It may have been his size that saved him from death, at least that is what his wife thinks.
Just as he had done every morning for the past two years Jim Fudge of Hermitage, a net cleaner for Cooke Aquaculture, left the wharf in Belleoram at 7:15 a.m. on May 3, 2012, and made his way in the company’s 38-foot longliner The Three Sisters to the cage he would clean that day. Working alone, at cage # 8, he prepared his hydraulic six-header cleaner to go up and down in the cage and clean the net.
Stepping onto the slubby (sic), slippery cage, Jim was moving his boat ahead two panels when the wind and swell pulled the boat off from the cage, pulling Jim overboard. It was now about 8 a.m., and the water temperature was about four to five degrees Celsius.
Jim, 41, is a giant of a man at six-foot-four and 268 pounds, but the chill of the cold water – he had gone under during his fall – shocked the non-swimmer. Wearing a survival jacket, rubber pants, and jeans, he found himself holding on to a rope tied to the cage with his right hand and a rope tied to the boat with his left.
“I was like someone being stretched apart,” Jim recalls. “I had to let the boat go and watch it drift off towards St. Jacques Island. That broke my heart (he pauses to wipe a tear from his eye). That boat was a company boat, but is was also my boat. I hated to see it drift off”.
Now he was left holding on to the cage by a single rope, the cold water already numbing his legs. He was too wet and too heavy to pull himself up on the cage – not an easy task at any time. Knowing the dangers of being in cold water for too long, Jim began to holler to barge workers on cage # 3 several hundred feet away. On that barge the workers thought they heard something, but it was indistinct.
Jim by now had tied himself to the cage and kept trying to get up, thrashing around, staying active as best as he could. He was too big and strong a man to succumb to the cold; he didn’t intend to die from hypothermia.
By some miracle he was spotted by a diver on cage # 3, and within five minutes they were alongside. “I was starting to feel warm, sleepy by then”, Jim recounts, “I knew I wouldn’t last much longer ( a tear runs down his cheek) after about 45 minutes overboard.”In fact, the divers told him another fifteen minutes in the water could have been fatal.
The barge crew quickly got him aboard, cut off his wet, cold clothes, and diver Justin Anstey got under the blankets with Jim and wrapped his arms around the cold man, sharing his body heat with Jim. The others rubbed his hands and feet and pounded him to keep him awake, moving only to allow Jim to throw up, something he did about 50 times according to his rescuers.
Once at dockside, the workers cut the rails off the boat to lift Jim out on a stretcher, and on shore Dave Tibbo got blankets warmed in a dryer and wrapped him for his ride to Harbour Breton in the ambulance. There he was checked out by the doctors, monitored for a while and sent home around 8 p.m.
At the time of this writer’s interview with him on Monday, May 14, Jim was relaxing at home with his wife Corilee, both still emotional as they recall the events of May 3rd. “I am sure that’s Jim’s size and strength helped keep him alive and able to struggle, “ Corilee said. “A smaller man may have had a more difficult time.”
Meanwhile, Jim, who had accepted a job as net cleaner with Gray Aquaculture a week before his accident, thinks that it should be mandatory that two men work on each boat. “I was always telling my manager that I needed another person”, he added. “I needed someone to help me on the boat and on the cages. You can imagine me trying to get the boat in by the cages on a swelly day and tie it on as it bobbed up and down in the ocean. As my accident proves, another person is needed for safety reasons alone. Gray Aquaculture has told me that I will not have to work alone as a net cleaner.
His managers at Cooke Aquaculture were relieved that he would be okay, and a safety official from that company came to Hermitage and took his statement. He has heard nothing since, and he will go to work with Gray’s as soon as he is cleared by his doctor.
Jim and his family wish to express his many thanks through the Coaster to the divers and crew who came to his rescue, especially to Justin Anstey. His words of appreciation are also for Darren Norman, Mark Chenhull, Freeman Savoury, Nive Savoury, Norman Dominix, and Dave Tibbo.