Melkbosstrand NSRI station commander handing over the helm after more than three decades
After more than three decades at the helm, Rhine Barnes, station commander of the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) Rescue Station in Melkbosstrand will be standing down. Barnes has been at the helm of the Rescue Station since it was started in 1994 when a group of locals in Melkbosstrand got together to form a volunteer sea rescue organisation. Little did they know just how successful it will be and how many live would be saved as a result of this initiative? People such as the late Leon Nolte, the driving force behind the initiative and Allan Seini who now resides in Australia were but a few of the names of those who were involved in getting the rescue station started. Local residents such as Manie Fourie, Leon Van Niekerk and Melt De Kock made their personal boats available to respond to rescues.
The rescue station only became an official NSRI Rescue Station in 1996. The one name that has been there since the beginning, is Rhine Barnes. He has been the station commander since its inception until the end of September this year, when he will hand over the helm of the station to the new station commander, who is to be elected, later this month.
Talk to Barnes about his 23 years in office he will relate many stories about rescues that the station performed which included taking the crew off the Seli 1 before she ran aground off the Bloubergstrand beach, or rescuing the crew of the trawler Claremont, which ran aground on Robben Island in the dead of night in a howling storm.
He will tell you about the many people they have plucked from the sea but he goes quiet when he remembers the ones that they could not get to, in time. Telling the family that their loved one is not going home with them is the most difficult tasks that a station commander has to perform.
Looking back over the 23 years as Station Commander, Rhine says that there were many people who joined the station only to find that it is not all glory, it is hard work, dedication and many hours of training. Finding those dedicated people has always been very challenging and there is a high turn-over of wannabe rescue volunteers.
On the other end of the scale were those people who proved to be gems and although many of them are no longer with NSRI, the time that they spent with the organisation left deep tracks for others to follow.
In remembering the early days, Barnes says that when the crew came on duty in those days, they brought their own personal boat with them. They left the boat at the station to be on standby for the week that they were on duty. The rescue station was housed in the local Disaster Management Centre in Duynefontein and the boats had to be towed all the way to the Melkbosstrand Boat Launch area. It wasn’t until eight years later that they were able to build a proper rescue station near the launch area, where they are today.
The Melkbosstrand Rescue Station has seen many firsts since its existence which includes the development of a Task Book which is used throughout the organisation today to guide and record a crewmember’s progression from trainee crewman to coxswain of a rescue boat. The most recent first was the establishment of the NSRI Lifeguards. The Melkbosstrand Rescue Station established its own Lifeguard Unit three years ago and since then, other rescue stations around the country have done the same. Municipalities are now looking to the NSRI to establish or provide lifeguards in areas where there are no traditional lifesaving clubs. This has been a big step in the NSRI’s Drowning Prevention initiative.
When asked what he was going to do with his time now that he is no longer running the rescue station, Rhine smiles and says that he was fortunate enough to be appointed the Regional Representative for all the West Coast Rescue Stations between Melkbosstrand and Port Nolloth. He says that many of these stations have new station commanders who may need guidance and support as they take on their roles and responsibilities. He won’t be leaving the NSRI he says, he will be continuing to serve the organisation but in a different capacity.