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Ryszard Rewucki, who sailed to homeland in boat named ‘Free Poland,’ dead at 63

Ryszard Rewucki (right) and his wife Anna sailed from Chicago to Poland in 1991 on his boat the "Free Poland" for the World Polonia Sailing Jamboree. They met at Chicago's Joseph Conrad Yacht Club. | Provided photo

Two years after the fall of communism, Ryszard Rewucki celebrated by sailing a boat from Chicago to his native Poland for the 1991 World Polonia Sailing Jamboree.

He christened his vessel the “Free Poland.”

He had exhibited similar determination — and creativity — years before when he managed to escape the Iron Curtain by telling communist authorities in Poland he had his heart set on a Mercedes-Benz and had to go to Germany to buy his dream ride, according to his wife Anna.

Ryszard Rewucki, who lived in Highland Park, clowning around on a boat.| Provided photo

“He wanted to escape to a different world and be free,” she said. “In communist countries, you had to have some really important reason to go abroad.”

She said German friends helped hatch the plan.

“He was a clever guy,” said Anna Rewucki’s daughter Liz. “He actually had the cash on him to show proof he was planning to do this.”

His family suspects that bribes changed hands before he crossed the border for his purported car-buying trip.

Mr. Rewucki stayed in Germany for three years before immigrating in 1989 to the United States, where he earned a reputation as an accomplished sailor.

Mr. Rewucki died March 6 at 63 at his home in Highland Park. He’d been diagnosed in December 2016 with a brain tumor, his wife said.

In Chicago, Mr. Rewucki worked in steel manufacturing and as a chauffeur, according to his wife, but being on the sea was his love.

He was born in Gdansk, Poland, and studied marine biology at the Akademia Rolniczo-Techniczna — the University of Agriculture and Technology — in Olsztyn.

Ryszard Rewucki and his wife Anna loved sailing together. | Provided photo

“He always dreamed about life in the sea — the fish, dolphins, sharks,” his wife said.

After arriving in America, he bought the 37-foot Irwin sailboat he named Free Poland.

“He stayed on Lake Michigan for several years,” his wife said.

The “Free Poland” (with blue-and-white sail, at left) and the “Solidarity” in the 1991 World Polonia Sailing Jamboree. | Provided photo

They met at a Chicago sailing organization named for a great writer of Polish descent, the Joseph Conrad Yacht Club.

When Mr. Rewucki saved enough money, she said, “He went to Poland for the first meeting of sailors who immigrated from Poland,” the World Polonia Sailing Jamboree.

Provided photo

During the two-and-a-half-month journey, he sailed from Monroe Harbor, making his way through the Great Lakes, canals and the Hudson River in New York. Anna Rewucki joined the crew in New York for the journey across the Atlantic.

Before arriving at the seaport of Gdynia, Poland, their stops included the Azores, France and Germany, she said.

Another sailor, Andrew W. Piotrowski, who captained the boat “Solidarity,” named for Poland’s anti-communist movement, made some of the same ports-of-call on the historic journey.

“I met him in New York and then in the Azores and then in Gdynia,” said Piotrowski, a former commodore of the Joseph Conrad Yacht Club. “He was a good, good sailor.”

Twenty-six yachts participated in the flotilla, coming from the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Great Britain and Sweden, according to an account in Chicago’s Polish Daily News.

Ryszard Rewucki. | Provided photo

The journey had some terrifying moments. During storms, Anna Rewucki said it looked as if their sailboat was surrounded by “mountains of water.”

In 1992, Mr. Rewucki sailed to South America to gain more experience, she said.

Then, in 1995, he set out on a solo sail around the world in the Free Poland, she said. The 975-day journey — listed on the Polish sailing website www.portalzeglarski.com as verified — took him through the Caribbean and to ports in Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji, Australia and Cape Town before he arrived back in Miami.

Mr. Rewucki is also survived by his wife’s daughter Patrcyja and four grandchildren. Services have been held.