This month, Stations 40 (St Lucia), 41 (Ballito), 42 (Kleinmond) and 43 (Port Nolloth) all celebrated five years since they were founded. We caught up with their station commanders to find out how they’re faring.
Commander: Jan Hofman
A. In 2018, former station commander Jan ‘Boetie’ Combrink approached the NSRI to form a station in St Lucia. He went to Cape Town for an interview and was well-received. Sometime later, myself and Boetie had a meeting with Mark Hughes (current Executive Director, Capital Projects) and a few other NSRI representatives, and commenced training in the gym of a nearby lodge.
After a few weeks, the committee realised that Boetie was way too busy to be station commander, and I was asked to take over. We began to recruit and train crew members, received our rescue vehicle and WaveRunner, and eventually our JetRIB and tractor. From there, the station has gone from strength to strength. Our base was built during Covid.
Today, we more or less always have a contingency of between 15 and 20 crew members. Since our base was completed in 2020, we have qualified three Class 3 Coxswains, five Class 4 Coxswains, tractor operators, shore controllers, beach controllers, radio operators, navigators, first responders, and more.
We’re always trying to recruit trainees of all ages, and we’d also like to qualify some more Coxswains in various classes, as well as senior shore controllers. We’re also set to open a satellite base in Cape Vidal – construction is expected to start later this year 2023.
That would be the multi-kayak rescue in Cape Vidal, for which we won the NSRI’s Meritorious Award. During routine training on 23 October 2021, our crew noticed a bunch of kayakers behind the break line. Surf conditions were rough, with a gusting 10 to 12-knot wind and an approaching low tide. Under these conditions rip currents in this particular area are known to be swift. As we got closer, we discovered three kayaks had capsized, and more kayakers were arriving as part of an event. We realised that a full-scale rescue operation was fast developing.
A kayaker closest to the rocks was rescued first, followed by another two further out to sea, after the launch of Rescue 40 Alpha. By that stage, sea conditions had gradually worsened, but additional crew had arrived. We relaunched Rescue 40 Alpha and retrieved an additional seven kayakers. The remaining kayakers were guided back to shore along a safe line, away from rip currents, however, three more kayakers got into difficulty and required rescuing at this time. One kayaker required hospitalisation, while others suffered only cuts and bruises. In the end, a total of 20 kayakers, aged between 18 and 45, had been assisted.
The station crew in every respect. They are an incredibly hardworking, dedicated bunch.
Commander: Mike Bishop
In mid-2018, a group of locals who were part of the Specialised Rescue Unit in the area banded together to form a station, headed up by Quinten Power, who became the first statcom. Back then, the station was based in a sectioned off area under the access ramp to the parking lot at Tiffany's shopping centre – it had no water and barely any lighting, hence it was dubbed “The Batcave”.
The NSRI provided us with a 5.5m RIB, a Yamaha WaveRunner, and the required personal protective equipment (PPE). In late 2021, we relocated to a small factory unit just outside Ballito, so we now have lights and water – onwards and upwards!
It's been an interesting few years, with a change of leadership in 2022, not to mention the challenges of running a developing base.
We’ve been in need of a suitable property for our base since inception; this year, that need is set to be realised, as we are currently in the planning and submissions phase of developing a piece of land close to the ocean that is being leased to us by a donor.
We are also hopeful that the same donor will give permission for us to build a temporary container base very close to the site in the interim, putting the station within 200m of the proposed new base. This will greatly increase crew morale and hopefully draw more volunteers.
Without a doubt the most memorable rescues would have been during the floods in KwaZulu-Natal in March 2022. Teams using jet skis, small RIBs and JetRIBs rescued dozens of casualties from flooded areas at great risk to themselves, navigating raging waters with tanker trailers floating around and water levels up to nine metres.
In one area, people who would have surely drowned were rescued through the roof of a building where the water had reached the roof trusses. In Umdloti, people were trapped in buildings by mudslides and had to be evacuated from the second storey by rescue personnel using high-angle equipment – one lady was almost 80 years old. NSRI crew went above and beyond the call of duty during those traumatic times, evacuating people, assisting with recoveries of the deceased and witnessing the aftermath and devastation left by the storms.
The crew I have the privilege of working with. Their selfless dedication to serving the community without any reward other than the knowledge that they can make a difference is inspiring.
Commander: Schalk Boonzaaier
Our base was founded by a group of like-minded locals who’d mostly grown up in Kleinmond and had a background in lifesaving. Apart from Wilderness, our stretch of coastline has some of the highest drowning rates in the country.
