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: http://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

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Training in France

Sorry, the story will be late. This week we are in training; writing, painting and cycling in France.

Watercolour of the barbwire gate of Natzweiler-Struthof, german concentration camp

Natzweiler-Struthof was a German-run concentration camp located in the Vosges Mountains close to the Alsatian village of Natzwiller.

Watercolour of a french field with a sunlit tree line and looming thunderclouds

Back, just in time, before the thunderstorm. A nice atmosphere for a watercolour.

Trouble in paradise

Charlotte Gannet emptying the kayaks before the storm

Prelude

The sky turns slowly in the color of a big black bruise, Ominous and threatening on the horizon, while we peddle over the to Mull, it looks harrowing.
Although it is getting darker the weather is still and calm. Literally: ’the calm before the storm’.

We paddle fast, at the other side of the sound we almost crash the kayaks onto the rocks. There is no time to find a nice landing or to change the kayak gear, hastily we pitched the tent.
And there it is, the rain, like someone pushed a button. The water falls out of the sky in big heavy drops. Just in time, we created our little safe haven, I sigh.
I check all last things in the boat and secure them, Alexander checks all pecks and strings to secure the tent. All plastic sheets neatly tucked under our cloth shelter.
We peel ourselves out of the suits in the rain and just leave it there to get soaking wet. We will sort it out later.

‘Just in time’, Alexander remarks.
‘Yeah, luckily everything is dry’, I reply. ‘How long is the rain going to last you think?’
‘At least a day, maybe two, we just have to endure this.’ He laments.
I only think: ‘Oh yes, a nice day – or even days – of some rest! Lying in bed, lovely and snug in my sleeping bag’. All conditions are great, we have a boat full of food, plenty of fuel, enough water to last us a few days, a brand new waterproof tent, a good book and with a bit of luck some radio reception. What more could a girl who has already kayaked for a couple of weeks with very few days of rest? I am so going to enjoy this!!
Munching on cookies we listen to the rain falling on the tent. I feel safe, happy and content in my lovely dry and warm sleeping bag.

Day one

After a good night sleep, we need to go out the tent to go for a pee. That’s the only downside to camping out in a rainstorm. Back in the tent and sleeping bag, we cook our morning porridge. After breakfast, I snooze a bit and listen to some radio. Reception is not great but sufficient enough to listen to BBC Radio Scotland, they broadcast talk radio in the morning. I enjoy listening to it because the conversation gives a nice window on what is going on in the community. I alternate the radio listening with reading a few pages in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I am enjoying myself, for Alexander, however, it is less enjoyable. Just out of boredom Alexander starts shooting with elastic bands to the tent ceiling to kill some midgies.
 ‘Shall we have lunch?’ Alexander suggests at around two o’clock.
While I put butter on the sandwiches Alexander cuts the cheese. Making lunch is really a joint effort. We end our meal with a nice cup of instant coffee.
‘I’m going out for a walk and do some fishing, are you going to join me?’ he announces.
I look at him dumbstruck, going out in this weather?! I’m not going to sacrifice my dry shoes to go out for a walk, no way! I am warm and dry in my tent, thank you very much.
 ‘But it is raining outside! You will be soaking wet.’ I moan.
 ‘I’m staying right here, dry and warm.’
I listen to some more radio, a music program. I read more LOTR, I snooze a bit when my eyelids become too heavy from reading.
Suddenly I hear the plashy sound of footsteps through the soaking wet grass coming closer to the tent.
 ‘Hi, love.’
 ‘Take your wet things off before you come in the tent!’ Oh no, you make everything wet, great’ I reprimand.
My favorite program is on the radio. Get it on!! I sing along with all the songs while we cook dinner in the tent. The outdoor activities forecast is predicting more rain tomorrow. Another lazy day in the tent, lovely.
 ‘Yeah, you like that, don’t you?’ Alexander tries to kiss and tickles me.
 ‘Go away, not with your cold hands. Stop it!’ I scold.
I read a bit more and Alexander writes the journal. What a comfortable day, I think. But I expect not everyone in the tent will agree with me on this. We drink some cider and go to sleep.


