A Cayucos hero rescues people at sea

January 5, 2024

Doug’s boat

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. 

Franklin’s memoir, “The ballplayer’s Son” is currently on Amazon.

“It was so wild out there we couldn’t take photos,” Doug Hendry, a long time Cayucan, told me.

This was on Dec. 28, when Doug, who is 70, and has power-boated for years and surfed the big waves in places as far away as Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii, was on his 21-foot boat with two friends off Point Conception getting bounced around in jarring 25-foot waves.

This was the same day 20 to 25-foot waves pounded and damaged much of the West Coast and closed the pier and parking lots in Cayucos.

Much of the results of this mayhem was reported on TV, but somehow nobody knows what Doug and his two friends, Rich and Jim, encountered in a terrifyingly turbulent ocean, some two miles from shore.

“Why and hell were you out there in the first place?” I asked Doug.

He offered a sheepish smile. “It was a once-in-25-year swell, and I had to see it.”

“You weren’t going surfing?”

“Well, I thought about it. That was our intention, but at 70, I decided it wasn’t wise.”

“Would it have been wise at 25?”

He just grinned.

They had started out at 7:30 in the morning from Santa Barbara harbor and arrived near Gaviota Beach around 9:15 a.m., where a few surfers rode 15 to 20 foot waves. Because they did not have enough chain to safely anchor, they moved north and cruised 2 miles off shore, and stopped a mile and a half from Point Conception, where the wind kicked up and surf conditions became wild and raw, which, to Doug, means crazy.

“The surf was awesome, the biggest I’ve ever seen in that area. It was exploding against cliffs below the original lighthouse and shooting white water higher than the top of the lighthouse!”

They decided to start back while the getting was good as they rocked about, huge waves breaking all around them. About 5 miles south of Point Conception, Rich shouted at Doug, who was at the helm, that he thought he saw a person a few hundred yards from them waving their arms.

Doug instantly turned the boat toward the direction Rich pointed to and, a mile and three quarters out from the beach, they rolled up on two surfers clinging to their boards.

“They were so happy to see us they were crying,” Doug said. “They were totally depleted and had been at sea, paddling on their boards for over an hour after their jet ski stalled and a good Samaritan in an 18-foot boat started to tow the jet ski out of the surf zone. Unfortunately, a 20-foot wave broke within feet of the two vessels sending three men on the jet ski along with the two men in the boat diving into the water, hoping to avoid being struck by either vessel.

“One of the jet ski guys (a surfer) was hit in the head by the jet ski and was clearly impaired with a head injury. The other three men made it ashore—almost two miles away. The guy who was impaired is around 40, is a big guy, and we literally had to haul him up by gripping his wet suit. The other guy was a bit easier.

“They immediately began puking up salt water. They kept puking it up for some time. The injured guy is an emergency room nurse and said he needed to get to a hospital ASAP to get a CT scan of his head. It took another ten minutes to get a cell signal, and I made contact with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department.”

Doug and his crew were able to get back to Gaviota State Park Beach in about half an hour and offload the two men within 50 yards of the beach since the surf in this area was not as large as what they’d been barreled about in. They were pulled in on their boards by members of Santa Barbara fire and police departments and taken by ambulance to a hospital in Santa Barbara.

A sheriff’s helicopter located the three men who made it to the beach.

Later that evening, the man with the head injury texted Doug and thanked him and his boat mates over and over for saving their lives. The man indicated the injury to his head denied him the ability to sit up on his surfboard and he and his mate were afraid to get to the beach through 20 foot waves, especially in their condition. He suffered a severe concussion, ruptured both ear drums and ruptured blooded vessels in both eyes.

Had Doug and his crew not found them, they very possibly would not have survived. He is grateful at being there. He wonders if there is some kind of spiritual mystery or even a miracle as to his whereabouts at the perfect time when nobody else was within miles of the men he and his crew rescued. He is looking for answers. He does not regard himself as any kind of hero, maintaining that there is a “code” at sea, whether you’re a fisherman, a sailor or in this case a surfer, where you universally come to one’s aid in dire circumstances—no matter how dire—at your own peril.

Try telling that to the two men whose lives they probably saved.


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His CF numbers are displayed incorrectly. One would think the so called hero would be in compliance.

The numbers are not on the hull, they are on the cabin. The directions on the sticker itself clearly states the number and sticker is to be placed on the hull.

There must be three inches clearance between the sticker and the number, and the groups of numbers must be separated by three inches of space.

Going to have to debit you some hero points for poor seamanship.

Wow the man saves lives and your worried about CF number placement?

Back before cell phones with only a crappy hand held onboard our little inflatable, the outboard died. The scope on our anchor line was too steep to hold, and we tied off to the last kelp pad in sight in this same spot. It was late, and our next move was to ditch the boat and paddle in. Luckily a fellow boater ( hero to us) came by and towed us back to Gaviota. Doug is a great dude, and I guarantee the injured surfer couldn’t have cared less about his CF#’s, Coast guard Reg status, or anything else.

Can’t believe people would take these chances with their lives .

Another great story. Thanks

Amazing story, and incredible good luck for the Surfers that Doug wirh his Boat & Crew located and assisted