French-born kayaker Cyril Derreumaux, who is a resident of Larkspur, had to call for an emergency rescue Saturday night about 50 miles off the Santa Cruz coast — just six days into his attempted solo rowing trip from the San Francisco Bay to Hawaii.
The wind and the waves over recent days became overwhelming, Derreumaux says, and he spent much of the time hunkered in his tiny cabin, unable to row. As he explains in an Instagram post, an issue with his sea anchor made the trip become untenable on Saturday, and he had also been having trouble sleeping, eating, or communicating with his support team on land. A decision was made to call for a Coast Guard rescue, and at present, his kayak is still adrift off the coast.
"I knew from the start that it would be a difficult thing, and I am sure that it was also this commitment that attracted you to my project," Derreumaux writes. "Great joys arise from our challenges and the ambition we put into them, and when there are great difficulties, it is because the challenge is great!"
He adds, "Morale is good, I still have my passion for this adventure intact, and I am still determined to make it happen... I won’t give up!!!"
But in speaking to the Chronicle on Sunday, Derreumaux says that the need for Saturday's rescue "showed that I wasn’t ready for the conditions. But I don’t think it’s a lack of preparation. It’s a lack of experience. In general, nobody knows about crossing the ocean in a kayak."
And while he's considering relaunching the journey in the coming weeks, he adds, "I’ll be assessing the stress I put on my family and particularly my girlfriend. It might be too much to take off again this year."
Derreumaux departed from Fort Baker last Monday morning, expecting that his solo journey across the Pacific would take 60 to 70 days. Only one man is known to have successfully kayaked alone across this stretch of ocean, Ed Gillet. He did it in 1987 in a simple, store-bought kayak with the help of a propulsion kite.
Derreumaux's custom-built, self-righting, 23-foot kayak is a little better equipped than Gillet's was, but it's nonetheless just a narrow kayak, with a two-foot-wide cockpit and a tiny cabin just big enough for him to lie down in.
Solo rowers have done this ocean trek, but in boats that are a fair bit heftier than Derreumaux's. Most recently, you may recall that 40-year-old Lia Ditton completed the journey from SF to Hawaii last September, after 86 days and two capsizes. In February, British rower Jasmine Harrison set a new world record as the youngest female solo rower to make it from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Antigua, a trip that took 70 days.
Australian rower Heather Taylor is currently attempting the trip from Monterey to Hawaii, and she left on May 11.
The entire enterprise seems, frankly, insane, and some rowers will admit as much. "It’s not a rational or sensible thing to do,” said Roz Savage, a female rower who was the first woman to enter and complete this so-called Atlantic Challenge in 2006. As she tells the New York Times, "It’s something that comes from the heart, not from the head."
Derreumaux also can't fully explain what drove him to attempt this, telling the Chronicle last week that he's discussed it with longtime girlfriend Ashley Redmond.
"The question comes up, what if I do die?” he said. “Was it worth it to lose 40 years of your potential life for a two-month adventure? To me, it’s worth it. But I can’t really explain why."
Experts were already dubious about Derreumaux's untested craft, and the fact that he had never done anything close to this trip on his own. He had previously, in 2016, crossed the Pacific from San Francisco to Hawaii but with a team of four men — they won what's called the Great Pacific Race in just over 39 days.
And, even rowers in bigger vessels report difficulty escaping the winds and California currents that push them southward for many miles off the coast. Taylor, who is on her trans-Pacific journey now, said in a May 25 blog post that things were not "going exactly as imagined" ten days into the row, and "I've become well acquainted with the cabin while waiting out the winds."
Anyhow, Derreumaux is safe back on land, and now he just has to find his kayak and get it home.