Coast­guard with no coast kept busy

Each year, Coast­guard New Zealand vol­un­teers bring about 7100 peo­ple home to safety, with search and res­cue vol­un­teers ded­i­cat­ing count­less hours of their own time to train­ing, then res­cu­ing those who get into trou­ble on the wa­ter, putting in at least 360

Central Otago Mirror - - FEATURES - Clyde Wanaka Queen­stown

On State High­way 8 at Clyde, where the Otago Cen­tral Rail Trail be­gins, stands a mod­est dou­ble-bay tin shed, proudly bear­ing the name Coast­guard Clyde. To the vis­i­tor it may seem that they’ve hit the South Is­land’s coast a cou­ple hours too early, or maybe the sign’s dis­play­ing a hu­mour as dry as the re­gion’s cli­mate, be­cause surely there can’t be too many sea res­cues here? How­ever, as in­con­gru­ous as a snowflake in the Sa­hara, for nearly 10 years Clyde, heart of the New Zealand desert, has boasted its own coast­guard. ‘‘Peo­ple do start laugh­ing when they see our sign,’’ Coast­guard Clyde pres­i­dent Tony Smith ad­mits. The coast­guard name is a mis­nomer, a relic from an ear­lier time in Mar­itime New Zealand’s coastal guardian­ship his­tory, with the role grow­ing to en­com­pass in­land water­ways. Clyde was the first of the south­ern in­land units to be set up, fol­lowed by Lake Brun­ner in 2006, Queen­stown in 2007, Wanaka and Twizel in 2011. Th­ese units also as­sist po­lice in search, res­cue and re­cov­ery, act­ing as the fall-back po­si­tion for Civil De­fence in the case of a nat­u­ral disas­ter such as an earth­quake. With the cy­cle-tourism boom look­ing set to con­tinue, it’s likely that the coast­guard will be­come a more com­mon sight on the Cen­tral Otago and Queen­stown Lakes water­ways. ‘‘Peo­ple get stranded, or get in­jured fall­ing off their bikes, and if they are near the river or lake, some­times it’s just eas­ier to res­cue them by boat,’’ Mr Smith said. Even lo­cals who have got used to see­ing the coast­guard’s base on Depart­ment on Con­ser­va­tion land near Clyde and the high­viz red res­cue boat on nearby water­ways, still seem con­fused about what the unit is and what it ac­tu­ally does, Mr Smith said. ‘‘Peo­ple will say ‘where are your guns?’ Al­though we as­sist the po­lice, we don’t have any po­lice pow­ers, but I guess it’s a bit like putting po­lice cars out on the road. If you have the patrol boat out on the wa­ter peo­ple do be­have them­selves.’’ Vol­un­teers spend about 45 per cent of their time train­ing for some­thing they may never have to do, and that’s save a life. This in­volves get­ting search and res­cue qual­i­fi­ca­tions, pro­vid­ing wa­ter safety ser­vices for lo­cal groups, and for some, gain­ing a Day Skip­per qual­i­fi­ca­tion, which tests cur­rent-read­ing, chart-plot­ting and marine VHF Ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In­land units were set up to keep a lo­cal skill-base of peo­ple with wa­ter-res­cue ex­pe­ri­ence, Coast­guard South­ern Re­gion man­ager, Cheryl Mof­fat, says. ‘‘It’s bet­ter to be called out and not be needed than to not get called out.’’ As a vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion that re­ceives only 15 per cent govern­ment fund­ing, coast­guards are mostly re­liant on com­mu­nity fundrais­ing. To find out about vol­un­teer­ing or mak­ing a do­na­tion, go to: coast­guard.co.nz The Clutha River, which Maori called the Mata-au mean­ing ‘sur­faced cur­rent,’ one of world’s cold­est, swiftest, most treach­er­ous wa­ter-ways, claims many lives, in­clud­ing a vic­tim who drowned while tak­ing sam­ples from a wa­ter dis­charge, and was swept 90km down­stream to Beau­mont, his body found seven days later. The coast­guard res­cued seven peo­ple in the last year. Pres­i­dent Tony Smith said ev­ery job was dif­fer­ent. ‘‘Some­times a call­out may only be for an hour, some­times it may last for days, and I guess the sat­is­fy­ing thing is that in the case of body re­cov­ery, it’s good to give clo­sure to peo­ple.’’ Coast­guard Wanaka Lakes mem­bers are us­ing their own pri­vate ves­sels un­til they can raise enough funds to buy a ded­i­cated res­cue boat. In the short time the coast­guard has been of­fi­cially in op­er­a­tion, New Zealand’s fourth largest lake, Lake Wanaka, has tested the new unit’s search and res­cue skills with a miss­ing yachts­man whose body was even­tu­ally re­cov­ered, and a kayaker on Lake Hawea, who was never found. Two peo­ple were also res­cued since July last year. The year be­fore 13 peo­ple were res­cued. In 2008, a year af­ter the unit opened, Coast­guard Queen­stown was given a res­cue boat on loan from Coast­guard New Zealand, to ser­vice New Zealand’s long­est lake and one of the deep­est. As a heav­i­lyused wa­ter­way, search ef­forts have var­ied from cap­sized and sunken ves­sels, to jet-ski col­li­sions, a para­pen­ter, and the re­cov­ery of two French tourists who died in a kayak ac­ci­dent. While out train­ing one night Coast­guard Queen­stown vol­un­teers no­ticed an cap­sized dinghy with a young per­son sit­ting atop it. They found that the mast had snapped and he was mildly hy­pother­mic. Vol­un­teers res­cued eight peo­ple since July last year and nine the pre­vi­ous year.

Photo: MARY-JO TO­HILL

Clyde HQ: Coast­guard Clyde mem­bers vi­cepres­i­dent James Robin­son, left, and pres­i­dent Tony Smith, out­side their build­ing on State High­way 8.

Long­est lake: Jay Ber­ri­man with Queen­stown Coast­guard’s boat.

Photo: MARY-JO TO­HILL

Lake Dun­stan watch: Coast­guard Clyde pres­i­dent Tony Smith.

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