Mythology is not the first thing that springs to mind when discussing boat renovation. In certain situations, however, even today the old stories can seem very real.
The Shemaron project is primarily concerned with the renovation of the ex ring net fishing boat Shemaron. In the early days of the renovation (before the Ring Net Heritage Trust was set up to help with this) I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend time exploring the west coast of Scotland on this remarkable old boat. Most of the time we were careful to avoid adverse weather but sometimes it was unavoidable. Although we were aided by some of the latest technology there were some brief glimpses when I saw myself at the mercy of the sea.
Even though I knew it to be mythology the story of the ‘Blue Men’ took on a much more vibrant and sinister tone when I thought about it one night in my bunk while trying to sleep. That night just beyond the wooden skin of the hull there were strange noises all around us. My husband and I went on deck to see if we could see anything. It was very dark and the sea was flat and calm. Back below deck, however, the strange sounds continued to disturb us. In the morning, of course, everything was normal but I found myself pondering just how frightening it must have been for those ancient sailors who found themselves at the mercy of the sea.
Mythology – Blue Men of the Hebrides
“The “charmed Islands” of the Hebrides that lie off Scotland’s west coast have their share of myth and legend; the myth of the Blue Men evolved from ancient Greek mythology. They are the sons of Glaukos Pontius, Blue Man of the sea, and are collectively known as Glaukidai.
The Scottish Blue Men migrated to Ireland from the Mediterranean and are said to live in caves under the Minch. If a sailor saw a Blue Man he could be sure that a storm was to follow. They are reputed to have attacked ships or sailors who had been unkind to Selkies (seal people) or other sea folks. Engaging the chieftain in rhyme could avert their anger; if the wit and rhyme were deemed impressive enough, the boat and its crew would be left alone.
Boats often sailed around the Shiant Isles, which lie to the east of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, to avoid the “stream of the Blue Men” or “the current of destruction”.
Seeing these words on the page, the Glaukidai seem mysterious and fantastical and a long way off, but out on the sea where all our rules change, I wonder if they have a stronger reality.
It is interesting to note that a mention of “Pontus” in the epic poem, Argonautica, by Apollonius Rhodius, may be the same Glaukos Pontius mentioned in reference to the Blue Men above. I have read that Pontius is sometimes portrayed as a member of the Argon’s crew, who helped her through many fearful predicaments. In this version of the poem, however, Pontus is seen in the volatile sea, perhaps stirring up the waves, as more recent legend suggests.”
“And now to right and left broad Pontus was seen, when suddenly a
huge wave rose up before them, arched, like a steep rock; and
at the sight they bowed with bended heads. For it seemed
about to leap down upon the ship’s whole length and to overwhelm
Argonautica 3rd century BC
Excerpt from Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour