Cyril Derreumaux has completed his solo kayak from California to Hawaii. He arrived at Hilo on September 20, after 92 days at sea. He is only the second person to make the arduous journey by kayak.
Derreumaux pushed off from Monterey on June 21, in the company of well-wishers paddling a few strokes beside him. Then three months of lonely effort. He had initially hoped to complete the 4,444km in 70 days but difficult conditions slowed his progress.
A rough start
For the first few weeks, contrary winds pushed him in the wrong direction. The daily battle became not losing distance rather than making progress. Constant swells made him seasick, and he felt very weak. On week two, the tubing that held his steering line disconnected and let water into the cabin.
Then after 46 days, his water maker broke. From that point on, as well as rowing for 10 to 12 hours a day, he also spent an hour to an hour and a half manually generating fresh water. He also spent several bad weather days in his little cabin, on sea anchor.
It quickly became clear that the journey would take more than 70 days. By the halfway point, he started rationing food. Though he had calculated 6,000 calories a day to fuel all that rowing, he lost weight rapidly, even before rationing. With it, he began to doubt whether he would make it in time.
At the end of August, he decided to change his Hawaiian endpoint. Rather than land in Waikiki, he redirected to Hilo. This cut six days of paddling from the journey and meant that he had enough food to make the distance without having to resort to eating toothpaste, like the first California-Hawaii kayaker, Ed Gillet, had done.
Music, Seinfeld, and dolphins
Derreumaux entertained himself by listening to music almost constantly. Before leaving, he had even downloaded Seinfeld to watch at night, when he wasn’t rowing.
He also enjoyed watching dolphins around the boat. By the end, hundreds of them had come to visit. Over the last few days, he even had a mahi-mahi following him.
“A mahi-mahi pet fish followed me all day, I loved it!” he wrote on social media. “[It] left me yesterday morning. I guess he did not like when I played Celine Dion.“
As the journey progressed, Derreumaux became more relaxed and attuned to his surroundings. He found not seeing himself in a mirror to be a very “freeing experience”. He has also established a kind of symbiosis with his custom-made boat Valentine.
“I know her so well now,” he said. “I know how she behaves in what kind of waters, I know all the noises she makes and what they mean, I could find anything in the dark… it’s very special.”
Ed Gillet’s inspiration
Ed Gillet’s original 1987 journey first inspired Derreumaux. Gillet was far less high-tech. He used an off-the-shelf kayak — no sleeping cabin, no extended storage — and had no means of communication for most of the journey. After three weeks at sea, Derreumaux said, “I am more in awe of Ed Gillet and what he accomplished [than ever].”
He first attempted the journey in 2021 but needed rescue after five days. Storms and swells damaged his boat and caused water began to leak into the cabin. With conditions set to worsen, he abandoned the crossing.
But despite that embarrassing end, Derreumaux channeled the failure into improving his technique and boat.
He modified the sea anchor system, installed a satellite communication system, and added both a manual bilge pump and side panels to keep water out of the cockpit. He also trained to be more familiar with how his kayak behaved in high winds.
This was not Derreumaux’s first time crossing the ocean from California to Hawaii. In 2016, he and his teammates broke the speed record for rowing in the Great Pacific Race. The four-man team covered the roughly 4,500km from Monterey, California to Oahu, Hawaii, in 39 days, 9 hours, and 56 minutes.
Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.
Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.
Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.