January 27, 2023

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — He spent nearly 20 hours alone treading water in the Gulf of Mexico after falling off a cruise ship and being rescued on Thanksgiving. James Michael Grimes spoke about the experience on Friday and said it taught him not to take life for granted.

“My biggest fear is drowning and I didn’t want to experience that,” Grimes told ABC News. Good morning America. “I wanted to see my family again. I was determined to make it out of there. I never accepted that this would be the end of my life.”

The 28-year-old from Lafayette, Alabama, was on a carnival cruise to Cozumel, Mexico with 18 relatives when he fell overboard after a day of fun.

On November 23, he had won an air guitar contest held on the cruise and recalls telling his sister to go to the bathroom around 11 p.m. the first night on board, he said. What happened next remains unclear. He said he didn’t remember falling or landing in the water.

“When I came to, I was in the water with no boat in sight,” he said. “I can’t levitate myself even if I try. So it had to be…the Lord with me while I was out there because something was holding me up the whole time I was passing out.”

At one point, he said he thought he saw a shark’s fin kicking something that was bumping into his leg.

He later chewed on a stick he found floating in the water that appeared to be bamboo. “It gave my mouth a different taste than salt water,” he said.

As time passed and the sun went down, Grimes said, the water got colder.

“At the time, I thought, how much longer do I have to be out here,” he said. “The fall didn’t kill me and the sea creatures didn’t eat me. I felt like I should get out of here.”

Then he saw the lights of a tanker and began swimming toward it.

“That was my last little burst of energy,” Grimes said. “The power that I had, I used pretty much everything to try to make it.”

He said the Coast Guard circled the tanker two or three times, looking for it.

“I had my socks and everything off and I was just waving them around my head trying to do something where they could see me and when the light finally hit me I kind of heard ‘we got him’ and I saw a guy from coming down in a helicopter and… right then I was like, man, I saw the light.”

Grimes said he remembered telling his rescuer he was naked and he told him that was fine. “He told me to hold on to this life jacket and I was just like, ‘Thank you, you were like a guardian angel coming down for me,'” he said.

A week has passed since the incident and Grimes said the experience was an eye opener. While pulling on a pair of pants to wear on the cruise, Grimes said he had a fortune cookie fortune in his pocket that read, “Life’s a Beach.” Enjoy the waves.”

Though harrowing, Grimes said the experience won’t deter him from taking another cruise.

“I might not get closer than 10 feet to the rails, but I would definitely be open to another cruise because I really couldn’t go on this one,” he said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

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