Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 5 January 2014

A fatal attraction

'...behind all, is spread as a curtain the eternal sea, ever the same and ever changing. Yet I love to see it best when it is lashed to madness in the autumn gale, and to hear the grinding roar and churn of the pebbles like a great organ playing all the night. 
'Tis then I turn in bed and thank God, more from the heart, perhaps, than, any other living man, that I am not fighting for my life on Moonfleet Beach.'
No-one reading John Meade Falkner's classic novel could have any doubt that the sea can be lethal not just to mariners but to those struggling with storm waves onshore.

The media coverage and Christmas break have conspired to send an unprecedented number of storm-watchers and thrill-seekers out to cause anxiety - and extra work - to those responsible for public safety around Britain's coast and, for some, the results have been fatal.

Some years ago, I attended the funeral of an ex-sailor with decades of experience of the sea. He was swept off rocks by a freak wave only a few miles from where the now-notorious parents took their small children onto the harbour wall; even those familiar with the risks can be caught out.

When the hymn 'Eternal Father, strong to save' began, the congregation stood but the hymn-books remained closed. Everyone there knew by heart the words of that heartfelt plea on behalf of 'those in peril on the sea' - a telling indication of how coastal communities view the risk with which they live and, sadly, of the number of sea-related memorial services the church has seen.

These same communities provide the volunteers who crew the lifeboats; they know better than anyone the potential danger of rough seas along the coastline and yet are prepared to go out in appalling conditions to save lives.

By contrast, even allowing for over-dramatic journalistic commentary, it appears that those putting themselves in harm's way for the thrill of a soaking or a memorable photograph must have little idea of the destructive power of waves or water-borne debris.

I've written elsewhere in a more light-hearted vein on popular ignorance of the sea, but, this week at least, it's no joking matter. There is a natural attraction in the spectacle of in waves 'lashed to madness' but, unless appreciation is tempered with respect and common sense, it is likely to go on luring the unwary to their deaths.


  1. Look at it this way - Darwin is working...

    I trained to go to sea. Unfortunately, I was unable to do so in the end, but the sea is in my blood - both grandfathers were sailors, one Royal the other merchant, so I do understand the attraction and the dangers. If people don't, well, at least they are taking themselves out of the gene pool.

  2. I have a healthy respect, even fear for it.

  3. Maybe, Longrider, and potentially horribly so in the case of the families with small children.

    Unfortunately, most teenagers' brains are, for a while, hard-wired for risk-taking before adult caution takes over - in the absence of proper education and experience of day-to-day risk management (a common feature of today's H&S cotton-wool-wrapped youngsters), it's all too easy for them to misjudge a situation.

    JH,I'm inclined to think that anyone who professes a complete lack of fear of the sea should be kept away from it at all costs.


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