CHARLESTON, S.C. — By the middle of last week, the Coast Guard had called off its search, certain that 15-year-old Troy Driscoll and 17-year-old Josh Long were dead.
But they were alive, in their tiny boat, in the middle of the ocean.
Troy couldn't stop asking questions. Dude, he asked Josh, what will you do with me if I die? If I die, will you eat me? Do you think that's Africa in the distance? If we land in Africa, should we become missionaries?
When they had been at sea for two days, Troy wondered aloud if he could cut off his own finger and eat it. When six days had passed, he asked Josh to kill him.
At a news conference Monday, two days after they were rescued by fishermen, the boys described how they had spent 6 1/2 days at sea.
Mostly, they prayed. They sang the four songs they both knew over and over. At night, they curled up together, trembling, to keep warm while waves broke over their 15-foot sailboat. Troy slurped down plankton; Josh ate nothing.
There were a million things to worry about -- sharks, the inky darkness and cold, crashing seas -- but what Troy worried about most was that his best friend would die first and leave him alone with the water.
"I'm a wimp for being alone," Troy said. "I was like, 'Dude, if you leave me, I don't know what I'll do.' "
They described the roar that surrounded them one night when a container ship barreled past 10 feet away, sending their boat flying up a massive swell of water. Josh, who had been dozing on the floor of the boat, looked up and froze: All he could see was the huge dark ship looming over them like a skyscraper. Then the water hit them. But instead of capsizing, they were thrust away by the ship's wake as the vessel passed.
At that point, only God could have saved them, both boys said.
"I asked God to put the strongest of his angels around us," Troy said.
A spokesman for the Coast Guard said authorities had called off the search after three days because they were convinced the boys would have succumbed to hypothermia, dehydration or drowning. He called their survival amazing.
"We search for a missing person as long as it's possible they'll still be alive," said Ryan Doss, a spokesman for the Seventh Coast Guard District. "We honestly didn't think they were alive."
The boys, who have been friends for years, set out in late morning two Sundays ago in a JY15 sailboat with no mast or sail. They left Sullivan's Island, S.C., planning to paddle across an inlet to a sandbar and fish for sharks. But minutes after they started out, they were jerked around by a strong riptide and tugged toward the open sea.
They could see people in the harbor, and waved, but nobody saw them, they said Monday. They jumped into the water and tried to swim the boat back in, but realized the current was too strong.
That's when Josh remembered the lessons his grandfather had taught him: First, never leave the boat. As soon as you get into trouble, think of a plan. Stay together. Stay warm. Keep each other company.
And that is what they did for a week, keeping up a patter of conversation that was sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes comical. When Josh realized he had lost his tackle and had no means of catching the fish flashing through the sea around them, he exploded; Troy talked him down.
"I told him, 'Satan's trying to get to you, dude. You need to calm down,' " Troy recalled. Not long afterward, when Troy began to talk about eating his own finger, it was Josh's turn to be the calm one.
"I said, 'Troy, it's only been a couple days. Don't do anything crazy,' " Josh said.
There were times when they talked about their families, both of them sobbing. One would watch for sharks while the other swam in the cool water. They split up a wetsuit Josh had brought, one wearing the top, one wearing the bottom. At night they held each other, trembling from the cold, while waves slapped over the side of the sailboat.
"We smelled like crud," Troy said, "and when you're curled up like that, every breath, ugh!"
Their conversations turned philosophical. They talked about whether God intended for them to survive and, if not, why he had allowed them to suffer. They felt, for the first time, how much they had taken for granted.
"We talked about reality, how it hits you in the face," Troy said. "In normal life, you're always thinking about getting a better life. But when you're out there, and you have nothing but water, you think that [everyday existence] is a millionaire's life."
At one point, Troy was overtaken by rage and began crying and punching the sides of the boat. He was angry that he wouldn't be able to finish high school and college, something he wanted to do for his mother, he said.
"I'm in the ninth grade. I only have three more years," he said. "I was thinking I was going to do it for her."
When he talked about dying, Josh calmed him. "Every time he'd pick up a knife, I said, 'No,' " Josh said.