Andrew Pound, HM Coastguard
Andrew Pound, HM Coastguard
For thirty years Andrew Pound has lived his live not knowing when the next ‘shout’ will be and his pager is with him 24 hours a day. It all began when he was twelve years old living in Stoke Fleming below the coast guard station with his parents and six brothers.
In those days the maroon would go off with a big bang and the coast guards would go running to the station and Andrew would go with them to help out, ‘You could then before all the Health and Safety laws were brought in’ Andrew explained. His interest did not diminish and when he reached eighteen he joined the Coastguard officially.
The Coastguard (or the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to give it the correct name now) is a search and rescue team which is responsible for all tidal waters. So, Andrew’s ‘patch’ starts on the Dart at the weir above Totnes and follows the river down to the sea and along the coast to Start Point.
They have specialist training in cliff rescue and are also first aid trained to a high level and deal with missing persons, missing yachts, ordnance found on the beaches, people and animals that have fallen over the cliffs, ‘in fact you never know what you might be called to next’ states Andrew ‘and the majority of jobs always seem to come at night!’
This of course makes sense because people start to worry when their partner has not returned home and its getting dark.
Over the recent Bank Holiday they were called to action four days on the trot. The first call just after midnight was for a yacht that had sailed down river from Totnes and which had ended up on a sand bar listing at fifty degrees with two children on board and no life jackets. They were all retrieved and taken back to their car at Totnes with the added benefit of some safety advice!! Andrew got home at 3.30am.
The second rescue happened on the Dart when an older lady fell down some steps aboard a vessel and sustained head and spinal injuries and had to be air lifted to Torbay Hospital. Later that evening two young men who had set out from Cornworthy to Totnes were reported missing but luckily were found drifting off an embankment in Totnes – another instance of safety advice being given!
The next day a visiting skiff and crew not used to tidal waters found a sand bar, holed the boat and started sinking. This rescue involved getting the nine crew off. As leader of the Coastguard team Andrew has to make some pretty life or death decisions. Will a boat rescue work or is the helicopter needed?
His experience plays a big part in getting it right. Of course accidents will always happen but as he points out if people took more responsibility for their own safety, respected the strength of the tides and weather and ensured they carried appropriate survival gear they would not be putting other people at risk trying to save them.
Sixty per cent of all the local rescues happen not on the sea but in our beautiful river Dart.
Andrew explains that people get caught out by the strong current and even try to swim from one side to the other having missed the last ferry after a night drinking! A recipe for disaster and he says ‘People should remember that this river takes a life every year on average and it should be respected at all times.’
Obviously weather conditions are often the cause of the emergencies and then impede the rescue. Many many years ago when Andrew had only just joined the coastguard they were called to rescue the crew of a ship that had gone onto rocks at Prawle Point. At the time it was dead calm off Dartmouth and they wondered how on earth it had happened.
When they got to Prawle Point the wind there was so fierce they could barely stand up and it was necessary to get a helicopter to winch the crew off which was not an easy operation. Another call out where strong winds played a part was when a man fishing from his boat on Slapton Lea was swept into the reeds by a easterly Force 9 and could not get out. At nine o’clock and dark the coastguard was alerted by the man’s wife that he was missing and a helicopter search was initiated.
As it happens three quarters of a million starlings roost in the reeds at night and it doesn’t take much imagination to realise what could happen if they had got sucked into the engine of the helicopter. So Andrew and team went in to try to scare them off and as he says it was like the Hitchcock movie with birds flying into their faces in panic. Not a pleasant experience!
Now what does a man whose sleep is interrupted on a regular basis do for a day job? The answer believe it or not is to get up seven days a week to open Strete Village Stores and Post Office at seven o’clock and do a ten mile paper round! They even open for an hour on Christmas Day just to make sure people can get that item they just happened to forget. Now that’s service!
Andrew and his wife Monica took over the shop thirteen years ago on May 6th and take a great pride in stocking as much local produce as possible and keeping prices very competitive by good buying. Andrew strongly believes local shops can be good value. He says ‘Running the village shop means you know absolutely everyone, anything that goes on in the village is advertised with us and we sell tickets for the various events and it is just a lovely way of life to be the centre of such a lovely community.’
Having finished the interview I was taking Andrews photo outside the shop when one of the villagers enquired who I was and was told ‘Just you be sure to tell your readers what a wonderful man Andrew is!’
I hope this has been achieved.
First published May 2009 By the Dart