Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Once Upon A Time... Off Topanga", by Harold Dunnigan

(Photo source info:

"County Recurrent" is pleased to present a story by one of LACo's finest veteran recurrent lifeguards! Enjoy!


"Once Upon A Time... off Topanga", by LACo OL Harold Dunnigan, Ret.

The Santa Ana Winds were blowing and we all know that means with gusto AND offshore.

It was late morning in January - one of those bright clear and windy days - this happened back in the mid to late 1980's

The water temp was in the 50's

We were at the slip in MDR on Baywatch Santa Monica. The crew:

Hapke - Boat Captain
Dunnigan - deckhand

1130 hrs, approx. - we receive a radio call from SMHQ, e.g., "295 to Baywatch Santa Monica":

"Overturned catamaran one mile off Topanga - proceed to location immediately"

We get underway and while exiting harbor we get hit with s.a. winds in excess of 20 + knots offshore, blowing spray and wind chop over the bow of the boat, drenching the skipper..

As we reach the s.m. breakwater, the skipper picks up a radio message from SMHQ advising:

"Code 4 (cancel call) - craft has been righted."

(which had been the message which SMHQ received from the guard in the area vehicle off Topanga assessing the situation with binoculars... but apparently not accounting for the offshore winds)

We proceed to shut down the engines and anticipate returning to slip... when.....

a new call comes in:

"Continue to assist vessel as they will not be able to return to the beach!"

so we continued on, while still taking on weather over the bow, to the location of the catamaran, one and one half miles, approx., west of Topanga, where we found:

a. a young man and woman, in their 20's, lightly clothed with teeth chattering and approaching hypothermia;

b. we then proceeded to remove the two victims from their craft;

c. wrapped them with blankets;

d. took their craft in tow to Topanga North's sandy beach south of the station;

e. and because of the ferocious offshore winds, the TPN guard then had to paddle out with a heavy line (rope) that was tied off at the beach in order to pull the cat onto the beach


The call to continue came all the way from Zuma and was made by then LACo OLS and Call Car Driver, Bill Powers, who understood the wind and sea conditions and knew that the people on board the catamaran would not be able to return to the beach without assistance. In my opinion, Bill Powers saved the day !

Harold Dunnigan,
Santa Monica, Calif.
Feb. 4, 2011.

(Copyright Harold Dunnigan 2011. Used here with permission.)

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Many Thanks to Harold
for sharing this story of keen lifeguard experience playing a key role in the successful rescue of two persons who might otherwise have perished given the circumstances of the ferocious offshore Santa Ana winds, which make it extremely difficult to return to shore, whether it be kayak, surfski or catamaran or the like.

Harold Dunnigan trivia, courtesy of "County Recurrent". While interviewing Harold this past Friday, Feb. 4th at his home we took notice of the front and center location of the coveted "Bronze Savage" award (below) that Harold was presented with upon his retirement several years ago. This is the first time we have seen this particular statue engraved with Harold's name. Awarded by LACOLA, this award symbolizes the recognition of peak performance by a LACo lifeguard.

Below, L2R: Harold Dunnigan with Bruce Morgan after the presentation of the "Bronze Savage" award to Bruce a couple of years ago at the annual LACOLA Meeting on the Venice Boardwalk at that Rose Ave. adjacent watering hole/dive where Arthur C. Verge used to hang out and pick up chicks...

And last but certaintly not least, below is a classic photo that we have entitled, "Before Baker!", showing Harold ready to hit the surf with his hollow surfboard at the 'bu, circa 1960...we're not really sure. Photo courtesy of Harold.


Until next time.....

"County Recurrent" News

Service • Training • Commitment

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