In 1987, Ed Gillet accomplished something no one had ever done. Despite many efforts, no kayaker has duplicated his fete, or even come close.
Gillet, who was in his 30s, kayaked from Monterey, California to Maui. He reached Hawaii after 64 days and returned to California the next week to appear on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. (The interview is on YouTube.)
Gillet had otherwise sought no publicity; he was frustrated that he had been portrayed in the media as a crazy guy who was lucky to make it to Hawaii.
He became a high school English teacher in San Diego and did not talk publicly about his voyage for 25 years. When Gillet was 64, journalist Dave Shively, a knowledgeable kayaker, convinced him to tell his story and share his journal. Shively’s account became The Pacific Alone: The Untold Story of Kayaking’s Boldest Voyage. It is a gripping, superbly written book about a man who pushed the limits of human endurance, survival and perseverance.
Gillet described his journey as an attempt “to gain the perspective that is hidden from those who stay close to shore.” I was only reading a book, but at times I could smell the ocean, taste the raw mahi mahi, see the stormy seas, hear the silence of being at sea, and feel my body breaking down.