|Autumn 2010 part 2 - Call
the Lifeboat! - monster ground-swell brings trouble....
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is often said, "never go anywhere without a camera". You never know
what might happen!
This past weekend - October 9th-10th - marked my 48th birthday and the
family came to stay. Keen walkers, they were eager to get to some high
ground but I knew there would be a biting Easterly near-gale over the
tops, so I suggested a coastal walk instead, not knowing what drama
would unfold. More on that below.
On Wednesday 6th, I went down to Borth for an hour to gather seaweed
for my compost-heap. It was a day of fleeting sunshine and some heavy,
squally showers, but I checked the radar and it looked like I had a
dryish window in which I could pick up the weed and be away home before
I got a drenching. On arrival, it was blustery but bright, and a couple
of people were busy fishing....
After some time, the skies to the south-west darkened as the next
squall moved in...
I hung about, thinking I might get an interesting photo - possibly even
a decent gust-front. That was not forthcoming: instead the beach was
raked by torrential rain and small hail. Careful positioning of the
jeep allowed me to shoot from the window without getting the lens
soaked and this was the result:
Gotta feel sorry for them, though they are clearly well-equipped
against foul weather!
The remainder of the week saw a large blocking high pressure system
build over Scandinavia, impeding the progress of a major Atlantic low
out to the SW, between the UK and the Azores. Fair weather - once low
cloud had broken up - began to be a feature over Wales, despite the
On the 9th I
suggested to my parents that we take the Cambrian Coast train up to
Tywyn, walk the beach at low tide to Aberdyfi, have a pint in the
Penhelig and get another train home. This is a great walk in all
weathers, about 4 miles on firm sand - unless you don't consult your
tide-tables and arrive at high water, when it becomes a trudge along
the shingle at the top of the storm-beach - not recommended!
One thing that can result from a major Atlantic low out to the
south-west is a huge ground-swell. This consists of long-wavelength
surface waves, relatively stable in their direction and frequency
compared to normal wind-driven waves. Because they are formed by
storm-force winds so far away, they can trundle along regardless of the
surface wind at the coast: in this case the winds over Wales were
easterly - in the opposite direction to the swell. Tywyn itself is
fairly sheltered from easterlies but further along the beach I reckoned
it would come blasting down the small valleys cutting the hills behind
the coast, with interesting results should the swell be a monster one.
Worth a punt, I reckoned - always good to plan a walk with a bit of
extra interest. We arrived at Tywyn station at half past one and 10
minutes later we were wandering along the beach. The forecast proved a
The surfers were having a field day - swells are often much better than
wind-driven waves as they are "cleaner" - better defined - and regular.
We walked on down the beach to a point opposite the aforementioned
valleys, and the wind fair blasted across the sands. It was time for
some serious photography:
One could spend
all day marvelling at these walls of water with the spray being torn
from their crests, but of course we had a train to catch and there was
a Guinness with my name on it waiting at the Penhelig!
Closer to Aberdyfi, the wind again blasted the spray seawards....
The buoy in this image (near the horizon, L) is one of the markers that
lead boat-users along the Main Channel of the Dyfi Estuary out over
Aberdyfi Bar and safely into deep water. To stray either side of this
route is to invite trouble, as the channel is flanked by great expanses
of sandbar-ridden shallows - a death-trap for the unwary, especially at
low tide and especially when a big swell is running...
Sat up in the shelter of the sand-dunes before turning east into the
Estuary - and the blasting wind - I noticed the Aberdyfi Lifeboat
heading out. I then became aware of a small boat in trouble - L and
behind the lifeboat - it was caught in the shallows and getting
hammered by the surf...
headed out along the Main Channel - the surf in the foreground is over
the shallows to its north....
The Bar itself is shallow at low tide and is a serious hazard then.
Here the lifeboat is crossing this short band of treacherous surf....
Punching its way over the biggest and final breaker - these RNLI lads
know what they are doing. I liked this shot especially... the courting
couple in the foreground and all hell breaking loose beyond!
Now in the deeper water outside, it turns
south to rendezvous with the stricken vessel...
Getting as close as it can, a rope is thrown and the two boats are tied
...thus allowing the boat to be towed to
safer, deeper water and back into the harbour.
Taking it carefully over the Bar - it is far more dangerous coming in
than going out, as coming in the waves hit the boat astern - a large
one can turn the boat, risking a broaching, when the boat suddenly
finds itself beam-on to the next wave, which can tip it over in an
But no problems - both boats have made it into the Main Channel...
vessel L, awaiting collection, and the lifeboat R.
Lifeboat has its own website - well worth a look - http://www.aberdoveylifeboat.org.uk/
It is a busy
boat with 20-30 launches a year typically. The calm inside the Estuary
- except in the severest of storms - belies the often furious surf that
exists over the shallows of Aberdyfi Bar and the treacherous rip-tides
that are present - especially on the ebb: this combined with the
popularity of the area for watersports, drawing the experienced and the
inexperienced alike, guarantees that there will be a "shout" at least
twice a month. It was an interesting experience to witness an actual
incident that, thankfully, ended well.
High pressure has now pushed over the UK, the East wind is slowly
dropping and, at the coast, the swell should ease away through the
week. A brief Indian Summer - most welcome!
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