Kayaking Solo to Hawaii

Cyril Derreumaux, 44, is going to attempt to replicate Ed Gillet‘s famous 1987 unsupported solo kayak crossing from California to Hawaii. He starts next month and hopes to complete the 4,450km crossing in 70 days. If successful, he will be only the second person ever to paddle the route.

The French-born American windsurfer, canoeist, kayaker, and rower has been knocking about the ocean since at least 2016. That year, he took part in the Great Pacific Race and rowed from California to Hawaii in a team of four that set a speed record for the crossing –- 39 days, 9 hours, and 56 minutes. He also raced canoes in competitions on the Sacramento River (160km) and the Yukon River (715km).

Cyril Derreumax begins his crossing in May. Photo: solokayaktohawaii..com


His kayak Valentine has been custom-built Rob Feloy, a specialist in ocean kayak vessels based in the UK.

Derreumaux describes his new boat as “a little bit slow and round and heavy but trustworthy and steady”. Safety was the number one priority in its design. Fully loaded for the 70-day crossing, Valentine will weigh around 400 kilograms.

The custom built Valentine next to a standard kayak. Photo: solokayaktohawaii.com


Though this expedition strives to duplicate Gillet’s ground-breaking paddle, it is vastly different. Gillet used a 20-foot, off-the-shelf, Tofino double kayak. Satellite phones were non-existent then, and Gillet was completely on his own, apart from an SOS transmitter and a radio.

By comparison, Derremeumax has a custom carbon fibre vessel and a team of people advising and working with him. He will have every piece of equipment you could ask for: GPS, VHF radio, satellite phones, Iridium trackers, reverse osmosis technology for water making, and solar panels.

Ed Gillet in 1987. Photo: Ed Gillet


Derreumaux’s be-cabined craft will also allow him a luxury that Gillet could only dream of: room to stretch out and sleep comfortably. To rest, Gillet’s secured a tarp over the open cockpit and hoped for the best. It did not go well, and he was constantly soaked. The lack of compartments also caused him to lose equipment in rough seas.

Still, what Derremaux is setting out to do is by no means easy. If successful, he will be only the second person to complete the paddle in 34 years, and the first person barely survived it.

He was initially going to begin in 2020 but he had to delay his start because of the pandemic. The lockdown in the UK also meant that Rob Feloy could not finalize work on the vessel and that it would not get to the U.S. until the fall.

Derreumaux decided that the risk of hurricanes at that time of year was too high, so he postponed his expedition till 2021. He took the delay it as an opportunity to complete more sea trials in Valentine: “I will have time to sleep in it, finalize seating options, trial the best paddles and eating options….I’m gonna have so much fun,” he said.