Coastwatch Worm's Head
A crucial lifeline on cruel waters
Tuesday October 21 2008 - Reproduced by Kind Permission of the Evening Post
FOR a small village, it's been a busy time for lifesavers.
Last week, the RNLI revealed its Mumbles crew has been one of the most active in the country.
In the first six months of the year, the station's all-weather lifeboat was launched six times, and the inshore rescue team was called out 17 times.
In total, those launches were responsible for the rescue of 24 people.
Those statistics also raise questions about the safety of the waters around Swansea and Gower.
Alarming they may sound, but according to Mumbles Lifeboat manager Tim Conway, people heading out on to Swansea Bay and the seas around Gower are at no heightened risk.
"All water can be dangerous," he said.
"But because we are in a such a popular area, I think that is why we have been so busy.
"We are based in Mumbles, which is a popular destination in its own right, we are close to the marina, and to Gower.
"Over the past few years, with an increase in wealth we have seen an increase in waterbourne activities, which has resulted in more people in the water.
"Of course, we have had a bad summer weatherwise, which may have contributed."
A fact handy for fans of pub quizzes is that the Bristol Channel, on which Swansea lies, has the second highest tidal range on the planet, at 49 ft.
Less well known, in Swansea at least, is that it is second only to Bay of Fundy in Eastern Canada.
South Wales also has to cope with sometimes unforgiving south westerly weather systems, blowing in from Atlantic Ocean, and the geography of Gower also means that some parts peninsula have dangerous tidal currents, which makes some areas particularly unsafe, including water off Mumbles Head and Three Cliffs.
Another danger spot is Worm's Head off Rhossili, and coastguards there have also recorded a busy year.
Since January, the Rhossili coastguards have been called out 85 times, and rescued 64 people.
Those people putting their own life and limb at risk are, like the RNLI crew in Mumbles, all volunteers.
One, Richard Furneaux, said: "It has been a busy year considering the season we have had.
"I think the weather conditions may have had something to do with that.
"Because it has been a bad summer, when we have had one dry day we have seen large numbers of people rush out to grab the opportunity.
"We can do all the education we want, but if people are determined, then we cannot stop them.
"But sometimes they do not help themselves, and go out dressed inappropriately and with the wrong equipment."
Not all rescues carried out by volunteers at Rhossili are out at sea, of course.
Earlier this year the cliff rescue team went to the aid of a family at Paviland Cave, having to travel a distance of around 200 ft.
Officers have also had to recover the body of someone who committed suicide from Worm's Head.
But the key, according to both the RNLI and the coastguard, is education.
While officers offer a hotline service, which can provide sea and weather conditions, coastguards have also installed emergency phones at certain points along the coast, including at Worm's Head causeway.
Since last year, there have also been more eyes trained on the sea around Swansea.
The National Coastwatch Institution is a nationwide watch of volunteers.
Although they do not perform rescues, they alert coastguards to any danger.
The service has two lookouts in Wales — at Nell's Point at Barry Island, and now at Rhossili, where they are based in the former coastguard hut, now leased by the National Trust, right on top of the cliff.
Volunteers scour the perilous stretch of coastline, which has caught dozens of walkers and surfers unawares over the years — and on some occasions taken their lives.
Last year, some of the 38 volunteers at the Rhossili station dealt with 21 incidents between Easter and December.
It seems curious for an island that so much of its vitally important coastal rescue service relies on volunteers, and consequently much of their time has to be directed to fund-raising.
But it is down to their goodwill that visitors to Swansea Bay and Gower, whatever the statistics, are probably safer than they have ever been.
But as Mumbles Lifeboat manager Tim Conway warned: "Anything to do with the sea is dangerous.
"The key is education, and to be prepared, and to be trained."
Article reproduced by kind permission of Swansea Evening Post