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We chat to a few crew members at Station 17 (Hermanus) to find out more about the base and its family of volunteers.

The past few years have been a busy and exciting time for the crew at Station 17 (Hermanus). Extensive renovations, as well as taking possession of the third 14.8m search and rescue craft Offshore Rescue Craft (ORC) in the NSRI’s rollout of these larger vessels has increased the station’s capabilities and enhanced their service offering considerably.

It did mean operating out of a container for around 15 months while the station revamp occurred, but station commander and Class 1 coxswain Andre Barnard and his crew agreed that bringing the ORC home on 4 December 2021 was one of the most significant milestones the station has ever experienced.

Station 17 was established in 1978 and has been an integral part of the popular coastal town of Hermanus ever since. There are currently 28 crew at the station, but Andre foresees these numbers growing by about 40% within the next year. Andre joined the NSRI in 2011 and has been station commander at the base for two years.

Of his crew, he says, “They’re extraordinary people who are always willing to go the extra mile. I could not have asked for a better group of volunteers. The gees is contagious; everyone is always excited to learn and partake in all the activities.”

Life-changing event

Twenty-eight-year-old Class 3 coxswain Stefan Coetzee will celebrate his 10th year with the station in March next year and says joining the NSRI was the best decision he’s ever made.

A life-changing event in his late teens prompted him to learn as much as he could about responding to a life-threatening emergency.

“When I was around 17, I had a rather traumatic experience. I was a paintball marshal and one of the players collapsed during a game,” Stefan recalls. “Nobody had a clue what to do or how to help. A friend and I drove him to the nearest hospital in the area. I sat at the back of the bakkie trying to assist but I had no medical experience whatsoever. Unfortunately, he passed away in my arms. This incident had a huge impact on my life. I made a promise to myself that I would never be in another situation where I didn’t know how to assist someone in need. I started learning as much as I could about rescue procedures like CPR. Soon after the incident, I moved to Hermanus and decided to join the NSRI.”

He has learned a great deal during his time at the station, and rescue is just one aspect of it. “Volunteering is a great tool for self-improvement; it teaches and inspires you to love and respect everything and everyone. For me, personally, after years of volunteering, it’s about giving back. Teaching and helping people, not just those who are in danger or need of help at sea, but also every soul who walks through the station doors.”

Stefan admits it might be a cliché to single out his station commander as a mentor and great influence, but he says, “Andre is an exceptional leader. He has a unique ability to enable those around him to use their strengths. He leads by example, and you’ll find him washing boats and cleaning the station with everyone else. He has that great combination of humility and the confidence to lead.”

Base Showcase St 17

In it for the long hall

Trainee Tanya Spann joined the station in February this year. The 35-year-old wife and mother of two admits it was always her dream to join the NSRI. “I have a very adventurous spirit and love the sea.”

During her undergrad year, Tanya worked as a dive instructor and skipper in Mozambique. Moving to Hermanus from a farm in the Eastern Cape allowed her to fulfil her passion for the ocean and make a difference. “In 2018 I bought the book Into a Raging Sea and knew after that I wanted to be a part of the NSRI.”

She regards it as a privilege to be part of such an amazing organisation, and to meet and associate with like-minded individuals. “You become part of a team, and you can’t put a price on helping a person or a marine animal. Volunteering is my way of giving back to the community and serving those around me,” she says. “It takes dedication, commitment, and a willingness to learn new skills. And a lot of time, but every second is worth it.”

Tanya loves that she can learn from everyone at the base, but when asked to single out someone she truly admires, she mentions Danielle Fourie. “Being a coxswain behind the helm of a Class 1 vessel is a big task. She is definitely someone to look up to and she is a great mentor.” Tanya is in it for the long haul. “I am planning to stay a part of the NSRI family and, ultimately, I’d like to become a Class 1 coxswain, as well as enhance my medical and first-responder skills.”

Both Tanya and Stefan encourage anyone considering joining the NSRI to “just do it”. “It can change your life,” Stefan says. “Anyone can make a difference. Even if you don’t want to go out to sea, there’s plenty of shore work that can be done,” Tanya adds.

A conscious decision for the greater good

Class 3 coxswain Willem de Bruyn joined the station in December 2019. For the 36-year-old Class 3 trainee coxswain, it was a very deliberate decision based on honouring his father’s legacy, and a desire for personal growth and development and giving of himself.

“I always felt that I missed out by not going to the navy or military,” Willem shares. “My father raised me with a great love for water, the ocean and swimming. He was a navy man although I was raised in Pretoria. After he passed away in 2019, I felt the need to pursue something in line with that. I was too old to join the navy so I decided to see if the NSRI might appeal to me. And it did.

“Volunteering is a very conscious decision to give something of yourself – time, effort, humility – for the greater good. It’s helped me grow as a person; it offers adventure and it develops skills, all the while making a positive change in other people’s lives,” he says.

Willem enjoys the variety of characters at the station. “Each has an impact,” he says. “Some are mentors and others are adventure seekers.” For Willem, Tom Brooks is a special character. The Brit has a special love for South Africa and the NSRI. “He always volunteers for everything and wants to be a part of everything that happens. But apart from that, he’s just a very friendly, loveable guy, and the butt of many jokes,” Willem smiles.

Stefan agrees the vibe at the station is very positive. “No matter what situation we are in or how crazy the circumstance might seem, everyone takes the tasks on with a smile and great passion. Our station is really like a second home and all the crew is like family members.”

The passion, commitment and humility are very evident at Station 17, and with more than 400 call-outs clocked since 2010, it seems teamwork, trust, strong leadership and commitment can be thrown into the mix too.

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