‘It’s not my time’ said 90-year-old lobsterman who jumped from sinking ship

Posted June 11, 2013, at 1:34 p.m.
Last modified June 12, 2013, at 5:53 a.m.

View Harpswell, Me. in a larger map

HARPSWELL, Maine — Less than three days after swimming from his sinking lobster boat to a small island off Long Point, 90-year-old Philip Tuttle laughed when asked if he plans to haul traps again any time soon.

“Course,” he said. “On Thursday, I think. I’m ready. I’m going to be. I’ll be all right.”

Sitting beneath a picture window overlooking the ocean, Tuttle looked down at his heavily bandaged legs and recalled the ordeal that sent him swimming from his sinking lobster boat, the Queen Tut, to rocks, where he was rescued by his relieved family.

Tuttle left his home on Long Point late Saturday afternoon after leaving his wife a note that he was heading out to check a trap and would be right back, his daughter-in-law, Verian Tuttle, said. But when he didn’t return in time for dinner, they knew something was wrong.

The Queen Tut, the 26-foot lobster boat that Tuttle has lobstered in for decades with his children and grandchildren, had run aground on ledges that Tuttle said he has hit before.

This time, though, instead of bouncing off the ledges, the boat rolled onto its left side and began taking on water — fast.

“I saw the plug float away and I thought, ‘This is bad,’” Tuttle said. “Then the water came in so fast. I was trying to get a life jacket out and I didn’t have time … I went down into the cabin to try to get a life jacket and there was only about [8 inches] of air. Then I took one last breath and ducked to [swim] out.”

Tuttle grabbed a display buoy and swam about 30 yards to rocks near Hen Island.

“I kept thinking, ‘I’ve gotta get to that next rock,’” he said Tuesday. “That’s how I got kind of scarred up.”

Tuttle suspects he was on the island a little more than an hour. He never panicked because he knows how to swim and has a large family nearby.

“I knew somebody would be there,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of kids … I was thinking, ‘It’s not my time. I’ve got to get ashore and they’ll find me.’”

When Tuttle’s family saw the note and realized he was overdue, they ran to the end of Long Point and scanned the water, his son, Stewart Tuttle, said Tuesday. Another son, Brooks Tuttle, took a skiff to search for the Queen Tut.

“Then I saw something on the island,” Stewart Tuttle said. “I was just in denial. I said, ‘It can’t be.’ Then I looked over on the ledge and saw him sprawled on the rocks.’”

Stewart Tuttle and his brother-in-law, Michael Innis, jumped in a neighbor’s boat and hurried to the island.

“When we got out to pull him up, he was still crawling,” Stewart Tuttle said. “He hadn’t seen us, and he couldn’t hear us. All he said was, ‘You found me.’”

Tuttle was treated at Parkview Adventist Medical Center for hypothermia and cuts and scrapes on his arms and legs. He left the hospital at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday.

“The doctor at Parkview called me the next day and said, ‘Not many people younger than you could have survived it,’” Philip Tuttle said, laughing.

On Sunday, Tuttle’s sons floated the Queen Tut and Sea Tow hauled it back to a neighbor’s dock, where it sat Tuesday looking no worse for the wear. Tuttle’s sons plan to work on the engine until it runs. Various grandchildren are scheduled to get married this summer, Stewart Tuttle said, “and they like to arrive at the wedding in the boat.”

And except for some soreness and the bandages, Philip Tuttle also seems no worse for the wear. He smiled as his son pointed out a digital picture frame set up to display the 250 or so photos the family took of the ordeal — and endured some teasing from his son about the Saturday night events.

“When I ran my boat aground, he did this to me,’” Stewart said.

“We kidded him for two years,” Philip Tuttle said.

And Tuttle said he will definitely haul more traps for the family lobster feeds.

“He’s dreaming,” Stewart Tuttle said. “And he’s not going to be driving anymore.”

To that, Philip Tuttle smiled and thumbed his nose.