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The 700 Club

A Miracle at Sea

Wendy Griffith - CBN News Anchor/Reporter
Robert Hull - 700 Club Producer

April 13, 1998, began as a beautiful spring morning with 27-year-old first mate Johnny Savage doing what he loved. He and Capt. Eric Bingham were making final preparations to leave Key West for a 350-mile trip to near Cancun on a 56-foot sports fishing boat called the Anhinga. 

“So that morning we got up and Eric made his prized breakfast, which was a bagel with a fresh slice of tomato and pepper and a little bit of salmon cream cheese spread on it. We had a few of those,” says Johnny.

They decided not to put the emergency locator beacon or life raft in the cockpit. 

"If we do that, that means we'll just have to clean it when we get there. Nothing ever happens during the daytime. And that was our mindset,” says Johnny.
 
Johnny and Eric were about 90 miles into their journey when suddenly…

“We looked in front of us, it was like nothing I've ever seen before in my life,” remembers Johnny. “It was like a hole. We were in a two-to-three-foot sea when the Anhinga went off this edge and went down into this, this rogue wave, the whole boat fell into it.”

Johnny recalls it looking like a scene out of the movie, The Perfect Storm. 

“Yes, it did. That part of it did, going down the face of the wave as we were heading down it. We were hanging on.”

The force of the drop broke the Anhinga in two and to make matters worse, the radios were dead, and the lifeboat, lifejackets and locator beacon were somewhere inside the sinking boat. Johnny and Eric were suddenly treading water. 

“We were 90 miles out in the middle of the Gulf Stream, and nobody knew where we were,” says Johnny.

That’s when a small white igloo cooler suddenly popped up.

“We both grabbed the handle,” says Johnny. “And this was, I want to say, this was one of the first miracles. We had never talked about faith or anything like that. I mean, we were just fishermen and went on a trip and in perfect unison, holding on to the cooler, we grabbed each other and immediately, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ And we just kept on repeating The Lord's Prayer. We knew immediately that without the distress call, without the locator beacon, we were going to die.”

When they had finished The Lord’s Prayer, part of the boat popped back up, including a surfboard that Johnny had packed at the last minute. 

Johnny remembers, “the surfboard was in the bow, and for that thing to come out of there like that shows you how much that boat separated.”

To get to it, however, Johnny would have to swim through diesel fuel. 

Johnny prayed, “Please Lord, don’t let me throw up, I can’t afford to lose this food that’s in my stomach, I’m going to need this energy.”

After several hours of holding on to just a broken surfboard and part of the boat, some good news. The lifejackets floated to the surface. Then, about mid-day they spotted a cruise ship on the horizon and sent up some flares, but no luck. 

“And when the cruise ship went past,” recalls Johnny, “that was, that was tough. We were sure that was going to be our salvation.”

As the waves crashed around him, Johnny, who was raised in the church, began to think about his life.

“I was living a rock star lifestyle, basically. I mean, as far as my faith goes, you know, I love the Lord, but you know, He wasn't my love. I was more concerned about going out at night partying.”

Then, Johnny decided to leave Eric and look one more time for the beacon. When he couldn’t find it, he lost all hope of being rescued. 

“I got to the point where I had made a decision that drowning would be better than getting ripped apart by sharks. So, I had planned my death,” says Johnny.

But then something supernatural happened. 

“And so I had taken my life jacket off,” says Johnny. “And I was in the process of going under and suddenly, the greatest feeling of warmth and just strength, power just overcame my whole body. And then I heard, 'John, you spent a lot of time out here. Pick your line and paddle it.' And when I heard that, it came from over there, I mean, Eric is a mile or so away from me, I don't understand how I could hear a voice. I knew it was of God, but I really didn't understand all of it, but I knew that He was with me.”

What did it mean to ‘pick a line?’

“So, it meant to find a direction, find a direction and go that way,” says Johnny. The Holy Spirit in me was able to let me see a pattern to go and I paddled that pattern right back to Eric.”

By now, it’s nearly sunset. Eric is suffering from hypothermia and can no longer feel the lower part of his body. That’s when another miracle happened: Johnny’s backpack appeared.

“There's wet suits in the backpack! So, in this rough, terrible state, this backpack floats up to him. The one that needed it the most at the time.”

But what Johnny and Eric didn’t know was that morning, a call went out from Cancun to Key West, remembers Johnny. “Don’t send any boats, it’s getting bad. Stop them all.” 

Because of that storm, the chances of any boats being in their area were almost non-existent. Still, Johnny had faith that they’d be rescued.

“You couldn’t tell me God wasn’t real.”

Then, Johnny spotted a red tube flare floating about 50 yards away and swims after it. 

“And I tell you,” says Johnny, “the hope that was in that, we were so excited.”

After Johnny reached the flare, he heard Eric screaming and feared the worst.

“So, then I just started swimming to him as hard as I could. And as I got closer to him and close to him, I could hear him screaming, ‘it's a fish boat! It's a fish boat!’” 

They quickly lit the flare.

“My finger was on the trigger,” says Johnny. “Getting ready to pull the trigger and then suddenly I heard, ‘waaaaa!’ And I turned around to look and there's this 72-foot fishing boat named, ‘The Ditch Digger.’”

The men were looking for a little fishing boat when a huge vessel appeared.

“We were looking at the little fishing boat and the 72-footer was right behind it,” says Johnny. 

The big boat had left the dock before they heard about the storm. Once out there, it changed direction and headed for Cuba to avoid the high seas, putting them perfectly in the path of Johnny and Eric.

“First time I cried,” remembers Johnny. “It's kind of funny, though, because, you know, they stopped and they spun the boat around, and so these boats, we have a big door in the back for bringing in big fish. And we were the big fish.” 

24 years later, Johnny has put their story in a new book called, "Lost in the Stream, The Miraculous Story of Two Fisherman Lost at Sea.”

Johnny reflects on why he decided to write this book now. 

“I think we're in a time where people need hope. People need to know that no matter how bad things look in front of you, you can have hope that it'll work because it's all part His plan.” 

Today, Johnny is married to the love of his life, Samantha, and still enjoys boating and fishing. 

Johnny still gets emotional when he tells his story. 

“I don't deserve to be here. I wasn't living the lifestyle that deserved to be rescued. And that's probably the heart of these tears, they’re grateful tears. I'm so thankful for what God has done in my life. I'm just glad to be here.”

 

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