At the end of 2021, crew from Station 17 (Hermanus) sailed their brand-new 14.8m offshore rescue vessel (ORC) from Cape Town Harbour to Hermanus, accompanied for part of the journey by the NSRI’s executive director of capital projects Mark Hughes.
On 4 December, Station 17 (Hermanus) took possession of its search and rescue offshore rescue craft (SAR ORC), the third in the NSRI’s fleet and the first one built in its entirety in South Africa. “It was a long road from when the decision was made by Head Office for Hermanus to receive an ORC to the day we finally sailed her home,” says Hermanus station commander and Class 1 coxswain Andre Barnard. The process started with the upgrade of the base building, which had been a longstanding feature in Hermanus for more than 40 years. This rebuild, which was necessary to accommodate the larger ORC, which is 14.8m long and 4.8m wide, took place over a 15-month period, with crew operating out of a container for the duration. “We moved into the new base in March 2020,” Andre adds,
Andre adds, before waiting 21 months to take possession of the vessel, which had been earmarked for the station since mid-2019.
A leap in technology
Andre and Station 17 crew members Stephan Malherbe and Jean le Roux, also Class 1 coxswains, agree that the ORC is a very different beast compared with the 10m Breede Class vessel they were accustomed to handling. It requires at least five, but preferably six dedicated crew onboard, explains Jean. “You need a coxswain, the crew member in charge of the callout; a dedicated helmsman; a dedicated navigator who is also in control of all radio communications; a bosun, who is in charge of the engineering side of things, the boat’s wellbeing essentially; and two deck crew, usually rescue swimmers.” These people have to be fully trained, he adds, as so much responsibility rests on their shoulders, and teamwork is absolutely crucial.
To meet the training needs required to operate the ORC, training started for a number of Station 17 crew long before they received their vessel. Andre, Stephan and Jean were involved in the first leg of Alick Rennie’s (the first ORC) voyage to Durban, as well as bringing the second ORC, the Donna Nicholas, to Hermanus to test her cradle. Other crew who have been trained include bosun Antonie de Klerk, Danielle Fourie, Mark McGlagan and Stefan Coetzee. Training for the remaining crew is ongoing, says Andre. “Plenty of hours need to be clocked on this new vessel,” he says. “It’s a big leap in boat handling and technology, which surpasses what we were used to on the Breede.”
“Training crew on a new vessel means we start from scratch, which makes it easier,” Jean comments. “We’re doing scenario training, which mimics real-life scenarios. So, crew will do engine checks, perform directional changes every 15 minutes, fill in the logs, and so on.”
Speed, comfort and safety
“I had mixed feelings about this big boat,” Stephan Malherbe smiles. “It’s enormous, wider, and a third longer than the Breede. “But once you get to know her, she is amazing. Very secure, very stable, very manoeuvrable, and very comfortable. The wheelhouse is separate from the hull, so it’s also quiet. Plus we have access to technology we didn’t have before, which makes finding casualties easier.”
For Jean, successful rescues depend on a number of factors, but he singles out faith as being the most important, especially when you’re out in angry seas. In order to believe in successful outcomes, “you have to have faith in yourself, your crew and your boat”, he says. And the ORC delivers this. “We left Cape Town for Hermanus on a particularly beautiful day, encountering a huge pod of whales at Green Point. The trip to Hout Bay was rough, but not excessively so. It got worse as we rounded Cape Point heading for Simon’s Town. Mark Hughes was with us, and at one point we were hit by a swell from the side. Mark reckons we listed to 40 degrees, but the boat stabilised quickly. We continued to run with big swells, which was quite challenging, until we docked at Simon’s Town. But by then, I had double the confidence in the vessel.”
That’s the faith right there!
An honour and a privilege
Andre, Stephan and Jean agree that the ORC is awesome. “It’s a cliché, I know,” says Jean, who adds, “It’s a privilege and an honour to be able to ride this vessel.” The ORC’s construction is geared towards search and rescue, which holds great benefits for crews and casualties alike. “It’s state of the art and very comfortable to helm,” Andre explains. “If you close the hatch to the cabin, it’s nice and quiet, which is great for communications between crew and other entities. The cabin is sitting on a dense foam that absorbs the noise from the engine compartment.” The vessel is also spacious, which means there is more room to attend to casualties on board. “We’re able to look after the people we rescue,” says Stephan. “The vessel is also good for long callouts because we don’t arrive on scene fatigued after hours at the helm in taxing sea conditions.” This, thanks to the ORC’s pneumatic shock-mitigating seats and comfortable interior design.
For Stephan, entering Hermanus Habour in the station’s new ORC was particularly special. There was a large group of people waiting to welcome them. “It was very humbling,” he says. “But it’s because of them that we do what we do. We join NSRI to serve, and now we have a vessel that can help us do our jobs better.”
Of the new addition to the NSRI’s fleet, CEO Dr Cleeve Robertson says: “The NSRI Offshore Rescue Fleet is unique in South Africa, providing a safety net for a range of industries and recreational activities. The new ORC 15m fleet rejuvenates an ageing stock, offering better range, crew comfort, capacity and response to all maritime emergencies. The South Coast of South Africa is exposed to the Southern Ocean, it’s hostile and open, and so having a safe vessel in Hermanus is key to our capacity to respond under austere conditions. We are very proud that these vessels are made possible by an entire community of South African individuals and corporates who identify with our purpose of ‘Saving Lives, Changing Lives and Creating Futures’.”
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