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This much-needed new station on the West Coast is in the process of launching and looks set to have a fully fledged crew within a year.

The need for an NSRI base around the midpoint between Mykonos and Lambert’s Bay has been known for some years, particularly near the mouth of the Berg River, a popular water sport and fishing destination.

“The fishing season is unpredictable, one never knows when the fish will appear. So when they do, boats rush out and make the most of it, and we’ve often had overloaded vessels capsize due to all the fish caught,” says NSRI operations manager Bruce Sandmann, who oversees the establishment of all new NSRI bases, including St Helena Bay.

Until now, the nearest NSRI bases were Station 4 (Mykonos) and Station 24 (Lambert’s Bay), with the bulk of rescues conducted by the former. Unfortunately, response times were hampered by distance, which is why the new station – technically still a substation of Station 4 – is such a boon for the area and so welcomed by the locals.

“We’ve had meetings with the community over the years, and plans finally fell into place to establish a station,” says Bruce. “We sent out a call for volunteers through various channels, to which we received a fantastic response, and some of the crew have also migrated from Station 4.”

St Helena Bay1

The station is housed in a rented industrial warehouse, and the crew already have the use of a Gemini 7.3m RIB, although a 5.5m RIB vessel is required for access under bridges and shallow water on the Berg River, and will hopefully find a home at Station 44 soon.

Several of the 15-strong St Helena Bay trainees – a diverse mix of local fisherman, housewives, students and professionals – began their training under the leadership of Mykonos’ statcom Nic Stevens roughly a year ago, and a station commander has not yet been appointed, as the crew will need to meet the minimum qualifications before they can vote one in.

Devon Wild, who runs a maritime training school in St Helena Bay and is an integral part of the local community, was approached to become one of the founding members. “My 17-year-old daughter, who had recently joined the NSRI, convinced me to join, and now my entire family is involved!”

Devon’s wife, Mareza, is training as a shore controller; his eldest daughter, 19, is in crew training; and his youngest, 8, is part of the informal junior crew.

“At the current rate of training, we should have five to six of our current group fully trained by the end of the year, and we’re hoping to be up and running as an independent station within two years,” says Devon.

St Helen Bay2

There is more than one might imagine to NSRI crew training. The basics – getting newbies familiar with a rescue environment, the responsibility involved, and rescue vessels – takes six months to a year (they need to complete 50 hours of training); then comes crew training, which involves rescue protocols, and only then can they qualify for leadership training such as class 4 coxswain. To progress to this level, individuals need to have logged a minimum of 150 hours as crew, 20 hours in rescue operations, 30 night hours, and 100 hours as a trainee Class 4 coxswain, says Devon.

The expense of starting a new NSRI station is another aspect that members of the public may be surprised to learn about: “Excluding the cost of the vessels, it cost roughly R300 000 to kit out the St Helena Bay substation,” says Bruce. “That includes wetsuits, life jackets, helmets, gloves, booties, and more. The 7.3m RIB is valued at well over R1.5 million. They will also get a tractor, worth about R500 000. It's not a cheap exercise. The majority of the funds are coming out of donations to the NSRI. That’s what got the station up and running.”

If you would like to support Station 44 (St Helena Bay), email station4@searescue.org.za.


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