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San Diegan's 63-Day Odyssey : Solo Kayak Paddler Makes It to Hawaii

August 28, 1987|KATHIE BOZANICH | Times Staff Writer

With an empty stomach and hands bloody from paddling, a San Diego man whose relatives had feared was lost arrived in his kayak on the Hawaiian island of Maui on Thursday morning, completing a 63-day odyssey from the West Coast.

Ed Gillet, 36, is believed to be the first person to complete a solo kayak trip from the West Coast to the Hawaiian Islands.

"I'm very glad I did it now that I'm here," Gillet told United Press International by telephone from a hotel on Maui. "But there were times during my trip when I thought it was a terrible mistake."

Gillet departed Monterey Bay June 25 in his 21-foot kayak for what was expected to be a 40-day trip to Hawaii. Instead, it took him 63 days to travel the 2,400 miles, prompting relatives to contact the U.S. Coast Guard, the commandant of the Navy and even President Reagan for help in finding him.

Gillet's wife, Katie Kampe, was en route to Maui to join her husband, said Alex Oppedyk, who works at the Point Loma kayak shop owned by Gillet and Kampe. Oppedyk said Gillet telephoned the shop at about 11:15 a.m. Thursday to tell them he had arrived in Hawaii safely.

"He told me he ran out of food four days ago, and that his hands were bloody from paddling," Oppedyk said. "He said he thought he was off-course, and that he started doubting (he would make it to Hawaii) toward the end. He asked me, 'Did you think I was dead?' and I told him Katie and I knew he was all right, other people were beginning to lose hope, but we knew he was OK.

"Katie came in about an hour later and immediately got in touch with him," Oppedyk said. "They talked for a half hour, and then she took off for the airport."

Ed Gillet Sr. of Pensacola, Fla., said he heard from his son at about 11 a.m. PDT.

"The operator said she had a collect call from Hawaii, and I said 'Stand aside and let my son talk,' " Gillet Sr. said. "He said, 'Dad, I'm here safe and by God I made it.' He apologized for running late, and said he had run into some calm seas."

On Wednesday, Kampe told The Times that after discussions with the Coast Guard about wind conditions in the Pacific, she was upgrading his arrival date to early September.

"He said his delay was because of very rare calm wind conditions," Gillet Sr. said. "What he had planned to do is launch a large kite at times, and kind of parasail. But he missed out on the normal flow of wind, and had to paddle a lot of the way."

Plans to Return

Gillet said his son will return to San Diego after resting for a few days in Maui.

"He was holding onto the phone booth with both hands," he said. "He told me he didn't have his land legs back yet."

Gillet said he called the Coast Guard as soon as he got off the phone with his son to tell them he had arrived safely. Gillet had asked the Coast Guard for assistance in finding his son when he didn't show up in Hawaii on Aug. 15.

When the Coast Guard told him they could not launch a full-scale search for his son because of the size of the area he could be in and the lack of wind Gillet had had for his trip, Gillet said he then appealed to President Reagan and the commandant of the Coast Guard.

"Neither one of those men even responded to my letter," Gillet said. "But I don't want to think of that now. I just want to think good thoughts."

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