Michigan Man Survives 7 Hours in Atlantic Ocean, Swims to Puerto Rico

March 17, 2016 Updated: March 18, 2016

A man from Kalamazoo, Michigan, swam seven hours to the shores of after being stranded in the Atlantic Ocean. 

David Thompson, a retired engineer, was bringing the Enthalpy II, his 49-foot sailboat, back to Florida from St. Maarten. Thompson, however, did not complete the more-than-1,000-mile journey. 

During rough conditions—20-knot winds and 10-foot swells—Thompson was knocked off his boat just northwest of Puerto Rico. Tethered to the boat by his life jacket, Thompson says he successfully climbed aboard again, only to be knocked back into the sea. The water ripped off his lifejacket and most of his clothes, leaving him nude save his shirt.

I have a wife and a nice life. I didn’t want to die.
— David Thompson

Thompson was sailing alone; his wife, Donna Thompson, had flown home from St. Maarten. 

Thompson estimates it was around 1 p.m. on March 12 when he was knocked overboard. The 68-year-old swam the circa 4 miles to Puerto Rico, alternating between floating on his back and swimming, before finally stumbling upon the northern coast in makeshift boxers he had fashioned from what was left of his shirt.

During the ordeal, Thompson thought of his young granddaughter. “I wanted to see her and hug her again. And I have a wife and a nice life. I didn’t want to die,” said Thompson in a March 16 telephone interview with Associated Press.

Upon arriving at the beach, he received no assistance. Instead, he walked to the Villas del Mar Hau hotel in Isabela, where staff gave him water, food, and clothes.

“That man ate so much rice and beans that it seemed like he had not eaten for three days,” said hotel employee Sandra Villanueva.

Thompson was taken to a hospital in Aguadilla and both the Puerto Rican Police and the U.S. Coast Guard were called. The grandfather is expected to be hospitalized for at least four days in order to fully recover from dehydration and a contusions on his legs sustained from a reef while clambering ashore.

Impressive as Thompson’s feat is, in January 2014 a Taiwanese man—who did not know how to swim—survived 60 hours at sea. Tseng Lien-fa was catching baby eels at the time while swept away by a large wave. Taiwanese rescue personnel said the event was “a miracle.” The 42-year-old Tseng clung on to a wooden coffin lid until he was washed ashore about 60 miles away. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.