This story originally appeared on Peter Maguire’s blog Sour Milk.
On the morning of Thursday June 2, 2022, the U.S. Coast Guard received a mysterious mayday call from the Fishing Vessel Crystal Bay. “I have an interesting situation here. We are missing a crewman. His bunk is empty. We went to wake him up, his bunk is empty, and we’ve been searching the boat for five minutes,” said Captain Pence McKammie. “We don’t know how long he has been gone. You go ahead and talk to me. I need some advice. It’s spooky.” —Peter Maguire
When I’m super exhausted, I sleepwalk. Normally, when I am on the boat, I try to prevent it by shutting the door. That night, I was just tired, hopped in my bunk, and forgot to do that. Between around like 3 or 5, I sleepwalked and somehow fell over the boat, hit the water, and woke up right away. It was almost like a dream.
I popped up to the surface and went, Oh Shit! This could be it! I sat there for a minute and thought, Really? This is how it’s going to end? A lot of stuff started running through my mind, Fuck! I’m gonna die! and then I thought, I can’t die! As the Crystal Bay got further and further away, I knew that they were not coming back any time soon and said to myself, Start fuckin’ swimming! My goal was to swim to the shipping lane and flag down a boat.
It was pitch black, so I watched the swell to get my bearings. I saw that it was onshore and the current was ripping uphill. I put my head down and started swimming with the swell. I alternated between freestyle and the backstroke. It got choppy and rough, so I swam the breaststroke to keep my head above water and not swallow any water. I tried not to think about the great white sharks. I felt safe for a few minutes when I swam through a pod of 100-200 dolphins. Over the next few hours, some curious seals came to check me out, and some whales passed me by.
After five hours of swimming, not seeing land, and getting spun around by the current a couple of times, I spotted a big [300-foot] container ship. I swam like hell towards it, got a mile away, but he blew right past me. I felt kind of helpless at that point and was like, That could have been my shot right there. Still, I kept swimming and saw another boat in the outbound lane. I turned around and swam the other way as fast as I could, but he also blew right past me. I saw another boat coming down from the outbound lane, so I turned around again, and swam back the other way as fast as I could. I didn’t make it to him either, and he blew right past me.
Then I saw another ship coming and had enough time to get 50 yards away. I started splashing and waving my arms and was close enough to set sucked into his prop wash. It pulled me at like 10 knots, almost like a big rapid, sucked me behind the boat, and spat me out.
He didn’t see me either, and I started to feel hopeless. There was so much shit running through my head, I want to see my family again. I can’t die out here, I have too much to live for! I started thinking about my friends and family, and thought, I can’t let them down. I told myself, You’re not stopping! Don’t stop! Don’t be a bitch! Don’t quit! Shut up! Swim! Fight! I never stopped swimming to float even once. I just kept swimming. I went from freestyle to backstroke and whenever I got tired, I switched strokes, but never stopped.
After the third boat passed me, I decided that it was time to head for the beach 12 miles away. I looked up one last time and saw a ship coming towards me with no containers or cargo on deck. I swam about 1,000 yards as fast as I could and got into position. I was kind of on the starboard side of the ship, but pretty much got right in the middle of its path. Once it got closer, I moved to one side, waved, yelled, and did everything I could to flag it down. When the ship was about halfway past me, it blew its horn, crew members ran to the rail, then the captain kicked the ship out of gear, and I knew that he had seen me.
About 10 minutes later, a Coast Guard helicopter flew right over my head and past me. I thought, Oh no! He missed me! I was relieved when I saw a Coast Guard RHIB [Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat] with an aluminum house go to the ship. Then the crew pointed towards me, and a few minutes later the Coast Guard fished me out of the water.
After I dried off, they wrapped me in blankets, and I went into the cabin, where they questioned me to make sure I was okay. I was a little cold and dehydrated, but could walk, had most of my strength, and wasn’t hypothermic. We reached the Coast Guard station in Channel Islands Harbor, I hopped off the boat, and was happy to be on dry land. Firemen and paramedics ran some tests and asked me some questions.
I got to the hospital, the paramedics showed the doctors the results of the tests they ran on me, and he said, “He’s fine. He doesn’t need to be here.” I told the nurse, “I’m going home,” and called my parents. When my parents picked me up, I gave them each a big old hug, and when I got home, I drank some water and went to bed. My mouth was coated with salt, and it was hard to eat or taste anything.
It was an eye-opening experience that made me think a lot about how much more I have to do, how much more I want to do. I want to own my own boat someday, have a family, buy a house, and do what I love — fishing. Nothing extravagant, just a normal life.
Although his background as a surfer, swimmer, and member of a CIF champion water polo team gave him the ability to swim for eight hours straight, it was Dylan Fogg’s positive, never-say-die attitude that gave him the will. This 20-year-old Santa Barbaran is a waterman of the highest order. —PM