One of the bravest rescues in Hermanus took place in 1932 near the old harbour in shark-infested waters. A fourteen year old boy, named Roos was washed off the rocks on the outer side of the protecting wall. A rough see was running. The strong current immediately took him out to sea.
On the cliff top above the harbour, the two friends and long-time boxing rivals, Douglas McFarlane (19) and Kaiser de Kock were watching the fishermen battling to negotiate the entrance to the harbour under extremely hazardous conditions. They also noticed two great white sharks cruising towards the entrance to the harbour, no doubt after blood from the fish-cleaning tables running into the sea at the breakwater.
Walking down the steep path of the harbour, a frantic policeman came running towards them explaining about the boy in the sea, and begged Douglas, known as a strong swimmer, to help. The policeman himself could not swim. Douglas ran to the breakwater, kicked off his sneakers and judging the swell, dived into the sea. As he launched himself, he heard Kaiser’s voice: “Oppas vir die haaie, (mind the sharks) Doug”!
Crowds gathered as Douglas reached the boy out at sea, with powerful strokes. On reaching him Douglas told Roos to relax as he would hold him up. Fortunately the boy kept his cool and Douglas was able to keep them both afloat. Owing to the heavy swells, it was impossible to swim back. A boat put out and saved them both in the nick of time. Both were fatigued having received severe buffeting from the waves.
The presence of sharks kept niggling Douglas and as his hands closed on the gunnel of the rescue boat, with one last supreme effort he heaved himself into the boat and safety. Those on the cliff top, watching the rescue drama held their breath anxiously as the two boys were brought to safety. Everyone agreed it was the bravest deed they ever witnessed. Douglas had only recently left school. He was awarded the Royal Humane Society bronze medal for having saved a life from drowning.
At 91 Douglas McFarlane currently lives in Fynbos Park Retirement Village with his wife Lettie. They’ve been married 68 years and have three children. Douglas is the only surviving child of Wattie and Aletta McFarlane’s ten children.
Information and copyright: S.J. du Toit Photo: Old Harbour Museum