This SIde of the Pond
Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman
January 27, 2022
Not to state the obvious, but living on an island means you’re surrounded by the sea. And when you’re eventually going to end up at the coast no matter which direction you walk, the law of averages dictates that a certain proportion of calls to Britain’s emergency services will somehow involve the water.
Her Majesty’s Coastguard celebrated its 200th anniversary last week, marking a full two centuries of dragging hapless Brits out of the waves. It’s not a rescue service we need to think about all that much in Wyoming, for obvious reasons, but back home they’re performing an estimated 2200 miracles each year. That’s six people a day getting themselves in a pickle during a day out at the beach.
Back when HM Coastguard was established, it was more about sniffing out smugglers and assisting with shipwrecks, but we seem to have a better handle on those things in modern times. This means our coastguards are better able to focus on the surprising number of people who find themselves perched on small rocks in the middle of the ocean, having failed to notice until it was too late that the tide was coming in.
(Incidentally, most of the smuggling back then involved tea, which is no great surprise. It’s believed that half the tea drunk in Britain by 1743 was illegally imported; I’ve calculated a rough estimate and, based on how many cups we each drink every day, that’s several million tons of the good stuff.)
Our 352 volunteer rescue teams celebrated 20 decades of saving lives on January 15. They did so by simultaneously casting their throwlines into the water – a humble way to honor the heroes who stand against riptides and wrecks to protect their neighbors.
But the real reason I’m mentioning HM Coastguard is not my pride in the volunteer service that has saved so many thousands of lives, nor my relief that they exist as someone who grew up within walking distance of the beach. Both of these things are true, but my true motivation is a dog.
A stranded dog. A dog in danger. A Jack Russell-whippet cross named Millie who nearly came a cropper in the waves of Hampshire, the next county along from my home.
Millie made the national news last week for doing what dogs do best: the unexpected. She slipped her leash while on a walk with her owner and disappeared over the horizon.
Her owner, naturally, made public appeals for help and information. Millie was eventually spotted on the mudflats – coastal wetlands formed from sediment that fill with seawater when the tide comes in.
Now, as previously mentioned, Millie is a dog. I’m sure she’s a very smart dog, but her schoolteachers never taught her about the dangers of mudflats at high tide.
When Millie was eventually located, she was already in danger of being engulfed, because the entire thing was due to flood and already tricky for humans to navigate. But because she did not know this, Millie was precisely as interested in the idea of being caught as you’d expect her to be.
At this point, both the police and local firefighters were involved in the rescue, as well as a gaggle of nearby residents, but Millie didn’t trust a single one of them enough to be coaxed back to safety. She’d had a taste of freedom and she wasn’t giving it up.
At its heart, this is a story about human ingenuity. Technology is a wonderful thing, but not always for the reasons it was invented.
Among the crowd trying to save one woman’s best friend was HM Coastguard in the form of the Denmead Drone Search and Rescue team. It’s not surprising that we’ve taken to using drones when locating victims of the ocean’s whims, but you’d think the team’s role in this story was already done.
Apparently, Denmead Drone Search and Rescue didn’t feel that spotting Millie in the first place was sufficiently useful. They looked upon the efforts of their peers and found them lacking.
And so the pilot was forced to come up with the greatest rescue plan of all time. He attached a sausage to his drone and flew it over to Millie.
I’ve heard of dangling a carrot, but I can’t believe it took us this long as a species to realize that a suspended sausage is a much more tempting target. The pilot was able to lure the dog right to the edge of the mudflats and onto higher ground, where she’d be safe from the looming tide.
Unfortunately, the rest of the rescuers were still finding ways to bungle the operation. Millie stopped to gulp down her treat, but none of them managed to grab her.
Millie skipped off into the woodlands and wasn’t seen for two days, when she reappeared three miles away near a fire station. She’d finally grown tired of her adventures – and probably wanted another sausage – so she trotted over, sat down like a good girl and waited to be returned to her owner.
“They aren’t normally this complicated,” said the pilot of Millie’s daring rescue, but I think he’s doing himself a disservice. If the rest of the brave men and women who stand guard over Britain’s shorelines are even half as ingenious as our pilot, I think it’s probably safe to go back in the water.