Eureka tent with tarp extention

Day two

The rain is still dripping on the tent as we wake up. Sometimes a bit heavier, sometimes a bit lighter. The day progresses in a similar rhythm as the previous day, listen to the radio, read a book, a snooze, lunch… I have this feeling of unease creeping up on me.
 ‘Are you going to join me for a walk?’ Alexander asks innocently.
 ‘NO!’, I aggressively answer back.
 ‘But you need to go out for a walk, it’s good for you.’, he pleads.
 ‘I don’t want to. If you want to go, that’s fine. I don’t want everything wet. It is too cold.      Leave me be, go and fish. Bye!’
I pull the sleeping bag over my head and turn my back to Alexander. As he leaves the tent I listen to the radio for the rest of the day. On talk radio, they talk about how much damage the rainstorm has done on landslides and flooding of cities and towns. It is estimated that there is going to be 68 hours of rain. I don’t feel that content anymore in my cozy and warm tent. I don’t know why I had to react so irritable to Alexander, and I’m not even tired! I’ve had enough rest. The rain can stop now. But the weather gods pay no attention to my silent prayer.

Alexander Gannet fishing from the rocks


Alexander comes back to the tent, a big smile on his face and happy with his achievement. Proudly, he raises a big Pollock above his head.
 ‘How on earth are we going to prepare fish. You have to cook it outside!’ I bark at him. So much for a warm welcome home for the heroic fisherman and his catch.
 ‘You need to come out of the tent and help me put up the tarp’, Alexander barks back, disappointed by my reaction.
Raging en raving, while I put my clothes on and step into my rain gear.
 ‘Happy now?’ I snap as I come out of the tent.
We put up the tarp and start to cook the fish. It is a big fish, and Alexander really puts an effort in to make nice large bone-free fillets, just the way I like it. The big slices of fish are coated with Indian herbs, the tangy taste warms me up. It is actually really nice, but I am not going to admit that, I am way too grumpy.
 ‘Can I go back in the tent?’ Provocatively, I put my hands on my hips and look at Alexander.
 ‘Pffff, yes, please!’ Alexander replies annoyed.
I take off all rain clothes and complain loudly about how wet my trousers and shoes are.
Alexander comes in about an hour later. Silent we drink some cider.
 ‘Goodnight.’
 ‘Yeah.’

Day three

After a very uncomfortable night, it is hard to sleep when you are used to so much activity, I wake up to hear the rain still coming down on the tent.
 ‘I am sorry for being so grumpy yesterday’, I say to Alexander.
 ‘Oh, sweetheart, that is okay. I know, this is really very difficult weather.’ Alexander whispers while he takes me in his arms.‘
I start crying. I mean really crying, with the ugly face and snotty nose and all.
While having breakfast we listen to the weather forecast on the radio. There is still a bit of rain around but there will also be spots of dry weather.
 ‘Let’s start to clear out.’ Alexander suggests with a happy face hoping to lift me out of my sadness.
 ‘No, it is still raining, everything is wet, we cannot pack up now!’ I say exasperated. I look at him like he made the most indecent proposal ever.
 ‘You heard the forecast, it will be dry and all the stuff will dry too’, he said annoyed.
 ‘Yeah, in about a fortnight. I’m not going, everything will be wet and cold!’, I yell.
 ‘Everything that is wet will be dry and warm. Come on!’ he shouts back.
With all the bad mood I could muster I start packing the sleeping bags and mattresses. Everything is a bit damp and moist. But Alexander doesn’t pay any attention to my bad temper.
 ‘Look, it is getting lighter, there is a break in the clouds. Even the sun is poking through!’
I delay and sigh and moan and curse. I am radiating my bad mood.
 ‘Especially for you the rain is easing, you see, it is getting less!’ Alexander teases.
He is having fun with taking the mickey out of me.
The worst thing is still to come, getting into my wetsuit that has been lying in the rain for the past two days. With the utmost use of bad language, I start wriggling into the sodden suit.
 ‘You will warm it up in no time, look at the number of calories you will be burning!’ Alexander optimistically says with a big smile on his face.
This aggravates me even more. I put all my anger into carrying the boats to the water. While we paddle into the Sound of Mull Alexander points out how beautiful the light shines on Duart Castle, the rainbow in the distance, the eagle in the sky.
The paddling and the beauty surrounding me lift my bad mood a just little bit.

I give a little smile to Alexander, back in my mind I know I am silently hit by a bad case of cabin fever. But next year we go to Ibiza!

Charlotte Gannet