Cyril Derreumaux on a solo kayak trip to Hawaii » Explorersweb
On September 20, Cyril Derreumaux completed his 4,444 km solo kayak expedition from California to Hawaii. He spent 91 days and nine hours paddling across the Pacific Ocean, becoming the second person to make the arduous journey by kayak.
Derreumaux spoke to ExplorersWeb about his trip.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Rowing vs Kayaking
They have done the route before, but rowed as a team. How did that compare?
A rowboat is much higher on the water and much safer. It’s very powerful and you have more range, so you can have a bigger boat. There have been so many solo rowers, but there are only four people who have done ocean crossings in kayaks. Of course, there’s Ed Gillet, who traveled from Monterey to Hawaii in a commercial double kayak and kite. I was very inspired by Scott Donaldson crossing the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand. And then there’s Alexander Doba and Peter Bray. It’s done so seldom that you have to learn a lot more and reinvent new things. [Note: In the 20th century, Franz Romer and Hannes Lindemann also crossed the Atlantic in kayaks.]
When I was rowing I was in a foursome and we were trying to beat the Guinness Record. It was 43 days and it was all about performance and discipline. My crossing in the kayak was really different. My goal was to enjoy the ride. I usually do expeditions with other people, but here I pushed my own limits. It was a smaller boat. It’s only 30 inches above the water allowing me to touch the water on either side of the kayak. There was a much smaller cockpit and a much smaller cabin. When you are alone you need to be very aware of your mental state and be able to fix anything on the boat.
Ed Gillet: unique
You followed the same route as Ed Gillet. Do you think you could make the trip like he did?
That’s really easy to answer. no He is a trailblazer. In a way, he’s an outsider. If you read his book, he himself says that if he had made the journey 10 times, he would have died five times. So it’s nothing I wouldn’t do. For me, success was just crossing and finishing safely.
He’s a legend in my eyes. He inspired me and I was in touch with him often. I think the way he did it, sleeping in the cockpit with a tarp over him, navigating with a sextant and not communicating at all, he really was a loner. I was solo because I was alone in the boat but I had shore support. I could write back and forth. I could even make phone calls when I had problems. It will never be reproduced.
Last year you had to cancel your crossing. How did you feel on the second try?
I think the work I did between the two attempts was key. And I think the analysis of the first rescue was important. I realized that somehow I wasn’t prepared because I wasn’t succeeding. I upgraded the boat itself so there was better side protection, got a manual pump so I could build and remove the water faster from the cockpit and had an external antenna so I could make phone calls from the cabin. I spent five days on the Santa Cruz coast training for high winds and had more time to sleep on the boat and more time for mental training.
I felt a lot better. I felt better prepared. Of course there were still doubts but I was really happy when I put down the pier. I felt like this was my time and this time I wasn’t going to give up until I literally went under.
How did your family feel that you made this journey after initial attempts ended in your rescue?
I reassured them by really knowing what I was getting myself into, really being prepared, having backup plans and backups of backups and being really trained and showing I was committed to it. One of my girlfriend’s best qualities is that she allows me to do this. I’ve said here’s the list of risks, here’s what I’ll do in situations like this, and I’ve proven that I’ve trained to make sure I can mitigate any problems that arise.
Sleep sardine style
How was the sleeping accommodation on the boat?
Most of the time the rolling and rocking wasn’t too much so I didn’t have to buckle up. The cabin was about the size of a single tent. When I reached up with my hand, I touched the roof very lightly, and then my elbows touched on each side. The only option I had was to sleep on my back. I had to put the pillow down so that my head didn’t rock too much and I could get some sleep. Off the coast of California there is essentially a lot of tanker and boat traffic. So at night I had to wake up every hour just to check if everything was ok.
Have you been severely sleep deprived?
It took me two to three weeks to get used to the new sleep pattern. The first week was full of adrenaline. I pushed to do 12 hours a day. The hardest part was the first week. I was seasick too. Then the second week was very physically demanding, so I slept just because I was exhausted.
Practicing sleeping safely on the boat was important, and it was starting to happen. I built a wooden replica in my backyard and spent afternoons in it. Then when the boat got to California it was on the trailer and I would sleep on the trailer on the street. Then I laid the boat on the jetty and slept there. Finally I paddled and slept in it. It was a gradual progression toward the ability I wanted.
Dangers of recurring stress
What toll did the expedition take on your body?
Doing anything for 90 days is tough, so I trained for this repetitive movement. When you kayak, you twist your core, so problems with the lower back, core, shoulder rotation, elbows, and wrists can arise. So I worked hard on my technique and learned from the other expeditions.
When Ed Gillet arrived in Hawaii after 63 days, his legs were atrophied. Sitting for a long time is not healthy for the body. I wanted a way to train my lower body, so I asked Rob Pilot (the boat designer) to include a pedaling system. I alternated between that and paddling and it really helped me to be really healthy upper and lower body. We modified the kayak so that the pedaling system was between my legs in the cockpit. I was able to put it on and take it off in less than 20 seconds.
What was the most challenging part of the route?
Starting and leaving the coast is always a challenge. One compartment flooded very early due to a leak and I had to create a drainage system. Then, for some reason, my steering light became very heavy. It was foggy and cloudy all day off the coast of California, making it difficult to recharge the batteries using solar panels. The water conditioner broke so I had to use the manual one. There were many small problems to overcome.
I think the first two or three weeks were the toughest but then you get more confident in your boat and in your skills. After that it’s more mental and it seems like Groundhog Day. Eventually I got into a pattern where I just enjoyed the day, your mind just clears up and you are completely free to have new thoughts.
Was that your favorite aspect of the trip?
It’s the magic moments. You can’t look forward to them, they just happen. I remember after four days of really bad weather there was a moment. It will stay in my memory forever. I just woke up and came out and the rolling of the swell was just so gentle. No wind, no noise. And there was a beautiful sunrise. Its simplicity was simply overwhelming. You can’t really explain it, it just happened and then you start crying. This is magic.
You said earlier that you couldn’t really explain why you wanted to do that. Have you found answers on the water?
I really don’t have a clear answer. It just feels like an incredible adventure. To feel what it is like to be alone in the middle of the ocean and to feel the waves, the roughness of nature and the power of the ocean. Something in me that just attracts me. I know I will learn something.
This time I learned that I already had it in me. During the trip I was really philosophical about life. I’ve thought a lot about love and brotherhood; that we should all consider each other as brothers and sisters. All of these values were ingrained in me, but this journey revealed them to me with such intensity that I will now consciously live with these values as I move forward in life.
After that you feel a bit empty
Do you have further expedition plans?
A common thing about adventures is that you end up feeling a little empty. You think, “What now? What should I do? What will my brain work on?” I’m trying to skip a rebound challenge. I need to rest and recover properly. Obviously there will always be adventures in my life.
I think next year will be about getting back in touch with real life. I already have some ideas for expeditions I could do, but it will be for 2024, not 2023. I’m 46 and have lost 20 pounds and a lot of muscle. So it will take me at least six months to recover and feel strong again.
Next year I would like to race in the Yukon River. It’s only three days. I’ve done it in a six man canoe, a four man canoe and a two man canoe. So a one man canoe or kayak might be good. Then maybe a big project for the year after. Don’t tell my girlfriend.
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