If Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships, then Patti Price is the woman who launched a rescue service. Here is the fascinating story.
The NSRI celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. It was a year that was peppered with commemorative events at almost every station around the country, as volunteer crew and head office staff reflected on half a century of rescue work and the tremendous growth of an organisation that started out with two crew members, Captain Bob Deacon and Ray Lant and a 4.7-m inflatable boat called Snoopy (donated by the Society of Master Mariners) that was housed in a little shed in Three Anchor Bay. The South African In shore Rescue Service (SAISRS) was born.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then the establishment of the SAISRS can be attributed to two things: a tragic event at sea and one woman’s impassioned campaign to ensure that the lives of people in danger on South African waters be saved, not lost.
The wreckage at Stilbaai
The tragedy occurred offshore of Stilbaai in 1966. Four fishing boats went out and only one returned. Gerhard Dreyer, the skipper of the surviving vessel, had thrown the entire day’s catch overboard and headed further out to sea when the storm hit. Returning in the early hours of the morning, once the storm had abated, he discovered the wreckages of the other boats, and one lone survivor clinging to a life ring. Seventeen people had died.
The tragedy captured the attention of Simon’s Town teacher Patti Price, who began a fervent letter-writing campaign to the press in the hopes that a sea rescue organisation could be founded to prevent such devastating loss of life in the future. Patti was no stranger to the terror of being out at sea in distress having been rescued as a child from a wrecked ship in the English Channel by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). She wanted something like the RNLI for South Africa. The pen proved mighty indeed and her efforts were acknowledged by the Society of Master Mariners of South Africa who started the fledgling rescue organisation.
A fearless founder
Patti Price has a special place in the hearts of Sea Rescue volunteers, and is recognised as the founder of the NSRI. Station 10’s (Simon’s Town) base is named in her honour. But her spirit is not only revealed in her doggedness and the dedicated appeal she made for a rescue service. Older Simon’s Town crew members describe her as fearless, not only in the way she negotiated the steep hills in the area on her motorcycle, but also how she craftily dodged the stakeouts the Security Police put on her Boulder’s Beach flat. Patti was a founder member of the Black Sash movement, and had been a much-loved stage performer in her youth.
‘To initiate is more than to build’ is a fitting attribute to a lady who started the process upon which the NSRI was built.