James Michael Grimes of Valley, Alabama set off on what he thought would be an enjoyable Thanksgiving cruise ship voyage to Cozumel, Mexico. However, the construction worker eventually fell overboard after having a few drinks that night. He spent hours in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico—nearly a full day—before being rescued by a passing ship.
In a recent interview with PEOPLE, Grimes talks about the actions he took, mentally and physically, to stay alive for over eighteen hours.
He said that seeing his 9-year-old daughter Annabeth was a primary motivator, giving him the courage to just keep swimming.
“I kept thinking about how badly I wanted to see my 9-year-old daughter Annabeth while making up songs that I sang to myself,” Grimes said.
Grimes loaded onto the Carnival Valor in New Orleans back on November 23rd. He was with 17 loved ones from his mother’s side of the family, PEOPLE reports.
“That first night after the ship left New Orleans, I had some beers and wine, and then I won a free drink in an air-guitar competition,” he said. At that point, he’d had so much to drink, that he doesn’t remember anything else about the cruise. He says he doesn’t even remember falling off the boat.
When he fell into the water, he didn’t even have his phone on him, merely his clothes. He said the first thing he remembers is actually waking up in the water.
“The next thing I remember is waking up in the water,” Grimes said. “The boat was out of sight. I thought, ‘Wow, this is for real. I’m out here in the sea.'”
James Michael Grimes Recalls Realizing He Was No Longer Aboard Cruise Ship
Grimes came across jellyfish and sharks that proved to be an obstacle in staying alive.
However, he persevered despite being stung across his arms, legs, and neck. He said the scariest moment in the water was Grimes’ encounter with a shark, or at least what he believes was a shark. Grimes kicked at the shark and it “never came back.”
However, once the sun went down, that’s when matters started getting even more serious. Fortunately, Grimes spotted two ships and said he “spent hours swimming to them.” He added that with his terrible hunger, dehydration, and fatigue, he “wasn’t sure how much longer [he] could go on.”
Grimes was able to get close enough to a ship for someone to see him. “I saw someone on the deck and started yelling, ‘Help!'” Grimes recalled. “Someone strapped a flashlight to a life preserver and threw it, but waves kept pushing me away from it.”
He was eventually rescued by a Coast Guard member who put him into a basket. He was airlifted to the hospital from there. Reportedly, he spent five days in the ICU recovering from the incident. He doesn’t have insurance, so he’s facing a pile of medical bills. His sister Sherry is currently working to get financial help for her brother through a GoFundMe campaign.
“I’m still bruised up and sore, but it’s a miracle I survived,” he said. “It wasn’t my time to die,” he adds. “I’m grateful to see my family again.”
Grimes’ will to see his 9-year-old daughter proved enough to stay alive in such trying circumstances. However, he says he’s still open to boarding another cruise ship in the future since his trip was cut short.