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Kayaker Plans Solo Journey From California to Hawaii

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Sea trials in San Francisco Bay. Photo Tom Gomes

“Hey Cyril, what’s the countdown look like?”, I inquired when I answered my phone. “There is a window coming up this weekend”, came the reply with a slight hint of a French accent revealing his country of origin. I first met Cyril Derreumaux in 2017 on a camping trip north of Santa Barbara which had been organized by a pair of mutual friends. The French-born, American citizen was already an experienced world traveler and adventurer, who, among other things, was a member of the Guiness World Record winning four person ocean rowing team which completed the fastest crossing (39 days) from Monterrey, California to Honolulu, Hawaii a year prior.

Cyril’s upcoming trip will take him into new territory as he planned to set out in his custom-built ocean kayak, christened “Valentine”, on a planned 70 day, solo, self-supported 2,100 nautical mile journey across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Honolulu, Hawaii. Designed and built in Devon, England by renowned boat-builders Dan Davy and Rob Feloy, the Valentine is 23 ft long and weighs 400 lbs. Cyril expects to add several hundred pounds of supplies which will increase the weight to approximately 900 lbs.

When it comes to paddling, adaptability is paramount. “I have to understand that it is a completely different vessel and I have to respect the way she is,” Cyril told me. “She is like an elephant, you’re not going to run like a hummingbird.” Along the way he plans to consume approximately 6,000 calories a day.

The Journey

Cyril Derreumaux. Photo: Teresa O’Brien

Much like a NASA space launch, planning the departure for an ocean kayaking trip of this magnitude entails an adherence to science and prevailing weather conditions. The former is leveraged to the benefit of the adventurer, while the latter is beyond anyone’s control. As of this writing, Cyril’s trusted weather router, Michel, has set the departure date for Monday, May 31st.

A “Bon Voyage” celebratory paddle will take place on Sunday, May 30th from Sea Trek to Fort Baker at 9:30 am. Then, at approximately 5:00 am on May 31st, Cyril will cast off aboard the Valentine from the pier at Fort Baker to ride the ebb tide out into the Pacific.

“The first night is going to be interesting,” said Cyril. “It will be the first time I spend the night aboard the boat when the swell will be bigger than what I trained in and I’m not going to be attached to a buoy. I did some nights, as you know, in the bay going round and round, but every night given that it was super rough I would attach the boat to a buoy and then I knew I’d be fine for the next 10 hours.”

Cyril has been preparing for the trip for more than two years. He originally planned to embark on the epic journey in 2020, only to have Valentine’s delivery delayed by months due to the global pandemic. Ultimately, the delay proved to be fortuitous as his custom kayak’s eventual arrival afforded Cyril the luxury of having several months to engage in sea trials and make modifications to the livability attributes of the unique paddle craft.

How does one train for a monumental journey such as this? “It’s up in the air”, said Cyril, “everyone has their own concoction.” He sought the advice of a local triathlete who recommended a diversified program involving paddling and land-based activity such as cycling and hiking in which Cyril would regularly target his heart rate to 140 bpm, at the nexus of anaerobic and aerobic output. “My big fear was to overtrain and get injured,” he told me.

Cyril also solicited the input from multiple paddling coaches, including Olympians Michèle Eray and Maggie Hogan from Paddle California, to develop a repertoire of sustainable paddling techniques (incorporating three different paddles) to match the anticipated conditions on the open ocean.

The Valentine

Custom built per Cyril’s specifications, one of the initial things observers will notice about the Valentine is the two arrays of solar panels fore and aft of the cockpit. The bow array produces 100 watts and 170 watts on the stern. “They are two completely separate systems, so I can run power from one or the other,” said Cyril. “The main consumption of power is the water maker. I’ll use it about 1-2 hours a day, mostly at noon when the sun is high.”

Safety considerations are incorporated everywhere, starting with the custom kayak’s design. Built to be unsinkable, the Valentine is made with a cork core between layers of carbon fiber. The boat’s volume is such that it is designed to be self righting and float, even when completely flooded. As a last resort, he has an emergency life raft along with a “go bag” filled with a small supply of survival essentials and communications gear.

Photographer: Tom Gomes

Regardless of a craft’s design, the first element of safety at sea is always to be seen. In this case, the Valentine is equipped with a GPS Plotter capable of sending and receiving Automated Identification System (AIS) transmissions with other vessels on the water. Additionally, the Valentine is outfitted with a Radar Transmission Enhancer (RTE) so he can be identified, along with multiple VHF radios, long range beacons, and phones.

Ready for departure

Cyril is going through his final checklist and his mind has been racing for the last month. Now, most of the items are ticked off as he contemplates the journey ahead. He has tested all his equipment multiple times and broken in his paddling gear from Vaikobi, the industry leader in technical paddling apparel, over the course of countless training runs criss-crossing the San Francisco Bay.

“I’m feeling generally serene. I’m not feeling super excited, like ‘Wow, I can’t wait’. I’m really feeling serene, I think that would be the word,” he told me.

Cyril also feels the pressure through others…from his girlfriend, his mother, and friends; all of whom are understandably concerned about his well-being given the dangerous challenges he’ll face along the journey ahead.

Are you feeling inspired?

Interested parties may support Cyril Derreumaux and his journey from San Francisco to Honolulu by visiting his website Solo Kayak to Hawaii where visitors have the opportunity to make a donation and purchase commemorative apparel. Solo Kayak to Hawaii also contains a Live Tracker for visitors to follow Cyril’s route in real time as he paddles across the Pacific.

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