Man Arrested After Trying To Cross The Atlantic On A Giant Hamster Wheel

Despite his determined efforts, Reza Baluchi repeatedly finds himself in trouble with the U.S. Coast Guard due to his unconventional mode of transportation – a massive floating hamster wheel constructed from buoys and wire, propelled by his own running inside it.

Baluchi, a resident of Florida who sought asylum from Iran, recently faced a run-in with the Coast Guard when they intercepted him 70 nautical miles east of Tybee Island, Georgia, on August 26, while they were preparing for Hurricane Franklin.

Baluchi claimed his destination was London, England, over 4,000 miles away, but he couldn’t provide the vessel’s registration. The Coast Guard, after assessing his homemade contraption called a “hydro-pod,” deemed his voyage manifestly unsafe. Attempts to convince Baluchi to abandon his vessel escalated when he threatened to harm himself and potentially detonate a bomb he claimed to possess.

Eventually, on August 29, the Coast Guard succeeded in safely removing Baluchi from his floating hamster wheel. He was released on a $250,000 bond after being brought ashore in Miami Beach.

This wasn’t Baluchi’s first encounter with the Coast Guard; he had previously attempted similar voyages in 2014, 2016, and 2021, all of which led to Coast Guard interventions. Baluchi is known for his ambitious and unconventional journeys, including running across the United States twice and attempting to travel from Florida to Bermuda in a homemade bubble.

In the video, Baluchi explains his motivation in using unusual means of travel: “If you drive a boat, nobody cares. Bubble, nobody did before.”

His motivations for these unconventional means of travel center around gaining attention and challenging the norm. Baluchi believes that ordinary methods of travel, like driving a boat, don’t garner much interest, whereas his unique endeavors attract attention.

In the past, Coast Guard encounters with Baluchi have been bizarre and challenging. During his 2014 bubble journey to Bermuda, he had to be rescued after being adrift in the Atlantic Ocean.

Todd Coggeshall, formerly of the U.S. Coast Guard, recalled what happened during the 2014 attempt, which he called “by far the most bizarre case that I was involved with.”

“One of our sectors, Sector Miami, got a call from a concerned boater that there was a man in a bubble that was lost and was asking for directions to Bermuda,” Coggeshall told VICE. “It became really obvious really fast that he wasn’t a sailor, didn’t know the ocean, and was unequipped to do what he was attempting to do.”

“We referred to it as the hamster wheel of doom,” Coggeshall remembered, adding that temperatures could get up to 120 degrees inside the bubble, and that Baluchi was more likely to get pushed to England or swept into a swirling eddy in the middle of the Atlantic than make it from Florida to Bermuda.

The Coast Guard tried to take him in but he didn’t want to go, Coggeshall said, and stayed with him for a day or so before leaving him be. “A day or two later, a cold front knocked the bubble on his side, so [Baluchi] set off what’s called a spot device,” and the Coast Guard went and rescued him.

In 2016, the Coast Guard again intervened, declaring his voyage unsafe and eventually sinking his bubble, which cost taxpayers around $144,000.

“Make me crazy,” Baluchi is seen telling the Coast Guard officers. “I’ve been five years, like, do this thing. They stop me every time, they save my life. I don’t no need it, save my life. I don’t no need it.”

He told the officers that he had five or six lights and two life jackets. “I have a GPS. I have a laptop [to] watch movie,” Baluchi protested. But the officers said his voyage was unsafe and based on the Captain of the Port order and his physical condition, the officers hauled him in.

And they sank his bubble as a hazard to navigation. “They shot, they sink my bubble,” Baluchi told VICE. “No more bubble I have.”

Baluchi’s recent encounter with the Coast Guard highlights the complexities of his ambitious adventures and the challenges they pose to maritime safety and security.

In 2021, Baluchi’s redesigned hamster wheel made headlines when it came onshore in Flagler County, Fla. Bodycam footage shows his interaction with the responding officers from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. “Where are you supposed to land?” the officer asks.

“I’m going to New York,” Baluchi says, his giant hamster wheel on the beach behind him.

“Did you start on a bigger vessel?” the officer asks. Baluchi looks at him blankly and says, “Huh?”

“Were you on a bigger vessel or is this all you have?” the officer asks.

“This is all I have,” says Baluchi.

Baluchi now faces charges of Obstruction of Boarding, and Violation of a Captain of the Port Order.

Whether it will be enough to keep Baluchi on land remains to be seen.

“Dream no coming after you,” Baluchi told VICE. “You must follow your dream.”

For now, he is restricted from leaving the Southern District of Florida and cannot venture into the ocean or board any ocean vessels while his case is ongoing. Baluchi’s unconventional quest for adventure and attention continues to test the limits of maritime law and safety regulations.

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