California-to-Hawaii kayaking journey completed only once before

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A kayaker has completed a solo journey from California to Hawaii once before, in 1987.

It has been attempted a couple times since, most recently last week, in an effort that ended Tuesday with the U.S. Coast Guard rescuing a 57-year-old man 11 days after he set out.

On the other hand, the route has been done several times in a rowboat and is coincidentally currently being attempted by dozens of rowers participating in the first-ever Great Pacific Race.

Four of these entrants will attempt to row solo, and three started the voyage Monday from Monterey. The fourth was held back by equipment issues and will start when weather conditions allow.


The Coast Guard called race organizers to see whether the rescued kayaker was affiliated, although he was not. This is the first year of the race, and participants are expected to take anywhere from one to three months to finish, said race director Chris Martin.

Ed Gillet, the only kayaker to complete the route, completed the 2,200-mile trip in 63 days. A San Diego native and 36 at the time, he expected the trip to last only 40 days. He arrived in Maui on a Thursday with an empty stomach, bloody hands from paddling and relatives who feared he was lost, according to an L.A. Times story.

His relatives had contacted the Coast Guard, the commandant of the Navy and even then-President Ronald Reagan in attempts to find him.

Gillet began his journey from Monterey Bay, seemingly inspiring last week’s would-be copycat to follow in his footsteps by doing the same.

The technology available to him, however, was not the same. He worked out trig solutions to sun sights to determine his location, according to an interview with Canoe & Kayak Magazine.

“I knew exactly where I was every minute. My fear was that I was going so slowly I wouldn’t make it to the islands before I starved,” Gillet said in the interview.


The kayaker rescued Tuesday used GPS, which became a non-option once the solar panel he used to recharge his electronics malfunctioned.

Although Gillet completed the trip, it was difficult. Starvation was a real danger and he had a psychological reaction to a sleeping tablet, among other difficulties.

“The exposure level was relentless on my paddling trip. I never felt comfortable or stretched out or made a really good meal for the two months I spent on the Hawaii trip. It was like spending two months on a Porta-ledge-hanging-bivouac in the rain,” Gillet said.

It was not the first long kayaking trip Gillet completed. in 1984, he took a year to paddle 4,500 miles up the west coast of South America.

“Crossing oceans and paddling coastlines is what I’m really good at. I kind of flounder on land,” he said in the interview when asked why he did the California-to-Hawaii trip.

In an essay posted online, he revealed even more of his thought process behind the trip.

“The trip seemed to me to be the kayaking equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest,” Gillet wrote. “It was the most difficult trip I could conceive of surviving.”


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