Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Last of the South African Lighthousekeepers: Japie Greeff

 A series by Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson - 2015, October

Japie Greeff at Cape Columbine Lighthouse
Photo: Keri

In another of his anecdotes, Japie Greeff, who is currently stationed at Cape Columbine Lighthouse, continues to delight us with his interesting recollections of his first involvement with a sea rescue, whilst he was stationed at Cape Point Lighthouse.  
 I was on the morning shift and just about to be relieved, when a radio   broadcast came through from Cape Town Radio of a storm warning, reporting a north-westerly gale gusting to 50 knots with heavy swells up to 8 meters. Fishing vessels were at sea catching crayfish near Cape Hangklip, which is approximately ten miles off Cape Point.  The skippers, on hearing this warning, made ready to head directly for the nearest harbour. 
 Facing large swells and roaring winds whilst returning to a safe harbour, suddenly, without warning, one of the fishing vessels suddenly sprang a leak in the bow.  A hull plank had been battered loose and the vessel started taking water – fast! I radioed the skipper and told him to swing to stern and keep steaming astern towards the Lighthouse, whilst I notified the South African Navy. It was necessary for me to call upon the Navy, as the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) vessel would not have been able to handle these conditions. The Navy immediately deployed a Strike Craft and despite battling heavy swells and high seas, their excellent team work and co-ordination, had the fishing crew rescued and taken back to safety within two hours! 
 Some weeks later, we met with the rescued skipper and his crew for drinks at the Ski Boat Club. He told us they were so grateful for the fast response from all involved in rescuing them from such dangerous seas, but unfortunately, their fishing boat had been lost when it sank just next to the Lighthouse.  
 Whilst under the threat of sinking and struggling to save his boat, the skipper could not believe that the simple maneuver I had instructed him to follow, of turning his ship to stern to avoid the bow taking excessive water, had saved all their lives.    

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