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Robert Clark chose not to die

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Robert Clark just kept thinking about his daughter, Lauryn.

"She's the reason I made it," says Clark. "She's 6 years old. And I didn't know my father at all, and I didn't want my little girl to grow up without a father or have to tell people that something happened to her daddy. So that's what kept me going."

Clark had been clinging to his overturned 17-foot center console for about 14 hours. By the time he chose to make a desperate swim for a fishing boat, the only thing keeping him going was visualizing his daughter on the side of that boat.

Robert Clark describes his darkest moment, and what kept him going. {mp3}nl_july28_robert_clark_survival{/mp3}

Clark, who was 43 at the time, was fishing in the Gulf of Mexico around 10:30 p.m. June, 5, 2008, four miles off Yankeetown, Fla. His boat was anchored, and he was rigging his rods, unaware of a commercial trawler's wake charging toward his transom. The wake flooded and capsized his boat. "It was like the whole ocean came in on me," he says.

After the boat capsized, the stern submerged, but the bow remained out of the water. Clark was able to stand on the boat's windshield, keeping as much of his body out of the water as possible to avoid hypothermia. He spent the night in the 63-degree water. Air temperature was about 65 degrees. His flare kit had floated away, and his cell phone was wet and useless.

"It got real cold in the evening, and I noticed I was burning a lot on my waist," says Clark. "I realized the water was full of gas floating around from the boat. That burnt my skin up pretty bad."

The next day, exhausted and dehydrated, the 170-pound Clark began to give up hope. "I got a little delirious at one point, and every emotion went through me," says Clark, of Homosassa, Fla. "At one point I wondered if I should just go down [under the boat] and take a few breaths of water - at least my body would be found. Then I got to thinking that's crazy. I thought of my little girl and shook the cobwebs out of my head and recollected my thoughts and got a game plan."

His plan was to take a chance - to go against the advice of safety experts who say staying with the boat gives you the best chance of survival. "I didn't think my body could take another day out there," says Clark, who says he has a decent amount of boating experience and had fished the same spot before. "It was a life-or-death situation."

Clark saw a recreational fishing boat in the distance and started to swim for it.

"I would swim 100 yards ... 150 yards and stop for five minutes and rest and relax, tread water, catch my breath," says Clark, who shed everything but his T-shirt and socks to swim more easily. "I waved my life jacket in the air, whistled and screamed and hollered. I did that about three or four times, and they still didn't see me."

Clark pushed himself one last time, and the four anglers finally spotted him. They pulled him aboard and gave his some clothing and water. "They put me ... in the bow so I would be out of the wind," says Clark. "I laid down, and my legs started cramping. Every muscle I used was cramping. I was kind of like a fish out of water flopping around on their boat."

Clark suffered burns from the gasoline that had leaked from his boat, and jellyfish stings tattooed his body. For the most part, however, he was OK.

Looking back, he realizes that a lack of safety gear and a float plan almost cost him his life. "In the future I'll definitely keep my cell phone in a plastic bag," he says. "And an EPIRB is also a good idea, especially for someone who plans on going out alone. I wish I would have had one. I would have been rescued a whole lot sooner."

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