Hail Njord, Hail Ran, Hail all our Gods

sea shore

By Rory H OR

I am a boatmaster working on the South West coast of England driving passenger vessels and ferries in coastal waters, normally no more than three miles offshore and, as the rules say, in favourable weather. This last part is what leads me to pen this short article.

I was on duty driving a short ferry trip across Torbay in Devon. For those unfamiliar with Torbay it is a large natural harbour on the South West coast of England used for centuries as such as it is relatively sheltered from much of the prevailing English Channel weather. The bay itself is three and a quarter miles from tip to tip and the ferry run is three miles straight across. The forecast was for winds from south-south-west, south later coming back to the west at a steady force four to five with clear skies and lots of sun, ideal for a days trading as all the wind was off the land and the sun was out to bring out the tourists. Lovely!

We prepared the ship as we always do, arriving at 0830, preparation, cleaning and generally getting ready for service until our first run at 0925. Having washed her down, the sun had dried the boat for us well before we sailed and this bode well for our day. Nothing of note happened for the rest of the morning apart from being as busy as expected. As the afternoon wore on however the wind changed direction in the opposite direction to what was forecast, blowing due East. Directly from the open sea and the worst possible direction for the bay.. By the time we came to run the last trip of the day the wind had picked the sea up into quite a state offshore although not immediately obvious from port and no warnings had been issued by the coastguard, as we left the shelter of harbour and headed into the weather we noticed a few white horses turning into spume and spindrift with the waves beginning to become steep and short on top of a quickly building swell. Not pleasant but nothing unusual, what was unusual though was the speed with which the weather continued to build as an un-forecast depression had caused a bit of a squall just at the wrong time.

Things became uncomfortable very quickly, with the vessel riding upwards over the first two of every set of waves before slamming into the third. Spray blasting over me on the topmost part of the boat meant it was a task in itself to keep her into the weather to try and gain enough sea room to turn and ride to our home port. A good test for both vessel and skipper.

As things were feeling a little dodgy, I’d had a skippers ticket for a while but normally we get the tourists to port before things cut up rough as we run pleasure boats rather than expeditions, my chair was flung across the deck and I was forced to stand as we headed into the wind.

A saying my father had told me years before came to mind. He always said that “there were no atheists in lifeboats” I always took this to be some kind of Christian rubbish but on the day I found that the mind does become focused, one does consider things from a faith point of view and, as an Odinist no bloody way was I going to be beat!

Knowing that I was responsible for the souls on-board I did not feel fear as such, I did not have time to be afraid. Exhilaration though is another matter. As things cut up I petitioned Njord as a trader of the coast and Ran, cursing her handmaidens for threatening us. This feeling it the natural thing to do. Having done so I felt a little silly to be honest and in between sets thinking ‘silly old bugger, drama act’ but then the next set hit and I have to admit that this time the feeling was slightly different, almost that I was there, at that particular time for a reason and if this was the day when mother Jorth was going to re-absorb me then so be it but I wasn’t going out with a whimper. The challenge I found exhilarating and found myself grinning into the spray. Almost howling with the wind at times I think.

This was a very personal experience and one which i have struggled to write to be frank, not really knowing the words to use to express something from such a primal place. Probably some of this is imagination on my part, a great deal is not though – I am sure that this experience helped my connection, if you will, if not to our Gods then to our history.

I’ve been out in some more adverse weather since, usually in a much larger boat, although it is a river boat not really ideal for the sea and as such seamanship needs to be pretty sure, some of which we shouldn’t have been out in but sometimes (often) the forecasters get it wrong and we have to deal with it. That is just life. But each time I think of that day and savour the challenge and adrenaline, sometimes just for a moment I feel that kinship with those of our ancestors who rode the whale road just a little bit stronger.

Hail our Gods and our ancestors
Hail the Rite