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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June, 2005, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Britons 'should appreciate the sea'
By Paula Dear
BBC News

Even when you live in an island nation it can be easy to take the sea for granted.

Ferry passengers feeding seagulls
Britons are never further than 75 miles from the sea

As more of us jet off on foreign holidays, outwardly relying less on the UK's seaports, do we consider how much the sea still means to the country's economy and defence, not to mention sport, culture and tourism?

Maritime organisations are keen to build on our knowledge and rekindle our historical love affair with the sea, during the build up to the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar in October.

The anniversary of the victory and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson has inspired a host of events across the nation to mark why the sea was, and remains, so important.

Among the many objectives of the SeaBritain 2005 campaign - which incorporates the wider Trafalgar Festival events - is to build respect for the sea among non-mariners.

Ask any old salt whether he misses the sea and you'll probably see his eyes glisten for just a moment
Julian Stockwin, maritime author

Led by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, south London, SeaBritain 2005 is a project involving numerous partners such as the Royal Navy, Visit Britain, the National Trust, and the Royal Yachting Association.

It will help put on more than 300 events in 2005, including an International Fleet Review in Portsmouth on 28 June, featuring ships from around 40 of the world's navies.

The event will be followed by a sea battle re-enactment in the Solent, using tall ships, pyrotechnics and sound.

Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson
June 28: International Fleet Review, Portsmouth
June 28: Tall ships sea battle re-enactment with pyrotechnics and sound, Southsea
June 29 - July 3: International Festival of the Sea, Portsmouth naval base
September 16: Procession on the Thames re-creates Nelson's funeral
October 21: Trafalgar Day, nationwide. Wreath to be laid at tomb of Lord Nelson in St Paul's Cathedral
October 23: Afternoon service in St Paul's Cathedral followed by two events in Trafalgar Square - morning parade and evening tribute show

But what is so special about the sea?

"We want to raise awareness of the role the sea plays in people's daily lives, because sometimes it's forgotten" said SeaBritain 2005 chief executive David Quarmby.

The bicentenary has provided the impetus to remind people about a range of issues, he says.

The history of Britain's relationship with the sea, modern marine environmental issues, the importance of our waters and coastline to tourism, the sporting and recreation offered by the sea, and its contribution to the economy are all being highlighted.

And we can't forget Nelson. He and his crews "helped change the face of Europe" nearly 200 years ago, according to Captain Steve Bramley, who is organising publicity for the Navy's Trafalgar 200 celebrations.

Cultural connections

Nelson's professionalism, passion, caring nature and sense of teamwork are all relevant today, he said.

"This is partly about the values of Nelson being propelled into the future and rekindling an interest in maritime issues, particularly the young people," he added.

Waverley paddle steamer
Sea-going paddle steamer the Waverley does pleasure trips

This year also provides the perfect excuse to celebrate our long romantic love affair with the sea, adds Mr Quarmby.

"When you talk to people, it's rare to find someone who doesn't have some kind of connection with the sea.

"When you think of all the literature, music, films and so on that have been inspired by it, you see it's a thread that runs through our culture."

Retired lieutenant commander turned maritime author Julian Stockwin, writer of the Thomas Kydd naval series, says he fell in love with the sea as a toddler.

He was later told by his mother he would bring home dead seabirds because he loved the smell.

The fact that man "has never really mastered the sea" fascinated him.

The UK has about 10,500 miles of coastline
95% of UK's imports and exports are transported by sea
The maritime sector - engineering, ports, passenger ferries, insurance and the Navy - is worth 37bn
Around 50m people travel to, from and around Britain by ferry each year
Terms with naval origins include 'square meal' and 'slush fund'

"It was such a mysterious and wonderful thing.

"As I passed along the coast of Kent as a young lad I looked out over the Channel at low, grey shapes disappearing over the horizon to who knew where, taking my imagination with them."

He longed to go to sea and said he wasn't disappointed with what he found, after joining the Navy at 15 years old.

"Memories of a moonlit path over a calm tropic sea, fighting the elements in a typhoon in the tropics, being part of the community of a ship when the sight of the shore has long faded - these are all very special.

"Ask any 'old salt' whether he misses the sea and you'll probably see his eyes glisten for just a moment."

And if anyone is still unconvinced Mr Stockwin calls in Byron's poem The Sea for assistance.

"One of my favourite quotes is from Byron: 'Dark, heaving, boundless, endless and sublime; the image of Eternity.'

"It sends shivers down my spine to this day."

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