Perched on the clifftop above a stretch of Welsh coastline populated by thousands of summer visitors sits Dylan Evans’ sheep farm.
Over the years, Dylan had witnessed many dramatic rescues as coastguards and the local lifeboat crew came to the aid of children swept out to sea in inflatable dinghies or walkers cut off by the tide.
Dylan was powerless to intervene because he didn’t have the necessary skills, but that changed when he joined the local coastguard team and switched from frustrated spectator to rescuer.
It was 17 years ago that the lure of the sea drew Dylan in that direction. The lifeboat station in his home town of Borth was short of crew members and an appeal was issued to the local community to volunteer.
“I have always had an interest in the sea so I thought I would sign up,” recalled Dylan, who runs a sheep farm and a caravan park at Penygraig Farm.
He became a crew member – a role that took courage, such as the occasion when he assisted a doctor down a sheer cliff face to give medical assistance to a man who had attempted suicide.
The age limit for this role is 45 so, when he reached that age and was keen to maintain his involvement, he volunteered as the station’s tractor driver.
Nowadays when the call goes up he helps to launch the lifeboat, a D-class inflatable craft that has been the workhorse of the RNLI for 50 years.
It is fitted with a single 50hp outboard engine and can be righted manually by the crew if it capsizes. Equipment includes both fitted and hand-held VHF radio, night-vision equipment and a first aid kit including oxygen.
The lifeboat is stored on a trailer in the RNLI station on the seafront. During a call-out, Dylan tows the trailer down a short ramp and across a stretch of pebbly beach to the shoreline, where it is launched into the sea. He tows it back to the station again when the job is done. He drives a New Holland tractor, similar to the one he has at home on the farm.
Rural lifeboat stations like Borth struggle to get enough crew because large numbers of people work away from the villages. This could be a reason why so many farmers volunteer to crew the lifeboats around Wales.
Ron Davies, operations manager at Borth RNLI, says the station had never failed to launch the boat but it has at times been challenging. “If we have a call-out during the working week it can be difficult to get a crew together because so many of our volunteers work outside the village,” he says. “During the week we rely on people like Dylan because they can get to the lifeboat station quickly.”
Dylan’s emergency pager never leaves his side. He may be harvesting silage or worming his sheep, but when the shout goes up he has just minutes to make the short journey to the lifeboat station. The aim is to launch the boat within eight minutes, but this depends on the sea conditions and the tide.
Once the boat is on its way, Dylan either waits at the station for the crew to return or heads back to the farm. “If it’s a local shout, I stay at the station but if the crew have to go further afield they call me when they are on their way back,” Dylan explains.
There are 15 volunteers at Borth, but only three are needed at one time to crew the boat. Dylan lives less than half a mile away on a farm where he runs a flock of 220 Welsh mules and Texel-crosses.
His farm even has its own beach – Aberwennol – and there have been times when visitors to that beach have had to be rescued.
“One of our most frequent call-outs is to search for people who haven’t returned from a walk along the cliffs when they were due to. We very much work with the coastguard on these calls,” says Dylan.
Be sea smart
He urges people to familiarise themselves with the local conditions before heading out to sea.
“People take to the water without knowing what to expect, they don’t know the tidal conditions or the fact that we get offshore winds. If they are going out to sea they should ask someone with local knowledge about the conditions,” he advises.
“We see lots of people going out in all weathers and risking their lives. There is a strong offshore wind at Borth and people get caught out by this.”
Borth has a resident population of 900 but, with many holiday parks and caravan sites in the area, this quadruples during the summer. Some are visitors to Dylan’s own on-farm caravan park.
The station gets an average of 25 call-outs annually and in the past 12 months it has been involved in two major rescues and searches.
In the summer, the region made national headlines when the River Leri burst its banks and a caravan park was overcome by the floodwater. People were trapped in their caravans. “We were assigned to rescue an invalid, but the conditions were so bad that the crew couldn’t get to him. He was eventually brought to safety by coastguards,” said Dylan.
The region was again in the news following the disappearance of April Jones from Machynlleth. Borth inshore lifeboat was launched 14 times to help in the search for her. “The boat was ideal for going up the river because it was able to navigate the shallower depths,” says Ron. The lifeboat was also used as a safety vessel for the people searching the riverbanks.
The satisfaction of making a difference to operations like this is what keeps volunteers like Dylan loyal to the RNLI service.
He has committed to keep volunteering while he is still fit and able to do so. “There is nothing more satisfying than a successful rescue,” he says.