A seal encounter safely managed, three drownings prevented, and an animal cruelty incident ended… It’s all in a day’s work for Sedgefield’s take-action lifeguards.
It was a sparkling day in early January when NSRI lifeguard Jaylene Engelbrecht received a call to stand in for another lifeguard on beach duty that day, which she accepted, joining colleagues Abigail Powell and Alana Vermaak.
No sooner had they assessed the conditions, which included strong rip currents, and set up their swimming area flags, than Jaylene spotted “something black” in the shore break.
“Initially I thought it might be a shark, but it turned out to be a seal – one we know from the area – and although it’s generally a friendly, harmless seal, we decided to take no chances after what had recently happened in Clifton.” A baby seal displaying highly unusual aggressive behaviour on Clifton Beach made headlines earlier in the month.
The seal made its way onto the beach, and Jaylene, Abigail and Alana had their hands full keeping members of the public away from the wild animal.
“Several people attempted to approach the seal, including parents with young children. We cautioned them to stay away,” says Jaylene. “At one point, I had to place myself between the seal and a young child. Her mother then removed her from danger.”
After a while, the seal returned to the sea and disappeared from view; but the three hardly had time to catch their breath before Jaylene spotted a swimmer in difficulty. “The currents were changing. I saw a man swimming and said to Abigail, ‘I think he’s being pulled out’.”
Sure enough, a young man, who didn’t know how to swim, had been swept from the sand bank and was in the process of drowning. Jaylene’s training kicked in. She swiftly assessed the situation and then launched into the water with her rescue buoy. When she reached the man, he was panicking – a very dangerous situation for a rescuer, as those who panic can pull their rescuer down underwater in their attempts to stay afloat – and although she gave him her buoy to hold onto, he began pulling on the chord in a way that impeded their progress back to shore.
“I told him to stop, very clearly, and keep his head up. Thank goodness he listened.” They both reached the shore safely – yet Jaylene had barely begun to capture the rescue report when two more men required assistance. A father and son had been sucked out by the same rip current.
“Alana and I swam out. I brought the father back to shore, but the son was panicking, so I swam back out to assist Alana, and with two rescue buoys we brought the young man back to shore. Both men were fine, but a little shaken.”
Sedgefield resident Tracy Anderson was on the beach that day and had a front-row seat to the day’s events so far. Greatly impressed, she wasted no time in alerting the women when she spotted some beachgoers abusing their pets.
“There was a group of people a bit further down the beach who had three dogs with them,” says Jaylene. “They were holding the dogs by their paws and throwing them into the surf, but the dogs were clearly traumatised and could have hurt their backs on the sandbank.”
Abigail and Jaylene made it clear that what they were doing was cruel and unacceptable, and also that dogs were not permitted on the beach. The group left with their dogs.
Tracy was so impressed that she took to Facebook: “So I am at the beach almost every day of my life, how can I not be, living in Paradise?” she wrote. “And each and every beach visit is normally placid, peaceful and Sedgefield-style. Today was totally different and I just HAVE to commend the girls from the NSRI that were at the beach today. Three different incidents, and they handled them with stamina, vigour, strength, power and determination. I have got so much respect for the three of you. This town has gems of people in and amongst them. These three ladies, with their courage and strength, sorting it all out so we could enjoy our day… I'm so very proud of these young ladies, who have so much responsibility on their young shoulders and who have no fear when it comes to the ocean and saving lives. True heroines in my books.”
The post went viral, and Alana, Abigail and Jaylene are regularly stopped by locals who appreciate their contribution to keeping Sedgefield’s beaches safe. “That wasn’t even the busiest day I’ve had,” says Jaylene. “But that’s a story for another time!”
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