These days David Tulugak of Rankin Inlet is still adjusting to life after a stroke forced him out of his government job and onto permanent disability on Oct. 2, 2017.

David Tulugak enjoys some time with the birthday girl, his daughter, Amy, on April 3, 2019. Tulugak took time to reflect recently on the day that almost claimed his life and that of his three-year-old son, Shane, in 1992.
Photo courtesy David Tulugak

There was a fateful day in 1992, however, that came close to doing far worse by almost claiming his life, that of his son and his brother-in-law besides.

Tulugak brought his son, Shane, who was just turning four years of age, along on a trip to set whale nets with his father-in-law, John Towtongie, and his brother-in-law, Victor Towtongie, on-board a Peterhead boat owned by David Oolooyuk.

It was a beautiful mid-September day when they left Rankin, with the water as calm as calm could be.

Their trip was successful and they spent the night on Mirage Island, about 26 km from Rankin, after cutting up whale meat and caching it. Joe Kaludjak and his younger brother, Peter, were also at the island with their Peterhead boat at the same time.

Bad weather blew in suddenly and, the next day, they were waiting for it to ease when Joe decided to head for Rankin and they decided to follow him.

Not long into the trip home, David was thinking to himself this may not have been such a good idea.

David said the boat was being pounded by 15- to 20-foot waves and started taking on water. It wasn’t long before they lost their water pump.

He said with the pump gone and the engine compartment filled with water, they soon lost their engine and all their power with it.

“Joe was too far ahead to notice the predicament we were in, so I went into the compartment, unloosened its strap, took the battery out, and then brought it into the cabin and hooked it up to the CB.

“In panic mode, I started broadcasting SOS on the CB and Joe came back around to see how we were doing.”
David said when the Kaludjaks saw the shape they were in, Peter attempted to reach them in a 12-foot skiff with a 10- to 15-hp outboard.

Exhausted and sinking into the water

He said when Peter reached their boat, he, Shane and Victor went back with him while John stayed on their boat.

“The waves were just too strong for that little aluminum boat and the four of us ended up in the water and we had to swim to Joe’s boat.

“Peter was the first out of the water and I was holding onto my son when I noticed Victor couldn’t swim, (he) was just floating and was very afraid.

“I grabbed onto Victor with my free hand, made it to Joe’s boat, lifted Shane up to him, and got Victor up on my chest but he kept slipping. It took him three tries to finally get out.

“After I knew Shane and Victor were OK, I was exhausted and just let myself let go of the rope they had thrown and start sinking into the water – then l felt my father-in-law grab one wrist, then Joe the other. I had enough strength left for one good kick of my legs and that got me into the boat.”

David said the rest of the trip home felt like hours and hours as the waves continued to batter Joe’s boat.

He said he was shaken a bit when he told Joe that Shane was fine and was sleeping, and Joe replied, “Check. Make sure he’s just sleeping.”

“I shook him and it was some relief when Shane opened his eyes and I could tell everyone he was alright,” said David.

“I must have been in that water almost 30 minutes and I was some glad when we finally made it home.

“I’ve never really thought about it all that much, but, I guess, I was only minutes from dying, maybe less.

“That was my scariest day on the water but it didn’t turn me off from boating. I still love it.”

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