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The Ship­ping Fore­cast: A Mis­cel­lany

Nic Comp­ton (BBC Books, £9.99)

THE SHIP­PING FORECASTÑ that nightly clock­wise recita­tion of the sea ar­eas around the Bri­tish Isles (plus coastal sta­tions/in­shore waters)ñis as em­bed­ded in the na­tional psy­che as the chimes of Big Ben. Both have been broad­cast since the early days of ra­dio, in 1924.

Now, Nic Comp­ton has writ­ten its history: a neat book, which could be eas­ily slipped into a Christ­mas stock­ing and is nicely de­signed as a se­ries of sep­a­rate yarns and in­struc­tive fig­ures. Mr Comp­ton is bet­ter equipped than most of us, who de­pend on the Fore­cast (broad­cast daily at 12.48am and 5.20am) for re­as­sur­ance as we lie snug abed. ÔI am storm­bound in north­ern Spain on an old wooden sloop,’ is his open­ing sen­tence and the ded­i­ca­tee, his fa­ther, is a for­mer Royal Navy Lieu­tenant Com­man­der.

The Fore­cast was born of ur­gent need: an es­ti­mated 6,000 ships have been wrecked along the Cor­nish coast­line. The first to coin the term Ôweather fore­cast’ was ViceAd­mi­ral Robert Fitzroy, cap­tain of Dar­win’s ship the Bea­gle. His pre­dic­tions ap­peared daily in The Times from 1861.

In 2002, the BBC re­named Fin­is­terre Fitzroy in his honour, the only ship­ping-fore­cast area named after a per­son. The oth­ers are named after sand­banks (six, in­clud­ing Dog­ger, Fisher and Bai­ley), estuaries (six), towns (Dover and Ply­mouth) and is­lands (10, with the Nor­we­gian is­land Ut­sira di­vided north and south). Orig­i­nally, there were 14 sea ar­eas; greater pre­ci­sion means that there are 31 today. I can rec­om­mended this book warmly to ad­dicted night owls. John Mcewen

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