MEET THE AUTHOR
Celebrate the bravery of the volunteers who work for the NSRI, read about a philosophical hermit, laugh at some funny birds and discover new music for around the braai. COMPILED BY ERNS GRUNDLING
If you find daring sea rescues, burning ships and shark attacks gripping, you’ll devour the true stories in this book by well-known photojournalist and columnist Tony Weaver. We chat to him about Into a Raging Sea, which he co-wrote with Andrew Ingram.
What made you decide to write this book? The NSRI’s Meriel Bartlett and Andrew Ingram approached me about writing a book to commemorate 50 years of sea rescue in South Africa. We worked our way through various format ideas before I proposed that we simply put together a series of short stories, marking some of the more memorable rescues over the decades.
You and Andrew co-wrote the book… Yes. I’ve known Andrew for years, since the days when we both worked at the Cape Times (he was chief photographer and I was news editor). Andrew went on to become media manager at the NSRI and I soon realised that he had reported on many of the big rescues that I was writing about, and had conducted key interviews with rescuers and survivors, sometimes mere hours after major operations had been completed. I took his original stories and gave them a light edit to fit the overall style and tone of the book.
How much work was involved? Quite a bit! I kept a log of my time and it took me 17 weeks to research the material, conduct interviews and write the book – about 680 hours. We had a limited budget for travel so as many interviews as possible were done in Cape Town, and others were done over the phone. I still managed to go to the Vaal Dam to interview station commander Dicky Manten, and Andrew and I travelled along the coast from Witsand to Port Elizabeth, interviewing NSRI crew members.
This book is a tribute to the NSRI. Tell us more. The people who staff the rescue teams are all volunteers. They sacrifice family time, risk their lives and spend hours at sea or on an inland body of water in absolutely miserable, often extremely dangerous conditions. Rescues very seldom take place in good weather and fine conditions. Each of those volunteers is an unsung hero. The NSRI had humble origins: The organisation began with one tiny inflatable boat nicknamed Snoopy, crewed by a bunch of beach bums (and I use that term with absolute respect!), who used to hang out at the bar at the Clifton Hotel. These days it’s a dynamic, very professional organisation. Tracking the evolution is fascinating. Hawaiian surfers have a term for accomplished ocean users – they call them “watermen”. The original NSRI crew members, dubbed “The Originals”, and to whom we dedicate a chapter, were all consummate watermen, as are the men and women who volunteer today.
Who do you think will enjoy this book? Anyone who spends time near the ocean or on a dam or river, and who understands the power of water. Beyond that, I hope the stories are good enough on their own to keep the attention of anyone who enjoys a good yarn.
What are your favourite anecdotes? There are so many! In the chapter about Knysna, a man called Wayne Bergstrom spent five hours adrift at sea without a boat or life jacket. He was about to give up hope when he heard an engine: “A little rubber duck was a few hundred metres away. I went berserk. Thomas and Andrew came flying over and Thomas leant over the side and asked me if I was Wayne Bergstrom. I did see the funny side of it. I said, ‘I’ll be anyone you want me to be right now.’” In another chapter about Port Elizabeth, NSRI member Colin Alexander describes the rescue of the crew on the stricken trawler St Croix in 1996: “The waves would knock us down, and for a few moments you wouldn’t know where you were. Then you would look up and there would be nothing in front of you… In my 19 years of sea rescue, I’ve never seen as wild a sea. We were descending into troughs so deep that the swells above us were higher than our tallest radio mast. We were hitting the bottom trough so hard that I later had no feeling at all in my lower body.” Then there was the yacht Gulliver, rescued off Witsand in 2011 in absolutely horrific conditions. It was one of the most epic rescues ever. Andrew and I tell the story in the final chapter, “The angels had their hands full”. The two chapters about rescue missions that were really just body recoveries stand out because of the sheer scale of the disasters. One details the Italtile plane crash off Plettenberg Bay in 2011 and the other is written by Dominique le Roux and tells the harrowing tale of a tubing adventure on the Storms River in 2000, which went horribly wrong.
What future book projects are you working on at the moment? I’ve been very tied up with my day job as deputy editor at the online travel website Safarious ( safarious.com), but I’m also working on a longer-term project, a book about my travels through Africa over the past 30 or so years.
Into a Raging Sea is published by Jonathan Ball and costs R240 at takealot.com