•his 28 years of life, Alex Rust impacted people around the globe.

From his family and friends in Seymour to people he met on his 2010 journey to sail around the world, his attitude and spirit were unforgettable.

Rust’s adventures and approach to life are the focus of a documentary film and an illustrated children’s book.

“Chasing Bubbles,” the movie, is scheduled to be completed this spring and released in the summer. The premiere will be in Seymour, where Rust was born and raised.

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The film includes footage shot by Rust and his crew between 2009 and 2012 aboard his sailboat, Bubbles. It also includes interviews with Rust after the trip.

It was the intention of Rust and friend Topher Cochrane to chronicle the adventure and share it with others through a film, but that idea was put on hold after Rust’s unexpected death on May 28, 2013.

Rust was in India, where he planned to help out at an orphanage, when he died of complications while recovering from typhoid fever.

Making dream reality

Not wanting his friend’s story to go unheard, Cochrane, a commercial filmmaker who met Rust while he was living in Chicago, recruited partner Laurie Adrianopoli and Ross Gerber to make the documentary.

Gerber spent 40 days with Rust aboard Bubbles, including crossing the Pacific Ocean.

To finance the film project, the team turned to Kickstarter, an online fundraising tool. Nearly 600 people committed more than $50,000. That money went to pay for professional video editors, animators to develop map sequences, a film colorist to repair footage from damaged cameras and an audio engineer.

Cochrane said the idea behind “Chasing Bubbles” was never to make money, and that is why he, Adrianopoli and Gerber donated their time to make the movie. They plan to enter it in independent film festivals and then release it online for free.

“Alex was committed to creating a documentary to share his experience, not only the wild adventure, but also about the people he met and what it meant to him,” Cochrane said. “He wanted to tell the world this story.”

The film involves an ever-changing group of “wanderers, adventurers, backpackers, childhood buddies, family, office workers on leave and literally anyone that was willing to hop aboard and have a good time,” Cochrane said.

Since cameras were rolling nearly every minute of the trip, Rust documented everything from equator-crossing rituals in the middle of the Pacific to parties in huts with native people 1,000 miles up the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea.

“Not to mention multiple pirate encounters, hurricane force winds and islands that hadn’t had outside visitors in 40 years,” Cochrane said.

‘About simple discovery’

What makes the story even more amazing is Rust had no sailing experience before he set out to circumnavigate the planet.

“He was a farm boy turned day trader who at 25 abandoned his yuppie life, bought a modest sailboat and set out to sail around the world and learn as he journeyed,” Cochrane said.

In an online blog, Rust explained what the adventure meant to him:

“This trip was about simple discovery, venturing out to see the world and the people in it. Along the way, we faced obstacles and challenges that only a trip like this could produce; and with no alternative but success, we overcame. What we found was that the world is indeed a beautiful place filled with beautiful people.”

Professional sailor Cathy Kumnick of Queensland, Australia, met Rust in Port Denarau in Fiji, by accident.

“A boat I was working on at the time was based there for the season,” she said. “I was walking through the marina when Alex ran up behind me and grabbed me, almost bear-hugging me, but stopped at the last minute and said, ‘Whoa! Sorry, I thought you were someone else!’”

Although she never got to sail aboard Bubbles, she’ll never forget Rust’s spirit and love for the ocean and the adventure they had together exploring Fiji.

“I had done a little four-wheel driving in the highlands of Viti Levu, but there was a longer overnight trip on this little dirt track that I still wanted to do,” she said. “I mentioned it to Alex, and as soon as he read in his Lonely Planet guide that this track was unsafe and not recommended for travel, of course he was in. So we rented a four-wheel drive and did it in three days.”

‘Alexander and the Ocean’

Along for the excursion was Rust’s friend, Jim Ramirez, whom he introduced to Kumnick. Ramirez and Kumnick hit it off and are now the parents of a little girl.

“Obviously, meeting Alex impacted my life in a major way,” she said.

Kumnick already had written the book “Ollie and the Ocean” and was in the final stages of illustrating it when Rust died. She decided to change the name of the book and dedicate it to Alex.

“It was Jim who pointed out that my little blond-haired, blue-eyed character in a little blue boat had a childlike resemblance to Alex,” she said.

“Before I changed the title, I had a quiet moment to myself sitting by the lake, and I thought, ‘Would Alex mind having this book dedicated to and named after him?’” Kumnick said. “Instantly, I got a picture in my head of him laughing. Of course, I thought, he’d find it hilarious. So I went ahead with it.”

“Alexander and the Ocean” came out in August and is available online at amazon.com and directly from Kumnick’s publishing website, sailboatbooks.com. Copies also are available to purchase at Java Joint coffeehouse in downtown Seymour.

It’s available in hardcover and softcover. Around 400 copies have been sold all over the world.

Proceeds from the sales of copies at Java Joint go to the Alex Rust Memorial Fund to benefit the orphanage in India he was planning to spend time at when he died.

A mother’s love and loss

Rust’s mother, Sylvia Rust, who lives in Seymour, said she is deeply touched by people’s efforts to keep her son’s memory alive.

She cherishes her copy of “Alexander and the Ocean” and is looking forward to seeing “Chasing Bubbles” in its entirety. She also is excited to celebrate Rust’s life with his friends during an annual summer reunion that that has been dubbed Alex Fest.

“It’s such a wonderful tribute,” she said of the projects. “These are people who sailed with him, were with him and felt moved to do something like this. It’s just awesome, and it made me feel good to know they are doing something for his memory to live on.”

Sylvia Rust said any time she talks to people about her son, their faces light up, and they get animated about sharing his stories.

“He was just a people person and had a way to make everyone laugh,” she said.

The impact Alex Rust had on people around the world came as a surprise to his mother and her family, including her other children, Victoria, Regina, Solomon, David Jr. and Joe; and Alex’s half siblings, Ruth Ann Hendrix, and Karen, Anthony, Marcus, James, John and Robert Rust.

Their father and Sylvia’s husband, the late David W. Rust, was founder of one of the nation’s largest egg producers, Rose Acre Farms in Jackson County.

“I knew how interesting he was because he was so full of life, but I didn’t really know how many people he impacted, people from around the world,” Sylvia Rust said of her son Alex.

‘Bubbles’ mom’

She sailed with Rust on Bubbles twice.

“We were in South Africa and came to port and decided to go to the canteen to get something to eat,” she said. “When I walked in, someone immediately asked me if I was Bubbles’ mom. It’s surprised me because Alex didn’t visit the tourist attractions. He wanted to go where nobody else went. And yet people still knew him.”

Although the movie, the book and the reunion have helped the family deal with Rust’s death, they will never erase the pain of his loss.

“Everyone copes at their own pace and in different ways,” Sylvia Rust said. “Me, as a mom, losing him is a feeling that will never go away. It’s something I will always carry with me.”

It’s difficult when any loved one dies, but losing a child is especially hard, she added.

“Part of my heart is gone,” Sylvia Rust said. “I’ll miss him forever, but having something like this, it makes me feel wonderful. I am thankful for those people that are keeping his memory alive.”

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.