North

'I love you guys': Texan boater praises generous help received in Nunavut

Robert Youens, a 68-year-old man from Austin, Texas, is thanking the men in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, who helped him repair a massive crack in his boat. He had pulled the plug on his journey from Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., to Pond Inlet, Nunavut when he realized he was in trouble.

Kugluktuk men salvaged and welded scrap parts to repair 45-inch crack in Robert Youens's boat

Myles Pedersen, centre, Kevin Ongahak, right, and Robin Paco Ilgok (not pictured) rebuilt the vessel of Robert Youens after the Texan arrived in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, with a 45-inch crack in his boat. (Robert Youens)

When Myles Pedersen saw the crack in a boat that pulled to shore in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, at the end of August, he told its operator: "your boat should be on the bottom of the ocean."

Robert Youens, a 68-year-old from Austin, Texas, tried to travel part of the Northwest Passage — from Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. to Pond Inlet, Nunavut — in a 16-foot boat this summer. 

He only made it as far east as Cambridge Bay. There, he patched an 18-inch hole in the bottom of his boat and decided he was going to turn around. A day into the return journey, hunkering down for the night on the coast, he realized he was in more trouble. 

"I could tell my repair had pulled apart and it was just really leaking bad … I knew I had structural damage and the tear was getting worse," he said.

Youens had a hard time sleeping that night — he said a machine designed to pump water out of the boat was turning on every seven minutes, and he still had another 240 kilometres to go before reaching the next community. 

But somehow, he made it. 

Pedersen met Youens for the first time earlier in the month, when he made a stop in Kugluktuk on his journey east. He knew the American was in trouble when he reappeared a few weeks later. 

"Soon as he pulled at the shore here I went to go see him and ask him how his boat was doing, and he said 'not good.'" 

The men hauled the boat out of the water. By both of their accounts, the crack in its floor had grown to about 45 inches. Youens said it was a clear indication the vessel had structural problems too. He suspects the damage stemmed from towing the boat nearly 7,000 kilometres from Texas. 

Pedersen, right, and Ongahak remove parts from a boat in Kugluktuk's scrap yard for use on Youens's boat. (Submitted by Robert Youens)

Pedersen and his two friends, Kevin Ongahak and Robin Paco Ilgok, spent the next week rebuilding the boat so Youens could make it back to Tuktoyaktuk. 

"I told him, we're going to have to take your whole boat apart and fix it. You gotta trust me," explained Pedersen, noting the American was hesitant at first, but agreed to the work. The repair involved salvaging material from other boats in the community's scrap yard, a lot of welding, and, according to Youens, turning it into an "icebreaker." 

It was an act of kindness he said he's very thankful for. 

"I'll say it again and again and again. Guys, I love you guys. You took me in when I didn't know if I was going to be able to make it," said Youens, his voice full of emotion. "And you sent me off 100 per cent ready to go with my boat better than I could have ever imagined." 

Yoeuns eating an ice cream cone in his boat. (Submitted by Robert Youens)

Pedersen said he was raised to help others — and that it's almost like a rule in small communities like his. 

"He was all alone. Boat was broken. I knew how to fix it, so I told him I'd fix it for him," he said matter-of-factly. "He's a cool guy, he fit in good with our little group of friends here … he's got the same mind as all of us, same adventurous crazy mindset."

Dwindling sea ice, caused by the changing climate, is opening the Northwest Passage for travel. A trio of kayakers, pulled by the allure of paddling the route before it gets taken over by larger ships, had pulled the plug in the midst of their trip earlier this year. Karl Kruger, who was trying to be the first person to paddleboard the passage, suspended his trip after 15 days and plans to do another leg next summer. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liny Lamberink

Reporter/Editor

Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She moved to Yellowknife in March 2021, after working as a reporter and newscaster in Ontario for five years. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca

With files from Lawrence Nayally

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