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

Sunday 31 August 2014

Bells and Whistles

I think it is fair to say that Sully Island, off the south coast of Wales, is never going to be a hot tourist destination for the masses.

For those who like their landscapes unspoiled, however, this former smugglers' refuge boasts an Iron Age fort and a Victorian shipwreck as well as panoramic views out over the Bristol Channel.

There is, however, one small problem: the island stands at the end of a 400m rocky causeway, cut off by the tide for all but a few hours a day, a situation which, regular readers will not be surprised to learn, appears to be beyond the comprehension of some visitors.

Over Bank Holiday weekends in particular, the local Penarth lifeboat crew must barely get a chance to sit down to a nice cup of tea and a slice of bara brith.
“We are repeatedly called out to rescue people cut off on Sully Island, despite constant warnings about the dangers of the incoming tide"
In  bid to cut down the number of incidents - and enable the crews to get on with the rest of their lives - the RNLI installed a pilot scheme in mid-June using tide powered traffic lights:
The traffic lights will use a tide gauge and indicate when it is safe for people to cross, when time is running out and when it is unsafe to walk along the causeway.
The yellow phase provides a countdown on how much time is left on the causeway as a return trip takes about 40 minutes on foot.
So, over two months on, was the scheme a success?
AN RNLI text service warning visitors about safe crossing times could be introduced to the Sully Island causeway in a bid to stop visitors getting stranded on the island.
Er... that'd be a 'no', then.
A sound warning system, and another traffic lights warning system based on the island, are also being considered by the RNLI in an effort to cut the number of call-outs to the volunteer lifeboat crew.
In fact, the number of call-outs this summer appears to have been basically unchanged, with stranded walkers claiming not to have seen the lights - the suggestion that they might, of their own initiative, have ascertained the tide times beforehand doesn't appear to enter into it - although evidence elsewhere points to a minority who feel such warnings somehow do not apply to them.

So the RNLI are planning another set of lights on the island - somewhat to the detriment, one feels, of this scenic Site of Special Scientific Interest - and a sound warning, as well as sending tide times to anyone who texts them to ask.

And when that doesn't work, and Mr and Mrs Cnut and their little dog still end up marooned, what then?

One reassuringly certain thing about the tide is that it goes down again. By my calculations, it's never going to be more than about seven or eight hours until the causeway is passable again, and, if they were fit enough to undertake the 20-minute walk across the rocks, a night in the open isn't going to kill them.

The problem is that their stupidity just might:
“People are unaware off just how quickly the tide comes in and when they realise they are being cut off, they tend to panic and try to make it over the causeway to the mainland."
Which, given the depth of the channel and the fierce local currents, is a seriously bad idea. It's the perpetual problem faced by the RNLI; manpower and resources diverted from real emergencies into rescuing people from the consequences of their own foolhardiness or ignorance.

And it's horribly symptomatic of a society in which we are all subjected to ever more interference because some people cannot or will not accept responsibility for themselves.


  1. "The yellow phase provides a countdown on how much time is left on the causeway as a return trip takes about 40 minutes on foot."

    Given we are apparently all so disgustingly obese that a Task Force is needed, I hope that's been adjusted for waddling time too...

  2. "a night in the open isn't going to kill them"

    I agree. We can be more robust about such things without endangering life. A simple concrete shelter would do.

  3. Julia, I'm assuming you too have seen this happen with your local pedestrian crossings, along with the resulting traffic delays and congestion - our less patient transatlantic cousins, meanwhile, have come up with a displayed countdown which, I think you'll agree, adds a certain spice to the proceedings.

    Concrete, AKH? I'd have thought a rudimentary dry-stone lean-to would be more in keeping (and less vulnerable to the sadly inevitable graffiti).

    The problem, I suspect, is the urban holidaymaker who has little truck with nature for the rest of the year; as a walker, you have doubtless met the type ambling around Shining Tor or Offa's Dyke in unsuitable footwear and inadequate clothing and wondering where they can find a bottle of coke and some chips.

  4. Tangentially, the RNLI lifeboats are a mighty fine design of boat. :)

  5. One for you:


  6. They are indeed, JH, and, given the amount of mud and quicksand around our shores, it's a good thing their hovercraft are pretty nifty too.

    Thanks, Julia - flip flops! What is wrong with these people?


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