(Unbeknownst to me, our friends at Iqaluit's Finding True North were doing a similar fashion photo shoot , but with a lot more flair.)
The float base is where the little Cessna float planes land. I found that out last year when I was kayaking in the bay and suddenly found out that the bay is also a runway for the float planes and I had to paddle for my life to not get run over by a plane. I mean, who does that? Who gets hit by a plane while kayaking?
Christine let me practice casting a few times. I got better at it, and on my third time I actually caught something! A piece of wood. On one hand, that's kind of disappointing because it wasn't a fish, but on the other hand, it's kind of impressive that I caught a piece of wood in a land with no trees.
That's when we found the boy drowning in the water.
At first, I just heard a terrible cry, but I couldn't tell where it was coming from. It sounded like a choked wail. I figured it was coming from kids near the shoreline, and I thought to myself, "These kids shouldn't horseplay around like this. Someone's gonna think that they're in trouble."
Then I saw my friends suddenly break into a run and jump into the freezing cold water. Then I knew something was wrong.
It turns out that three young boys had been playing in the water when they suddenly lost their footing in the steep drop off where the water suddenly becomes deep, right where the current gets strong. Two of the boys eventually got back on their feet again but one boy was struggling.
I watched as my friends made their way to a barely distinguishable figure bobbing in the water. I was frightened. Just the other day I had waded into the Arctic ocean up to my hips and felt intense pain from the shock of the cold - and that was with a wetsuit on. My friends were not wearing wetsuits, just all of their clothes as well as their boots which I knew must have been only weighing them down. I could see that the current was strong, because the boy was caught right where the river meets the ocean.
Just to give you an idea of how deadly the situation was, the sea water around Cambridge Bay is currently -0.6°C. If you are in the water unprotected for more than a few minutes, you are at serious risk of hypothermia. I have swam in the Arctic ocean when it was warmer; even then, after being in the water for more than 30 seconds, you stop feeling the pain and instead you feel total numbness as your body starts to shut down. My friends - and the boy - didn't have much time.
The boy continued to cry out, although every once in a while the cry would be cut off when the water overwhelmed him. It was one of the worst sounds I have ever heard in my life and I don't think I will ever forget it.
Meanwhile, I was standing uselessly on shore, trying to figure out how I could be useful. I wasn't going to jump into the water. There was no way I was going to make it to them in time and besides, I'm not a very strong swimmer. I was certainly not going to make a very good lifeguard. I have nearly drowned twice in my life before, and both times, it was because I was trying to save someone and that person was holding me down.
So I ran in circles like a chicken with its head cut off, clutching my cell phone, trying in vain to remember how to dial 911 in Nunavut. The number is not 911 here. I couldn't remember the RCMP emergency line after hours (which...as it turns out, was 1111, which just goes to show how much I wasn't thinking). So I dialed the regular RCMP line. But I only dialed the last four digits. And then I tried again, with seven digits this time. And then finally I remembered the area code, because I was dialing from an Ottawa phone number.
By the time I got through to the operator, my friends had reached the drowning boy and were just trying not to drown themselves, being weighed down by the water that was filling up their boots and their pants. I couldn't bear to watch. I don't remember what I said to the police, but I guess it wasn't total gibberish because they did send police trucks and an ambulance right away. By that point, my friends had finally brought the boy to the other side of the shore.
So by the time we left, we hadn't caught any fish, although clearly it wasn't a totally unproductive day. I'm going to have to buy myself a new reel this weekend, but hopefully not all of my fishing excursions will be this eventful.
Read the newspaper article about it here