Cyril, the whole global surfski and OC paddling community is behind you for this trip, and we can’t wait to follow your journey. Are you aware of what a big following you have?
I’ve been very active in sharing my journey of getting ready, and I have felt the encouragement of the paddling community. Messages like “we are behind you, we are with you, you will make it and remember that we are with you 100%”. I love this positive attitude, and I will carry it with me in days and weeks in the kayak alone.
Many of us paddlers are wondering what it’s like to paddle “Valentine”. Obviously she is considerably heavier than a surfski, so we are curious to hear about how it handles the ocean, how it feels to paddle, it’s stability when fully loaded, what your average speed will be (paddling with paddle or the underwater fins), and how it surfs (if at all!)?
Valentine was designed for safety. That was my primary concern. I preferred to go with a design that had shown its proof, rather than a new design based on a concept. A similar design (by the same boat builder, Rob Feloy) was used by Peter Bray when he crossed the North Atlantic from Canada to Ireland, in 2001. Fully loaded, she will be on the heavy side, approx. 900 lbs. This is due to the fact that I am unsupported and need to carry food, gear, tools, spares and repairs, medical kit….. for a 70 day journey alone.
Just like a train, she is very heavy to move at first, but then momentum gets her going and she glides very well. She has a beautiful design and she just wants to keep going.
Being so heavy, the “feel” is different of course, but by adjusting your mind to being slow, you get used to it. On a Surfski or even a sea kayak, you can feel the effect of your stroke moving the boat. On Valentine, you feel like your paddles are just moving water. Little by little, each stroke will increase the speed of the boat. You must be patient and let it come, you can’t rush it. I have found a stroke that I like: slow, powerful, patient, steady, consistent, not-forced. Trying to rush the stroke would mean not to understand nor respect the inner nature of Valentine, and would lead to injury for sure.
She has a great system of ballast (sheets of lead glued to the bottom of the hull), that makes her stable and most importantly “self-righting”. This being said, her round hull still has some roll, and the daggerboard that I slide between my feet helps with decreasing the roll: by slowing down the speed of the roll from one side to another, and decreasing the amplitude of the roll, the daggerboard ads stability. She runs naturally very well on headwinds and downwind. On side winds, that’s when the daggerboard has the most effect, preventing her to “crab” too much and track better. When I don’t paddle, the boat is designed to go downwind on its own.
Valentine is big for a kayak, but she is small for an ocean vessel. Her behaviour on the water will resemble very much like a cork on a wave, or a floating seagull on a swell. Similar to when you swim in the waves: you just go up and down with the swell. Forget surfing. Forget gaining much speed. Accept being slow and being tossed around.
Talk us through the conditions you’re expecting and how you’ll try to handle them.
In the first two to three weeks I will have a lot of side winds, as I try to make my way West. When I reach about 350-400 miles off the US coast, the trade winds should become favorable and turn more into a ¾ tail wind.
Right now the boat weighs 600 lbs. (275kg) I don’t have her fully loaded yet, as I wanted to go progressively towards that weight to avoid injury. In the San Francisco Bay, I average between 2 to 3.5 mph, depending on tide and wind, which is a great speed considering such a heavy kayak. When I add the full amount of food, totalling 800-900 lbs, (360-400kg) the waterline will get higher on the boat, decreasing speed. But hey, I’m not going for a speed record, I’m going for an adventure, so that’s not that terrible.
Looking after yourself is obviously key to the success of the campaign. Your experience in your California to Hawaii row in a team of four will be invaluable, but this time you are doing it on a kayak and solo. We would love to know how you plan to keep your body in shape, how many calories you will burn per day, how you will fuel yourself, whilst trying to keep the boat as light as possible?
When you are solo, you have to be much more aware. The safety side, the physical side, the mental and emotional. You have to be aware of the weather and the ocean, the boat and the gear, the electronics and the electric, the medical and the food…. Basically, you are on your fucking own!! Excuse my French. What it means is that you have to always be anticipating. That is tiring. In fact, think of your own life; when was the last time that relied solely upon yourself? Almost never!
For food, I have created a food plan that is about 6,000 cal per day. It is composed of freeze dried foods, high calorie bars, dried fruits, nuts, electrolytes, meal replacement mixes, MCT oil…. You need to get the right mix of nutrients, but weight and volume is important as well, as I will have to carry all of it, and make sure it even fits!
It is estimated that I will burn 8,000 kcal per day, so that makes a deficit of 2,000 kcal per day. I lost 15 lbs in my first 39-day crossing in 2016, I expect to lose 20-25 lbs in this estimated 70 day crossing.
Obviously we have been your partner for a long time and jumped at the chance to work with you for this challenge. We would love to know more about what gear you have been wearing in your training as well as what you expect to wear during the challenge given the limitation of space?
