I have never savoured sea activities in spite of many boat trips: across the radio-active Irish Sea maybe 16 times; the murky English Channel by boat and hovercraft ferries umpteen times through extremely foul weather and fine: night and day crossings of the strip of the polluted Mediterranean between Ibiza and the Spanish mainland. I have viewed my transportation as just that. An alternative way of departing and arriving. Standing at the stern bidding farewell to a familiar land. Standing at the bow for a glimpse of pastures new. What lies beyond yonder horizon?
In the past eleven months I have enjoyed many boat journeys for their own sake. Of notable memory are the shikara boat rides across Dal Lake in Kashmir (to and from the houseboats I was sleeping on). And the day-long ferrybus journey through the incredibly photogenic backwaters of Kerala, the best photo of all being committed to mind because I’d already shuttered my camera. Then there was the metre-high headroom of the ferry to and from Ko Phanan, my birthday place, which afforded a good night’s sleep.
Beaches have become better places to bide awhile. In Thailand, Malaysia and in India, at Kovalum, fabulous sunsets would romanticise the clear waters lapping on the sandy shore. Waters to laze in, the eyes alternately gazing at distant islands or back to the coconut palms fringing the sand whilst sheltering the next beer and banana pancake.
Moments of relaxation and pleasure are to be found in such places, with companionship perhaps as important as the solace of the rhythmic surges of the sea dissipating its vast energies on the beach, made of fine sand, the milled coral, rocks and shells. Man Friday’s footprints are mere ephemera to be washed away as the tides retreat.
Everyday newspaper stories tell of the everlasting power of the oceans. A Russian cruise ship runs aground off the coast of New Zealand. The wreck of the unsinkable, they said, Titanic is finally located some half century and more years later. Small fishing boats are constantly lost the world over. Do we think of that when we eat our cod and chips? Or the so-called fish fingers which are so designed that we forget the origins of our food.
The sea is a barrier; as Canute found lost centuries ago, it is not to be commanded. It cannot be tamed, although it can be an ally, as countless generations have found.
No invasion of our sceptred isle has succeeded since 1066 and all that. And that includes the invasion of Whitehaven on April 22nd 1778 by John Paul Jones as his contribution to the American War of Independence.
That no-one in the UK lives more than 60 miles from the sea is geographical fact. An island race must, perforce, make use of its terrain and surroundings. The British Empire was founded on sea power.
Without being misogynist, it’s worth noting here that some of the prime motivators of English colonialism and imperiousness were Queen Elizabeth 1, Queen Victoria and Margaret Thatcher.
And The Women Were Watching as the press-ganged soldiers and sailors went off to war. (Sir) Francis Drake and (Sir) Walter Raleigh returned across the sea and presented Good Queen Bess with potatoes and tobacco, which lead to lung cancer and the Irish Potato Famine. James Cook and fellow sea captain Bligh gave us the foundation of a Pacific Empire which Queen Victoria could send missionaries to. And Margaret Thatcher defended the last rocky outpost of civilisation, home for 1,000 hardy – some would say foolhardy – true-Brits and half a million sheep, from the beef traders of Argentina.
The Royal Navy and our merchant fleet: Britannia rules the waves or, if the truth be known, waives the rules.
The sea must be respected. For me that respect used to be fear. Now my respect is just that. One fears the unknown. Having had a glimpse, a tantalising peek, I now want to look a little closer, deeper even.
Where I was once wholly a water bearer I’m now closer to the cusp.