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Half-term hoax: Shark fin stirs up hyrophobia

Not fear of water, but fear of some people who go near the water. You probably can’t blame the RNLI for suffering from a strange form of hydrophobia this week.

Watch Rob Shelley’s report: Shark fin stirs up expensive hoax

At the start of it, Rhyl’s lifeboat sped out to rescue a mum and son who, encouraged by the unseasonably warm autumn, put on rubber rings and found themselves floating towards Fleetwood – carried away by the tides.

Then, yesterday, their colleagues from Llandudno were heading off to Rhos on Sea to counter reports of a shark – or (that telltale fin in the water) a canoe or small boat that might have capsized. When they got there they found a carved piece of rubber nailed to two wooden floats. A wind up.

Some wind up. Someone actually did a similar thing in the original Jaws – remember the two boys swimming around with a fin on their backs until they surface and find a few rifles trained on them? (The first line on coming back for air – ‘He made me do it’) And ironically, the headland off Rhos on Sea isn’t a bad place to spot dolphins, whales, porpoises, even basking sharks. Seeing a black and menacing fin, which attracted quite a crowd on the shore, isn’t too far beyond the realms of possibility.

Then put yourself in the minds of the crew. The coastguard’s been out to scout the potential of what’s happening after the first 999 call – and called on Llandudno’s inshore lifeboat. They then have to drive the lifeboat to Rhos on Sea – begin an incident, which, before you get there, could either involve a dead canoeist or windsurfer or sailor or at best a very large and possibly angry fish.

You’re a volunteer. The adrenalin’s up. Your pager and mobile have summoned you into the other, different, lifeboat life you lead. You turn up not knowing what on earth to expect, and someone with a bit of time and two wooden batons has really disrupted your day – and cost a charity the money that any call out costs, the fuel, the time, the wear and tear.

The one thing that always impresses you when you go to a lifeboat station is the friendliness, the comradeship – the way a group of volunteers who lead separate lives weld themselves into a team the moment the mobile sounds. Anyone who lives life with a job where the mobile can ring and turn your day around knows how much of hassle the thing can be. Try doing it when you can find yourself pitched into some of the most dangerous situations. And then don’t get paid for it, either.
Right now, the shark’s fin is a bit of a surreal trophy. The crew had a laugh about it – maybe because of the relief that it wasn’t some boat that had turned turtle. The RNLI don’t really count the number of hoax calls they have to go to; they go to every call. It all says a lot about them: and one of the strangest call outs they ever faced.

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