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From Finisterre To FitzRoy

Finisterre, Northwesterly 6 or 7, occasionally gale 8 later. 

You won't find many as entrenched in the nostalgia and strange allure of the shipping forecast as Finisterre’s founder Tom Kay. Part of our heritage, from our namesake to how we judge the tides, it’s poetry of sorts for the seafarers amongst us. We take a look at the shipping forecast’s history. 


Cape Finisterre, a rock-bound peninsula on the West coast of Spain was once known as the end of the known world. Derived from the Latin 'finis terre' (end of the earth), it was a fitting choice for the largest sea area that surrounded the British Isles.

Born in 1949 and adored by all, Finisterre covered 197,215 square miles, meeting with siblings Sole, Biscay, Plymouth and Trafalgar in the surrounding waters. She had become a part of British culture, and it was no surprise that in 2002, a proposed name change was met with protest. Undeterred by such outrage, the Met Office pressed forward and renamed the area FitzRoy – but why?

The year was 1859 and the Royal Charter’s voyage was almost at an end. Over 9000 nautical miles had been travelled, but it would be the remaining few that would cement her voyage in maritime history.

Point Lynas was to be the beginning of the end. The wind shifted direction to East Northeast and surged to gale force shortly after – by midnight, force 12 winds were driving her ashore.


In the early hours of the following morning her voyage met its end. The Royal Charter had lost, shattering against the rocks just shy of Moelfre. Only 29 of the 500 souls aboard that day would survive.

A total 133 ships were sunk in what would be later known as the Royal Charter Storm, but all was not lost. Risen from the wreckage, an inspired Robert FitzRoy set course to better understand the weather at sea.

Across Britain, stations were built, self-reading anemometers were distributed and log books from far and wide were analysed to gather information used to form synoptic charts from which weather forecasts were formed. On Wednesday 6th February 1861, the first forecast was given.

This was the birth of the Shipping Forecast. The forecast that we have come to know and love. It has survived two world wars, prevailed over a digital revolution and safeguarded countless lives at sea. 

Taken on by the BBC in 1925, today the Shipping Forecast covers 31 sea areas and continues to broadcast four times a day:

0048 – Transmitted on FM + LW. Includes an extended weather forecasts, inshore forecasts and an outlook for the day’s weather. 
0520 – Transmitted on FM + LW. Includes weather forecasts and inshore forecasts. 
1201 – Includes weather forecasts and inshore forecasts. 
1754 – Transmitted only on LW on weekdays. Transmitted on both FM and LW on weekends. 


Words by Tom Baker | Images from David Gray


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