James Michael Grimes remembers having drinks at a bar on the Carnival Valor with his sister the night before Thanksgiving. The next thing he knew, he was treading water in the Gulf of Mexico after regaining consciousness, with no memory of how he got there, CNN reports. "I came to. ... I was in the water with no boat in sight," Grimes said in telling his story on ABC's Good Morning America. He began treading water, which he did until his rescue Thanksgiving night. Grimes was determined to survive, he said. "I was never accepting that this is it — this is going to be the end of my life," he said.
Grimes' sister said she last saw him when he left to go to a restroom about 11pm Wednesday, which he doesn't remember. His sister said Grimes was drinking but not impaired. She reported him missing about noon the next day, and an alert went out for all boats and ships to look for Grimes. After treading water for as long as 20 hours, he eventually spotted the lights of a tanker ship and swam toward it. He'd stripped off his clothes but still had his socks, which he waved at the ship, per People. The crew saw him, and a Coast Guard helicopter plucked him from the water about 8:30pm. Grimes had no more than a minute of life left in the water, a Coast Guard officer said.
While in the water, Grimes was contending with confusion and fatigue. One encounter helped him stay awake: Something bumped him from below. Grimes doesn't think it was a shark but said "all I could see was a fin." His mindset kept him going, Grimes said. "My worst fear is drowning," he said, but also, he told GMA, "I always thought there's a greater purpose for my life." He's not scared off from ships, despite not finishing his New Orleans-Cozumel, Mexico, trip. "I might not get within 10 foot of the rails, but I definitely would be open to go on another cruise, because I really didn't get to go on this one," he said. (More cruise ships stories.)