With just twenty dollars in his bank account and his sailboat Rudis, Dustin Reynolds has accomplished something no other recreational sailor has ever done single-handedly.
On 4 December 2021, he sailed from Kailua Kona, Hawaii, USA, completed the first solo voyage around the world by a double amputee (arm and leg).
The self-proclaimed "Single-Handed Sailor" completed a seven-year, around-the-world journey by boat, starting and ending in his home state of Hawaii.
Sailing around the world is no easy feat, but it’s even more remarkable in Dustin’s case. That’s because the inspiring skipper is missing his left arm and leg.
But what drove him to set off on such a lengthy journey?
In 2008, a drunk driver slammed head-on into Dustin while he was riding his motorcycle.
In addition to losing two limbs, Dustin suffered a punctured spleen and lung, a broken scapula, and a foot fractured beyond repair.
"My health insurance company put a 440 thousand dollar lean on me and I became financially ruined."
"About four years after the accident, I went bankrupt, and paid off my IRS debt. I had a carpet cleaning business and a fishing boat that I was able to exclude from the bankruptcy, which at the time was four years out of maintenance," Dustin continued.
Without any cash or credit to reinvest and a strong desire to redefine his life, Dustin began searching for something else to dedicate his time to.
When he came across a website featuring people that set sailing records around the world, he knew he had found his path.
"There was no double amputee on the list so I decided I would do that," said Dustin.
"I sold my business and fishing boat for 12 thousand dollars and bought a sailboat. I spent a year fixing it up and learned to sail from books and YouTube videos."
With minimal experience but plenty of ambition, Dustin hopped on his 45-year-old budget sailboat and set out for sea with his friend Brandon on a one-month trip around the Hawaiian Islands to practice.
Upon returning from that trip, the explorer fixed up a few more things on Rudis and departed on 18 June 2014 for what would be a record-breaking voyage of a lifetime.
"The 940-mile trip to Palmyra was the first time I sailed alone," recalled Dustin.
"I don’t think anything could have fully prepared me. I mostly tried to get the boat in the best shape possible, spare parts for everything you can think of, and lots of food and rum."
Dustin walks (and swims) using a prosthetic leg and has adapted to life with one hand.
His boat isn’t specially designed for a disabled person, so he uses his teeth in place of a second hand to raise the sail.
Dustin admits that he often encounters challenges that traditional sailors are normally not faced with.
"My biggest worry would be falling overboard. There is nobody to come back for me."
"There are tons of challenges in doing everything with one hand and fatigue doing everything alone," Dustin continued.
Despite his obstacles, the seaman says sailing is not as dangerous as most people believe it to be.
"I honestly think sailing around the world is statistically safer than driving in city traffic," he said.
Surprisingly, he said his biggest hurdle wasn’t sailing with one hand, but the fact that his engine and transmission never seemed to cooperate.
During his expedition, Dustin also frequently ran into difficulties with performing maintenance work on his sailboat due to a lack of funds, but was able to raise the money he needed to continue.
Having to spend most of his modest disability income on these large repairs meant that other parts of his sailboat were regularly neglected.
"I started crowdfunding while I was in Thailand, and it was much easier from then on."
During his grand voyage, the Single-Handed Sailor had a unique opportunity to visit 36 countries and oversea territories.
In fact, although his trip spanned seven and a half years, he mentioned that the total time spent at sea was just 11 months.
The longest amount of time he spent on land was during his 10-month visit to Indonesia.
"I really loved Madagascar and Vanuatu. Both have unique cultures and wildlife, and the locals were very friendly and traded with sailors," said Dustin.
"I also loved the nature preserves Chagos, Palmyra, and the Andaman Islands."
As for his most cherished body of water, Dustin says the Pacific Ocean sweeps the deck by far.
"The Pacific is definitely my favourite. It has so many beautiful islands and unique cultures, and there is also great fishing and diving."
In contrast, Dustin credits the Indian Ocean with being the most difficult to navigate.
"Every trip I had in the Indian was tough," he admitted.
"The Cape D’Ambre and Cape of Good Hope were probably the toughest parts of my whole trip."
To prepare to sail from one country to the next, the adventurer visits a cruise planning website which lists rules and regulations for every country.
He then makes the necessary adjustments to his sailboat and prepares whatever is required before his next stop.
Originally, Dustin intended for his trip to take five years, but it ended up stretching to over seven years because of problems regarding his sailboat and COVID-19 restrictions.
Before voyaging around the world, the longest amount of time Dustin had ever spent at sea was during an overnight trip from Oahu to Hawaii.
During his epic journey, he spent 24 days at sea on three separate occasions.
The oceanic stretch from Bali to Mentawai spans nine hundred miles and delayed Dustin because of a lack of wind and a non-functioning motor.
His next large stretch of sea was during the 3,100-mile trip from Ascension to Grenada, and then another 3,000 miles from Galapagos to Marquesas.
"No matter how tired or lonely I got, the finish line was always in sight; usually with a burger and beers."
Dustin’s sailboat contains the bare necessities required to keep him afloat.
He sleeps in the main salon so that he can easily hear the sails and alarms and quickly wake up.
To stay connected to the terrestrial 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," he said.
"I didn't get this device until about a year into my trip while I was in Fiji, and it definitely made a difference."
Despite mankind’s dependence on technology, Dustin admits that disconnecting for a while was a very welcomed "inconvenience".
"After over 300 days alone at sea, I had already thought about 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 think things through."
The marine life that he encountered often served as fascinating travel companions.
"The whales, seabirds, and dolphins were always welcome company, even though the seabirds loved pooping on my solar panels," Dustin recalled.
"My most unique encounter was with a juvenile whale shark that swam right up to my boat about 250 miles southwest of Mentawai. I had been becalmed for nearly a week and jumped in and swam with him for about 45 minutes."
Dustin’s round-the-world itinerary was as follows:
Dustin says the reality of his newfound record title has yet to sink in and thanks the individuals that believed in him and supported him throughout his journey.
He is especially grateful to his mom, who is his proudest and biggest supporter.
"My mom was definitely against the idea of me doing this in the beginning and still gets nervous when I go to sea," said Dustin.
Dustin is also thankful for each of the skills he acquired and every one of the friends he made along the way.
Although Dustin has dropped his anchor and concluded his open sea escapade, his adventures are just beginning.
The Single-Handed Sailor hopes to eventually earn a record title for the first double amputee to land on the moon.
"I think I’ll need a much more successful crowdfunding to finance that one," he joked.
Dustin also hopes his experience will teach the world that no matter how rough things get, there’s an ocean of opportunities waiting to be discovered.
"I lost my arm, my leg, and was financially ruined. But somehow, that led me to a grand adventure."