Saturday, August 16, 2008

Life in their hands

In the WalesOnline today there is a fabulous article entitled "Your life in their hands," by Abbie Wightwick of Western Mail, saluting the volunteer rescuers of the RNLI, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity that saves lives at sea around the coast of Great Britain, Ireland, and inshore since 1824. The article tells a lot of heart warming stories of being a volunteer.

IT’S 2am on an icy winter’s morning. You’re snuggled under the duvet in the deepest realms of sleep when a pager goes off.

You are cruelly and suddenly shot into the waking world. You have minutes to race through wind and rain and head to sea in a boat which hugs the surface as waves crash around you.

Gale force winds whip into the vessel and spray stings your face in the dark.

Someone miles out in the chilly black brine is facing death. They need you. Will you reach them in time?

The scene is pertaining to volunteers of the Wales as being the "reality to hundreds of men and women across Wales who voluntarily operate lifeboats 365 days and nights a year" but it can be certainly applied to the rescuers all around the world. And this:
Since Wales’ first lifeboat station opened in Fishguard in 1822, two years before the RNLI officially launched, hundreds of lives have been saved. Dozens of lifeboat crews have also lost their lives, although this is rare now.
Yes, indeed they risk their own life to save others lives. In the words of Mr. Willem de Vogel, one of the first teenage crew members at Atlantic College in the 1960s, still remembers his first rescue off Wales:

“It was November 1968. There was a very severe storm and four men had been swept off a wreck onto the Tusker Rocks in the Bristol Channel. They were going to be swept off by the waves,” he says. “I went out in a crew of three that night. When we got there it was almost dark. We saved all four.

“Later we got a letter from the RNLI saying we’d done good work and risked our lives, but it was just what we were trained to do. It was our dream to go out and rescue people.

“We were young. We were 18 and invincible.”

After talked to the many volunteer rescuers, the author commented:
It seems a nerve wracking existence to live your life on constant alert to be called out to potentially life-threatening situations.
And she thinks that's exactly what attracts the volunteers – "the thrill and the knowledge that they are doing something useful in a world that can be mundane." And stories like this one:

One day the Penarth crew was called to a family who had powered out in their motor boat to picnic on a sandbank in the middle of the channel. Their private beach soon became lethal as the tide quickly rose to swallow it, threatening to engulf them and battering their boat alongside.

“There were five members of a family and they didn’t all have life jackets,” Sarah recalls. “The children were fine but the parents were not. They realised how close they all were to drowning.”

That was one lucky family to have these volunteer rescuers around!

Mr. Graham Heritage, who's the helmsman of the inshore lifeboat, says sea rescue is in his blood:

“Once you join you get the buzz and everything else revolves around that,” he explains.“My father was in the crew and I was in sailing and power boats from an early age.

“You can get a false sense of security going out in the lifeboat.

“It can be blowing like hell but you don’t really realise how hard the wind is until you open the hatches and there’s some poor fellow on a boat waving his arms at you.

“You have to be 100% dedicated. We train every Monday night in the boathouse and launch the boat and we have to keep up with the navigation and radar.

“It is exciting. When you get a shout the adrenaline just starts pumping. We get about two a week on average, but you can have four in a day or none for weeks. It just depends. Sometimes I’ve had shouts just as my wife Jackie is serving Sunday roast. She’s used to it now.

“We had two shouts last Monday. The first was two fellows in an inflatable kayak rowing to the wind farm 14 miles off. We picked them up three miles off Colwyn Bay. “A bit later at 10.30pm we had five lads in an inflatable who got swept out. They were in their early teens.”

Another important to ponder in the words of Graham:

He agrees that some people don’t respect the sea but fiercely defends the need for the service to be independent and free.

“People say why don’t the government run the lifeboat service or why don’t people pay to be rescued?

“The Government would ruin it. They’d shut down stations and change the rules. It’s better run by volunteers If people had to pay they might wait too long before calling us out.”

It is hard work and there’s no pay, but that is not what motivates crews.

“When you rescue someone that makes it all worth it.

“I have been to rescues where people have died. We get people falling off cliffs and a lad drowned when he got cut off by the tide and five people died in a speedboat that capsized.

“If a body has been in the water a long time it’s not pleasant.

“You have 100% confidence in the boat and crew but you have to be aware of the dangers. There could be a rogue wave or something could go wrong.

“The boat goes straight through the waves. Some of the younger lads on the crew think that’s fantastic. They’ve not seen the danger, but I’ve been doing this 21 years and I have.

“You can get hit by a wave in the dark and it could knock you over. You have to be constantly alert.”

Here's the words from the one being rescued:

Michael Jones, 38, from Pontardawe was windsurfing when he got into difficulty when his mast snapped in rough conditions off Newton in May.

“There was a strong offshore wind which was blowing me out to sea, it was certainly quite choppy,” he recalls. “I was about a mile out. I didn’t have my winter wet suit on so I was pretty cold. I was lying on the board trying to paddle against the tide.

“I was very grateful to see the lifeboat. I was being blown out to sea and there are rocks which can be quite nasty.

“It hasn’t put me off wind surfing though. It’s a bit of an addiction.”

I think we can all agre with Wightwick's final comment about the rescuers:
Without them our beaches and seas would be even more perilous.
Well said!

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