the shores of the Black sea, Meleshyus “escaped” the Soviet Union in 1988 when he claimed political asylum at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

“Communism has no freedom, that is why I left for America,” he said.

Fleeing to New York, he took jobs as waiters in Russian-speaking restaurants before making his way to Hawaii, where he worked as a guide for Japanese tour companies.

Meleshyus is fluent in Japanese, and can read and write Kanji.

From there he spent years in San Francisco, which he calls “the most beautiful city in the world.”

His life changed last year, however, when he and his girlfriend lost their jobs.

She went back to Japan. He looked for a new adventure, finding it in Juneau, Alaska in the form of a “for sale” ad for a used 1973 San Juan 24 sailboat.

Despite having no previous sailing experience, he negotiated the price from $4,600 to $1,200 and prepared to sail around the world.


FISHERMEN, fellow sailors, just about everyone he talked to said he couldn’t do it, but Meleshyus refused to listen. After a few test sails he embarked on his ill-fated 34-day voyage.

Now he’s preparing to set out again.

“My dream is to sail around the world,” Meleshyus said.

“Why can’t I do it. Other people are doing it. I can do it too.”

His plans are the talk of the Oak Harbor sailing community, earning high-fives from some and head shaking from others.

Cape Horn is “infamous,” and doing the trip in a small, old boat is a risky venture, said Byron Skubi, chairman of the Oak Harbor Youth Sailing program.

“I wish him luck. I hope he can survive it,” Skubi said.

“It’s an uphill battle. I know I wouldn’t do it.”


One problem is a San Juan 24 may lack the space or buoyancy to safely store enough food and water for a 10-month passage. The boat is also not designed for blue-water cruising.

Another concern is a lack of equipment. Due to expense, Meleshyus plans to make the voyage without self-steering gear. He said he’ll manually lash down the tiller and wake up every 15 minutes at night.

Jason Joiner, an avid racer who owns and restored his own San Juan 24, said they are well built and stout little sailboats, but Meleshyus might be expecting too much from his.

While he doesn’t want to discourage someone from pursuing their dream, Joiner said setting off on a nonstop, 10-month voyage without the necessary gear is dangerous.

“That’s like climbing Mount Everest in a T-shirt and slippers,” Joiner said.


MELESHYUS WAS recently given an old life raft and he hopes to acquire a satellite phone and a survival suit before leaving. Self-steering would be nice, but it may not be possible.

The next three weeks will be spent preparing for his long passage. He is saving his pennies but he hopes to get much of his needed supplies — including food — through donations.

And despite those who say it’s too dangerous and that he needs to prepare more, Meleshyus is resolute.

“The plan will be my second attempt to solo around the world,” Meleshyus said.

“I was the first person to make a successful crossing in the history of the Gulf of Alaska in a San Juan 24 sailboat.”

“My goal is to achieve a status in the Guinness Book of World Records.”

“No matter what people think, crazy or not, I’m doing it,” he said.


n Meleshyus can be reached by email at or by telephone 360-461-9284.

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