The crew of Station 19 in Richards Bay invited ex crew, sponsors and fellow water users to celebrate the stations 40th anniversary and the 30th year that our vessel The Spirit of Richards Bay has served our community.
The day kicked off with speeches followed by a light lunch and trips on The Spirit of Richards Bay.
Steven Bentley elaborated on how our station came into existence with a starting crew of just 6, organising a shed as our first station which was partly sponsored by the then crew with just a hose pipe for a shower. It was also a time when ‘Men were Men’ as they swam the Mzingazi canal not worrying about crocodiles and hippos and learnt to throw tow ropes instead of heaving lines and did real first aid at the Empangeni Hospital trauma ward. In the early days it was not the done thing to have female crewmembers but it was compulsory that you had a wife or girlfriend that could fund raise, take over the Saturday afternoon braai and bake a Sunday afternoon cake and you were extra special if you could knit beanies to keep the crewman’s head warm at night.
Kelvin Thomas took us back to a time when callouts were done without navigation equipment and where boat and base crew were vital in locating casualties. The boat crew would take handheld readings and judge conditions and expect the base crew to convert the information into a working format for them to steer a course on.
Kelvin’s most memorable call out was when the freighter ‘Tong Nam’ broke in half off Tugela in a wild Westerly, and 32 Korean crew took to lifeboats. Our IRB was at sea for two days, progressively working up the coast with the sea conditions, and recovering some crew and too many bodies. Our prior training with the Air Force Puma helicopters came into play, as they dropped food and fuel, and recovered survivors from the overloaded IRB. Totally exhausted after two days at sea the IRB returned. And Steve promptly ventured to sea again with a fresh crew.
Mark Hughes, our present Operations Director, joined Richards Bay in 1977 and was promoted to junior crew in 1978 where he was allowed to wash boats and assist in refuelling. He has never lost the desire to man a hosepipe even when elected as Station Commander. Mark elaborated on how NSRI has changed over the years and how we as an organisation was moving forward with regards to management and training.
Mike Patterson who is the stations longest serving crewmember (44 years) and who did the sea trials on The Spirit of Richards Bay in the UK explained the need for the rescue craft and some of her more memorable rescues….
The grounding and eventual sinking of the large iron ore carrier Petingo, 10 miles south of Richards Bay, where 21 crew were taken on board Spirit of Richards Bay, an 80 ton ferry boat “Sea Express” was towed 75 miles in extreme seas, from a point 40 miles seaward of Cape Vidal and more recently the Yacht Alchemi was towed from 11 miles north of the harbour in extreme weather and sea conditions. This 12 hour tow was a supreme test for our craft and crew and once again proved that the Spirit Richards Bay is the best rescue craft in South African waters.
Mike handed over to Willem de Waal who was part of the development team for the present base building and who explained that part of NSRI’s vision was to take care of its craft and to make sure that the big boats are housed out of the water cutting down on maintenance and prolonging the boats lifespan. He took us through the planning and development of the present base.
Janet Burges our regional Liaison Officer closed by explaining the need for taking care of our future by donating towards NSRI through our competitions and making bequests in our wills. She also started a Lifeboat Circle in Richards Bay to keep contact with our over 50 year old donors.
In closing Brynn Gericke thanked the following for making the day possible:
The Bowling Club
The Zululand Bonsai Club
The Zululand Yacht Club
Best Cut Butchery
Splendid Inn Bayshore
Overall the day was a huge success and bonds were renewed between old and new crew.