As we are a fully trained search and rescue team thanks to a late night request to help find a fisherman missing on the Kaipara Harbour, here are some handy hints, with the tips following the lessons and the most important tip last because that was our learning process.
The farmer and I were asleep when neighbours across the river phoned at 11.30pm. A fisherman hadn’t arrived for a rendezvous a few kilometres further up the river. It was howling a gale and, had the motor failed, his boat might have washed up on the other side of our farm. Could we check?
We bolted out of bed and pulled on warm clothes. I grabbed a hat, jacket and our biggest torch. Yes, the farmer jumped into the truck without a torch presumably figuring the headlights would do the work.
After driving to the point near the house (no luck there), we headed through the farm where the torch came in handy.
Tip Six: Take a torch.
We walked along the beach then, because the tide was so high, through a wet, puggy paddock. I asked the farmer to slow down so he wouldn’t leave me in the dark which gave him a bright idea – he could travel faster without me, so why not leave me all alone in the dark!
Sure, I said as he took off for the bluff with the one and only torch.
Tip Five: If possible, take a torch for each person.
It was a black, black night. I couldn’t see a thing, including the nearby towering pines which didn’t break the screaming wind. I envied Kate the dog who’d come for the adventure, but had sensibly stayed with the truck.
Tip Four: If you can wangle it, stay with the vehicle.
And it was so cold. Lucky I grabbed that jacket and hat.
Tip Three: Dress warm.
While I stood in the paddock my mind galloped. What if the farmer fell and dropped the torch? How long would I wait? Could I get back to the truck? I couldn’t use the fence as a guide – it was electrified. Were there bulls in the paddock? Imagine bumbling into a sleeping bull.
After what seemed like forever – about 20 minutes – I saw the farmer’s torch flash and he showed up shortly afterwards having found nothing.
As we stumbled back across the paddock I suggested holding hands would make things easier. The farmer said he doubted this was acceptable on a search and rescue mission, but held my hand anyway.
Tip Two: Hold hands, especially if it’s really dark.
We got home at 12.15pm to find two messages from our neighbours. The first had been recorded moments after we left – as they’d watched our vehicle lights disappear through the farm, they spotted the lights of a boat heading up the harbour. The second message, at five past midnight, confirmed the missing boatie had arrived. Sigh… if only we’d known.
Tip One: Take a cell phone. Then HQ can phone if the lost person is found and you can immediately return to your warm and snuggly bed.