MEET THE AU­THOR

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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

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