CoastWatch News – June 2014 – Malcolm Craven

Well, We’re Still in Business

image001Well, we have just had our annual D.F.S. assessment. That stands for Declared Facility Status and what it means in layman’s terms is that we can be counted as part of the overall Emergency Services dealing with coastal incidents, using our radio to do so when necessary. I say ‘coastal’ as a fair amount of our work is created by our proximity to the Coast Path and the attraction of the rocky coastline to anglers and people exploring the rock pools around the Lookout.

The Coast Path can generate casualties as people fall at stiles or slip where it is uneven and we have had to help deal with casualties suffering broken bones. First Aid is not included in our training (though we have donated Scoop Poops as splints!) but we are there to provide the communications point, alerting ambulances through MRCC or by direct ‘999’. Fortunately, so far as I know, we have not yet had a serious injury by someone falling on the rocks below but should it happen we would again pass the initial call to MRCC and assist them and possibly the Cliff Rescue Team in pinpointing the casualty.

A lot of anglers use the rocks below the Lookout and can be a worry. You see a man with all the necessary kit clambering down and walking out on to the rock shelf. You note his presence and description in our Day Book, watch him bait up and walk out to the edge where the sea is breaking a few feet below him. But watching a man fishing is not the most exciting occupation and, in any case, your attention is needed elsewhere.

There are small boats to log, yachts to note, and the professional fishing boat to keep an eye on. Then you look back to the fisherman and he is not there! I won’t say one panics but the question arises in your mind, ‘Where is he? Has he fallen in? Is he now struggling in the water trying to land a very large fish?’ You may still be able to see his kit so he hasn’t gone home. You must not leave the Lookout – that is strictly against our Standing Orders. Then he re-appears from behind the rock that had been hiding him and your moment of wondering is over.

image003Why must we not leave the Lookout under any circumstance? That brings me back to our D.F.S. assessment as it is the sort of question that the assessor might ask a Watchkeeper. The reason is that our purpose is to provide a line of communication between a person in difficulties and those who are coordinating the rescue. If the chain is broken by there being no Watchkeeper in the Lookout then you might create the situation whereby the Lifeboat is searching blind for a head in the water or another cry for help is left unanswered.

Heads are small things, invisible at water level at a quarter of a mile. From our elevated position at the Lookout we can see both the Lifeboat and the casualty so we can direct the boat. It would be unusual but not impossible to have a second emergency call while one emergency is being dealt with. It is also fact that VHF has its own peculiarities and it is not unknown for us to hear a ‘Mayday’ call which is missed by MRCC. So – we stay put whatever happens. We are usually single handed so cannot say, ‘You stay here – I’ll go’

Yet nothing in life is a simple irrefutable rule. Let me set up a situation. A fourteen year old boy is walking along the rock ledge just below the Lookout. He slips and falls in the water. The Watchkeeper sees this happen and immediately realises that the boy cannot get out unaided. There is no one else about. The test question is what do you do? My answer (and some Members may disagree) is a quick call to MRCC on our red emergency line.

Then grab our specialist throwing line from its hook in the Lookout, go down to the ledge and throw him the line. Otherwise what do you do? Stay there and watch him drown? It is for this reason that a couple of years ago, after much discussion, we went and purchased the specially designed line. There had been recent bad press about some emergency service personnel sticking to their Standing Orders and not entering water to effect a rescue without a Risk Assessment and approval from a higher authority.

image005I raise the question here to illustrate the fact that the NCI is not a rigid organisation and that there is always room for sensible action. If there is a later enquiry and you can be shown to have acted sensibly, without rashness, with good intention, no one is going to criticise you. The same applies to getting MRCC to call the Lifeboat out. If it is a false alarm with good intention it doesn’t matter. Particularly in our Pednavaden Unit I believe that we are a bunch of mature men and women, setting out to do our best, with good flexible Management, and an excellent Training Programme. Providing you have good eyesight, with or without glasses, can use a telephone and can walk out to the Lookout anyone can do it. Come out to the Lookout and have a look. We are now open six days a week (closed Tuesdays) from 09.30hrs to 17.00hrs – if the flag is up we are there.

I anticipate that my paragraph above may spark discussion among our Members, especially in our Training Sessions. Even the Management may argue among themselves. That is how we resolve these questions, everyone can have an input, say their piece, and, usually, a majority rule prevails. If this appears in print you will know that my Editors have not put a red pencil through it!

Before I close there is one thing I missed out in last month’s description about Thames Sailing Barges – how were the sails treated. Well, a bit of research comes up with this. The sail was laid out flat in a field or any large open area. Then the mixture was prepared. One I found was:- 7 gallons cod oil, 14 gallons saltwater, 100lbs of red ochre and 20lbs horse fat. The mixture still too runny? Add a few pounds of coal dust to thicken it up till it was nice and gooey. Then the crew sets to with yard brooms and scrub the mixture into the sail. Give it a couple of days to dry, then turn it over and repeat. Avoid going out socially for a few days as it would not only be the sail which was coloured. But the pub was O.K. – if it was the time when many sails were

being dressed then it would be like a Red Indian gathering as most of the customers had changed colour. I even read one recipe in a book where cow dung was used to supplement the red ochre. Gives a nice brown tinge. Apparently the mixture on the sail never properly dries and would last a couple of years, still coming off on your hands and clothing when handled.

If you want to know more about NCI there is now a different phone number for you. Give Bob a ring on 01872-580720

Picture by courtesy of Edith May Trust

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