While Oyster Bay crew assist may paddlers in trouble, this call-out was a little different to the norm.
“He was lucky we found him under the conditions: there was bad mist and winds of 20-25 knots. Plus the coordinates we’d been given were incorrect,” says NSRI Oyster Bay station commander Lodewyk van Rensburg. He was on duty that Saturday morning, 17 October, when a call came in to the NSRI Emergency Operations Centre requesting assistance for a fisherman on a sea kayak who was experiencing difficulty near Skuitbaai, Eersterivierstrand, between Tsitsikamma and Oyster Bay.
“We were about 70km away when we received the call,” says Van Rensburg. “He had called his wife, who then called us. He didn’t have the SafeTrx app, which would have made matters been far more expedient.”
At 9.25am, the Oyster Bay duty crew were activated: sea rescue craft Caltex Challenger 2 and Rescue 36 Alpha were towed to Skuitbaai and launched, and NSRI Plettenberg Bay duty crew were placed on alert.
“We were about 70km away and it took us 45 minutes to reach the location given, but he wasn’t there, so we had to guess. I knew he was fishing, and I knew where the reef was, so we simply set our coordinates and began to cover the area.”
The 61-year-old fisherman from George, who wished to remain anonymous, was located 1.5 nautical miles off-shore of Skuitbaai, at anchor on his fishing kayak.
“He had some mild hyperthermia and was quite shaken, but in general, he was fine. He had only been stranded for about an hour.”
The fisherman told Van Rensburg that, while fishing at sea on his kayak, he had hooked a fish using a fishing rod and line, when a shark got hold of the fish and started pulling him out to sea. Not only was he drawn off course, but the shark also eventually made off with his fish and his paddle. Unable to get back to shore, he cast his anchor and then called for help.
“We get quite a few calls for kayaks going out, but this one was unusual,” said Van Rensburg. “Sharks generally don’t attack kayaks. But the shark was going for the fish, not the boat. It seems the fishing rod got tangled up with the paddle, which is usually well-attached to the kayak, and ripped everything off.”
Less than an hour after placing the call for help, the fisherman was brought safely to shore without incident aboard the NSRI sea rescue craft, his sea kayak was recovered and, once safely ashore, he required no further assistance.
Van Rensberg commented that there have been more sharks in the Oyster Bay area than usual in recent months. They may be refugees from False Bay, which has seen a decline in shark populations over the past few years, with experts speculating that this could be due to the arrival of orcas in the area, pollution or overfishing (resulting in food scarcity for the sharks), or all three.