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Life-Saving on the Banks

posted Aug 24, 2012, 7:48 PM by David Burkhart
My recent visit to the Outer Banks was highlighted by events at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station in Rodanthe.

It was good to see Linda Molloy, the director. After her greeting, I could not wait to hear how she played the role of the patient (that died) in the Richard Geer movie, "Nights in Rodanthe." I saw her name run in the credits and could not wait to get the full story---one-on-one. Rodanthe is such a small community that it was easy to imagine Geer and Diane Lane driving up and down Highway 12. Needless to say, thousands upon thousands of vacationers now know where Rodanthe is located.

We left the refreshing breeze sweeping under the porch of the main building to step out on the hot sand. That gave me a brief pause, questioning myself why I had worn flip-flops instead of something more substantial It had been a long time since I had hot sand pour around my feet. But on second thought, what would be better?

On Thursdays at 2:00 P.M. during the summer, Coast Guard personnel from the Coast Guard Station come to demonstrate many of the techniques of the surfmen who served at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. The pure physical effort needed to get the beach cart to the target is unbelievable. The re-enactors hoist ropes over their shoulders and pull the cart like human horses. Thank Goodness, they don't have to pull the lifeboat out as well.

Since lifesaving was their goal, those who guarded the coast from 1874 until 1915, when the Lifesaving Service merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to become the modern-day United States Coast Guard. Surfmen trained endlessly in lifesaving and resuscitation. They became proficient in launching their lifesaving boat through all seas, regardless of the weather. With men on watch around the clock, it was likely that a boat aground or one sinking would be spotted.

The Guardsmen hauled the cart to the beach. Two men dug a four foot hole (in minutes) to bury the sand anchor. This stabilized the cart for the crucial shooting of the Lyle gun. It propelled a rope over a T-shaped post, an example of a ship's mast. The narrator pointed out how the Lyle gun was the only gun invented to save lives. The line from ship to shore was then used to help crew and passengers of endangered vessels get ashore safely. The line sometimes supported a person in a breeches bouy. It also added the use of a lifecart when small children or disabled people needed to be saved.