Hannah Whammel speaks

by Jane Routh

 

Nights when the traffic thins, I listen to the river,

how full it is, how fast, how much rain fell in the hills

to race down here and stir the mud. I listen to the wind,

where it’s from, what it’s done. And I listen for the tide,

the changed tune in the water, its clean salt smells

 

and I dream of days when the wind dropped

and I took my ease lying back on the water

scumbled with dried salt and scales,

while the man took the oars, working us back

to the shore round sandbanks and eddies.

 

How did I come to this? I should be drifting the net

downriver on the first of the ebb, beating back up,

then down as the ebb gathers speed – five drops

on one tide if the man timed it right and the wind held –

and upriver on the flood with the catch.

 

Landlocked! This is not what I was built for.

They built me for summers like ’48

when salmon ran and ran and the weight I carried up

on every high tide strained timbers and stays.

Never the like in living memory… they said

 

but that changed things: too many

went whammelling. You had to queue to drift down,

and not enough fish. Some even tried engines.

Engines! How can you tell where a boat will head next

if not under sail? How can you hear the set of the tide?

 

Landlocked – but my story won’t end here.

Maybe a training wall can shape a river, but not the sea:

the sea’s altering – can’t you smell? The wind

keeps changing its mind. You think I’m old

and done for: wait till you see me dance

 

on that flood surge to come

– how lightly I’ll sit on the water, how steady I’ll be,

how elegant my waterline and stern. Yes, I’ll spring leaks –

my timbers are shrunken and dry – but I long for

that one last plunge in the waves, and out to sea.

 

I chose to research Lune whammels because I’m interested in how traditional inshore boats all round the coast of Britain are built to suit their own local sea conditions.

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