From Fair Isle to German Bight, Charlie Connelly has visited all 31 sea areas, but still finds the poetry of the daily radio odyssey mesmerising
The shipping forecast is probably the closest thing we have in the modern age to a national epic. The institution’s rhythms and rituals have changed little since it was first broadcast on New Year’s Day 1924: there is poetry in the daily litany and mystery in its terminology. “The radio’s prayer,” Carol Ann Duffy called it. For Seamus Heaney it was “a sibilant penumbra”.
The forecast reminds us we’re a maritime nation and its map binds us to our continent, covering not only our own coasts and waters but an area extending from Norway to Portugal to Iceland. There is democracy in its geography, where tiny Fair Isle carries as much heft as mighty Biscay while Lundy, a sliver of rock in the Bristol Channel, is equal in importance to the Irish Sea. And from the salty old seadog in his brine-encrusted fishing boat to the merchant banker on his yacht, the shipping forecast, all seafarers are equally reliant on it.