Saturday afternoon and I had volunteer lifesaving duty. My (broken) collarbone is knitted enough to be able to go in for a swim in modest surf – but if there were a difficult rescue I would pass the duty onto someone else. Really I am a pair of eyes – the job is to watch and assess – not to make a hero of myself.
I was sitting chatting with Rod, a fellow lifesaver at the North end of the beach watching quite a large crowd and getting modestly annoyed when the (fibreglass) board riders were sailing too close (or into) the flagged bathing area. (Swimmer’s heads tend to come off badly when hit with a fibreglass surf board.)
At the very south end of the beach is a rip (a current that goes out to sea) and some lifesavers were standing around chatting around the rip. This is the same rip where the Muslim men were rescued last November.
There was someone swimming in the rip – with quite good – even stylish strokes. But he was getting nowhere. Rod and I were debating whether he was even likely to get into trouble. The stroke was – as I said – strong – but given the current what he was doing was futile. We watched for about a minute when I decided to walk down the other end of the beach and see what the other lifesavers wanted to do about it. I was not worried.
As I walked the guy stopped swimming – just gave up – and started to drift out to sea at about 1.5 metres (5 feet) per second. I got to the lifesavers about the time I thought it was actually going to be necessary to go in and get the guy – but the professional lifeguard on the beach had run down, got a rescue board and was already on his way to effect the rescue. These are the same lifeguards from the TV series.
The victim was still treading water, the surf was not rough – and I suspect if he knew what he was doing (that is knew to swim across the current) he could have rescued himself. But I was still a little peeved at myself for missing the easiest of board rescues (and the kudos/self congratulations that would go along with it).
Ex post we realised there were a few missing details:
First – the lifesavers at the South end of the beach simply did not notice the guy caught in the rip. Maybe they noticed his fine swimming stroke and assumed he was not a “customer”. Maybe they were looking at pretty women in bikinis. Maybe they were just preoccupied. Whatever – they did not see.
Second – the customer was from Bavaria. He was a tourist. He had once swum competitively (hence the stylish swimming stroke) but he had never swum in the surf. He simply did not understand his predicament and he had no idea how to get out of it.
Third – the customer was wearing cut-off cotton jeans – not a nylon swimming costume. That makes it just so much harder – and an amazing proportion of our rescues are of people who go in fully or partially clothed. [The fully clothed are often Muslims.]
Fourth – the customer had had a couple of beers.
If I had known these four details I would not have walked to the other end of the beach – I would have run as fast as I could. Those details – none of which were readily apparent – changes the interpretation of the guy in a rip from “interesting and slightly comic” to “life-and-death”.
The existence of a problem was obvious to me – and I (incorrectly) presumed that it was similarly obvious to my fellow lifesavers. I just assumed because I had noticed everyone had noticed – and hence I acted almost apathetically to the danger. Moreover I assumed away my four missing details because the customer had a fine swimming stroke which created an illusion that all was under control.
That is I suspect a very human mistake…