The elegant Spinnaker tower, dominating Portsmouth harbour (above photo), stands with its spinnaker spread out as if waiting for fresh winds. It stands as a symbol of sailing, the sea and of Britain’s famous maritime tradition.
Britain has produced many seamen like Elizabethan Sir Francis Drake, Horatio Nelson, round-the-world yachtsman Sir Francis Chichester and Olympic gold medal-winner Ben Ainsley. Portsmouth has been the British naval base for centuries. The skeleton of Henry V111’s wrecked flagship ‘The Mary Rose’ is here, so too is Nelson’s Trafalgar flagship ‘Victory’. It’s a great place to visit.
Further along the coast, we have frequently enjoyed visiting the harbour at yachting centre, Lymington, watching the Isle of Wight ferries come and go, and scrutinizing the jumble of yachts, some of them very expensive! This is a safe and peaceful anchorage, with the gentle sound of the clapping of rigging on aluminium masts, the cry of seagulls and the quiet hum of motors as different boats set out for a day’s sailing on the Solent and beyond.
Just across the waters of the Solent on the Isle of Wight lies Cowes, base of the annual Cowes week of sailing races. This is also the starting point for the annual ‘Round-the-Island Race’.
The Round-the-Island Race
One year we watched over a thousand yachts taking part in the 93km Round-the-Island Race. They were setting out westwards towards the Needles rocks at the Western end of the Island. Then, suddenly we noticed a dramatic change as the leading yachts rounded the Needles rocks and set off eastwards with a strong following wind. It was all coloured spinnakers in full sail as the yachts raced on round the Island.
The fastest boats may take 3-4 hours with a favourable wind to complete the course. The record is 2 hours 22 minutes! But not that day! For later we heard that the the wind had dropped to a calm at the other end of the island, leaving many boats having to limp back to the starting point at Cowes.
On a windy day at sea adventure awaits the daring sailor. Modern yachtsmen would share the feelings of exhilaration in John Masefield’s poem ‘Sea Fever’.
‘I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking…
…a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.‘
from ‘Sea Fever’
Pentecost and the Age of the Spirit
‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;Acts 1:8
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
Pentecost, the old Jewish festival of the ‘Feast of Weeks’ (seven weeks after Passover), celebrated the ingathering of the first-fruits of harvest. Christians now celebrate it as the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the early followers of Jesus as ‘a rushing mighty wind‘ and with ‘tongues of fire‘. The Christian church was born and within 3 centuries the Roman Empire had become officially Christian. An ‘ingathering’ of ‘harvest’ indeed!
This is now the Age of the Spirit. Where the wind of the Spirit blows things happen and the church grows. In some parts of the world there are stories of people of other faiths, and no faith, receiving dreams and visions of Jesus. The largest church in the world, in Seoul, South Korea, began with a small congregation of about seven people. It now claims to have over 700,000 members. But it is not alone. China’s Christian churches have seen huge growth in the past 70 years. So too have churches in many South American and African countries. By contrast many of the churches in Europe seem, with a few exceptions, to be at a standstill, becalmed like those Round-the-Island yachts, waiting for fresh winds.
Waiting for those Fresh Winds
My ‘boat’ (life) may be small, unlike those multi-million pound yachts, but I too, am waiting for more of those fresh winds of the Spirit in my own life and in the life of all Christians and churches today.
Listen! Can we hear the wind blowing?
‘O Breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and pow’r;
O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us,
and fit your church to meet this hour.‘
To see some dramatic videos of previous races visit the IOW Round the Island Race website (‘Mulitimedia – video clips’)
Next Time I hope to visit the beautiful Sissinghurst Garden.