Estuary News

March 2021

Kayaking to Hawaii

After a French-American resident of Larkspur helped row a small boat from Monterey to Hawaii in 2016, he vowed he’d never undertake such a journey again.

But Cyril Derreumaux spoke too soon. “My imagination took off, and I started dreaming about doing the same trip again in a kayak,” he says.

Now, after several years of planning, Derreumaux is getting ready to embark. He plans to leave Monterey Bay in a custom-made kayak with no companions in late May and, moving between 40 and 60 miles each day, arrive at the Waikiki Yacht Club in Honolulu ten weeks later.

Or maybe nine. While Derreumaux says he is more interested in the sheer adventure of the voyage than in setting records, he cannot help but think about being the first and the fastest. Specifically, if he finishes the trip in less than 64 days, he’ll have the quickest California-Hawaii kayak crossing under his belt, and the first unassisted.

Cyril Derreumaux. Photo: Teresa O’Brien

Derreumaux’s sea voyaging resume is already stacked with achievements. In the past decade he has participated in a number of mid-size races and had a few old-fashioned adventures, including a solo boat-camping trip down the entire length of the lower Sacramento River. But his greatest and arguably most thrilling trip was five years ago, when he and three teammates rowed a small skiff from Monterey to Oahu in 39 days, 9 hours, and 56 minutes, winning them first place in a race against seven other teams as well as a Guinness World Record. 

“I said, ‘Never again’ after crossing the ocean the first time,” Derreumaux, now 44, recalls. But his thirst for pushing the limits quickly returned. He aimed to one-up himself and, notably, legendary waterman Ed Gillet, who kayaked from California to Maui in 1987. “Compared to Ed who used a kite sometimes during his crossing, I will only be using human power,” Derreumaux says.

As the first step in his planned trip, Derreumaux commissioned a boat builder in England to construct a kayak. Rob Feloy, along with partner Ginge Murphy, began work on the craft in November 2019 and finished four months later. The result was a sleek 22-foot-long vessel with space for sleeping and a sealable chamber where Derreumaux may, if necessary, take shelter during nasty weather. The boat weighs about 140 pounds unmanned and unloaded and can be powered with a pedal-drive system as well a conventional paddle. Its hull consists of two layers of carbon fiber sandwiched over one of natural cork, making the boat essentially unsinkable. (Slide show below)

English boat builders Rob Feloy and Ginge Murphy built the boat in four months in a large, drafty boat repair shed. Within the shed they also erected a temporary polythene tent with bubble wrap so they could get the temperature up to cure the resins and paint. The boat’s carbon fiber structure without any fittings weighs around 45 kilos.

When occupied and fully loaded, the rig will weigh about 900 pounds – an assemblage Derreumaux guesses he will be able to move at an average of about two miles per hour. He’ll be paddling as well as pedaling – an alternating arrangement he hopes will help him avoid injury and prevent atrophy of his leg muscles. (When Gillet finished his kayak voyage in 1987, he found himself unable to walk once he landed on the beach, so diminished was the strength of his lower quarters.)

“I’d like to maintain the health and integrity of my whole body,” Derreumaux says. “I’ll see how it goes, but most likely I’ll do two hours paddling, two hours pedaling, two hours paddling, two hours pedaling.”

As for sustenance, a solar-powered desalination kit will produce Derreumaux’s water, and he has a manual system as a backup. He’ll bring some fishing gear, he says, but that’s just for emergency purposes. His main sustenance will come from energy bars and freeze-dried meals, of which he plans to eat about 6,000 calories per day. Still, he expects the rigors of the trip to strip 25 pounds from his already athletic frame.

Testing the craft in the waters of San Francisco Bay. Photo: Teresa O’Brien

While both boat and athlete are as seaworthy as can be, Derreumaux is prepared for the worst, and should anything go seriously wrong, he will resort to technology. He’ll be carrying an emergency position indicating radio beacon fixed to the boat, a personal locator beacon on himself, two GPS devices, a Garmin tracker, a satellite phone, and a satellite internet connection. He’ll also keep himself tethered to the kayak at all times.  

Derreumaux says his fixation on extreme travel is partly about testing his own limits, but it also has much to do with the unique appeal of returning home again.

“Everything we’re familiar with on land is so beautiful, and it has so much value – whether you’re just going for a walk, or hugging a child, smelling the trees,” he says. “These adventures help me recreate and appreciate these feelings.”

Cyril’s Trip

British Boat Builder Robin Feloy

Prior Estuary News Stories

Trolling for Salmon by Kayak, September 2020

Top Photo: The new vessel and its captain in Sausalito. Photo: Teresa O’Brien.

Editor’s Note: This story came to ESTUARY News all the way from Totnes, Devon, England, where editor Ariel Rubissow Okamoto spent her teen years getting into all kinds of outdoor fun and trouble with the boat builders. When Ariel graduated from college in Connecticut and went West, Ginge Murphy joined her for the cross-country road trip. Crossing continents and oceans, friendships surely go full circle. Miss you all in England!

About the author

A native to San Francisco, Alastair Bland is a freelance journalist who writes about water policy in California, rivers and salmon, marine conservation and climate change. His work has appeared at NPR.org, Smithsonian.com, Yale Environment 360 and News Deeply, among many other outlets. When he isn't writing, Alastair is likely riding his bicycle uphill as fast as he can.

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