Larkspur man prepares to attempt unassisted kayaking trip to Hawaii
Cyril Derreumaux had never paddled a kayak until he moved to Le Marin 12 years ago. The experience was life changing.
His passion for canoeing led him to compete in 8 mile races and then 15 mile races until he eventually became an ultra-athlete competing in races of several hundred miles.
His desire to continue pushing his physical and mental limits drove him to this moment. Derreumaux will start paddling from Sausalito on Monday at 5 a.m. and if all goes according to plan, he won’t be back for months.
Derreumaux, 44, a French resident of Larkspur, attempts a solo adventure that will see him kayaking completely unassisted by Marin in Hawaii. The 2,400 nautical mile journey could take him between 60 and 70 days.
“You don’t wake up one day saying ‘I’m going to cross an ocean in a kayak’,” said Derreumaux. “I started small in 8 mile races – it’s like a half hour race – up to 100 miles and other races in Canada. The Yukon River Quest is 444 miles. It’s about 50 hours of paddling.
“I like ultra endurance, long distance where it’s not sprints, it’s not muscles. It’s about managing your condition, your nutrition, your hydration and physical fatigue and even your lack of sleep – being aware and seeing the potential of what could be and go on, go on.
One thing that works in Derreumaux’s favor is that he has made this trip before – albeit as part of a four-person rowing boat.
“Five years ago I did a rowing race called the Great Pacific Race (from Monterey to Hawaii) and we won it in 39 days. I swore to never do it again, ”said Derreumaux with a laugh. “Then I started reading books about how other people go on kayaking adventures again and I was just inspired.”
Derreumaux has been planning this excursion since 2018. His kayak – named “Valentine” – was custom built in England and cost around $ 80,000. The kayak is approximately 22 feet long, is self-righting and unsinkable.
Valentine has a 6ft cabin just big enough for 5ft 10in tall Derreums to sleep. The boat has enough storage space to hold around 70 days of freeze-dried meals and energy bars, but the catch is that Derreumaux will have to sleep on food bags for much of the trip as there is no nowhere to put them.
“The (biggest challenge) would be to manage everything myself because there is no one else,” said Derreumaux. “So I have to be aware of the weather, the equipment, the boat, and my physical and mental well-being. Being alone, you have to be aware of everything. You must be able to repair electronics. I need to be able to fix the boat and make sure I don’t get hurt, hallucinate or seasick. There’s so much going on and it’s all on my shoulders.
Valentine also has another feature that Derreumaux says will make the next 60-70 days of her life easier – a pedal system that will allow her to move the boat forward with her legs.
“I decided to have a kayak so I use an upper body paddle, but I also added a pedaling system that will also allow me to use the lower body,” said Derreumaux. “I want to change – two hours for the upper body, two hours for the lower body.
“All the kayakers who did that, they got there after 70 days and their legs were atrophied and the tendons completely weakened. I think if I can use my upper and lower body I will be so much faster because I will be healthier.
After completing his four-hour shift, day and night, Derreumaux will retire to his cabin for a nap, but never more than a few hours before waking up and doing another four hours. Sleeping too long would put Derreumaux in danger of hitting a container ship that was beyond its radar when it fell asleep. It would also risk straying too far from its path.
Combating sleep deprivation and managing your nutrition will be crucial to Derreumaux’s hopes of setting a 64-day Guinness World Record for the trip.
Derreumaux will need to eat 6,000 calories a day to give his body the energy it needs to spend many hours paddling and pedaling. Despite this, Derreumaux expects to be in deficit as he will burn around 8,000 calories per day. He gained weight on purpose to make sure he had enough energy reserves to get through the trip.
“Now my body is around 25% fat and I’m going to get there, I don’t know, at 7 or 8% fat,” Derreumaux said.
Fresh water shouldn’t be a problem as Derreumaux has two ways to desalinate the water on Valentine, one of which is powered by solar panels on the cabin roof.
When designing the boat, Derreumaux was more concerned with safety than speed or performance. As such, Valentine is full of gadgets – GPS devices, navigation systems so he can see his location and any other boats around him, and a satellite phone to make sure he can contact someone and be found in case of problem.
Derreumaux will be attached to the kayak at all times outside the cabin, otherwise there is a risk of it running aground at sea if the kayak capsizes. He will also wear a personal locator beacon at all times.
Derreumaux will be paddling a lot at night, so he’ll be wearing a waterproof, luminescent Hawaiian Lifeguard Association watch to better track his time in the dark.
Although Derreumaux has made this trip in a four-seater boat before, he freely admits that he has never attempted anything like this as an unassisted kayaker. Derreumaux kayaked along the Sacramento River doing about 60 miles a day, but slept on the shore every night.
While the coronavirus pandemic delayed Derreumaux’s ocean crossing attempt by one calendar year, it may have also helped him better prepare to go more than 60 days without seeing another human being. The more flexible working hours that the pandemic allowed him also allowed Derreumaux to carry out more hours of training to prepare for his adventure.
“I was working hard but made sure I didn’t hurt myself,” Derreumaux said. “It’s really easy to be overtrained and overdo it. Joints and tendons could wear out. The idea is to be there on the threshold where you push them so they get stronger but don’t hurt each other.
Derreumaux said he was told this adventure would be more of a mental challenge than a physical one – up to 95% mental – although he believes it will be more of a 60/40 ratio. Maximizing the potential of himself – his mental and physical strength, his ability to read the ocean and navigate successfully – and his boat will be crucial.
“The ocean crossing is going to be for the one who can keep his highest potential the longest,” said Derreumaux. “You could be like a beast but if you are mentally weak you won’t be able to do it and vice versa you could be mentally strong but you don’t have the muscles that won’t work either.”
Derreumaux will blog throughout his journey and his progress can be followed live on his website, www.solokayaktohawaii.com.
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