With autumn now in full swing, more or less, we hear about how more and more paddlers are looking to keep on kayaking during the off season. Water wear and immersion apparel technology is such that staying warm isn’t an issue. The correct drysuit and/or wetsuit will keep that body boiler steaming which helps stave off chill and prolong cold water paddle sessions. While we appreciate not everyone kayaks on the sea a good proportion of sit on toppers do. Most will be aware of needing to understand weather forecasts and staying clued up for what each day will bring. But it’s not just weather related info you’ll need to be armed with – tides and how this phenomenon affects you is also must have knowledge. With that in mind here’s a refresher for those aware or an intro for newbies.
What is tide?
In a nutshell tide is the horizontal and vertical flow of water caused by the gravitational pull of earth’s moon and sun. It’s the moon which has the greatest effect, as it’s nearer to us. The sun, however, does play its part and at certain times of the month, and year, even more so.
Tidal flow changes (roughly) every six hours. Due to this time difference ebbing and flow moves forward about an hour or so each day. It’s worth considering, however, that in certain spots – such as Bournemouth, UK – you actually get double tides. More a low and a low, low, followed by a high and high, high tide – if that makes sense? This double tide is caused by Bournemouth being situated close to the mouth of the Solent where water flow comes from dual directions. There are other examples of this around the world and as such it’s worth knowing how your chosen spot works. The measurement between high water and low water is commonly referred to as tidal range.
Spring and neap tides
The term spring tides refers the monthly period when the orbit of the moon brings earth and its ‘rock’ into close quarters with one another. At this time you get higher and lower waters than the rest of the month. This usually lasts for a two week period and will be followed by neap tides where the movement of water isn’t as great. It’s the reason why some beaches have more sand on show at certain times.
It can also be a reason that rocky outcrops suddenly appear or other hazards are uncovered. If you’re putting in at a different location it might be worth asking how spring and neap tides affect the area you’re about to paddle in. Tidal streams Tide isn’t simply an ‘up and down the beach’ movement. There are also tidal streams you need to be aware of which is the lateral flow of water along the coast – especially where you have high cliffs, headlands and points. During certain points in the tidal cycle water flow will be at its strongest whereas at others there’s less of an effect – and in some cases completely slack water. Knowing when this occurs could have a huge effect on your kayaking. Time it wrong and you could end up paddling against an extremely strong current. Get it right, though, and you could have a very pleasant ferry glide. Tidal flow As we’ve mentioned above tides occur roughly every six hours. Worth realising is the middle two hours of each tidal cycle is when water movement will be at its most powerful. If you’re a paddler looking for the easiest time on the water then avoiding this part of the day would be a good idea – unless you can time it/work it to your favour.
For those paddling in estuaries or in locations where land masses are closer together keep in mind this squeeze effect can heighten tidal effects. Essentially think of it being like a tube of tooth paste that you pinch together. The greater the bulge being forced between static objects, such as islands, the more force there will be. Channels in the sea bed also increase the effects of water movement.
The Solstice and Equinox
During the Solstice and Equinox the earth, moon and sun align to create the strongest gravitational pull we experience. At these times tidal movements can be big – it’s not unusual to find your local beach with much less water at low tide. At the same time tidal streams and the middle part of the tidal cycle will be very powerful – much more powerful than at other times of year. If you’re considering a kayak session during these periods then keep this in mind and understand how this phenomenon can affect your local put in.
Weather and tides
What you experience on the brine doesn’t just come from tidal movement. If paddlers have wind, for instance, in the mix then this will also play its part. As an example: an outgoing tide with breeze puffing back in the direction the water has drained from will create a choppy and confused sea state. Two opposing forces working against one another like wind and tide will cause chop, waves and flotsam to form. If this happens above a shallow sand bar, for instance, then you may not want to place yourself here as the result could be like kayaking in a washing machine. On the flip side if you have wind and tide flowing in the same direction paddlers will usually face a super smooth water state. This can be the most dangerous conditions paddlers’ face – especially if wind and tide and heading out to sea. A smooth, glassy and perceived smooth water state can lull the uninitiated into a false sense of security. The two forces WILL drag you out to sea quicker than a heartbeat. This can be at its most dangerous around the mouths of harbours, inlets and estuaries where you also have that squeeze effect. As you can see tides and how they work play a massive part in the lives of those wishing to make use of the sea. Not having even a basic understanding of tides is extremely dangerous. The above barely scratches the surface with this topic and it’d be worth learning more about tidal movement and in particular how it affects your local put in.