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The Mays are perhaps unique in the NSRI family, as currently all four family members, including two teenage children, are volunteering at Station 21 (St Francis Bay). Loyalty, kindness, a willingness to learn and grow seem to run in this spirited family.

“The NSRI has been a big part of our lives,” says Anneke May. Husband Marc was the first to join and received his 20-year Service Award in 2020. So, in 2021 he celebrates 21 years of volunteering at Station 21! Marc is a Class 3 coxswain and served as station commander for about three years. For Marc it’s all about “family, community involvement and a passion for the sea”. Currently he runs Station 21’s Junior Academy, a programme initiated to inspire the children of his fellow crew members and others in the community to start learning the basics of volunteering.

Marc, a keen open-water swimmer, encourages his young charges, as well as the other crew members to be as comfortable as possible in the water, holding swimming practices over and above his other station duties. Station commander Sara Smith has high praise for Marc’s leadership of the station during his tenure as Statcom. “He ran a number of rescues during 2012 – one of our toughest years – when St Francis Bay experienced heavy flooding and massive fires,” she says. “He is fiercely loyal to the station and very protective of its crew.” And, she adds, “He’ll head off on open-ocean races at all hours, and then finish on the podium in his class!”

One particularly harrowing callout springs to mind, when Marc is asked about memorable rescues. The chokka boat Sikelela ran aground in St Francis Bay after attempting to return to the harbour after losing power. High winds and 5-metre breaking swells resulted in her running aground against the harbour wall dolosse. Eight of her crew leapt onto land in between breaking waves. A number of emergency services, including Eastern Cape Disaster Management and Station 21, were called to assist. All Sikelela’s crew were saved in this joint effort.


A return to duty

Anneke and her children, Saskia (18) and Daniel (14), have supported Marc’s endeavors all the way. Anneke, in fact, joined around 2000, but after becoming a new mother in 2003, she resigned from active duty to take care of her daughter. But Anneke remained very much a part of the station, supporting Marc in his duties, as well as the rescue base in community church services and weekly prayers, and helping with fundraising.

Of her decision to return to the station she loves so much as a trainee, Anneke could not be more resolute. “Volunteering at Sea Rescue changes your life to a life of service,” she says. Most of the other trainees are half her age, but this just adds to the spirit. “We are super eager to learn and qualify. It’s so much fun,” she enthuses, admitting that FOMO played a little part is her decision. “Last year at the end-of-year function, Marc and Saskia were part of the awards, and there was a photo of me, aged 20 or 21, in my blue crew shirt, as part of the montage they showed, I just thought, ‘Wait a minute! Soon Daniel will also be a part of Sea Rescue’s Junior Academy, then I will be left at home…Wait for me, I am coming back!’”

And that she certainly did. Sara says it was with much excitement that they welcomed her back as a trainee crew member. “She absorbs everything,” Sara shares, “and recently achieved top honours on an MEC, an advanced navigation course. Anneke brings a tenderness and love to the station that we all feel when she walks into the building.”

A real family affair

Saskia May joined the station as trainee crew when she was 16 years old and is a fine example of how a young person can manage school, socializing and other extramural activities, like volunteering at Station 21. Saskia is also a member of Woodridge Lifeguards and has competed in Eastern Cape Lifesaving Champs and SA champs each year at high school. Saskia recalls watching her dad performing CPR on the beach when she was quite small. Perhaps it was this lifesaving act that stuck with her, but she says joining Sea Rescue was something she always wanted to do. “I feel comfortable, and proud to be learning from my dad and his friends,” she says. Does volunteering with your family bring you closer? “Yes, the NSRI family is so welcoming, so we all just fit in with each other and become a new family!”

“Saskia’s one smart cookie,” says Sara, “and we’re very excited to watch her career develop.”

Fourteen-year-old Daniel was the first recruit to the station’s Junior Academy, a programme that has really become quite popular in St Francis Bay. Daniel’s inspiration to join Sea Rescue came from Marc, and much like his dad, Daniel is fiercely loyal to the station, loves to help his team members and support anyone who looks like they may not be keeping up. “I love the sea and enjoy lifesaving and anything to do with water. There are 12 of us in the academy and I love jumping off the bridge in the port, swimming and prepping the boat, having fun, and learning helpful skills for the future,” he says. Daniel is a keen swimmer and took part in his first Eastern Cape Lifesaving champs earlier this year. His dream is to become a coxswain one day.

By all accounts the Mays are a dedicated, driven and service-orientated family, who love giving back to their NSRI family, something made easier with Sara Smith at the helm. “She is an amazing Statcom,” says Anneke. “Her training, attention to detail and management of all the personalities and ages is amazing.”

We wish the Mays, Sara, and the St Francis Bay crew many successful years ahead.

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