A survivor from the fishing boat that capsized off the coast of Vancouver early Wednesday morning says he was barely holding on when a tugboat operator found him floating in the frigid water.

Keith Windsor was asleep on the 61-foot vessel when suddenly, shortly after 5 a.m., he was startled awake by the cries of his skipper.

“He yelled to me and said, ‘We’re going down, we’re sinking, we’re sinking,’” Windsor told CTV News. “I jumped up and put on my boots and looked back on the stern, and the stern was almost right under water.”

Windsor, believing the problem to be water pump failure, tried turning on a second pump – but it was too late. Waves were filling the boat.

The pair tried to cut their skiff loose, but it too had taken on water and was rapidly sinking. With little time left, they sent a mayday signal and jumped into the Georgia Strait just off Point Grey.

Tossing in the icy waves awaiting rescue, Windsor said his body went numb. His thoughts turned to his loved ones as he began to lose hope.

“I had nothing left in me. I mean, I [thought] about my kids and my family,” he said. “They were with me, they were. Kept me going.”

That’s when a tugboat arrived and shone a light on them. Minutes later, the Coast Guard hovercraft from the Sea Island base in Richmond turned up.

The pair was brought to Spanish Banks beach where they were rushed to hospital and treated for hypothermia.

“I couldn’t really feel anything. I mean I was shaking for a good 40 minutes,” Windsor said.

But a few short hours after the ordeal, Windsor was back at work, looking forward to his daughter’s upcoming birthday and grateful to be alive.

Rescued boat crew ‘won the lottery’

The rescue marked the first major incident in the waters off Vancouver since the controversial closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard base last month.

Former Coast Guard Cmdr. Fred Moxey said the pair was incredibly lucky to have been saved.

“They won the lottery,” Moxey said.

The rescue point was roughly equal distance from the closed Kitsilano base and the base in Richmond, but Moxey said if the hovercraft had already been deployed on another call the 23-minute response time could have been much longer.

“If it’s over in the Gulf Islands, down in the U.S.-Canadian border, or up the Fraser River, in their operational area, they could be hours away.”

Just a few hours after the boat sunk, at 10:30 a.m., the hovercraft was called to another emergency in Point Roberts, Wash.

Wednesday’s rescue brought the Kitsilano base closure to the federal front, spurring a debate in the House of Commons.

Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans defended the decision based on the response time, noting the crew was rescued “well within the international [Search and Rescue] response time standards.”

“The government has made enormous investments in the Coast Guard fleet,” Ashfield said.

With reports from CTV British Columbia’s Maria Weisgarber and Lisa Rossingtom