“HIGH TIDE AND GREEN GRASS”
It’s all very well taking a day trip to Sealand – with prior permission and vetting of course. A relatively simple and brief day-visit enables one to witness a few hours of marine brouhaha, coupled with a brief (yet often mind-boggling) exploration of this unique man-made micro country and to experience for one’s self what it’s actually like to physically be there – and to ponder over the war time and subsequent dramas that previously blighted the place.
And then, to sail back to a European mainland port to enjoy the “normalities” of the pub, restaurant, transport systems and other home comforts of everyday life.
Yet to stay in Sealand for a longer period presents an altogether different mind-set of challenges and perspectives; indeed, a different paradigm of emotional survival, isolation and communication. For all the down sides of being so remote from the pace of regular life, a longer stay on the fortress can afford one the opportunity to absorb a unique calm that would otherwise not be so readily accessible on terra firma.
While being forever mindful that Sealand is not for everyone and the fact that some wartime personnel serving on the ex-Navy fort actually went berserk very quickly out there, it can also be a time to reflect, introspect and exercise a higher plain of spiritual and other awareness, while getting on with the job in hand without too many distractions.
It’s a place that’s obviously so near yet so far away from the lure of the land. To coin the poignant lyrics of the rock star Alice Cooper in his song about a beautiful lady that was in sight yet out of reach: “You might as well be on Mars”.
Before describing my own personal thrills, fears and challenges about an elongated spell in Sealand, it’s worth mentioning en passant that – following my countless short out and back visits to the Principality from the mid-90’s of the last century to the present day (chiefly assisting in a diverse range of issues to do with communications, promotion and media projects) – as an active Sealander, the time inevitably came for me to be needed there for a longer spell, due to the logistics of what I was specifically needed there for.
At this juncture (and as many official visitors to Sealand will relate to) one of my previous day trips nearly ended in my being stranded there for what would have been at least four days or more: on one particular occasion, not so long ago, after being deposited on the fort, and as the tender boat wallowed impetuously away, the intervening five hours saw a significant change in the behaviour of the natural elements. The ebb wind-over-tide blew up into a swell, with very apparent strong schizophrenic currents.
Further, the wind altered from a SSW 3 to a NE 6 or 7 in what seemed like 15 minutes; the light faded; it started to drizzle; the UK coastline completely disappeared from view; the thick black clouds flashed with a rampant exchange of sheet lightening; and I suddenly wanted my mum! Great. Just what you need when being required in London for an important meeting at 10.00hrs the following morning!
As luck would have it on that occasion though, the regular tender skipper was on his usual top-class form and got wind (no pun intended) of the impending barometric catastrophe early enough (just) and so set sail at blistering speed from his fishing anchorage near Dutch waters in time to pluck me and one other brave soul at that time off the fort before things got too silly.
Soon, while the Bosun’s chair was lowered in what later developed into a suicidal hurricane, it was only the adroit dexterity of the tender skipper and the skill of the Sealander controlling the winch that indubitably saved the day for us in trying to get home, as the boat bobbed fifty feet below us like a champagne cork in a pan of boiling water. It all felt a bit like that 1960’s TV game show “The Golden Shot” with Bob Monkhouse: “left a bit; right a bit; right a bit more; FIRE!” – or JUMP! In this case, it has to be said on to the WRONG place in the boat – but at least it was IN the boat and not the ocean!
Boy, were we glad; but the combination of the stench of diesel fumes from an overworked marine engine, the sea with it’s “white horses” and the reek of freshly caught shellfish didn’t make for the best open air voyage back to Felixstowe (UK) on that rather sinister afternoon.
In fact another half an hour and the weather and sea blew up to such a ghastly pitch that there would have been no way of attempting a Sealand departure that day. It was a Tuesday and the very low pressure and dreadful weather, that came much more quickly than originally expected, lasted until the Saturday.
However, I digress. Yet what I have just written is pertinent in setting the risk-scene (if you like) to the main thrust of this brief article, vis-à-vis the experiences encountered through a longer stay: With a known requirement for me to be in Sealand for between 7 to 10 days one February, also not so very long ago, I set about planning the personal needs for a never-done-before longer stint on this now internationally famous remote man-made fortress.
I had a propensity for a pragmatic approach to this particular venture so as to be as indolent as possible from start to finish, on the basis that I would never know when (or if) I would suddenly need to dip into my personal energy reserves for the sake of shear survival out there – even if this was just my paranoia working overtime.
For example, my luggage and the personal effects contained therein were meticulously planned in order to facilitate travel with the easiest possible load.
Forever mindful of the fact that I was to become part of a small cadre of other communications “specialists” for around a week with a specific set of tasks out there in the North Sea, I still couldn’t help my inner-self nagging that, for example, the pharmacy in Sealand was relatively tiny should I ever need it; and, although in reasonably perky health, common sense ought to prevail in terms of my grabbing the “might need” medication that – short of pestilence or armed invasion – would see me though those uncertain few days with febrile anticipation.
The run up to packing my belongings soon presented a very evident sort of de ja vu though, as I suddenly realised that I’d done this sort of thing before in connection with my very part-time sessions for an offshore pirate radio station in the late 1980’s. Admittedly, that was rather different though, i.e. an officially frowned upon ship with massively cramped and damp quarters, bunk beds and suffocated tendering arrangements, thanks to the political whim of the day.
THIS trip, however, would be relatively untrammelled and certainly “above board” as far as the UK and European authorities were concerned.
So, I suppose the run-up to this mini adventure probably wasn’t as parlous as it might have been without an apprenticeship on a Pirate Radio ship, also positioned in the North Sea. But at least in Sealand sea-sickness would not be an issue.
For my extended visit to Sealand, the initial ghoulish figurine of a small fishing vessel in an equally small UK port seemed to be quite alien at first, when I arrived at the dock-side well before dawn. But the odd seagull sound, the steel yet slight breeze and the open moonlit sky found sanctuary with my soul whilst all alone during that bleak very early mid-week morning.
A few other small vessels shone their way though the harbour wall and out into the open sea with a brave yet cool purpose about each of them. The likely weather determined by yet another barometric fall almost deeming it a somehow punitive voyage through another intolerable seascape.
Standing on the quayside, I felt an almost pleading reach from me to one or two of those tiny little boats for not showing their correct lights whilst heading for a tumultuous voyage to the usual fishing grounds.
Far be it from me to criticise though – I’m no fisherman or boatman – just a weary, nervous would-be passenger, soon to be aboard a small vessel to a unique yonder. “A place where happiness reigns all year round”, etc!
I found the little boat that morning, as prescribed to me by a senior Sealand official two days earlier. The port assumed the usual eerie early morning feel to say the least; normal to some sea-farers though.
However, the NNE breeze caught a chill through my spine that encapsulated a worry that was hard to extinguish; that of a falling barometer, once again, while out on the high seas…….
Part 2 coming next month…
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