Large Southern Ocean swell pounds local reefs

Some swells are ordinary.  Some are an event.  The swell last Monday on the west coast of Victoria was an event.

The surf forecast for Two Mile (just outside the bay and around the corner at Port Campbell)  gives some idea of what was anticipated: 10.7 – 12.9 metres, with wave faces 7-10 times overhead.

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A swell from the WSW has to wrap around Cape Otway, and then wrap around further before it reaches reefs and beaches such as Little Henty Reef, Point Bunbury and Apollo Bay.  This takes some of the size out of it, but there is still plenty left.  There is uninterrupted ocean between the beaches in these photos and Antarctica.

The swell peaked on Monday, but was rising on Sunday.  Sadly, a tourist drowned in Mounts Bay (north end of Marengo beach) on Sunday snorkelling in the surf near where the Barham River flows into the sea.  His body was retrieved relatively quickly and CPR was tried, unsuccessfully as it turned out, for over an hour.  A reminder that the sea is never to be taken lightly.  But that said, in the conditions on the day the decision to enter the water (snorkelling or not) at that location in the conditions at the time, was a very bad decision.  This is the Southern Ocean.  Great care has to be taken to make an informed decision on every occasion as to whether to swim or not, factoring in location, timing (tide), wind, swell size and conditions.  It’s a lot better to be on the beach wishing you were in the ocean, than in the ocean wishing you were on the beach.

On Monday morning I drove to Boneyards (an unprotected reef break a few kms west of Cape Patton) for a look at the swell and worked my way back to Apollo Bay.  High tide was around midday.  Interestingly, while there was good swell towards Cape Patton, it was much bigger just south of Apollo Bay, and presumably at all points west.  I don’t know whether Two Mile delivered on the forecaster’s numbers.

John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8791_20171030_Online
This break is a right hander on the point immediately west of Boneyards.  It’s called Sledgehammers.  Despite its relatively benign appearance here, I was told by a local surfer that the reef on the shore has hollows and caves underneath it, accessible only from the sea.  These would be dark and violent places even in a swell like the one shown.  That there was a lot of water moving around this day is indicated by the very solid and clear rip at the top of the image – it would be a fast ride out to the head of that rip beyond that building wave (indicated by the ring of white water leftovers and the sand behind that wave).
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8796_20171030_Online
Sledgehammers.  Solid swell with the lip throwing over creating a brief aqua-lit barrel.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8801_20171030_Online
I can never look at the ocean without wondering what it would be like to be swimming in the conditions I’m looking at .  This wave is an example.  I reckon I could body surf that green right hander (on the left of the image).  But I was also wondering how it would be if I was caught inside , and swam valiantly seaward to crest the wave before it broke but didn’t succeed, but was then greeted by the last chance for latecomers in the form of that little tunnel on the right – the late-breaking very short section of the wave.  Imagine doing a gentle duck dive in green water beneath that unusual arch of water and avoiding all the white water.  Left or right of that spot a solid duck dive would be required to avoid being worked over by the white water.  I would swim through this special little spot and simply pass gently through the green water of the back of the wave, with that falling lip behind me.  Surfacing behind the wave with the spray stinging my face would be a happy moment.  (Photo taken from the GOR between Smythe’s Creek and Skenes Creek).
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8804_20171030_Online
Solid surf always shifts a lot of sand.  This shore break must be at least 1 part sand to 2 parts water.
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A lot of the green walls I saw on Monday contained clouds of sand like this.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8838_20171030_Online
Another lucky free pass in a solid bit of shore break.  The sand flowing over the broken wave (on the left and right of the image) indicates that the the water was not deep where this wave was breaking.  For a swimmer, that means usually means there is not enough depth to duck dive below the turbulence, even with fingers clawing the sand for purchase and legs pushing off the bottom in the hope of accelerating forward and spearing out to surface behind the wave.  The washing machine experience usually ensues, and with any luck the seabed will simply graze you and not rise up and smite you mightily.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8906_20171030_Online
This photo and most that follow were taken at Little Henty Reef, Marengo (just south of Apollo Bay).  The WSW swell has to wrap around the nearby point by about ninety degrees to break here, but on Monday this did not seem to diminish the might and power of the surf.   Little Henty Reef (so-called to distinguish it from Henty Reef about 3kms offshore) is also known as Hayley Reef and Marengo Reef.  It is only about 150m offshore from the rock platform on the adjacent shore, and is separated from it by a  channel.  An interesting thing about this reef is the irregularity of its area, depth and shape. It must have channels, promontories, protrusions and sudden changes in depth which all combine to cause waves of all sizes which arrive in an orderly fashion, upon hitting the reef, to suddenly explode and disintegrate in spectacular fashion propelling huge volumes of white water into the air.  The waves do not break evenly on this reef.  It is a sight to behold.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8907_20171030_Online
The force and suddenness with which water is launched into flight is clear at the top of the white water in this image.
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Over quite a short distance this wave is displaying a remarkable variety of consequences of hitting the reef.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8918_20171030_Online
Almost an orderly wave, but the powerful green curtain of water on its left has found a small section of reef which has blown the wave apart at that point.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8922_20171030_Online
The enticing deep-aqua eye of the wave as it rears suddenly enough to throw most of its mass forward creating the short-lived but beautiful tube.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8924_20171030_Online
A more conventional breaking wave, displaying the might and energy in that volume of water.
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A less conventional wave refusing to go quietly as it reaches the reef.  The symmetry of the green wave face and tube was quickly replaced by exploding white water ricocheting 40 feet or so in the air.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8947_20171030_Online
This reminds me of an active cumulo-nimbus cloud.  All power and beauty and movement. This is not a wave falling over itself and breaking, but rather white water which has already done that, and has smashed into the flat water in front of the wave with such force that it has rebounded skywards as shown.  Duck diving successfully under this over a shallow reef seems neither attractive nor feasible.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8950_20171030_Online
This photo was taken with a powerful telephoto lens.  But as I walked along the rock shelf on the shore with this spectacle still in the distance, each such barrel shone out of the chaos of white and dark water like some vivid aqua jewel.  To say the least, it was invariably eye-catching.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8952_20171030_Online
Another explosion, another green curtain, a wave collapsing in sections and with delays, and a green wave-face full of sand scoured off the seabed.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8958_20171030_Online
Some waves are slender, elegant, delicate almost in their symmetry, form and seeming perfection.  This was not such a wave.   For me this image captures the unstoppable power of swell of this size.


