Cyril Derreumaux had never paddled in a kayak until he moved to Marin 12 years ago. The experience was life changing.
His passion for paddling led him to compete in 8 mile races, then 15 mile races, until he eventually became an ultra athlete competing in races that were hundreds of miles in length.
His desire to push his physical and mental limits further led him to this moment. Derreumaux will start paddling from Sausalito at 5am on Monday and if everything goes according to plan he won't be returning for months.
Derreumaux, 44, a French-born Larkspur resident, is attempting a solo adventure in which he will kayak to Hawaii without any help from Marin. The 2,400 nautical miles journey could take anywhere from 60 to 70 days.
“You don't wake up one day and say, ‘I'm crossing an ocean in a kayak,'” said Derreumaux. “I started small with 8 mile races – it's like a half hour race – to 100 miles and other races in Canada. The Yukon River Quest is 444 miles away. That's about 50 hours of paddling.
“I like the ultra endurance, the long distance where there are no sprints and no muscles. It's about managing your condition, your diet, your hydration and physical fatigue and even sleep deprivation – being aware and realizing the potential of what could be and move on, move on. “
One thing that speaks for Derreumaux is that he has made this trip before – albeit as part of a four-man 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 I would never do it again, ”said Derreumaux with a laugh. “Then I started reading books again about how other people go on kayaking adventures and I just got inspired.”
Derreumaux has been planning this excursion since 2018. His kayak called “Valentine” was custom built in England and cost around $ 80,000. The kayak is approximately 22 feet long, self righting and unsinkable.
Valentine has a 6-foot cabin just big enough for the 5-foot, 10-inch Derreumaux to sleep in. The boat has enough storage space to hold freeze-dried meals and energy bars worth around 70 days, but the catch is that Derreumaux will have to sleep on bags of groceries for a good part of the trip because they can't be put anywhere else.
“The (biggest challenge) would be to manage everything by yourself because there is no one else,” said Derreumaux. “So I have to pay attention to the weather, the equipment, the boat and my physical and mental well-being. Alone you have to be aware of everything. Electronics have to be repairable. I need to be able to fix the boat and make sure I don't get injured, hallucinated, or seasick. There is so much and it's all on my shoulders. “
Valentine also has another feature that Derreumaux believes will make the next 60-70 days of his life easier – a pedal system that allows him to use his legs to propel the boat forward.
“I chose a kayak, so I use an upper body paddle, but I also added a pedal system that allows me to use my lower body as well,” said Derreumaux. “I want to switch – two hours in the upper body, two hours in the lower body.
“All of the kayakers who did this arrived after 70 days and their legs were stunted and the tendons were completely weak. I think if I can use my upper and lower body, I'll be much faster because I'm healthier. “
After Derreumaux has put in his four-hour shift, day or night, he retires to his cabin for a nap, but never longer than a few hours before he wakes up and takes another four hours. Sleeping too long would put Derreumaux in danger of hitting a container ship that was off its radar when it fell asleep. He would also risk going too far off course.
Tackling lack of sleep and controlling his diet will be critical to Derreumaux's hope of setting a Guinness world record of 64 days for the trip.
Derreumaux has to consume 6,000 calories a day to give his body the energy it needs for the many hours of paddling and pedaling. Nevertheless, Derreumaux expects a deficit as he will burn around 8,000 calories a day. He purposely put on weight to make sure he had enough energy reserves to survive the trip.
“Now my body is about 25% fat and I'm going, I don't know, to 7 or 8% fat,” said Derreumaux.
Fresh water shouldn't be a problem as Derreumaux has two ways to desalinate water on Valentine – one of which is powered by solar panels on the roof of the cabin.
When developing the boat, Derreumaux was more concerned with safety than speed or performance. As such, Valentine is packed with gadgets – GPS units, navigation systems so he can see his position and any other boats around him, and a satellite phone to make sure he can contact someone and be found in case something goes wrong.
Derreumaux is always tied to the kayak outside the cabin, otherwise he risks getting stranded at sea if the kayak capsizes. He will also always carry a personal tracking device.
Derreumaux will be paddling a lot at night, so he will be wearing a waterproof, glowing Hawaiian Lifeguard Association Watch to better keep track of his time in the dark.
Although Derreumaux has already made this trip on a four-man boat, he openly admits that as an unassisted kayaker, he has never tried anything like it. Derreumaux kayaked the Sacramento River, doing about 60 miles a day, but slept on the coast every night.
Although the coronavirus pandemic delayed an attempt to cross the Derreumaux ocean by a calendar year, it may also have helped him better prepare to go more than 60 days without seeing another human. The more flexible working hours the pandemic gave him also enabled Derreumaux to invest more hours of training to prepare for his adventure.
“I worked hard but made sure I didn't get injuries,” said Derreumaux. “It's really easy to be overtrained and to overdo it. The joints and tendons can wear out. The idea is to be right on the threshold where you push them so they reinforce themselves but don't hurt themselves. “
Derreumaux said he was told this adventure will be more of a mental challenge than a physical one – up to 95% mental – although he believes it will be more like a 60/40 ratio. Maximizing the potential of himself – his mental and physical strength, his ability to read the ocean and successfully navigate – and his boat will be crucial.
“The ocean crossing will be for those who can hold their potential the longest,” said Derreumaux. “You could be like a beast, but if you are mentally weak you will not make it and vice versa you could be mentally strong but you also do not have the muscles that are not working. ”
Derreumaux will be blogging throughout his trip and his progress can be followed live on his website www.solokayaktohawaii.com.
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