By Raja Razek, Sara Smart, Camila Bernal and Sarah Moon, CNN
(CNN) — Charles Gregory headed out for an early morning fishing trip Friday off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida – something he’d done many times before.
But the tide rose quicker than he thought. Then a wave hit his 12-foot jon boat – a lightweight and flat-bottomed vessel – and knocked him into the water.
He managed to get back on board but was quickly taken out to sea. For nearly two days the 25-year-old “struggled to stay alive” under the brutal Florida sun as he clung to the partially submerged boat, suffering jellyfish stings and spotting sharks, his father, Raymond Gregory, told CNN Sunday.
“He was scared to death,” Raymond said. “He said he’s had more conversations with God in that 30 hours than he’s had his whole life.”
Boat crews pulled Charles from the Atlantic Ocean Saturday morning after an aircrew spotted him about 12 miles offshore, the US Coast Guard said in a news release. Footage released by the Coast Guard shows the dramatic rescue and Charles seated in the inundated boat, its bow dipping beneath the surface of the water, before crews reached him.
It all started Friday around 4 a.m. ET. Charles was last spotted leaving the Lighthouse Park Boat Ramp in the jon boat, the Coast Guard said.
As the tide took him out to sea, Charles fought to hang on to the boat and stay alive while in the direct sunlight, his father said. The nearly two days included desperate attempts by Charles to keep the boat afloat – even removing the vessel’s motor. It also led to frantic efforts to get help – removing his swimming trunks to use to flag down nearby boats and aircraft, his father said.
But the night was the worst.
“At night being sunburnt, and the wind would be blowing, he said it was freezing cold out there in that water,” Raymond said.
Charles is now at home resting. “He’s exhausted, he’s dehydrated and is suffering from Rhabdomyolysis” – which causes the breakdown of damaged muscle and leads to muscle cell contents into the bloodstream, something the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says can be worsened by dehydration.
The severe sunburn, the bruises and the bites are making it difficult for him to move and get out of bed but he is expected to be OK, his father said.
Raymond said he’s happy to have his son back and thankful to all the search teams and the community for his safe return.
“At the end of the day, the whole moral of the story is ‘don’t ever give up,’” he said.
Emergency services met Gregory at Vilano Beach Fishing Pier after he was rescued, the Coast Guard said in its release.
“While this case resulted in rescuing Charles from a life-threatening situation, it highlights the importance of having safety gear onboard and being prepared for the worst,” Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville Commander Nick Barrow said.
“If you plan to head out on the water, remember to have a life jacket, VHF marine grade radio, signaling devices and an emergency personal locator beacon to contact first responders in case you are in need of assistance,” he said.
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.
CNN’s Dakin Andone and Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.