The word ‘history’ might be misleading here. To some people maritime history means ‘old ships’ but what I am interested in are the centuries of experience and cumulative wisdom that have been gained from working with the sea, the tides and the weather, using the materials and technologies of the time.
What were the knowledge, skills, technology and attitudes of previous maritime-influenced generations that are particularly relevant today? What is the legacy that we can pass onto our children and our children’s children – (and I include my own grandson in this)?
In this age of impermanent technology, when former scientific certainties are being questioned by new knowledge, what aspects of that human experience and wisdom can we use to help carry us through?
We live in an age where the very same technology that can bring us closer together can just as easily be used to pull us apart. Behind glass screens, negative differences in age, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, nationality, politics, health and wealth are being nourished, honed and disseminated, distracting us from more pressing issues. These differences pale into insignificance when compared to living on this Earth in a period of climate change.
The Earth does what it does regardless. It does not worry about tides – tide tables were devised for the benefit of mankind. Similarly with weather – the weather is not there for our convenience. We are part of the Earth, we don’t own it. If we continue to view it second-hand from behind glass screens, indulging in our human foibles, seeing the Earth as out there without concentrating on living in and with it – (down and dirty if you wish to call it that), then we are in danger of losing touch with reality. And when computer screens become a mere phenomenon of the early twenty first century and once again we find ourselves facing the real world in tooth and claw, losing the wisdom of those who knew it on a daily basis will be seen as a terrible mistake.
Hence the interest in maritime history – an appreciation of those men and women who worked with the tides, the weather and the sea, a study of those who lived and worked close to the planet. No, I don’t think they were perfect citizens – they were human just like the rest of us. It’s what they learnt from being human that is worth recalling.
With this in mind, I am especially interested in smaller vessels. Firstly the Westcountry trading ketches, one of which, Ceres (and here), belonged to my family for most of her 125 years; secondly, inshore craft in general; and, thirdly, following on from this, the inshore fishing boats of southern Europe (Crete in particular) which I have watched reducing in numbers over the past two decades.