I have trained all winter, no matter the weather. I like to say that there isn’t a bad-weather day, but only bad gear. We have a pretty mild winter in California, so I am actually very lucky. For me the VCOLD range was perfect, switching from long sleeves to a vest, adding a V DRY vest or long sleeve in case of rain or wind. Now that the days are warmer, I have switched from the VCOLD pants to the shorts. I wear the VCOLD Flex shorts all year long, as I find them so comfy.
For this crossing in particular, I will be battling cold weather (cold wind + cold water = really cold) the first month, then hot weather (hot air+hot water=hot). I have to have both options. V DRY, VCOLD, UV …. you name it, I will use them all.... all available at www.otw360.com !!!
Weather Routing: Clearly you have an overall plan for your routing to maximise your performance given the prevailing winds. On a shorter term basis - day to day, week to week; do you have access to a weather guru who can assist you with your weather routing?
Michel in France is going to be my weather guru. That’s his full time job and he is a pro. He was my weather router for the first crossing and I love his style of communication. We will primarily communicate by text through the Garmin InReach Explorer, that I will synchronize on my phone (airplane mode) via Bluetooth. If needed, I will speak to him via sat phone. The main information that he will give me everyday are: strength and direction of wind; strength, height and frequency of waves; and direction of current.
Following from this question, what will be the prevailing wind direction, and is this going to be the world’s longest downwind session?!!!
To cross to Hawaii from California, you could split the course in two sections mainly. The first section is about 1/5th of the total distance, from the California coast until about 350-400 nm off the coast. This section is characterised by northern current and winds, pushing me south. I will have to make a S-W progress in order to be able to catch the trade winds that start the second section. This second section is the longest, and represents the main course distance, for about 4/5th. The trade winds should be more favourable and “push” me towards the islands. Routine sets in, and it’s a different kind of challenge to manage.
To answer your question: yes you could consider it a downwind, but with a 800 lbs boat that doesn’t really catch swell, it’s not as much fun as you could imagine! Haha.
We know you are a massive tech guru Cyril, and we have loved following the development of your boat and all the technology that you intend to use. What do you think will be your most used piece of technology on the boat and why?
Well I really want to document my adventure, so I guess the Gopro will definitely be used everyday. This being said, there is a second piece of equipment that is vital, and I’m talking about the watermaker. I have two solar panels of 100 and 170 watts, that power 2 lithium ion batteries. Those will power all the electronics in the kayak, but the watermaker is the most hungry of all for energy. Without this watermaker, I won’t have water to last more than a week in reserve. (be reassured, I have a manual back up). Another item is the plotter: being able to know where I am on the ocean is obviously vital. I will put the waypoint everyday and a repeater in the cockpit will show me the way. The plotter also will show me, through the AIS (Automatic Identification System), what other boats are around, and to alert them that I am here. This is how I can see that containerships are coming my way, and that will give me enough time to jump on the VHF radio and call them before anything happens.
You have mentioned many times that this is a mental challenge as much as a physical one and it has been clear to see that you have been preparing yourself very well on both fronts. What do you see as being your biggest assets to ensure you remain in both peak physical and mental condition throughout the challenge?
On the physical side, you have to start healthy and feel strong. You want to be sure that you did your homework so that the joints, the tendons and the muscles are ready for the load to come. How do you train for a 10 to 12 hour work out everyday, for 70 days in a row?? Haha. That’s the question. One answer is to do your best, and trust that the body, strong to start with, is an extraordinary machine that will adapt.
On the mental side, I am lucky to have an optimistic personality, joyful, and looking for new experiences. I will tap into these assets when the time gets rough. I am not very fast nor strong actually, but I am adaptable and am a “jack of all trade”. Being alone is going to be a hard one for me, as I am a pure extrovert and I love the company of people. I guess that’s why this challenge will be pushing my own boundaries, and teaching me a lot about myself.
We will be following your progress daily, and I know I promised to be waiting in Waikiki for you with Beers, but Covid has killed that idea, however we all look forward to celebrating the successful completion of what will be an amazing adventure! Good luck and we wish you endless downwinders all the way to Hawaii!
Thanks Pat! Thanks for your constant support, and don’t worry, we will find other places and moments to have those cold refreshing beers together!!! Aloha!
Track Cyril's adventure via his website:
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If one of your body measurements is in between two sizes, order the smaller size for a tighter fit or the larger size for a looser fit. If your body measurements for hips and waist correspond to two different suggested sizes, order the one indicated by your hip measurement.
WAIST: Measure around the narrowest part (typically where your body bends side to side), keeping the tape horizontal.
HIPS: Measure around the widest part of your hips, keeping the tape horizontal.
CHEST: Measure the fullest area of your chest. Stand up straight and breath normally.