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Pat, Clive and Garth Shamley share their experiences of volunteering together at Station 21 (St Francis Bay).

Garth Shamley was just 14 years old when his dad joined the Sea Rescue base in St Francis Bay in 1992. The family had moved from Uitenhage the year before, and Clive, always keen to be involved in the community, joined the base as a controller. It was an industrious time for Clive, who completed all the necessary courses, aside from his coxswain ticket due to health reasons. When he joined, operations were run from a corrugated-iron shed situated on the canal. Over time, the NSRI was given land with an existing slipway into the sea by the Municipality. A boatshed was built, and this became the crew’s second home, until the harbour was completed. Sea Rescue was allotted space in the port, and this is where they’ve been running operations ever since.

The Shamley’s home was on the Kromme River, and Garth immediately took to the water, getting comfortable at the helm of boats of various sizes. Every weekend, when Clive went to the station, Garth joined him, helping to clean the boathouse, boat and tractor.

Joining the family

In the early ’90s, St Francis Bay was quite small. ‘I think the population was about 1 500,’ Garth recalls, ‘and there were very few kids of my age.’ Crew training was held every Sunday, and as is the case in small towns, family members tagged along, congregating at the base for the day, which would normally end in a bring and braai and socialising. Garth was a keen observer, and slowly but surely began to sit in on the courses, write the exams and, as he puts it, ‘became a member by default’. ‘I started going on call-outs a few months after qualifying; at the time there were about 10 or 12 crew at the base.’

Clive became acting station commander in 1997 – the same year Garth qualified as a coxswain – and then station commander in 1998, a position he held until 2007. ‘It was great being at the station with my dad,’ Garth says. ‘There was always someone to talk to about what happened and could understand what I was going through. But, I can imagine, it must have been a nightmare for him to send me out into an outrageous sea in a 5.5m rubber duck.’

And Pat makes three

Garth’s mom, Pat, joined the station for a while, working as treasurer, and helping with the monthly fundraising event, known then as The 50 Club. She recalls how much she enjoyed the Sunday socials. In fact, Clive and Pat’s eldest son, Myles, joined NSRI for a while too before going overseas to charter yachts for a few years. ‘He’s currently the skipper of a big chokka boat based here in St Francis, so spends most of his life on the water too, she says.

Having a son going on callouts was often quite nerve-wracking for Pat. ‘Clive would be in the control room, and Garth would be out on the water in all types of weather and sea conditions. I could only settle down when both of them were at home,’ she says.

Pat and Clive agree that Garth is always one of the first to arrive at the station for a call-out. Pat believes ‘growing up at Sea Rescue’, her youngest son learnt responsibility at a young age. ‘He is the station’s training officer, and one of the few coxswains who can still navigate the river mouth when necessary.’

25 years of service

Clive retired from duty in 2014, after having served as station commander, and then taking up the role of regional representative for the Eastern Cape. In this capacity, he looked after five stations: Port Alfred, Port Elizabeth, St Francis Bay, Jeffreys Bay and Oyster Bay (he helped established the latter two).

Clive received his Honorary Life Membership certificate in 2017, and a great milestone for father and son was receiving their 25-year service certificates. (Clive got his in October 2014 and Garth received his in December 2020.) ‘In the beginning when we were both starting out our careers at the station, we got to do a lot of fun stuff together, like studying for the various courses. It really was a great time,’ Garth shares. ‘And my dad was incredibly proud when we received our 25-year certificates.’

The key to having a successful on-station relationship with a family member is to ‘keep home at home, and NSRI at NSRI’, Garth says. He admits he and his dad ‘had a few moments, but I think it’s important not to let it affect your family life. It’s hard enough to deal with some of the bad callouts, and taking it home with you is never a good idea.’

Clive is no longer able to actively participate in station life, but remains a huge fan of the organisation that helped shape his and his family’s lives. ‘I am very proud of the NSRI as a whole, and would encourage young people to join,’ says Pat.

For all the members of a family to have been involved at Sea Rescue in one form or another is quite special. Garth continues to hold the flag high. ‘I’m 43 years young now,’ he smiles, ‘and I don’t see myself retiring from being an active coxswain anytime soon. I’ll be old and grey at the station before I retire.’

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