What is the Shipping Forecast?
The Shipping Forecast is a BBC Radio Broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the British Isles. It is produced by the Met Office and broadcast by the BBC on Radio 4 on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
First broadcast in the 1920’s to warn generations of sea-farers of upcoming storms and gales, it is currently broadcast four times a day, providing weather forecasts for ocean shipping and fishing industries in thirty one areas around the British Isles.
My initial research, revealed it wasn’t just the shipping and fishing industries who find it useful. It has grown from a public service broadcast into a comforting daily listen, even for those not at sea. Over time the Shipping Forecast has become somewhat of a British institution and now more than ever we can find solace in mundanity and regularity. In celebration of this, I am meeting it’s listeners and capturing their portraits.
Here is who I have photographed so far. There are many more subjects to find and document and happily, each person I meet has a suggestion for the next.
Captain Barry Sadler works in the Port of Southampton as a harbour pilot. His role is to safely guide the many shipping vessels, (anything longer than 61m), into and out of the port, up to 4 a day.
Barry has a unique responsibility during the summer months, working alongside the hosts of Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight – he has to ensure that one of the longest running and most world renowned regattas can proceed safely, whilst also keeping this busy working port moving.
For Captain Sadler, The Shipping Forecast summarises the information he needs to pass on to those steering these huge vessels and to gauge how many tugs may be needed to guarantee their safe transit through these busy shipping lanes and to forewarn them of what is in store for them further down the Channel, in the areas of Portland and Plymouth.
I contacted Fred through The River Thames Mudlarking Finds, a mudlarking Facebook group with over 67,000 members – a group sharing the liquid history of the Thames and its many bounties, from the everyday clay pipes to silver jewellery and gold coins.
I met Fred on the beach of Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey, in the Thames Estuary at low tide, the best time for detectoring. He grew up in the area and lives nearby. Fred uses The Shipping Forecast to get information on the best days to head out and search for finds. The best combination is a spring tide coupled with high pressure, this perfect pairing exposes areas of the seabed that rarely get seen and hopefully a rare opportunity to reveal an elusive treasure.
The day we met, and after only a short amble, the thick sediment gave up a couple of mud-caked bullets. Fred, a riverbed historian, tells me these were from a target range in the area from around Victorian times and the First World War. Until the early 20th century Mudlarking was a scavenging career for the poor, living along the banks of the Thames, giving them an opportunity to make a meagre wage – but today it has become a pastime for treasure seekers.
I met Emily Penn, Co-Founder and Mission Director of eXXpedition, (a Community Interest Company and not-for-profit organisation that runs pioneering all-female sailing research expeditions at sea to investigate the causes of and solutions to ocean plastic pollution), on the banks of the Thames near her home in Richmond. On her latest voyage, Emily skippered a vessel through the waters of Fitzroy, just off the northwest tip of Spain to the Azores. The trip was the first leg of a round-the-world expedition which unfortunately got cut short by the global pandemic - but eXXpedition continues with smaller adventures until the group are ready to explore further afield again soon.
Captaining her all female crew and safeguarding them and the expedition boat requires a sound knowledge of what the sea may throw up and though her boats are equipped with the latest technology and equipment the comparatively analogue Shipping Forecast is a re-assuring precursor to setting sail.
You can find more information on eXXpedition, its voyages and important scientific work studying plastic pollution and its impact on the seas here.