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, 19 April 2015

Cnuttery? There's an app for that...

With the onset of warmer weather around these shores, we are girding our metaphorical loins to document the usual quota of beach rescues.

Along with the foolhardy who either fail to appreciate the lunar influence on our seas or believe that the laws of physics apply only to other people, those calling upon the skills of the maritime rescue services can often include the hubristic unwary who think they can walk on water - or rather, water-saturated mud.

Those members of my family who grew up within spitting distance of the Sands of Dee were, to a man (and woman) reared on the poetic fate of Mary, who chose the wrong time to fetch the cattle home across the estuary and thereby met an untimely and soggy end; 'And never home came she...' Such cautionary tales have, for countless generations, been used to teach impressionable youngsters the dangers of coastal mud and a rising tide.

Now, however, with schools more likely to teach the exploits of Anansi the Spider (spelling amended - see below) or Rama and Sita than the sad story of Mary and her cows and with easy travel bringing droves of unwary landlubbers to the seaside, the rescue services have their work cut out.

This weekend brought a particularly up-to-date version of the problem, thanks to a mobile-phone based craze doubtless conceived by urban technophiles who don't see much of Mother Nature in the raw, so to speak:
The coastguard had to be called out after 15 people got stuck in mud while taking part in a hi-tech seaside treasure hunt.
Someone appears to have had the bright idea of hiding the 'treasure' near the low water mark during a spring tide on a stretch of coastline notorious for quicksand. According to the coastguard Operations Officer:
"We have since discovered that they were undertaking the hobby of geocaching. This was in an extremely dangerous place and we would not encourage others to search in these areas because there are complex tidal patterns and deep mud."
Geocaching is, as I understand it, running around with a GPS-enabled smartphone looking for clues; self-preservation, it seems, is optional. The impressive supporting cast called out out by concerned passers-by (and credited in full in the Telegraph) consisted of:
Clevedon Lifeboat, the coastguard helicopter from Portland, a search and rescue helicopter from RAF Chivenor, the Portishead RNLI inshore lifeboat, teams from the Weston-super-Mare and Portishead Coastguard Rescue and the Somerset Fire and Rescue Firefly Hovercraft.
Along with one for the ultimate selfie fail, it's probably about time they set up a special Darwin Award category for those who, abandoning all common sense, may blithely follow their own pocket-sized Pied Piper into oblivion.


  1. Thank you - a mental aberration made in haste; in mitigation, I have heard the name far more often than seen it written down.

  2. Someone appears to have had the bright idea of hiding the 'treasure' near the low water mark during a spring tide on a stretch of coastline notorious for quicksand.

    Adore it. Darwin at work?

  3. JH definitely - we don't need merciless robots to exterminate our species; although the nuclear menace is - for the most part - diminishing, it still looks as if, given the technology, we'll manage it all by ourselves.

  4. The geocaching story is an especially fine example of bad reporting.

    The big giveaway is that 13 of them so much didn't need rescuing that they declined help. The other two took advantage of a free lift, one because she's slightly twisted her knee.


    The adventure is explained here, and as you can see, a very full preparation is required. and those 15 did do their preparation properly. The call-out was by a couple of motorcyclists, not part of the 15, who were trying to be helpful.


  5. drsolly, thank you for your comment.

    I admit to the journalistic sin of refusing to allow the facts to get in the way of a good story. Your link is a members-only one, which leads me to believe you must be part of the geocaching community.

    If that is so, I bow to your superior knowledge and respect your choice of pastime. However, it doesn't alter the fact that coastal mud can be lethal, particularly during spring tides in areas of large tidal reach such as this, and that things can go wrong very quickly - hence the scale of the emergency response.

    If, as the website says, "The only necessities are a GPS device or a GPS-enabled mobile phone so that you can navigate to the cache, and a Geocaching.com Membership", there is surely a risk that members unfamiliar with the sea or the nature of low-tide sandbanks could run into trouble.

    The inaccessible report may say that observers were monitoring the site with emergency equipment - if so, I owe you (or them) an apology - but had that been the case, I should have thought that they would have alerted the coastguard and RNLI in advance to prevent third parties initiating a call-out, not to mention posting a lookout onshore to reassure concerned passers-by.