The memories of spending eight days at sea after their boat capsized is still raw for two Bahamian men in their 50s.
Mike Russell and Anthony Douglas set out on September 7 to catch grouper near Bimini, which is about 53 miles east of Miami, Florida. But stormy weather came "out of no where," Douglas told the Bahamas Tribune.
"I could see Bimini from where we were, but I could not beat the weather. Water started coming into the boat and then a wave came and threw us out. I had a searchlight in the pants and it didn’t fall out so I grabbed and tried to look for Big Mike, because we got thrown in two different directions. When I saw him, he was going under and so I swam to him, grabbed him and put him on top of the boat,” Douglas said to the newspaper.
And clinging to the capsized boat's hull is where they stayed for more than a week, hoping for rescue.
Two long-time fishermen in their 50s were stranded at sea for eight days before being spotted and rescued by the Coast Guard. One of the men is now telling his survival story. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)
At one point, the Orlando Sun Sentinel reported that Russell lost hope. The man told Douglas to "let me go" as he had lost strength from days at sea and slipped from the boat. But Douglas refused.
"To preserve one’s own life at sea requires the ability to live through extreme conditions of emotional and physical shock, and hardship for an indefinite period of time," a Coast Guard manual said of survival at sea. "When faced with an open water survival situation, it is important to remember that environmental obstacles are as much mental as physical."
On September 14, at this point believing they would never be rescued, the men were spotted by another boat, which then contacted the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard sent a helicopter, which snapped a photo of the men reaching up toward the sky with the desperation and joy of being found.
"We saw so many boats pass us. I almost got run over from a tanker and nobody still saw us," Douglas told the Tribune, saying they had to balance on the boat's hull just right to avoid falling off. "The best day of our lives was when we saw that chopper.”
How did the men survive? Speaking with the Orlando Sentinel from his home in Abaco Island, Douglas gave details of how he and Russell managed. One of them included prayer:
"Mike," Douglas said, "Are you praying?"
"Yeah," Russell said.
"Pray some more," Douglas said. "Pray from year heart; don't pray from your belly."
He knew that if they reached the powerful Gulf Stream, it would drag them north to death. Douglas prayed: "God, if you could save me now, this is the time to save me."
The men took turns sleeping for only a few minutes each. Douglas told the Sentinel they sustained themselves on seaweed.
After Russell slipped from the boat, wanting to be allowed to sink into the ocean, Douglas said he used a shirt to tie them together.
Aside from being dehydrated and starving, Douglas also said by the fifth day he was hallucinating, seeing himself in a house, on dry land where he was safe.
Once spotted, the men were rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, taken to the hospital and flown home to the Bahamas Friday. They are recovering from relatively minor injuries. Douglas told the Sentinel he isn't planning on fishing any time soon.
Watch this local news report from WEPC-TV a couple days after the men's rescue: