The sea conditions were fairly rough on Lacacao beach, on the southern coast of Boa Vista island, during our visit in May 2011.
Although the sea looked deceptively calm at times, there was always a strong undercurrent present. The waves were several feet high at times and broke with a real ferocity. Beyond the breaking waves, the sea was remarkably still. Timing was the key to going in and out of the sea; you need to time your entrance to avoid being hit by a breaking wave and once you are beyond the breaking waves (10-15 metres from the shore) you'll find a much calmer sea. Similarly, when heading back to shore, you need to get your timing right in order to avoid the breaking waves. We tended to find that there would be relative calmness for a few minutes and then a series of high, powerful waves in quick succession. We were generally able to judge when was a safe time to go into the sea and when was a wise time to wait. However, on our final day, I got my timing wrong on one occasion and was thrown to the bottom of the sea by a large breaking wave.
While a three colour flag system operates directly in front of the Riu Touareg hotel, no flag system is in operation anywhere else along the long stretch of Lacacao beach. Likewise, a lifeguard is stationed on the beach in front of the hotel, but there are no lifeguards anywhere else along the beach.
The flag system:
Red = you are recommended to stay out of the water as the sea conditions are deemed to be unsafe for swimming. If you choose to ignore the warning and get into trouble while out at sea, the lifeguard will apparently not come to your rescue.
Yellow = you are advised to exercise caution due to the strong undercurrent. It is not recommended that children or people who are not strong swimmers enter the sea when the yellow flag is raised. If you get into difficulties, the lifeguard will perform rescues in yellow flag conditions.
Green = conditions are deemed to be safe for swimming.
For the first two days of our stay, the red flag flew constantly. We had also been told that it had flown for much of the previous week with just a couple of brief spells where the yellow flag was in operation. We stayed out of the sea on those days.
On our third day, we woke to see the yellow flag flying and grabbed the opportunity to go into the water. In truth, to my untrained eye, the yellow flag conditions didn't seem much different to the red flag conditions of the previous two days. The waves were still breaking with a real ferocity and the strong undercurrent was still evident. I would say that there were perhaps slightly longer intervals between the waves and longer periods of calmness, meaning there were more safe opportunities for entering and leaving the sea. I would certainly urge caution when swimming in yellow flag conditions and I wouldn't advise letting children into the water.
The yellow flag then flew for the remainder of our week's stay, with the exception of one afternoon when the red flag was again raised briefly. However, on that occasion, I believe that the yellow flag was replaced with the red flag only because the lifeguard had to go out to sea to move a small boat and so wasn't available to keep watch.
We spoke to the staff at the Scuba Caribe watersports club on the beach and asked them what the chances were of seeing the green flag during our stay. They didn't think it very likely at all. In fact, it hadn't flown once in the three weeks that they had been operating. We were told that the sea conditions might be calmer later in the summer and the green flag might be in operation then. When the green flag flies, there are a number of kayaks and pedaloes for guests to borrow; sadly this was impossible during our stay.
Pay attention to the colour of the flag flying on the beach and be very careful when swimming in red and yellow flag conditions!
Lote HO 1, Urb. Morrinho de Baguincho, Praia de Salines, , Cape Verde
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