Jon Kramer was scouting the local coastline for a good surfing spot May 1 and was about to give up after he arrived to Spanish Bay just before 7am—the surf was too choppy.
But he saw something in the water beyond the surf, past the kelp beds, that he couldn't quite make out. After he pulled out his binoculars, he thought it looked like a kayak, and based on how big it looked with respect to how far offshore it was, he reckoned it must have been a very big kayak.
And something wasn't right with it, Kramer says—it was drifting.
A friend of his then pulled up, also to check the surf, and he agreed that something did not look right.
They figured perhaps it was a diver, but then realized it wouldn't make sense for diver to be out so early—the visibility would be too low.
So Kramer's friend put on his wetsuit so he could paddle out to the kayak as Kramer called 911.
The 911 operator asked Kramer if he could see anyone, and he kept scanning the waves, seeing some debris, and then saw a free-floating life jacket with a sunglasses case, satellite beacon and dive knife attached to it.
He knew immediately something had gone wrong, but he told the 911 operator he couldn't see a person.
"Wait a minute," Kramer recalls saying, as he saw an orange parka spinning around in a wave and realized a man was wearing it.
Kramer clicked off the phone to retrieve the man, but quickly realized he was too big for Kramer to pull out by himself, as the man was in "the rocks and shallows."
Kramer's friend, meanwhile, was paddling out to the kayak, so Kramer pulled out his phone again to call 911 for help when first responders from Cal Fire showed up.
With their help, Kramer says, they pulled the man to shore, and Kramer says they immediately performed CPR and had the man in an ambulance, within two minutes time.
Kramer's friend brought the kayak in through the surf, and Kramer says it was packed with enough supplies to last three months.
"He had solar panels on the front, and kind of a sophisticated solar setup," says Kramer, who's a solar engineer. "There was battery pack right in the middle, and he had every kind of electronic known to the human race—iPods, cell phones, GPS trackers, he had all kinds of stuff, it was very thought-out. It was a well-packed, beautiful kayak."
That's when the kayaker's story began to crystallize: Kramer says there was phone number inside it that Coast Guard officials called, and that it was the man's friend, who Kramer says—according to what Coast Guard officials told him—that the man was paddling to Hawaii, and had texted his friend at 5am, saying he had paddled out of Monterey Harbor at 2pm April 30. He had barely made any progress.
Cate Giguere, an executive officer with the U.S. Coast Guard in Monterey, confirmed that the man was attempting to paddle to Hawaii, and says first responders were able to bring back the man's pulse. She had no further details she could offer, other than that the man's kayak was perhaps not suited for the inclement weather he ran into.
That man is R.W. Hand, who was rescued by the Coast Guard after five days of paddling in 2013, and 12 days in 2014. According to the Canoe & Kayak report about Hand's 2014 trip, he was 57 years old as of June 2014.
Reportedly, Hand is a retired Army Ranger, and he was trying to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Monica Sciuto, a spokesperson for the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, confirmed May 3 that the hospital had a patient by that name, and that he was in serious condition.
Kramer has a theory about what happened to Hand. He says there's a place in Spanish Bay, Point Joe, that local surfers refer to as Satan's.
"It’s pretty aptly named," Kramer says. "The currents are horrible, the waves are wild and break in every direction of the compass, all the time. It’s just a cauldron of breaking waves."
Kramer thinks Hand unknowingly ended up that cauldron, and got "so thrashed" his life jacket was torn off of him. At some point after, Kramer thinks, Hand's kayak was capsized.
"He did not know what was coming," Kramer says.