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Man Survives '20-Hour Baptism' at Sea After Falling Off Cruise Ship: 'The Lord Was With Me'


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An Alabama man who fell off a cruise ship says he is lucky to be alive after surviving more than 20 hours at sea.

James Michael Grimes says God gave him the strength to stay afloat after falling overboard a Carnival cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico over the Thanksgiving holiday. 

"My worst fear is drowning and that was something I did not want to have to face," Grimes told ABC's "Good Morning America." "I wanted to see my family again. I was dead set on making it out of there. I was never accepting that this was it, that this was going to be the end of my life."

It all started when the 28-year-old left Lafayette, Alabama, and headed to New Orleans with 18 family members for the cruise of a lifetime. 

The first day started as a joyous celebration with tons of laughs, food, and drinks. Grimes even won an air guitar contest held on the cruise. 

But things took a turn that evening. 

Around 11 p.m. Grimes told his sister that he was going to use the restroom. What happened next is unclear. 

All Grimes remembers is waking up in the middle of the sea with no ship in sight. 

"When I came to, regained consciousness, I was in the water with no boat in sight," he said. "I can't float myself, even when I'm trying to. So there had to be ... the Lord was with me while I was out there because something was holding me up the whole time I was passed out."

Grimes was in the Gulf of Mexico an area known to be a feeding ground for sharks. 

But he said his faith gave him the sheer will to live; so he swam to the only light he could see–a nearby oil rig that was four to five hours' swim away. 

"The Lord gave me the will to live. It's a miracle," he told CNN. "I wasn't going to give up at any point in time just say, this is it, this is the end. It never came to that. I was determined to swim until my arms and legs could not hold my body up anymore."

It would be nearly 20 hours before rescue teams would find him. 

Grimes fought hard to survive swimming through two schools of jellyfish and watching the sun rise during his time in the water.

He even came across an animal that he initially feared was a shark.

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"It came up on me really quick. And I went under, and I could see it. And it wasn't a shark, I don't believe. But it had more like a flat mouth, and it came up and bumped one of my legs, and I kicked it with the other leg. It scared me, not knowing what it was ... all I could see was a fin," he explained. 

He also ate whatever he could to sustain himself. A floating stick, which he described as bamboo gave him "some type of flavor" other than saltwater. 

Meanwhile, his family reported him missing at noon on Thanksgiving Day and the Coast guard was ordered to search within a 7,000-mile radius to start looking for him. 

Despite battling confusion, fatigue, and changing tide, Grimes says he was also having a heart-to-heart with God. 

"I was kind of wheeling and dealing with God," he told CNN. 

"The Lord was with me all the way," he told WVTM-13. "In a way, it was a 20-hour Baptism that drew me closer to God. I know that God saved me for a reason, and now I have to abide by His plan."

The Coast Guard located Grimes after searching for hours. 

Aviation survival technician Richard Hoefle told CBS News Grimes had "an incredible will to survive." He added that Grimes was about 30 seconds away from drowning when they found him. 

Although Grimes' skin was raw from the salt water, he did not sustain any other wounds. He did, however, lose 20 pounds. 

"I spent four days in the ICU and I'm still sore, but I'm OK," he shared. "Treading water for 20 hours wore me out a bit."

Grimes said he is thankful to have survived and the experience changed his life. 

"It was a Thanksgiving to remember," he added. 

He also is not ruling out another cruise in the future. 

"If that's the worst thing I ever have to go through again, I think I'll be OK," Grimes said. "Being the Alabama fan that I am, I was out there just rolling with the tide."

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About The Author


Talia Wise serves as a multi-media producer for CBN News Newswatch, and social media outlets. Prior to joining CBN News she worked for Fox Sports Florida producing and reporting. Talia attended Regent University where she earned a Master’s in Journalism and the University of Virginia. She lives in Newport News, Virginia.