2 September 2012

Sun, Sand and Sadness

You cannot have failed to have read in the newspapers of the tragic accidents that have happened along the Portuguese coastline this summer. 

The Atlantic is an unforgiving force of nature.  The coastline along where I live is famous for surfing and bodyboarding due to the height of the waves and most people will remember that wonderful photograph of the surfer up by Nazare, riding that world record of a wave.

BUT the Atlantic is dangerous.  Very dangerous.

In the last few months I have only seen the green flag flying on the beach we use, twice.  The rest of the time it is either yellow or red and as the tide turns, you hear and see the waves increase in size and volume.  It can be amusing watching the unsuspecting sunbathers getting caught by one of the larger waves as they can creep stealthily up the beach quite some distance to submerge towels, handbags and sleepers before retreating at speed leaving chaos behind. 

These waves move at top speed and when they retreat, they don't hang around and the undertow is very dangerous.  This is what catches people out.  It is not easy to keep your feet in these conditions and even harder for a child.

Sitting on rocks can also be very dangerous as the waves can pull you off them very easily and many a fisherman has lost his life in this way.

What I find incredible is the number of people with children on the beach, who seem to be totally oblivous to the dangers.  I have seen children run down to the waves without an adult (more interested in smoking/reading their book/talking on mobile), adults with very small children trying to jump into the waves and being knocked down and complete idiots trying to swim out in the rollers.  Usually this takes place whilst red and yellow flags are flying. This is the official status of the flag system.

Beach flags

Red flag

A red flag means stay out of the water completely

yellow flag

A yellow flag means no swimming but you can paddle

green flag

A green flag means you can swim

During the summer season many beaches are patrolled by lifeguards and will be displaying the safety flags. However from 1st October the lifeguards and the flags may be gone so it is important to take extra care at that time of the year.

We have a wonderful life guard service on the beaches but only in summertime.  They cannot patrol the whole of some of the beaches and that makes it even more important that people observe the flags.

On our beach you cannot raise an umbrella in certain places so that the lifeguards can have a clear view of everything.  They blow whistles to warn people to get out of the water who have ignored the flags.  These guys risk their lives regularly to assist people who have got into difficulties and do not get enough praise for their work.

A calm sea

A less calm sea

A sad thing to see recently was the coastguard patrolling along our piece of coastline, searching for the body of an unlucky person who was lost off Praia Grande.  His two friends were lucky enough to be rescued.  It is not nice to think that someone's loved one is out there somewhere and incredibly distressing for their families to not have a body to bury.

So if you come on holiday and your sea of choice is the Atlantic, do please take extra care and remember there are vicious currents under the waves; waves can sweep you off rocks and out to sea in the blink of an eye.  Stay safe and respect the flags and out of season, be very, very careful.

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