Alone and unsupported with nothing but the ocean currents and his own fortitude, Cyril Derreumaux last week became the first person to kayak from California to Hawaii powered entirely by human strength. For 91 days and 9 hours, he occupied the “Valentine,” his 23-foot vessel, retrofitted with all the food, gear, and communication devices he could carry on his mission.
Derreumaux left Monterey on June 21, spending nine hours a day paddling and consuming 6,000 calories as he began to chip away at the 2,400 nautical miles that stretched into the infinite blue before him.
“I’m very happy and proud of my performance,” he told LAMag in his distinctive French accent. “But I think the people on land are more astonished than I am.”
He arrived in Hilo last Tuesday, having turned 46 during his lonely voyage, where he was welcomed by his girlfriend, his parents and brother, who had all flown out for the occasion. Initially intending to reach Honolulu, Derreumaux’ journey took him 21 days longer than expected, which began to strain his food supply towards the end—ultimately, he made the call and set his waypoint for Hilo.
To the common land dweller the idea of being alone in the middle of the pacific, 40 days behind you, with 52 to go, may be incomprehensible. However, for Derreumaux, the ocean became familiar territory—an impressive feat of mental prowess to find comfort in such vastness.
“I’m so happy to arrive on land, that was the goal,” he said, “but at the same time, that was my home, the ocean was my home, that was my whole world—no phone, no social media, just me and the ocean.”
Although he was alone, he was thoroughly supported by his team on land. Among others, Michel Meulnet provided weather updates and planning and Dave Loustalot assisted with the logistics. “I had an amazing land support team,” he explained. “Dave is a good friend. He’s really grounded,” which he noted as a key attribute that provided stability along the way. “My strength is emotions and feeling emotions, but that could also be my drawback,” he said. “Dave was the exact balance I needed.”
Beyond the coast of California was a testing ground of sorts. If something were to go wrong, it would most likely happen in the first ten days, Derreumaux explained. He also had to navigate the cargo ships waiting their turn to dock. As he floated further and further out to sea, the concerns that come when encountering such massive ships began to fade, but never completely even though they could see him on their radar. He told LAMag about a time when he woke in the middle of the night because a ship had come within one nautical mile of him, a threshold at which he signals his existence to the giant via radio, insisting it keep its distance.
Other troubles awaited him as well. On his 46th day, the water desalination machine broke, and he was left to hand pump his water twice a day, 45 minutes in the morning and one hour at night, using up precious rest time. When Hurricane Estelle downgraded to a tropical depression and swells began to pummel his boat less than a month into his trip, he hunkered down in his tiny cabin.
“I’m being hit on the side really strongly now,” Derreumaux wrote in his daily blog on July 22, “Cabin gets water on top regularly. I feel safe in Val but that was a gnarly night all night.” With his stabilization dagger down and sea anchor deployed to steady his course, he rested and drifted, sometimes in the correct direction while the storm took its course.
For Derreumaux, it was all about having a positive attitude—he did choose to paddle across the ocean after all. In his blog, he mentioned the joy of watching a flying fish leap out of the water, and the time he was trailed by Mahi-Mahi. He even spent time scraping the barnacles off his boat while he floated in the middle of nowhere. On days when he needed inspiration, he embodied the strength of good friends or athletes that he admired.
Endurance feats such as his have become popular over the years. Just this past summer, a crew of four California women achieved the trek in under 35 days.
But very few have done so on their own, and Derreumaux is the first to have done it completely unsupported, solely relying on his body. He’s even done the journey before with three others in 2016, and they achieved it in just over 39 days.
As Derreumaux paddled toward Hilo, posting “I see LAND!!!!!!!!” on his blog the day before, he envisioned seeing his girlfriend—the first face he’d see in more than three months. Instead, he was greeted by two fishermen. “You ruined it!” he jokingly told them.
Speaking to Derreumaux after his arrival in Hawaii, he seemed thrilled with his achievement. He believes he has work to do: hopefully influencing others to push their own limits. “What I’ve lived in those three months will change the rest of my life,” Derreumaux said. “I’m a different man.”
For now, he’ll enjoy his time in Hawaii before he heads home to California. “I have to find a job, work on the book, work on the documentary, got to make some money,” he laughs. “Life is going on.”