In the seventh of a series of stories on NSRI bases around the country, we chat to a few crew members at Station 8 (Hout Bay) to find out more about the base and its family of volunteers.
Station commander and Class 3 and Class 1 coxswain Geoff Stephens describes the crew at Station 8 (Hout Bay) as “one massive happy family”. Geoff, who has been an NSRI volunteer for nearly 25 years, was elected to take the helm in 2019 after being deputy station commander for six years. “The younger crew bring an incredible vibe of fun and enjoyment, which filters into the system making the station a happy place to be,” he says. For a crew complement 65 strong, that’s quite an achievement, but there are a number of factors contributing to the sense of camaraderie so palpable at the base.
Crew meetings are held on the second Wednesday of every month, kicking off with a committee meeting followed by a crew meeting. Once the formalities are concluded, crew gather for a braai and enjoy some social time together. Training takes place every weekend, on either a Saturday or a Sunday, with each of the four crews – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta – on duty for a week, changing over at 6pm each Friday.
For deputy station commander Sven Gussenhoven the “regular training, which includes high-level scenario training, keeps the crew motivated and confident with their rescue capabilities, ensuring they feel safe, which is key to keeping them at the base. State-of-the-art kit and PPE make them feel proud, and social events help grow a sense of community and caring, which encourage the crew to give more than just what is basically required.”
Sven, who has been at Hout Bay for 22 years, was elected deputy station commander in September 2019. He acknowledges that having an easy-going, approachable and well-respected station commander is essential to the running of the station. As is the open communication from head office, and the management style employed by Geoff and the station committee.
All the skills are put to good use in the variety and number of rescues the station has been involved in over the years. For Sven, going out in foul seas to search for a small 28ft wooden yacht with a solo sailor onboard is the most memorable. The vessel was found 78nm west of Hout Bay, and the sailor was successfully rescued. For Geoff and Class 3 coxswain Kim Burrows, the Miroshga operation is the one that comes to mind. The 36ft whale-watching boat capsized near Duiker Island off Hout Bay with 39 people onboard.
“This was one of the biggest rescues our coastal service has experienced,” Geoff recalls. “It took a collective effort to manage this callout. The resources and cohesion among the rescue teams and community were absolutely remarkable, something I will never forget,” he adds. For Kim, who was a new crew member at the time, it was a huge learning curve. “I realised how much goes into a rescue,” she says, “and one of that scale was daunting, traumatic and life-changing.” Thirty-seven of the 39 people onboard were brought to safety with two, sadly, losing their lives.
The gift of volunteering
Kim joined the NSRI 11 years ago, as she liked the idea of giving back to the community, and felt that being in a position to save another person’s life is the biggest gift one could give.
As a young trainee, mentorship is vital and Kim recalls how Geoff and then station commander Brad Geyser guided her as she navigated her way to becoming a qualified crew member. After being put forward to train to become a coxswain, Spencer Oldham was key in her training. “I was very blessed to have him by my side assisting with the training and getting my mental status in the right frame of mind to shift from crew to coxswain,” she says.
Kim, who is a coxswain with Charlie crew, admits that volunteering comes with its challenges. Physical and mental strength are vital. “No two rescues are the same. I have to always keep my head on my shoulders and be adaptable and approachable. Keeping up to date and current is challenging with being a mom of two kids and having a full-time job.” But the rewards are manifold, she is quick to add. Not least of which is seeing young trainees become excited about and hooked on volunteering and aspiring to move through the ranks from crew to coxswain. “It’s always good to show people what they can achieve,” she says.
Subhead: A rewarding journey
Adrian Stagler’s road to becoming crew was thwarted by delays resulting from Covid-19. But perhaps the journey was sweeter for it. He remembers how ecstatic he was when he got his crew badge in June 2021, a year and half after joining. Shortly afterwards, his daughter was born, making the month a doubly memorable one. Adrian is an air traffic controller, and his shift work allows him to devote time to volunteering.
“I’ve always had a passion for the sea and studied oceanography at one stage,” he says. “My job gives me the freedom to pursue other interests, and the NSRI was the perfect opportunity for me to give back to the community and was a way for me to challenge myself, both mentally and physically.”
Adrian recalls how his training fell into place when they were notified of a missing diver during a routine training exercise one Sunday. “When we got there, we had to do an above- and-below-the-surface search. This was my first rescue attempt, so I was extremely nervous, but at the same time very excited to participate in something so important. Diving in less than perfect visibility in the kelp forest was an experience I will never forget. It was great to see weeks of training come together in a rescue mission.”
Adrian is aiming to become a coxswain but, for now, is concentrating on accumulating as much experience as possible, a task he says is helped by the fact that every crew member at the station is willing to share their skills and knowledge. Franco Viotti, in particular, will go above and beyond to give the crew his invaluable knowledge, he says. “For anyone looking for a meaningful way to give back to the community, to test themselves mentally and physically, and broaden their knowledge base, NSRI is ideal.”
Station 8 has been a feature in Hout Bay Harbour for 43 years, naturally going through a number of refurbishments and renovations to accommodate vessels, mobiles and the growing crew. It’s a handsome building and one that the dedicated Station 8 crew would, without doubt, refer to as their second home.
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