Boater Scott Thompson was convinced he was “going to die” after he accidentally tumbled overboard into the frigid Pacific Ocean waters, while his boat was still in gear, leaving him stranded in the middle of the night miles away from Santa Barbara Channel.
Thompson immediately realized after a huge wave rocked his boat sending him head first into the sea that he had made a rookie mistake. “I was taught by the best urchin divers in the business about safety, but for whatever reason, I was careless, and did not take the boat out of gear,” he wrote in a post on the blog Sour Milk.
He recalled stepping on something within the boat, moments before the rogue wave crashed into the side of his boat, forcing him to lose his balance as he attempted to grab the rope of his davit and violently pitching forward into the dark cold murky waters below.
Once overboard, Thompson an experienced swimmer attempted to swim after his boat named Miss Grace, which had gotten further and further away. He quickly realized that no matter how fast he attempted to swim towards his boat, he simply couldn’t catch her.
That’s when he began to worry about his ordeal, and whether he had the capacity to swim the roughly 7-miles back to shore, dressed only in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, before hypothermia would set in.
“I was treading water and all I was thinking was, ‘Great! I’m gonna die!’” he recalled.
However, moments later Thompson got it together thinking only about survival and how he was going to make it back alive. It was pitch-black with no moon to guide him and no visible lights of vessels in sight. His only option was to swim towards Platform Gail, which was considerably closer then Santa Barbara Channel. Luckily, the strong current was moving in his direction, which would make it easier for him to swim.
Nevertheless he felt alone, as the icy water numbed his body. Suddenly, Thompson heard a splash a few feet away. At first he thought it might be a Great White shark that inhabits the frigid waters off the California coast.
He was terrified at the thought, however resigned to perhaps becoming a tasty meal, when suddenly up popped a baby seal pup.
“I had never been so overwhelmed with joy to see another living creature in my life! I was like, ‘Oh my God! There is something out here with me that is alive,’” Thompson recalled.
Instantly, that seal pup became his best friend. The mammal would disappear underwater and pop back up again, looking at him. Scott would talk to the creature, which helped take his mind off his terrifying situation.
Twice, when he stopped swimming and started to tread water to get his bearings, the seal pup went underwater and nudged the back of his legs and butt, as though it was telling him to just keep going.
“It was like he was telling me, Hey, Dude! Get your ass in gear and get going! I was starting to run out of things to say to him, so I sang him Grateful Dead songs and told him the same corny dad jokes that I tell my kids,” he wrote.
The seal pup swam along side Thompson for hours, until in the distance a tiny light became visible off the horizon. With a last burst of adrenaline Thompson swam towards the light, and soon realized he was about 500 feet from an oil platform.
The seal pup sensing that Thompson would soon be rescued circled him one last time and then disappeared under the surf, never to be seen again.
Once on-board the oil rig Thompson made his way to a room where a worker was sitting behind a computer. Tired and exhausted Thompson recapped his ordeal, and was immediately attended to. Medics were summoned, and within a hour Thompson was back on land in a hospital receiving medical care.