Thursday, November 2, 2017

Clipper Race & the National Sea Rescue Institute

The Clipper Round the World Race fleet departed Cape Town, South Africa, on Tuesday this week, starting the third leg and heading for Western Australia. The Cape of Storms was on its best behaviour, with fine weather and calms seas. There is a short sail of about 40 miles from the start line to the notorious Cape of Good Hope (Cape Point to the locals), after which it is all wide open Southern Ocean.

One of the fleet, the yacht "Greenings", didn't make it to that open ocean, instead running aground on Olifantsbospunt (Elephant Bush Point) about half-way down the coast. If the Cape of Storms had been howling through the rigging as it so often does, the sea would have been very boisterous and the yachts would have stayed well clear of the dangerous hard bits. Instead the calm seas lulled them in pitch darkness and lured them into the kelp beds and onto the rocks. We all have to wonder how that could happen in a very well-equipped one-design racing yacht, with the very best of modern electronic navigation equipment and a full crew of 18 pairs of ears and eyes. No doubt an investigation will tell us in a few weeks or months exactly what went wrong.
"Greenings" on the rocks the following morning.
There is no Coast Guard in South Africa, no state-financed rescue service. All that there is to help in a situation like this is the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI). The NSRI was started by private individuals in 1967 and has grown to become a very well organised and capable rescue service, crewed by more than 1000 volunteers working from more than 30 bases around the country and operating a wide variety of powerboats, from rubber ducks to purpose-built offshore rescue vessels.

NSRI vessels and shore crews were despatched from four bases around the Cape Peninsula. Within a few hours and still in darkness, they had rescued all 18 crew from the "Greenings" and had them safely ashore in Hout Bay, my home before moving to USA. Read more about the rescue.
Crew of "Greenings" met by race officials at Hout Bay NSRI base.
This was another very efficient rescue, executed by a vary capable rescue service with very dedicated crew who go to sea at any time of night or day. This time their rescue was on calm seas with a good moon. At other times they are out in the worst weather and seas imaginable but they are always out there when lives are at risk. NSRI has always been funded by donations from private individuals and commerce. They also used to receive funding from government, which knew that this organisation supplies a critical service and has saved many hundreds of lives. That funding from government was very important to maintaining the costly craft, equipment and bases, as well as training the crew members.

Unfortunately, the current South African government has only self-interest at heart and has decimated and even plundered most of the infrastructure of the country, themselves becoming very wealthy in the process. Along the way, many very valuable programs and charities have lost most or all of their government funding. NSRI is now dependent almost entirely on private funding.

The government seems to have declared war on private business, introducing draconian legislation that makes doing business there progressively more difficult. Many businesses are battling to stay viable or are simply closing their doors. This must all be having an impact on donations to NSRI and all of the other charities. We know that the people of NSRI will keep going no-matter what but one has to wonder how long they can keep the organisation properly equipped and operating safely when finance is so difficult.

As we have seen so clearly this week, the seamen of the world need NSRI when they are voyaging around the southern tip of Africa. This applies not only to small boat sailors; NSRI has been called into service when foreign fishing vessels, tankers, container ships, cruise liners and all sorts of other craft have got into difficulties. Without them, the seamen can't even count on the now decimated South African Navy or Air Force to help them. Those are all services that were available and ready to rescue whenever needed but their assistance is no longer as certain as it was in years gone by.