Clapotis, what a lovely word is that….

A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned,… for he will be going out on a day he shouldn’t. But we do be afraid of the sea, and we do only be drownded now and again.
John Millington Synge

Our little Eureka  tent on Pabbay island between the wild flowers

Our little tent on Pabbay island between the wild flowers.

We are on the beautiful island of Pabbay on the Barra-head island group. The sun is out but the wind is still a bit strong. On the beach, we watch the surf crashing on the sand. The seals play with the white-crested waves and a small group of teal duck bob up and down between the waves. We consider our options to leave the island. There is only one and a half day of food left in our kayaks. That is about the time we need to get to Castlebay on the island of Barra, to do some shopping.
The VHF forecast announced the wind was going to ease from 4 to 5 bfd to 3 to 4 bfd, but that showers would be likely. But when will the wind ease? VHF is not that precise. We have to observe that by ourselves.
We climb up on the hill overlooking the sea we have to cross to get to the other island. Too many whitecaps. We are not leaving just yet.

Quite a stiff breeze with white caps between the islands

Quite a stiff breeze with white caps between the islands.

Time passes by and Alexander gets out his wind speed meter. He stands on the hill where the wind comes from and measures the wind. It is easing, the sea state becomes calmer, fewer whitecaps. But we also see raincloud developing. We decide to break up the tent and pack the boats before everything gets wet. When we are in our kayak gear the rain comes in the form of drizzle. We quickly cover yourself with a rain poncho. We have to wait until the wind eases a bit more and the tide comes in our favour.

We watch the seals as a pastime. One of the smaller seals climbs on the shore right behind our boats. Why is it doing that? Now we have to disturb it when we leave.
After 2 hours under the poncho developing a sore ass, the tide has changed and the wind eases a bit more. The sea looks like we can manage it, and we feel confident enough to paddle to the next island.
We push our kayaks in the water, apologize to the seals for the disturbance, and paddle away from the beach.

Coming around the island, the combination of big swell coming from the west colliding with the tidal waves coming from the east whips the waves up to a clapotis-like wave pattern of 4 meter high.

Ile_de_ré

This is what a clapotis wave pattern looks like in a quiet situation.

The word ‘Clapotis’ comes from the French language for ‘standing wave’. By definition, they are formed by a reflecting wave from the cliff shore meeting the wave of the swell and they crash into each other.
In our case, the clapotis is formed by two colliding wave patterns, one from the west and the other from the east. Resulting in a wave that is much higher and contains a lot of energy. After the collision, the wave collapses. When kayaking in these waves, the kayaker has to be skilful enough to brace at the right time, that is…. if he/she can find water to brace on…

After looking at the sea state while on top of a high wave we decided that, beyond the clapotis field there were too many whitecaps for a safe passage to the next island. Usually, I want to go forward because going back is more difficult. But you got to know when to stop and realise the state of the sea is beyond your skill level. We went back to the beach where we came from.

This is not me in the clapotis waves! The picture does illustrate how to paddle these waves. Picture: www.kayak.nu_

This is not me in the clapotis waves! The picture does illustrate how to paddle these waves. Picture: www.kayak.nu

A clapotis wave pattern is bad if it is against you but worst if the wave comes from behind. There is no way I can see what is coming. Anxiety is creeping in and I feel myself stiffening up. There is only one solution to tame this fear. Singing loudly ‘My favourite things’ of the musical ‘ The sound of music’, I paddle back to where we left.
The entire endeavour took around 45 minutes and covered 3 km distance. Safe and sound though wet, we land back on the beach.

Upon arrival, the seals look a bit annoyed. ‘Back so soon?’
‘Sorry for trespassing again on your beach for another night’ I exclaim.

The next day the sea and weather were in perfect condition to paddle all the way to Castlebay. Isn’t it ironic?

Charlotte Gannet in her kayak on a quite sea

Charlotte Gannet in her kayak on a quite sea.

Charlotte Gannet

11 Comments

  1. chrisosborneadventures on 10/11/2018 at 11:25

    Omg I’m not sure I’m ready for the open ocean just yet. More training needed once I find a base. Fiji sounds nice and warm if things go pear shaped

    • All Exclusive Cruises on 12/11/2018 at 17:48

      Nice and warm can also mean big waves! Weatherfronts will always find you, wherever you go! Paddling waves is all about finding your comfortable and take just one inch outside of this zone. But the best thing is to sing when it is scary! Your mind has less room to thing about the fear. Tried and tested methods, it really works. I will be writing a story about singing is waves.

  2. thecedarjournal on 06/11/2018 at 01:55

    Nope- not my type of a paddle. You guys are brave to even try.

    • All Exclusive Cruises on 06/11/2018 at 18:21

      I do like a bit of waves but this was too much. Sometimes it is very difficult to see how high the sea really is until you are right in the middle of it. It is a real test of my kayakskills. But we avoid a helicopter rescue situation….

      • thecedarjournal on 06/11/2018 at 18:37

        Funny and also why I haven’t crossed over to the ocean. I think that will change this week as I attend the ACA conference in Charleston SC and I signed up for risk management with the Coast Guard training. When they asked for us to bring a VHF radio I knew I am over my head. LOL. Glad you guys made it back to shore safely.

        • All Exclusive Cruises on 06/11/2018 at 19:52

          VHF? Usually we use it to listen to the shippingforcast and weather. In the 18 years of paddling on the Scottish coast we only used it two times to contact other ships in the neighbourhood. I think it is good knowledge to have. Enjoy your training! I thought you might be back in the states to vote LOL.

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