Brittany experienced a maelstrom this week-end. Spring tide of the century, so they said. A 119 one on a scale of 120. With a partial eclipse of the sun (81% in Brittany - the highest percentage in France) to boot.
The eclipse did happen but was totally hidden by a very thick layer of clouds! And since I was at Les Tertres at the time, I enjoyed some darkening of the skies and a short cold spell (which by the way could well have been brought about by chilly Northern winds after all) and nothing else.
In that case though, one really needed to have an astronomer around. I had one a few hundred miles away who sent me this link and I watched the eclipse live from Svalbard (Norway) while sipping a couple of cups of red and organic Rooibos tea at home. 70°F in my living room versus -4°F in Svalbard. I never complained.
Back to the spring tide of the century. For a start, never believe the media. While they kept surprisingly mum about the eclipse, they raved about the equinoctial tide last Saturday (March 22). A 119 tide only happens less than ten times in a century, they said. They also reminded France that a spring tide is the most dangerous event ever when you live on the seaside and they talked a lot about the gigantic waves and the dreadful floods the Channel and Atlantic Ocean shores had to endure the year before, during the first week of March 2014. Only a 115 spring tide but so formidable and destructive. Imagine… A 119 tide in March, a real equinoctial spring tide right after a sun eclipse.
True to the scientific forecast, from March 20 to March 22, the tidal range grew from 115 on Friday up to 119 on Saturday and went down to 115 again on Sunday.
And true to the Breton tourist offices expectations, stoked up by the national news, spring tide did happen, except that it turned out to be an unprecedented human tidal wave since the sea never proved it was up to the situation. Officially 119 but honestly?
The media should have explained the ins and outs of a spring tide instead of singing about its tidal range. Exceptional high range, yes but “the spring tide of the century”, for goodness’ sake! They never mentioned that the weather would be clement. No wind thus no waves. A 119 spring tide much less spectacular than a regular 115 spring tide in winter.
By the way, a spring tide does not get its name from the season but from the verb “to spring”… In French, it’s called a “grande marée” (a high range tide).
So Brittany was invaded for a while. Only two days actually which felt like centuries. Tens of thousands of tourists from all over France. On Saturday, the “119” day, from what newspapers said, the shores of our small province accommodated as many people as during one whole summer month.
Not really easy to live in overcrowded conditions. Totally unbearable actually. People who love Brittany and live there, love the place because of its wide, open and uncluttered beaches, even at summertime and because of its serene way of life notwithstanding the violent storms that sweep across from time to time.
All in all what should have been a noteworthy experience turned into some rather unrewarding moments. For Bretons and for tourists alike.
At high tide, people were expecting huge waves and violent floods in the harbors, on the coastal roads and in villages, just like in March 2014. (Yes. This is a dog-eat-dog world filled with sensationalism!) This never happened.
At low tide, they wanted to gather shellfish on the foreshore. They were so numerous that the beaches and the rocks turned out to be far too small for them all. No shellfishing either.
We were outnumbered and sort of pushed away from time to time. We were autochtones, hence not given permission to hinder the great “foreign” flood, even for the sake of taking a picture or finding a parking spot.
There were a few funny moments though but only because it was best to keep our sense of humour.
I’ll have a hard time forgetting the young woman who shoved me aside because she wanted to take a picture of the waters rising slowly (a meager couple of cms high) above one very, very tiny portion of the quay. And then she yelled to her boyfriend: “I took it! I took it! And it’s on Facebook already!”
I’ll have a hard time forgetting the two smart-looking men walking along the quay. Looking at the two trawlers that were alongside, one of them said: “Are those trawlers real boats, do you think?”
Harbor quays are flooded from time to time during spring tides, the ones with strong winds and waves. What is to blame? In Brittany, harbors stilt up all the time because of tides and sea currents. They are dredged quite often but like the rock of Sisyphus, they stilt up again and again.
Someone asked aloud: “Who is to blame? Who?” And then he answered his own question : “They really should heighten the quay. I wonder why they never did it.” Nature versus politics. It had to be very political.
A lot of people sounded quite ignorant about tides. The news on TV had been quite talkative about the “tide of the century” but they probably never explained much about tides and their phenomena.
One father to his daughter: “Just wait. Within the next 5 mns, you’ll see a 129”. (Great. There are a few things I am yearning to watch and one of them is a 129 spring tide. Actually… not really.)
Well, no 129 tidal range of course. Tidal range never exceeds 120. Which seemed to irritate people. A lot. “That’s it? It won’t go any higher?” “This spring tide is so disappointing.” (Greatly vexed voyeurism at its best.)
There is a very funny sentence from an old French movie when a young child says: “Si j’aurais su, j’aurais pas venu”. Totally wrong but very colloquial conjugation… something like “I knew I shouldn’t have went.” I am pretty sure that this thought crossed the mind of many onlookers at the end of this spring tide.
They came with great expectations. Most of them left with huge frustrations.
But the local economy sure flourished - unless people came all geared up from their part of France. Rubber boots. Red or yellow oilskins. Shrimping nets. White pails. Rakes. They all looked so very Breton. Well, just the way you imagine Bretons going shrimping or gathering shellfish. This was so much fun because then it was so easy to tell spring tide tourists from “natives” who actually knew better and were waiting for the next spring tide, on April 19th with a 113 tidal range. Not impressive enough to send hordes of tourists back to Brittany. But a spring tide nevertheless.
On Sunday morning, carnival time was over. Tens of thousands people on their way back home, by car and by train. Motorhomes choking up our very small country roads.
The next 119 spring tide should happen some time around 2029, I think. Which will give Brittany enough time to put on a real show with power-generated high winds and waves if necessary, an armada of fake fishing boats and privateer ships, a “son et lumière” (sound and light) show about its history and a raised and maybe terraced quay to provide safe tide sighting and photography.
Mind boggling, isn’t it!
*Good Luck, and Good Night*