The Shipping Forecast


Though I have never been on a boat, though I have never seen the ocean, I am unable to fall asleep at night without listening to the shipping forecast. On behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The voices of the presenters are so undistinguished that it is impossible to pin faces to them: this is part of the shipping forecast’s charm. The area forecast for the next 24 hours. They speak very clearly, the man and the woman, enunciating without being too slow about it either. Viking, North Utshire, South Utshire. Southwesterly four or five, veering southeasterly three. Each word is crisp and distinct, like a pearl on a string. Forties, Cromarty, Forth. It is very lovely. Tyne, Dogger. I think they must be trained to use their voices in this way; there must be a special school for it. North four or five, then veering east four or five later. On certain nights, there is music in the background, electronic music that remind me of old science fiction films about futures now past. Rain at first. Good, occasionally poor. It is too loud for the voices, and it crescendos until, just before the end, it drops off suddenly. Biscay variable two or three.

Courtesy: Rosemary Donahue

Courtesy: Rosemary Donahue

The effect is very unsettling, the loudness and the silence in equal measure. Slight or moderate. I think there must be some meaning to it, to why they play this music on some nights and not others, and to why they play it the way they do. Fog patches for a time. But I can find no pattern: sometimes months go by without the music, and then it will play several nights in a row without explanation. Humber, Thames, Dover. The voices do not seem to be aware of the music; they continue on in their even way throughout the entirety of the broadcast, without any discernible modulation in timbre or pitch. Squally showers. Mainly good. The shipping forecast is full of places I have never otherwise heard of, places I will never see. Northwest Fitzroy, Sole. Yet I listen to news about them every night, and in time their names have become like a well-used pack of cards, stiff paper softened into velveteen with use. Southwest, backing south. I have my circle of favorites: Rockall, Fair Isle, Fastnet. Occasionally severe gale.

I root for them, smiling to myself in the darkness when I hear that they have good weather and clear skies. Five to six. And I imagine what it must be like to be on the ocean. Finisterre, Lundy. I imagine so much water, no land. Irish Sea. To be the only human from one end of the horizon to the other. Occasionally seven at first. To have your ship be the only ship in sight. Moderate or rough. To look up and see the entirety of the Milky Way ribboning across the sky; to look out and see nothing but the matte black sea. Rain dying out. Listening to the shipping forecast alone in my bed, I think I come close to infinity, to nothingness; I come close to touching the void. Southeast Iceland northeast three. Each night I get very close, very, very close to some kind of understanding, some kind of crucial breakthrough, and then I lose consciousness. Rain or showers, moderate or good.