Gary Fernandez of Kailua was alone on his 17-foot Boston Whaler early Saturday afternoon when a rogue wave struck the boat, knocking him into the ocean miles out of Kaneohe Bay.Here's the location where it was happened:
The boat continued on as he treaded water.
For the next six hours, the 49-year-old retired Navy chief petty officer used his military training and prayer to survive the long swim back to Kaneohe.
"I'm not going to die out here," he told himself.
Fernandez, who served as a Navy search and rescue instructor for three years, said because of his training he knew how to turn his board shorts into a flotation device. After he fell into the water, he took off the shorts, scooped air into them and scrunched the ends tightly with his hands to create an air bubble the size of an ipu, or gourd drum.
He described the board shorts as his lifesaver. "I knew if I lost this, I would die," he said yesterday as he held the the light-blue plaid Quiksilver board shorts in his hands.
It was about 1:15 p.m., and he was about three-quarters of a mile from Moku Manu island when he started heading back to Kaneohe.
Fernandez said he would swim for about 15 minutes in the rough current, then take five-minute breaks to preserve energy as he swam toward Pyramid Rock Beach near Kaneohe Bay, about seven miles away.
The muscles in his arms, legs and back cramped up. Thoughts of his daughter and granddaughter ran through his mind, giving him strength to continue.
He prayed to God and his late parents to help him and watch over him. "God, give me a second chance," he recalled saying.
As the sky darkened, Fernandez used the Pyramid Rock Lighthouse as a guide to make sure he did not swim into Kaneohe Bay, which would mean a longer swim to shore. "I would've been treading waters for more hours, and I probably would've died," he said.
Sometime after 7 p.m., he finally reached a wall of rocks at Pyramids and climbed it. Exhausted, Fernandez walked into the beach parking lot where he saw a couple. He yelled for help, telling them to call 911 after he explained what happened.
Emergency personnel responded, and his girlfriend also arrived and took him to Castle Medical Center where he was treated for dehydration and sunburns.
After taking a short drive to Pyramids from his condominium, Fernandez stood near the shoreline yesterday looking at Moku Manu island and the deep waters in between. Still suffering from muscle pain, he said he is amazed he survived.
"I made it," said Fer-nandez, who celebrates his 50th birthday Monday. "I just count my blessings that I'm alive."
What a quick smart mind to turn his board short into a flotation device that saved his life. His experience as search and rescue instructor was most certainly a major asset along with his prayers that made this a heartening story to learn. The freaque wave that struck his 17 foot Boston Whaler, as the villain, is in no way predictable. No one in their right mind would expect something like that might happen, but it always happens, we don't know where, when, why, what, or how. His boat is still out there waiting to be recovered. Let's just be thankful for a happy-ending story today. Thanks be to God!