Without a second thought I already know what I need to do next; part process, part ritual.
Opening my laptop, my face becomes illuminated by a bluish halo of LED light. My eyes groggily adjust to the contrast between the starkly artificial light and the hesitant dawn struggling to break free of the south-eastern horizon from my house overlooking Mounts Bay in West Cornwall.
One click of the bookmark and I am there. Diligently scanning two columns of a table that reads at hourly intervals back to the 1960s. I don’t need to read between the lines. Wave height and wave periods begin to talk to me. An upward trajectory that is anything but fake news.
I know we are on.
Despite possessing a mind that isn’t particularly scientifically inclined, I understand that the hard facts of the buoy readings don’t lie. They don’t flock together in packs like us, they don’t rely on your board choice, your fitness or even your timings. They just are. Wave height and wave period. Every hour. Ad infinitum.
For many surfers situated in the southwest of the U.K, the process I have described here will form part of their amateur meteorological efforts to forecast and ascertain conditions at their local beach. Most will rely on the specific wave-buoy readings of the Seven Stones ‘lightship’ situated 15 miles to the WNW of Lands End; open to the full westerly exposure of the Atlantic from the north to the south. In its own way the Seven Stones lightship and associated wave height readings have become a metronome to many a Cornish surfing life. Charting the rise and fall of every bump of ocean that journeys it way across the Atlantic to this little corner of world we call home.
The light ship is moored off the notoriously treacherous Seven Stones reef that has represented a navigational hazard for generations; claiming 71 named shipwrecks since documentation began. Including in more recent times the infamous Torrey Canyon oil tanker wreck in 1967, which resulted in the largest ever oil spill in U.K waters and was one of the early wake-up calls to the consequences of our ever growing reliance on fossil fuels.
The reef is particularly dangerous as it is only exposed at low-tides, lurking dangerously beneath the surface. It was never feasible to build a permanent lighthouse in this perilous, submerged location - therefore in 1841 Trinity House (the lighthouse authority for the U.K) permanently anchored a lightship to the north-east of the reef in order to provide navigational warning to nearby mariners. The lightship has been automated since 1987 but before that it was regularly manned on a monthly rotation of 12 men from Tresco Island in the Isles of Scilly. Early iterations of the light vessel required a man to climb the mast daily to trim the lamps, hauling the supply of oil by man-power alone and even in the most treacherous of conditions.
Since its automation the lightship continues to serve as a navigational aid but also as a weather station for the MET office. As surfing’s popularity has surged across the U.K the ‘Ship Borne Wave Recorder’ that measures the significant wave heights on an hourly basis has also become an essential tool for surfers keen to know what the surf is doing on our western shores.