I was to meet Dave, my fellow watchkeeper for the afternoon,
by the Surf Shop in Bishopston at 1.10pm (or 1310 hours as we
say in the trade!). I like to be on time and smiled with satisfaction
to see that Dave had not yet arrived. I had been there a couple
of minutes when I looked at my watch and frowned on seeing that
it stated with its usual confidence that it was only12.12pm.
Blast! I thought. I headed back home, I would have enough time
for an espresso and a few pages from my current book.
concerned though as this was not the first time, last week I
had a dentist appointment, his first of the morning. I walked
in “You’re early!” he said. “Well I
make a virtue of being early.” Said I. “Mmm yes”
said he “but maybe a week early is taking things to extremes”
I laughed off my embarrassment and made my way back home.
attempt to make a rendezvous with Dave was a predictable success
and I jumped into his car and we sped off to Rhossili. The morning
watchkeepers, Liz and George, brought us up to date with the
situation on the island. Flooding would be within the hour and
the ‘Too late to cross’ boards were up but there
were people who were going the wrong way, this was worrying.
Every cloud has a silver lining, as they say and indeed they
were giving us the chance to use the siren. The siren is new
and this one does not slip into ‘Jingle Bells’ I
kid you not! A few long and undulating blasts drew attention
to the situation and very effectively drew everyone elses attention
to us! Soon everyone was travelling in the same direction. Sometimes
I think that a couple of sheepdogs would be a good investment.
a lovely clear day with a good crowd of visitors and this is
what makes a shift enjoyable. A couple of times during the afternoon
the lookout was crowded with wide-eyed children and parents,
the children sometimes patiently awaiting their turn at the
binoculars but often not. Parents always have many and varied
questions which we are delighted to answer. There was a family
from Switzerland whose children came in bearing treasures, one
bore a small piece of quartz to show us and the other had a
small piece of coal. The coal had a story and Dave knew it.
He told them about the ship called the Samson which was wrecked
on the shore beneath us about 100 years ago, it had been carrying
coal out of Swansea docks. The coal had spilled out on the shore
and the industrious villagers of Rhossili bore it all away before
the excise men heard about it. Rhossili houses were warm for
a couple of winters after that! Later a large family from Perth
Australia called in, their children swarming over our chairs.
They eventually went away with big smiles on their faces and
we really noticed the silence when they left!
on the airwaves, things were happening. On the far side of the
Pembrokeshire coast a 35 foot yacht was in trouble with a broken
down engine and requesting assistance. A boy was stuck 35ft
up a cliff in Pembrokeshire and a man with a bike was cut off
on a sandbank in the Loughor estuary.
yachtsman was calling the coastguard for assistance and information
was passing back and forth as to what assistance was needed.
The report came through about the boy on the cliff and his exact
position was being established. The position of the man with
a bike (why a bike?) was being determined. All this in an unhurried
and calm manner. The Rescue 169 helicopter was being called
up, that was situated in Devon, thank goodness it doesn’t
have to come by road! Soon they were airborne and we picked
it up through the binoculars far away against the horizon and
tracked its progress until we could no longer see it against
the background of Pembrokeshire. Smoke was being ordered to
mark the position of the boy so the the helicopter could make
straight for him. We heard nothing for about 20 minutes and
then we heard the crew advising that the boy was now safe on
lifeboat was being called to go to provide assistance for the
yacht and the voluntary crew were at the lifeboat station in
about 10 minutes. We heard the lifeboat identifying their crew
and they were soon on their way and in direct radio contact
with the yacht. In 15 minutes or so they were there, and a member
of the lifeboat crew boarded the yacht and attached the line.
Then they established a suitable towing speed and were off,
destination Tenby. All were to be well.
Burry Port inshore rescue boat went to the assistance of the
man with the bike and we heard that the man was back safe. But
we wanted to know where the bike was and why did he take it
onto a sandbank!
we were off duty, the lookout equipment was all stored neatly
away, we had piped the flag down with great ceremony and we
were making for home. It had been a good watch. But what was
really striking was the way that the Coastguards calmly co-ordinated
the rescue services, there is no panic, such reassuring professionalism.
The RNLI crew assemble at amazing speed and are ready to go
out in all weathers and the rescue helicopter can be on the
scene in no time, do the job, and are ready for the next one.
is all behind the scenes for most people but we hear it all
done, and thank you everybody!