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The NSRI’s oldest station, located at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, is all set for another 56 years of sea rescue excellence with the handover of a state-of-the-art rescue craft and the upgrade of its new base building.

The unveiling of a new station building for the NSRI’s oldest operating base at the V&A Waterfront, Station 3 (Table Bay), is a fitting time to reflect on its rich history. The first NSRI stations were established along the Atlantic Seaboard in Cape Town in the late 1960s. Station 3 was initially located in Three Anchor Bay, Station 2 at Bakoven and Station 1 was first located in Cape Town harbour’s layout basin.

Station 3 and Station 1 merged and moved to Granger Bay, and then again to East Pier at the Waterfront, before settling at their current location, which is called the Bob Deacon Base, in honour of one of the NSRI’s co-founders.

Howard Godfrey, 68, has been connected to the station since its inception – well over 50 years – joining unofficially as a helper in 1968 at the tender age of 13, and officially in 1971, at 16 years old. He would become the Station Commander, as well as a national operations committee member and then board member, and is now an Honorary Life Governor.

“[Back then], we operated a wooden 16ft Muna boat [Tony Muna built a number of the first wooden hulled NSRI boats] with two Evinrude 40 HP engines. We had to drag the Rescue boat from the shed to the water using rollers! Then, we built a bigger boat house alongside the ramp at Three Anchor Bay to house a 21ft rescue craft ‘Nomad’ on a road trailer. We frequently got smashed up by the huge waves in winter. From there, we moved to Granger Bay Naval Academy, and parked our boat trailer in the open – but it was a safe launch into the protected harbour. From there, we were able to build a larger base at East Pier inside of Table Bay’s breakwater, where the helicopter base is today. When the V&A was announced, I was able to secure a prime location next to Quay Four. We then built a large rescue base housing Rescue 3, a 40ft aluminium deep sea rescue boat. This was the showpiece of the NSRI, with the clothing shop and glass windows showing off the vessels. The new base has been rebuilt in the same position.”

Also in the half-centenary category when it comes to Station 3 is Patrick Van Eyssen, the longest-serving member at the station – including a period as Station Commander – who is still a coxswain there. He has numerous long service awards which have been signed by South African presidents, including Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

“During the 1970s we managed without modern technology, no cell phones or the internet, using only landlines and later paging systems. The NSRI was a first-class rescue and prevention organisation 50 years ago, and I am proud to be part of an organisation which has grown over the decades, and progressed to the technology and equipment we have today, and which has become a well-established rescue organisation that is known throughout the world,” he says.

Now, with the completion of the new base building, and the blessing of the base’s new state-of-the-art Offshore Rescue Craft (ORC), current Station Commander, Quentin Botha, reflects on this new chapter for the station:

“The new base represents a significant enhancement from the previous version, and the incorporated upgrades not only contribute to improved operational capacity and safety, but also enhance the overall comfort for the crew.”

A noteworthy improvement has been the introduction of separate changing facilities for male and female crew members, a departure from the previous setup of a small communal space with just one shower cubicle, says Quentin. This change ensures enhanced privacy and convenience for the crew. Furthermore, their Operations room has undergone a substantial expansion and now offers a panoramic view of the V&A basin, and is being equipped with cutting-edge electronic navigation software, empowering shore controllers to plot search patterns and coordinates, which are seamlessly communicated to our rescue craft.

The redesign of the slipway is also a significant development. The elevated slipway addresses challenges posed by storm surges and spring high tides, which previously led to water reaching far into the base, including the storage room at times!

“This redesign has effectively eliminated such issues, ensuring a more resilient and secure operational environment,” he says. “Another remarkable advancement has been achieved with our newfound ability to simultaneously launch both of our rescue craft. This stands in stark contrast to the previous constraint, where only one vessel could be launched at a time due to limitations posed by the slipway configuration and the opening method of the doors to the boat house, affectionately known as ‘the shed’. This improvement not only optimises our operational efficiency but also represents a significant leap in our capacity to respond promptly and effectively to emergency situations.”

Finally, the recently introduced ORC brings about a notable advancement in operational safety.

“The innovative hull design, characterized by its distinctive ‘beak’, enables the vessel to adeptly navigate through swells and waves, significantly reducing the ‘slamming’ effect typically associated with conventional hull designs. This improvement translates into the capability for the vessel to achieve higher speeds in rough conditions, ultimately enabling quicker response times to individuals in distress. Moreover, the boat is equipped with cutting-edge navigation and communication systems, ensuring state-of-the-art capabilities in these crucial aspects of maritime operations. Importantly, these enhancements have effectively reduced crew fatigue, contributing to a safer and more efficient operational environment.”

