by Cody Punter
When Chris Jones and Ryan Kolit left for a hunting trip from Whale Cove in their 18 foot aluminum boat a few weeks ago, the skies were sunny and the seas were calm.
Joined by four hunters in another boat, the group set out in the hopes of taking down a walrus that could be brought back to Whale and shared with the community’s elders.
Little did they know they would end up spending the next few days stranded on an island in the middle of Hudson Bay.
As the hunters made their way north past Marble Island, Jones said he noticed the weather turning rapidly. A huge wind started to build from the east stacking up steep mountains of waves while a wall of rain could be seen creeping closer on the horizon.
“Things just weren’t right,” said Jones.
Rather than continue to their final destination, the hunters decided to turn around and make a beeline for Whale Cove. After two hours of trying to outrun the storm through the choppy seas and massive ice floes the rain caught up, leaving the men soaked and with no choice but to seek shelter.
Because of the torrential downpour and the large amounts of ice still on the sea, the men struggled to find a safe place to weather the storm. By that time the waves had built up so high that the two boats, which were about 50 metres apart, couldn’t see each other when they were in the troughs.
“I’ve been on rough seas before on different boats but that was one of the scariest things that happened to me,” said Kolit.
It wasn’t until 3 a.m that they were able to find a small rocky patch of land where they could pull up their boats. By the time they hit land, the six men were soaked to the bone due the heavy rain and waves. To make matters worse one of the hunters in the other boat, Gerard Maktar, fell in the water while trying to get to shore.
“It was bad right off the start,” said Jones. “When we got to safety it still wasn’t good.”
After setting up a temporary shelter using a tarp and firing up a set of coleman stoves to keep warm the men radioed for help.
Later that day a Hercules airplane flew over the island and dropped supplies including new radios, food and clothing. The dry clothes proved the most important as everyone had been soaked by the rain, especially Maktar, who was having trouble sleeping due to severe muscle cramps.
Unfortunately, the storm didn’t show any signs of subsiding during the day. Because the ceiling was so low helicopters couldn’t come to rescue the men until things cleared up, which meant at least one more night on the island.
After toughing it out under the tarp for two days, the six men were notified that a helicopter was on its way to pick them up on Sunday, which also happened to be Father’s Day.
When the helicopter finally showed up Kolit was surprised to recognize the pilot from a hunting trip near Whale Cove the previous week.
“One of the pilots had been doing sampling up the river where me and my buddy Chris were hunting. When we got rescued he was hey was like ‘hey Ryan, hey Chris,” said Kolit, who was happy to see a familiar face. “It was pretty funny.”
It wasn’t until the men were finally home with their families that they were able to feel truly at ease.
“I started to cry when I saw my common law. It was very emotional,” said Kolit.
Despite the scare Kolit was already back to hunting for seals when he went to pick up his boat the following week.
“That’s just part of it,” said Jones. “We went through it, so it happens, and that probably won’t be the last time either.”