After a particularly tragic drowning in 2017, we decided to start an informal lifesaving response team, and one of our members, Ferdi Krige, approached the NSRI for advice on what kind of kit we’d need to acquire. We were told that a base was needed in Kleinmond: would we consider starting an official NSRI station? And that’s how it began.
Station 17 (Hermanus) took us under their wing and we started training. Our base was, and still is, an old shed close to the harbour, which was recently refurbished. It looks great. The interest from the community has been huge, and we’ve never struggled to find volunteers.
Being in a small town like Kleinmond, over time we’ve found we’re most effective if we focus on the quality of training, and the commitment and experience of the crew, rather than size. We work best with a crew of about 20 or so, which is where we’re at right now.
Simply to continue to focus on our training and to be as response-ready as possible. There are plans for a new base to be built in the harbour, but that is contingent on the new harbour development, which is currently in progress, so we’re not sure exactly when it will be ready. We’re also expecting a new Gemini 6.5m RIB soon, which will be a great help.
There are many, but one of the most recent ones occurred in January, involving a father and son who had been washed out along the coastline towards Jock’s Bay beach. An eyewitness spotted them and called it in. The boat team and support vehicle were immediately activated. We launched the RIB with four crew on board at the Kleinmond Municipal slipway, and proceeded to the location given; our rescue vehicle was also dispatched to the same location.
With help from locals who were waving to the crew from the shore, indicating where to go, the father and son were located and successfully rescued. The response time was 24 minutes from start to finish. The grandfather/father of the rescued man and his son came by recently to thank us. It makes our work worthwhile.
My crew, without a doubt. We’re like family. Through training and rescues, and commitment, it’s like there’s an invisible rope pulled tight around us that binds us, and it only gets tighter with each rescue. We’re also one of only four rescue bases nationally where Class 4 Coxswains come to qualify.
Commander: Hugo Foot
One day, when I was fishing for snoek, two boats capsized on the northern blinder at Port Nolloth, and we launched my little rubber duck to help. After that, we helped a few more fishing boats, and then it happened: in 2018, we began to liaise with the NSRI, and Station 43 got going with a boat and a bunch of wetsuits. Today, we have a base, a rescue vehicle and 5.5m RIB. Initially, recruitment started with a bang as everybody wanted to be part of the NSRI. Now, however, we have only a handful of very committed crew.
A. Our amazing new base is almost complete, and with that we would like to triple our crew membership. Hopefully, it will be complete by the end of May.
The most famous would be the horses. When heavy rainfall in the Richtersveld caused the Orange River to overflow in February 2022, the Port Nolloth duty crew were contacted about horses stranded on islands along the river, where locals allow their horses to graze. The horses are semi-wild, so it was hard to catch them and move them in time. The decision was made to leave the horses on one of the largest islands where they would be safe.
However, two days later, water levels had risen significantly and it became apparent that some of the horses, many with foals, were still in danger. With help from Have a Heart and Network for Animals, the Station 43 crew located and fetched an aluminium boat to rescue the animals, as using their JetRIB under those conditions was too dangerous, due to the risk of puncture.
When we discovered the motor didn’t work, though, we made the decision to attempt the rescue anyway with the JetRIB. We decided to just take it slow and make sure everyone was safe. The crew ran and swam between the islands, and in the end, all of the horses and crew involved were brought back to safety.
For me, though, the most memorable rescue was a search for three fishermen who were stuck in heavy fog. We searched until about 2am and just couldn't find them. We had to stop the search, but continued the next morning just before first light, and we found them stranded on a beach between Port Nolloth and Kleinsee. All three were rescued.
That we are still operational! And our new station building. It will have a massive boat shed and a dedicated training room. Best of all? A control room with a 180-degree view of our operating area. It’s going to look and be professional.
Richards Bay doyenne for sale: 12m LochinRead More
On Wednesday morning, 31 May, NSRI Table Bay duty crew launched the NSRI Table Bay rescue craft Rescue 3, accompanied by 2 WC Government Health EMS rescue paramedics, to rendezvous at first light with a bulk carrier motor vessel, approximately ...
Dr Cleeve Robertson sends a message to Golden Globe Race 2022 winner Kirsten Neuschäfer, who diverted to rescue stricken fellow GGR competitor Tapio Lehtinen, and went on the become the first South African, and the first woman, to win the ...
The coastal resort town of Scottburgh is home to an award-winning rescue crew. ...