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Le ”maxi-vague”

Le “maxi-vague” de la Côte d’Azur – a mini-tidal wave, every day at 4pm. Sounds like great fun!

Date: Sat, 10 Aug 2002 23:25:38 +0100
From: Roy Stilling (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: It’s 4pm on the Côte d’Azur. Must be time for the daily tidal wave

The Independent

It’s 4pm on the Côte d’Azur. Must be time for the daily tidal wave By John Lichfield in Paris 11 August 2002

All the elements are present for a French version of Jaws.

In the opening scene, swimmers, sunbathers and fishermen are relaxing on the crowded beaches of the Côte d’Azur (almost the only part of France to escape the rain this summer).

Abruptly, it strikes. A giant wave (“maxi-vague”), 4ft high and 15ft long, surges from nowhere and generates panic among the holiday-makers. Toddlers are almost swept away. Mobile phones, expensive sun-creams and towels stolen from hotels are engulfed by the Mediterranean, never to be seen again.

So far no one has been seriously hurt, although a number of small children have been sucked under and badly scared. The giant wave which strikes the coast near Nice each day at almost exactly 4pm is causing consternation, amusement and scientific bafflement. The local newspaper, Nice-Matin, describes it as “the event of the year”.

Since the Mediterranean is a tideless and often placid sea, the waves breaking on the beaches in the Baie des Anges around Nice usually plop ashore within a few inches of one another. The phenomenon of the maxi-vague – a single, giant, rogue wave, which breaks much further up the beach – began a few years ago but has taken on a puzzling regularity and ferocity this year.

Olivier, 34, a beach fishermen at Cros-de-Cagnes, west of Nice, said: “When the sea is very calm, you see first a few ripples, just like a trembling in the water. Then, the big wave comes. The first time, it catches you. After that, you’re on your guard.” Swimmers have been tossed against rocks. Parents have reported having to drag terrified children from the sea with lungs full of water.

The finger of blame was pointed at first at the high-speed ferries that have cut the journey time from Nice to Corsica to three hours in the past six years. The ships have been ordered to travel more slowly near the coast. The no-speeding zone may now be enlarged experimentally to see if the big wave disappears.

However, the authorities and maritime scientists are not convinced that the fast ferries are the only, or even the principal, cause of the maxi-vague. The regularity of the phenomenon this summer has everyone baffled. The 4pm arrival time bears no obvious relation to the ferry timetable.

Marine scientists are convinced that the wave is not purely a natural event. They believe that it may be generated by a combination of wind, coastal geography and the passage of large, fast boats other than ferries.

Gabriel Nakhleh, an official in the French government’s maritime office in Nice, said: “It is a complex phenomenon. It seems to be something to do with the weather but there could be other, so far undiscovered, causes … We are not treating this lightly.”

In the meantime, the authorities would like you to know that it is perfectly safe to go back into the water. Except at around 4pm.

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