Explore the BBC
3 Oct 2014
Click for a Text Only version of this page
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio
TodayBBC Radio 4
Listen Again
Latest Reports
Interview of the Week
About Today
Britain at 6am
Have your Say
Contact Today

Mark Coles Farewell Finisterre

By Mark Coles

Dogger, Fisher, Rockall and German Bight - the names are more than familiar to listeners to BBC Radio 4's Shipping Forecast.

Most of the 30 names that make up the daily roll-call of weather conditions at sea have been in place for more than half a century.

But from lunchtime on February 4 one of the best known areas Finisterre will disappear for good. It's being renamed after complaints from Spain.

The name Finisterre has been part of the UK Shipping Forecast since 1949. Britain uses the term to refer to a 90,000 square mile area of Atlantic Ocean off the North West coast of Spain.

The problem is, Spain also uses the name Finisterre for a much smaller zone in the same ocean. The United Nations World Meteorological Organisation has decided this could confuse sailors and has ordered Britain to rename its Finisterre sea area.

British broadcasters will rename the zone FitzRoy, chosen in memory of the founding father of the Met Office, Admiral Robert FitzRoy, who allegedly committed suicide in 1865, frustrated that his forecasts couldn't prevent ships from sinking at sea.

Not everyone is happy with the change. The Liverpool Daily Post newspaper has launched a campaign to try to save the name Finisterre : "We lost an empire, now they are telling us we can't forecast the weather how we want to," said the paper's features editor Peter Elson. "There is an awful lot of support for Finisterre."

The Poet A.C. Bevan agrees. He has written an entire collection of poetry inspired by the Shipping Forecast. He says the forecast is like a liturgy. "There is something religious about it. The names suggest emptiness, but the way in which they are read out is very comforting. It's something very spiritual."

The Shipping Forecast has inspired all sorts of weird and wonderful things: poems, songs, literature, works of art, even tea towels. Stephanie Waring and her sister from Tyneside named their three children: Shannon, Bailey and Tyne after the Shipping Forecasts. Their husbands who both work at sea initially thought they were mad but eventually gave in.

Stephanie admits Finisterre has never been in the running, but prefers it to FitzRoy. "FitzRoy sounds more like the name of a Doberman dog than a sea area," she says.

Radio 4 report on the demise of Finisterre
UK Met Office
United Nations World Meteorological Organisation
Background on Admiral FitzRoy NB. The BBC cannot be held responsible for the content of external websites

Listen - full report
More Features Stories

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy