Tag Archives: maritime

do we still depend on the sea?

A Maersk container ship entering Southampton

A Maersk container ship entering Southampton

One of the biggest myths about portsmouth is that its all about the Royal Navy. Southampton is where all of the commercial trade goes, surely? But where did all the materials to build and maintain the warships come from? All of the food to feed the people of Portsmouth? The coal? The fish to go to market? And how did tea and spices come from the far east? wine from the medditeranean?

Very few people know that in actual fact Portsmouth had a substantial seaborne commercial trade going right back to the middle ages. And as an island nation, Britain has always depended on the sea as its lifeline to the outside world, and for its very existence. Look at the dire situation we found ourselves in WW2 when the German U-boats threatened to cut off our trade routes across the Atlantic. It is this need to protect our seas and our trade that led to the growth and eventual dominance of the Royal Navy.

But now that we live in a different world, with air travel, and after the demise of the British Empire, do we still depend on the sea? Of course!

Take a look at this website here. The AIS system uses satellite technology to plot where ships are on the oceans. And with the addition of useful information such as a ships name, its size, its cargo, and its destination, You can have a very accurate picture of what is going on on our seas.

And it is a very busy picture. Besides the Royal Navy warships entering and leaving Portsmouth, there are also the support vessels of the Royal Fleet Auxilliary. Add to that the Isle of Wight Ferries, the cross-channel ferries to France and Spain, and the cargo ships to France and the Channel Islands, and Portsmouth is a very busy port. Further afield, you have scores of huge container ships docking at Southampton, ocean liners, and many oil tankers docking at Fawley to ofload at the oil refinery.

Further afield there are other areas. Look at how busy the Dover straits are with shipping. Felixstowe is crammed with container ships, and the Humber Estuary with oil tankers also. All of our coast is extremely busy with all kinds of shipping. Even further afield, across the North Sea Rotterdam, Ostend and Zeebrugge are very important shipping centres too.

So imagine what would happen is part or all of this trade became impossible, if for some reason we lost control of the sea lanes around our country? The impact it might have on our security does not bear thinking about. Imagine for example if all of the oil tankers putting in at Fawley were prevented from docking – there would be power cuts in parts of the country. It would be the same too if the areas where the oil was shipped from became unstable too.

So if you think that the seas dont really matter any more, or that we dont need a Navy, or that as an Island nation we can just retreat away from the world, think about the hundreds of ships moving all around our coastline every day and every night. We would live in a very different country without them.


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Filed under Local History, maritime history, Navy

Books of the week – Maritime special

This weeks regular review looks at not one, but two of the latest releases from the National Maritime Museum.

Egyptian Sketches - Edward Lear

Egyptian Sketches - Edward Lear

Art has always had a romantic and insightful role to play in Maritime History. Edward Lear may be better known as a poet and writer of ‘the owl and the pussycat’, but Lear also travelled widely and often illustrated his own writings. Egyptian Sketches is a fascinating collection of watercolour sketches that transports the reader back to nineteenth century Egypt, seen through the eyes of a Victorian traveller. Whilst I could never claim to be an art expert, this collection of sketches illuminates much about Victorian society – keen interest in travel, an antiquary-like passion for ancient civilisation, as well as being set of very pleasant paintings in their own right. Well presented, and with a commentary from Jenny Gaschke, Curator of Fine Art at the National Maritiem Museum, this would be an ideal read for the enthusiast of maritime art.

The Bird of Dawning - John Masefield

The Bird of Dawning - John Masefield

One of my favourites units studying history at university was maritime history. Mornings spent listening to our wisened tutor talking of tea from India more than made up for the more mundance subjects we were inflicted with. So it is with a certain nostalgia that I read The Bird of Dawning, by John Masefield. A Poet Laureate, Masefield spent many of his early years on board ships, and this experience had a profound impact on the young Poet. Evocative of a time when clippers raced back from India to get the best prices for their cargo of tea, disaster strikes and the crew have to survive sharks, mutiny and the unforgiving power of the sea. Masefield’s nautical background ensures that you can almost smell the salt on the pages, and the tension of his narrative fittingly portrays the gravity of the story. The Bird of Dawning was originally published in 1933, and this fine reissue is introduced by Dr. Phillip Errington, an expert on Masefield and his work.

The Bird of Dawning is available now, and Egyptian Sketches is published on 15 October 2009. Both published by the National Maritime Museum.


Filed under art, Book of the Week, fiction, maritime history, Museums, Uncategorized