Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday, 8 July 2013

Heads of oak

With the hot weather suddenly upon us, the national Darwin Award season is in full swing around the coastline of this once-proud maritime nation.

Along with some more unusual incidents featuring a flock of kite surfers and an injured base-jumper, this weekend has seen a particularly spectacular haul of run-of-the-mill incompetence and foolhardiness. In Essex, for instance, the Darwin hopefuls were clearly out in force:
The volunteer crew of Southend RNLI Lifeboat Station were kept busy over the weekend, launching to people drifting on inflatables, youths jumping into the sea from a jetty, a broken down speedboat, and reports of a missing woman.
Meanwhile, there was a classic trio of incidents further north in Redcar, where the unaccustomed sunshine had obviously gone to their heads. The first involved that perennial favourite of thrill-seeking Darwin Award hopefuls and, in more southerly waters, the preferred vessel of the Romford Navy, the jetski.

Since these are essentially noisy aquatic motorbikes expressly designed to be driven around at high speed just off crowded beaches annoying the hell out of everyone, a capsize is likely to be greeted with cheers of Schadenfreude, especially when it involves several people:
The personal water craft capsized while towing an inflatable ring, throwing all three riders into the sea and leaving the fourth person stranded on the inflatable. A strong offshore wind was blowing all four people quickly out to sea.
Someone called the local lifeboat crew, who fished out the stranded mariners, restarted the jetski and generally set all to rights, pointing out to the clueless quartet the benefits of donning a lifejacket before travelling at speed on deep water.

At teatime, the lifeboats were called out again, this time to one of that special category of Darwin hopefuls who, having reproduced, try to amend the fact by merrily casting their own progeny adrift in an inflatable toy boat on a windy day.

There's a lot of it about, from the southern coast right up to the waters off Western Scotland, where Weekend Yachtsman, commenting on another post, describes repeated coastguard alerts of the kind. This case, however, offers an interesting variation on the usual theme:
An adult who had been in the dinghy had apparently jumped into the sea to assist a second child who was in the sea. This then caused the child in the dinghy to drift further out to sea on an offshore wind. 
Fortunately for the family, if not the gene pool, the young castaway was retrieved by a member of the public, but since this good Samaritan seized the child and left the inflatable to pursue its course on the outgoing tide, the lifeboat still had to hunt it down to avoid false alarms.

Given the weather, it would be easy to blame all this on the sort of people whose only previous aquatic experience had been heavily chlorinated, but the third rescue, the following day, involved a local who should have known better:
Two men became trapped by the incoming tide at cliffs near Saltburn on Sunday 7 July 2013. The alarm was raised just after 2pm after two men, one from Middlesbrough and the other from Saltburn, were trapped by the tide at a location known locally as Penny Hole.
There is a noticeable air of resignation in the RNLI report; you can almost hear the weary sigh:
‘With the weather the way it has been for the past few days, and with the high tide being around tea-time, we could have almost predicted we’d get a call to rescue someone at Huntcliff.
The sole benefit to be derived from these antics is that they give volunteer crews useful practice in life-saving skills, though it would surely be a very good thing if those rescued from self-inflicted peril acknowledged the service by supporting the RNLI in the future.

It will certainly be needed: all the news coverage carries the usual admonitions on the subject of tethering inflatables, wearing lifejackets and checking tide times but only an insane optimist would expect it to make any difference.

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