In the summer of 1987 Ed Gillet achieved what no person has accomplished before or since, a solo crossing from California to Hawaii by kayak.
Gillet, at the age of 36 an accomplished sailor and paddler, navigated by sextant and always knew his position within a few miles. Still, he underestimated the abuse his body would take from the relentless, pounding, swells of the Pacific, and early into his voyage he was covered with salt water sores and found that he could find no comfortable position for sitting or sleeping.
Along the way he endured a broken rudder, among other calamities, but at last reached Maui on his 63rd day at sea, four days after his food had run out. Dave Shively brings Gillet’s remarkable story to life in this gripping narrative, based on exclusive access to Gillet’s logs as well as interviews with the legendary paddler himself
Special Book Excerpt: Coordinates Unknown, Pacific Ocean, July 2, 1987 — Day 8
In the morning darkness, nothing is still. Gillet’s loaded twenty-foot boat pitches up and over rolling sets of fifteen-foot swell. The small pair of inflatable pontoons are doing their job stabilizing what now feels far too slender and minimal a craft.
He hasn’t seen a vessel or aircraft in days. Nothing close to human contact.
Maybe there’s some voice out there, some sign of life. For the sake of reassurance as much as amusement, he pulls out his VHF radio. He turns it to channel 16, the international hailing frequency, and calls out to any possible passing ships in the area. Nothing. What if I actually needed help? The questions of rescue contingencies in these empty waters start nagging. He pulls out one of his pencil signal flares for a test, unscrewing the lid and pulling the flimsy chain. POP. About as loud as a champagne cork, he thinks as the tiny red phosphorous element hisses up from his hand for two seconds before the wind bats it into the back of a cresting wave. Useless, even for a roadside car wreck.
Trying to not think about the hundred-plus miles that now separate him from the nearest road, Gillet downs another thermos lid of coffee. Time to move. He pulls in the three-strand line out to the sea anchors, popping off the fiberglass hood fixed over the front cockpit in order to stow the lines and anchors underneath. Though Gillet had intended to use this small dome to cover his own cockpit at night, it didn’t take him long to abandon the system. On his first night with the rudimentary hood sealed over him, tied down from the inside, he felt entombed. There was no way to quickly unseal the claustrophobic watertight lid in the event of a flip; water pressure would lock him in the boat. He’d rather take his chances dealing incessantly at night with a spare tarp.
Before deflating the outriggers and stowing them, he prepares for the day ahead: First, filling a water bottle from the tank; stashing a drybag with food for the next few meals in the cockpit; unclipping his bibs to kneel and pee over the side; and, taking advantage of the access, rubbing an emollient combination of a Borofax ointment and hydrocortisone cream on festering sores in his armpits, plus the new ones forming around his waist. As soon as he slides into the torso tunnel of his neoprene spraydeck, pulling it over all of his foul-weather layers, he can immediately feel his damp base layers rub into these new sores. Finally, he removes that bulky life jacket–the one he’s only been using as a pillow–from his seat and clips it to the radar reflector pole on the back deck. In place of the jacket, he tosses an orange nylon offshore safety harness over his head, anchoring its line through a steel padeye bolted on the deck. This boat is his floatation device and staying attached to it, all that matters. He adjusts the foam wheelchair pad on his plastic seat, frees his paddle from the deck and then grabs the stretchy outer rand of his spraydeck, reaches forward, and folds it down over the cockpit edge.