John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8959_20171030_Online
This photo reveals the genesis of this powerful cloud of white water.  It is the product of the aqua waterfall on the right hitting the water in front of it and the reef just below its surface with enough force to create this spectacle on the rebound.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8960_20171030_Online
This still image vividly conveys the sense of water on the move.
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Little Henty Reef is home for a colony of around 200 Australian fur seals.  They were tested on Monday with the big swell on the high tide.  This photo was taken on the low tide, and they were all continuously wet and shiny.   They didn’t seem to mind.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_9006_20171030_Online
Imagine swimming somewhere in this scene.  I would favour far right, and that this was the last wave of the set.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_9010_20171030_Online
The bright aqua glow deep inside yet another short-lived barrel.  The telephoto lens is a wonderful way to intrude into this inner sanctum as if from a vantage point normally not available without being in the water.  The waves on Little Henty Reef break at right angles to the shoreline, permitting this perspective looking straight along the wave.  A far more interesting angle for a wave photo than looking at it from directly in front.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_9016_20171030_Online
Having a spot of trouble visualising a spot in this photo where I would be happy treading water in my wetsuit and goggles.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_9024_20171030_Online
The slab of rock in the foreground shows the shallowness of the reef here.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_9025_20171030_Online
Pure Southern Ocean power.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_9032_20171030_Online
Yet another barrel which like nearly all of them,  will never be ridden.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_9033_20171030_Online
Continuing the sequence, the white water outdoing the height of the unbroken wave.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_9045_20171030_Online
This photo and the one following show the white water more than doubling the vertical reach of its parent green wave.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_9046_20171030_Online
The force required to bounce water this high suggests that duck diving under it would not be an option.
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Part of the seal colony riding out the big swell as it swept past and sometimes over their normally dry higher rocks.
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Three kms out to sea from Little Henty Reef is Henty Reef (also called Outer Henty).  When there is not much swell, its location cannot be identified from the mainland.  But as the swell rises it can be seen first as a wide low mound on the horizon, then as a breaking wave.  This image shows something of the size and force of this bombie.  There are two reefs at Outer Henty about 800m apart.  I would like to visit this reef in a boat sometime in a big swell.


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Outer Henty looming large on the horizon.  It looks like a massive rogue wave rearing out of the ocean depths.  But fortunately for mariners, this rogue wave is always found in the same spot.
John Langmead_PeterGsurfing_9242_20171030_Online
While standing on the far breakwater wall at the harbour, waiting for the Outer Henty bombie to rear again, I idly snapped this shot of a breaking wave about to hit the harbour wall.  Broken surf of this size is rarely seen in this location.  When I downloaded the image to the computer, my eye was instantly caught by the portly gentleman in the baggy brown coat sheltering in front of the rocks.  The interesting thing is, nobody was standing near the rock wall when I took the photo.
John Langmead_PeterGsurfing_9238_20171030_Online
Outer Henty reef pumping, and the sheltering man still in position.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8902_20171030_Online
An overcast sky changed the theme colours of the ocean scene at Little Henty Reef.
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_8900_20171030_Online
Yet another wave full of sand.  How many sea creatures shifted their place of residence this day (by choice and otherwise?)
John Langmead_30 Oct Swell AB_9066_20171030_Online
The Southern Ocean in full flight.

3 thoughts on “Large Southern Ocean swell pounds local reefs

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