It was the 13th of May 2000 a day different to no other on our lovely coastline, we had finished a normal day’s lifeguard duty and, like we do every day, prepared to head home for the evening.
All was quiet except for the echo of the surf breaking, which seems to amplify during the winter months, and the rustle of the trees as the cool land breeze blows it way out to sea.
As I retired to bed with thoughts of some surfing in the morning, who would have thought that in a few hours, sleepy Ballito would wake to reports of a ship having grounded on the rocks off the tidal pool which would have many of its residents in the grip of daily events that would unfold in the effort to salvage.
The phone rang around 03h15 and as I got out of bed I thought to myself, what kind of trouble had my lifeguards got into tonight that I am getting a phone call?
As I lifted the phone I could hear sirens from emergency vehicles in the background and radio chat that convinced me that the phone call was not some kind of prank that a mate might play.
The control room operator quickly informed me of the emergency and my brain went into overdrive as I played out my action of response and raced for the Salt Rock Lifeguard station to gather whatever equipment I thought I might need.
All loaded up and on my way, I knew that I would need back up and more lifeguards, but to mobilise them at this hour was going to be a challenge. I knew that three of them shared a flat at Long Island, Thompsons Bay on route, so that is where I pulled up and hit the intercom button at the gate.
After a few minutes a sleepy voice answered and, with some convincing, the gate opened and I raced up to the flat.
All three had been out on the town and had retired to bed for the last few hours left before reporting to work the next day and, as I explained the situation, it was as if the moment they had trained for had arrived. It was a mad scramble for wet suits and uniform as they tore out of the flat and into the van.
Arriving at Clark Bay car park, I noticed a ship with its lights on parked at the other end with rocket flares flying up toward the shore and over the houses. Emergency vehicles were arriving and people were scrambling into action. Lights, action and cameras!
Wetsuits, gloves and boots on… and the team swung into action, diving into the surf in the dark and swimming out to the ship where the crew were perched up on the bow desperately trying to get their anchor rope out into the water as waves drove the ship higher onto the rocks from the stern.
Spotlights waving back and forth looking for crew members in the surf , fire trucks and police vehicles were arriving by now filling the car park with noise as it became a scene from the movies and the rescue teams scuttled around doing what the could .
It wasn’t long before we had secured the anchor rope and begun the task of assisting the crew to slide down the rope using their lifejacket webbing straps. All of this was being carried out while the ship was being battered and, by now, was beginning to spill diesel and oil into the surf, leaving us smelling like mechanics.
All but one crew member were saved that night – but if it were not for the quick action of the lifeguard team… who knows.
Days and later weeks unfolded with the shore lined with onlookers watching the operations of the salvage team dismantling the ship and finally towing it off the rocks to its resting place 200m out to sea to become one of Ballito treasured dive locations.
For the four of us it was a life changing experience and, for days after, we would put it all on the line again, using our Jet Ski and Inflatable rescue boat to prevent a second disaster when one of the salvage ships nearly landed up on the rocks and again, after that to drop off salvage personnel on to the ship in the surf before they had constructed a bridge from the rocks to the ship.
Who were those guys and who will remember…One Night of Fame?