Along with the upgraded base building and ORC, the NSRI’s Sea Rescue Souvenir shop, too, has had a revamp. “You can now see through the glass walls of the store and into the new base building, with a view of the new ORC, from the street,” says NSRI retail manager Brad Gale. Along with the store’s facelift, it will be carrying the NSRI’s brand new range of polar fleece jackets, hoodies, caps, T-shirts, childrenswear and more. Why not pop in and purchase a few Christmas presents? All proceeds go towards the operational costs of the NSRI. (If you can’t get to the store, though, visit the online shop here.)

Not just another day at the ‘office’

There is no such thing as a typical month for Station 3, as rescue callouts range in both frequency (which tends to be seasonal) and nature, from medevacs on commercial vessels to drownings, animal rescues and boating accidents. The rescue base also has one of the largest crews. “Including trainees, we have between 50 and 60 crew members, which are split into three groups – Alpha, Bravo and Charlie – that train on a rotational basis,” says Deputy Station Commander Marius Hayes, who has been with the NSRI since 2005, and also happens to be station commander of the Institute’s Airborne Sea Rescue Unit that train rescue swimmers who are trained to be deployed from helicopters.

“Every Saturday morning, the crew on duty that week arrives early, and we check of all the equipment, the station, every single aspect about our operations – and then we check it again,” says Marius. “Once that’s done, we start on whatever the scheduled training is for that day, from shore to sea training. The crew remains on standby for emergencies for the rest of the week and come five o’clock on Friday the following week, we hand over to the next crew on duty.”

Crew members are on duty for one week, off for two – however, for Quentin and Marius, there is no such thing as “off duty”.

Quentin began his service with the NSRI in January 2011, which marked a significant chapter in his life. “An affinity for the ocean was instilled in me at a young age by my father, who was deeply involved in various water sports such as water skiing, offshore powerboat racing, sailing and fishing. From a tender age of six, it was a seamless transition for me to accompany my father and uncle on fishing expeditions, launching through the surf in Small Bay, Blouberg. The allure of the ocean had taken root early, and I found myself irresistibly drawn to its embrace. Weekends became a routine of either game fishing or riding the waves through surfing – an innate connection that would shape my affinity for the sea in the years to come.”

Upon returning to Cape Town from studying in KwaZulu-Natal, the decision to join the NSRI was an easy one. “I saw it as an opportunity to contribute to a cause close to my heart, inspired by the knowledge that there were always incredible individuals who would come to my aid in times of need – much like the comforting reassurance I had experienced in my youth.”

Quentin has had two stints as Station Commander, from 2016 to 2019, and then again from 2022 to present.

“Being a Station Commander comes with its own set of challenges, and one of the most significant is the delicate balance of juggling time. This involves not only fulfilling the roles of an active crew member and coxswain but also managing the administrative responsibilities that come with the position of Station Commander. Beyond the station duties, there's also the imperative to allocate time for work commitments and family obligations…”

Quentin also runs his own full-time chiropractic practice.

“It's fortunate to have an exceptional operations team that can seamlessly catch the proverbial ball when, on occasion, I find myself unable to juggle all responsibilities. Their competence and support play a crucial role in maintaining the smooth operation of the station, ensuring that tasks are handled effectively even during challenging periods. This collaborative effort highlights the strength of the team and the importance of collective capabilities in managing the dynamic demands of the Station Commander role.”

The rewards of the role, however, are rich.

“Witnessing dedicated crew members, who have devoted numerous years to both NSRI and Station 3, continue to contribute their time is truly gratifying. Equally rewarding is observing new recruits progress through the ranks, evolving from trainees to eventually becoming coxswains, confidently leading their first solo rescues,” says Quentin.

“However, the ultimate fulfilment comes from the profound impact of successful rescues. Providing families with a second chance to be reunited with their loved ones after a rescue is a deeply rewarding aspect of the role. It underscores the meaningful and life-changing outcomes that the NSRI, and the collective efforts of its dedicated members, can bring to those in distress.”

As for the future, Quentin’s vision for the station reflects a commitment to excellence and an unwavering dedication to serving the community. “Striving to be the best at all times signifies a pursuit of continuous improvement and a focus on delivering exceptional service to those in need. Such a vision not only sets a high standard for the station but also underscores a deep sense of responsibility and care for the well-being of others. It aligns with the core principles of organisations like NSRI, where the mission is centred on making a positive impact and providing assistance in critical situations. This vision serves as a guiding light, inspiring the team to consistently push boundaries and uphold the highest standards of service.”

Here's to another 56 years – at the very least – of saving lives on South African waters for Station 3.

Station 3 Table Bay

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