Tide and time wait for no man!

The tide for me, is the single most amazing daily wonder.  The alternate rising and falling of the sea, tides usually occur twice in each lunar day at a particular place, due to the attraction of the moon and sun.  

As unique as our seasons, no two days can be the same for our tides. The contributing factors of our solar system, weather and coastal morphology make every tide peculiar to that location.  Every beach in Torbay is different – from Meadfoot with its rugged deep waters to Goodrington with its shallower sloping sandy beach.  These differences are all to do with the action of the tides and the resulting movement of water.

Understanding just a little about tides can be paramount to your enjoyment and safety at the beach. The tide comes in (covering the beach) and goes out (exposing the beach) every 6 hours, 12 ½ minutes, with 12 hrs 25 minutes from high to high or low to low and 24 hrs 50 minutes for the whole process to happen twice.  You can predict high tide tomorrow as it will be 50 minutes later than today. 

Just to spice it up a bit, lets add ‘spring’ or ‘neap’ tides. When the moon, earth and sun are all in line the effect is a spring tide, causing more noticeable high and low tides.  These occur twice a month (full & new moons) with the in-between weeks being neap tides.  A week before and a week after spring tides, neaps have less power and the tidal range stays closer to the middle.

Torbay harbour authority will study the tide times and tide heights to predict any potential threats of flooding.  Unfortunately, the dilemma doesn’t end there for our guardians of the Bay.  If you add waves and air pressure to the equation, the perfect storm can be created. 

For Torbay, the perfect storm is high spring tides with a strong easterly wind (creating waves) and low air pressure.  Each millibar drop in air pressure can raise the sea in the Bay by 10mm.  This is the reason our coastal roads are closed at certain times, to protect you and your car from disaster.  The flip side of this, a low spring tide with high air pressure and winds from the west, will expose parts of the beach never before seen. 

A few years back on such a day, the sea grass was so exposed at Roundham Head (between Paignton Harbour and Goodrington) seahorses were caught out and lay, unprotected, in the sun.  A dynamic group of Surf Life Savers from the club in Torbay, spent their session not in the water but saving the seahorses from drying out by picking them up and putting them into deeper water.

Our tidal range is not that extreme, the Severn Estuary between England and Wales has a range of 15 metres compared to our 5 metres.  We also don’t have a fast incoming tide.  Morecambe Bay, a large estuary in northwest England, just to the south of the Lake District National Park has an incoming tide at a speed that would overtake and submerge a galloping horse.  Even so we still have many emergencies every year where members of the public get caught out by our incoming tide.  Rescues at the many headlands between our beaches are common place and could be easily avoided by checking the tide times. 


So what should you do?

Work out if the tide is incoming or outgoing (tide times can be easily found out by a quick internet search or ask a local on the beach).  If it’s incoming: be wary of venturing on rocks around headlands, stay in visual sight of all your family members and check all beach signage for warnings regarding tide height, speed of incoming tide and currents.  This time of year, tides, weather and waves can be more extreme so take care and remember: tide and time waits for no man or women!