David Thompson felt the smack of a wave and found himself hanging by a tether off the back of his sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean, the northern coast of Puerto Rico off in the distance.
No problem, Thompson thought. He was still tied to his boat, wearing his life jacket. All he had to do was hoist himself back onto his boat.
But conditions were rough: 20-knot winds and 10-foot swells. As he climbed back on board, another wave tossed him off. Then the surging water stripped away his life jacket, which had linked him to the boat, and he watched as the boat moved farther away by the second.
“My arms were so tired; I couldn’t grab ahold of anything anymore,” the 68-year-old said Wednesday from a hospital in Puerto Rico, where he is recovering from his ordeal. “So I was watching my boat sail away. I was thinking that was it.”
Yet he kept going. He swam, floated on his back and swam — on and on for seven hours, finally crawling onto a Puerto Rico beach after dark, half naked and exhausted.
Thompson, a retired engineer from Kalamazoo, Michigan, who was sailing solo when he went overboard, is being treated for dehydration and expects to be hospitalized for at least four days.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Thompson said he had been with his wife, Donna, in St. Maarten. She flew home and he was taking their 49-foot boat, the Enthalpy II, to South Florida. It was about 1 p.m. Sunday when he was knocked overboard.
He recalled that the wave that took his life jacket also stripped off his clothes except for his shirt, leaving him almost naked as he floated in the water and considered his options.
Thompson made his way toward land, about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) away. He alternated between floating and swimming, thinking about his 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter to keep himself going.
“I wanted to see her and hug her again. And I have a wife and a nice life. I didn’t want to die.”