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Running on Water: US Coast Guard Nabs Man in Giant Hamster Wheel

Photo shared by Flagler County Sheriff's Office
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Reza Baluchi’s unquenchable thirst for adventure and unconventional methods of travel have repeatedly brought him into the spotlight, and not always for the right reasons. Baluchi, a Florida resident who was granted asylum from Iran, has a track record of attempting daring journeys using homemade vessels that leave authorities, particularly the U.S. Coast Guard, scratching their heads.

The most recent chapter in Baluchi’s adventurous saga unfolded when the U.S. Coast Guard apprehended him and his peculiar vessel. Baluchi’s creation, a colossal floating hamster wheel comprised of buoys and wire, was designed to be self-propelled, powered solely by his running inside it. However, Baluchi’s ambitious goal to reach London, England, a staggering 4,000 miles away, quickly became a cause for concern.

On August 26, the Coast Guard cutter Valiant encountered Baluchi and his hydro-pod approximately 70 nautical miles east of Tybee Island, Georgia. This encounter occurred while the Coast Guard was gearing up for the arrival of Hurricane Franklin. Baluchi informed the officers of his intended destination but couldn’t produce the vehicle’s registration, claiming it was registered in Florida.

Coast Guard Special Agent Michael Perez, in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. district court in South Florida, cited Baluchi for “conducting a manifestly unsafe voyage.” It was clear that Baluchi’s journey posed significant risks.

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When officers approached Baluchi in a small boat and attempted to persuade him to abandon his voyage for safety reasons, he responded with threats. Baluchi brandished a 12-inch knife and threatened to harm himself if the officers tried to remove him from his vessel. Fearing for his safety and the possibility of an explosive threat, the officers withdrew to their cutter but kept a close watch on Baluchi.

Over the next day, repeated efforts were made to convince Baluchi to leave his hamster wheel, but he remained defiant. He displayed two knives and continued to threaten self-harm, even suggesting he might blow himself and his vessel up. The officers observed him holding wires and took his threats seriously.

Ultimately, a second Coast Guard cutter named Campbell arrived on the scene. On August 29, they succeeded in safely removing Baluchi from his homemade contraption. He was brought ashore in Miami Beach and subsequently released on a $250,000 bond.

Baluchi’s recent encounter with the Coast Guard was far from his first. Perez noted that he had attempted similar voyages in homemade vessels in 2014, 2016, and 2021, all of which had resulted in Coast Guard intervention. Baluchi is undeniably a man of grand dreams and unconventional methods.

Shortly after arriving in the United States, Baluchi gained notoriety for attempting a Forrest Gump-style cross-country run, which he reportedly completed twice. He was also the subject of a short documentary by VICE, chronicling his 2014 and 2016 attempts to travel over 1,000 miles from Boca Raton, Florida, to Bermuda inside a floating bubble of his own making.

In the documentary, Baluchi explained his motivation for such unconventional means of travel, emphasizing that using a traditional boat wouldn’t attract attention. His endeavors, however, garnered more attention than he bargained for.

One Coast Guard official, Todd Coggeshall, recalled the 2014 incident as “by far the most bizarre case” he had encountered. Baluchi’s floating bubble, dubbed the “hamster wheel of doom,” posed numerous risks, including scorching temperatures inside and the potential to be carried off course by ocean currents.

Despite the Coast Guard’s attempts to dissuade him, Baluchi persevered in his endeavors, leading to costly rescue operations. His determination resulted in his bubble being sunk as a hazard to navigation, along with all his supplies.

In 2021, Baluchi’s redesigned hamster wheel resurfaced, this time on the shores of Flagler County, Florida. Bodycam footage captured his interaction with responding officers, where he once again expressed his intent to reach New York. This encounter led to charges of Obstruction of Boarding and Violation of a Captain of the Port Order.


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