Saving Lives at Sea

In these dog-days of winter and B****t machinations, perhaps the telling of a heartening true incident that my wife and I witnessed in the autumn might help to ease you into the New Year with a smile of optimism.

Our walk on the day in question took us along a section of the coastal path in south Gower around Langland Bay. As we approached the western point of the bay, a couple walked towards us making a phone call. Nothing unusual about that, except that they had been asked to make the call by a young French woman who explained to us that she could not get a signal on her mobile. She had spotted a canoeist about halfway across the bay apparently in difficulty. He was roughly in the centre of the patch of sea in the photograph below.

Langland Bey

My poor eyesight didn’t reveal to me what the woman had seen but my wife agreed that she had done the right thing by calling the authorities. (My immediate concern was that the couple making the call might have thought agitated foreign woman: there’s nothing wrong out there.) We asked a young guy who was also standing on the point to check to see if the rescue services had indeed been informed: they had, so the first callers had done the bidding of our highly observant French woman, Sophie.

Sophie used to live in one of the ports on the Brittany coast and was experienced enough to know when someone was in trouble in the sea.

To my eyes, the canoeist appeared to be merely practicing getting back into his canoe in the event of capsizing. It was clear to Sophie and my wife that he wasn’t able to get back into his canoe, despite several efforts to haul himself out of the water. At first glance, other passers-by might not have noticed that anything was amiss. Fortunately, Sophie thought otherwise and made a decision to arrange for the rescue services to get involved.

While we waited for Mumbles lifeboat to arrive on the scene, Sophie had the three of us jumping up and down, waving our arms vigorously to let our canoeist know he had been noticed. After a few minutes of this on-shore activity, a white motorboat appeared around the eastern point of the bay. Sophie became agitated and excited at the sight of this vessel. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that lifeboats are orange in colour, but when the white boat seemed to change direction giving the impression that our man in the water had not been seen, I thought better of it.

By now, we were all very concerned that although our man had stopped trying to get into his canoe – he had probably run out of strength in any case and he was aware that we had seen him in difficulty – we heard him shout in frustration as the white boat continued on its way, without changing direction. Our main concern was that he would be getting cold, hanging onto his flimsy canoe. The vigorous arm waving continued in an effort to reassure our man.

Suddenly the white boat changed direction and veered towards our man. Almost at that precise moment, one of the smaller Mumbles lifeboats appeared around the eastern point of the bay: a most welcome sight. Although the lifeboat station is probably only about a mile or so around the point, it must take a good few minutes to page the crew, get togged up in their gear, and launch the boat. A process that the service calls a ‘shout’, I believe.

A small crowd had, by this time, accumulated on the western point of the bay. All of us, especially Sophie and her two ‘helpers’ were very relieved that our man would not have to spend much longer in the water. We stood and watched as the lifeboat took our man on board and set off for the beach at Langland.

As the lifeboat set off for the safety of the beach, we heard the siren of an ambulance approaching Langland Bay along the coast road. The co-ordination of the rescue services was complete. Sophie wasn’t satisfied until she could see our man walk up the beach to be given over to the care of the ambulance crew. Then, and only then, did she decide to leave our vantage point and return to her car. The way to the car park at Caswell Bay meant that the three of us could walk and chat together for a mile or so.

‘You did something amazing today, Sophie,’ I told her. ‘Do you realise what you did?’

This was met with a Gallic shrug and, ‘I will phone my family.’

As the three of us strolled along the coastal path from Langland Bay to Caswell Bay, Sophie told us that she had been living and working in the UK for several years. She kept us amused with her views on Brexit: ‘If they don’t want me ‘ere … ‘ And on her recent pay rise: ‘Half a percent. They can stick it where they like.’

We parted company at Caswell Bay. Sophie was delightful and sanguine about what she initiated earlier in the afternoon. Her Gallic shrug said it all.

Mumbles lifeboat service dates back a very long way.

The next image shows the front of the original building.


Mumbles lifeboat station, 1882

The boathouse in the next image is opposite the original building and is still in use today; it dates from the 1990s.

The boathouse on the left at the end of the pier dates from the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries.

The new boathouse on the right dates from the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. The vessel that is housed in the new boathouse cost the service about £4m!

On the face of it, it seems very strange that the lifeboat service is a charity, given the highly responsible role that it plays around the coastline. If it were to be a public service, the government would probably have sold it to a private outfit by now, making a mess of this brilliant charity-driven service. IMHO it is safer as a charity.

There are three lifeboats at Mumbles: it must be a busy station. I don’t know where the next nearest lifeboat station is to the west or the east.

Well done Sophie; you were instrumental in helping to save a man’s life that afternoon. It was a pleasure meeting you and we were glad that we were of assistance in a small way. I hope you don’t feel that you must leave the UK.

How immensely pleasing it would be if one of the tentacles of social media stretched far enough to find Sophie, so that she could read this blog post about how her quick reactions on that day helped to save the life of a fellow human being.

In any event, my wife and I wish Sophie a very happy New Year: continue to do amazing deeds next year, Sophie.

Also, I wish my blog readers a very happy and peaceful New Year. Thank you all for reading my daft wee blog posts; your support is very much appreciated. I hope to find interesting things to write about and post in 2019.


By David Muir:


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