Port Campbell Ocean Swim February 2019

Of all the ocean swimming races I enter each year, Port Campbell is my favourite. The scenery above and below the water is captivating and the conditions, until today at least, have always been a challenge. The roughest water I have ever swum in has been at Port Campbell in this event. But today, the ocean was at rest, and the swim was conducted in relatively calm conditions.

The swim from the Port Campbell beach to a turning point outside the heads offers a unique view down the spectacular coast to the east of Port Campbell.  The photo immediately below shows the view (behind me in this photo).  Today I wanted a good relaxed look at this view, not just another forgettable time for a race of variable distance conducted in different conditions for each race.


I would not swim out to this point on my own, so it is always a privilege to be able to swim out there in the race, with surf life saving personnel in rubber ducks and on paddle boards on standby should anybody need a ride to shore (which I have never seen happen in this event).  To see and experience this wild coast from water level while swimming is a memorable sight indeed – in any conditions.

I usually don’t see much of the view as I have my head down swimming hard, concentrating on navigating by the shortest distance to the next turn buoy. But today, despite having trained up for the race, I decided that I would take a few photos rather than race. I would swim for a good time, not a good time.

So I took the GoPro to sea with me. I used it to take still photos of certain points along the swim, above and below the water. I carry it using a spear gun rubber over my shoulder and across my back, with the camera tied on the end of it. The GoPro floats very nicely above the small of my back while I swim – I don’t notice it. When I stop and tread water, I simply turn around and there it is floating near me.

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A rare sight on race day at Port Campbell. But as always, there was a little more texture and movement out the back than was apparent from the shore. But swimming conditions were entirely agreeable.
July 2008 swell event edited on LR-23
Just by way of contrast, this is the Port Campbell jetty on a different day.
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Swimming friends who did the Pt Campbell swim today.  L to R: Hunto, Susie, Jenny, Vicki, Suzie, Sonja, Mike and Hamish.
The field settling into a rhythm and starting to spread out up the western side of the bay under the cliffs. (Photo by Andrew Langmead)
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My Garmin GPS watch tracked the course I swam. The total distance was around 1300m. My official time for the race today was 34:07 from which should be subtracted the time taken to shoot 180 photos.  Footnote: The morning after the Pt Campbell race, I swam 1300m at Apollo Bay in virtually identical conditions – current, some wind, no swell, some surface texture, in 26:37 at a pace of 2:03/100m. Had I swum at this pace in the race, I would’ve been placed 23rd in the 60+ super veteran class, and I would’ve been faster than Jenny, Sonja, Vicki, Hamish, Mike, Al, Kerr. Hunto, Suzie M and Susie S would’ve had faster times than me. As it was though, at 34:07, not adjusted for photo stops, I actually finished 28th in the super vet category, and only Al was slower than me (he paused to enjoy the view and to be the subject of a few photos along the way).
I have swum in the bay on my own out to this point level with the jetty, but not beyond. This is where the water gets deeper and it begins to feel like proper ocean.
Heading out to sea keeping the white buoys on our left.  The beach, town and finishing line are between the trees in the distance. The town jetty can be seen on the right.
Further out to sea now, nearing the first of the seaward turn buoys. On the right are the cliffs forming the eastern side of the entrance to the bay. The township can just be seen in the dip between the two promontories of land, and the jetty is just visible on the right.  The cliffs on the left are on the western side of the bay. The cliffs to the east of Port Campbell can be seen top right, with a bit of surf breaking on the reef near the headland.
One of the joys of swimming at Port Campbell is that the fringing reefs in the bay and the sea bed in the centre of it are mostly covered with marine plants. There is no shortage of marine life in the bay. The largest thing I saw on this swim today was a sting ray in the deeper centre of the bay. I got a photo of it, but the water was not clear enough for a good photo. This seaweed was on the reef near the cliffs we swam beneath on the outbound leg of the swim.
Shafts of sunlight penetrating through the sea to this rich marine garden.
This is the face of the cliff between the reef that fringes the western cliffs, and the deeper centre of the bay. Again, there was a profusion of plant life with the shafts of sunlight working their magic.
The western cliffs in the bay.
As my GPS track shows, I meandered left and right on the way out between the cliff and the deeper water. These plants were on the shallower reef, receiving more light than the plant communities in the deeper water.
I broke one of my rules of photography with this shot. That rule is to only press the shutter when I think there is a chance of a good photo, and not to press it simply because I am in awe of what I am seeing at the time. Couldn’t resist on this occasion – that rich plant life, those shafts of light……all waving in the currents beneath and around me…..click!
Nearing the first of the outer buoys.
This friendly chap on the rescue board at the first turn buoy was on for a chat, thought the GoPro was a good idea, and kindly offered to take a photo of me out there.
The photo the board paddler took of me. On the horizon in right of shot you can see the next orange turn buoy. After this photo I swam across to it, then turned left and headed back to Australia.
The first turn buoy out to sea, and to its left in the distance, the second turn buoy. In the distance on the right is the serious Pt Campbell rescue boat (bigger than the SLSC rubber ducks). On all these swims, it patrols out to sea just beyond the turn point of the race course. In rough conditions, it catches any swimmer caught in the strong outgoing current which runs out to sea here in certain conditions. While the current when it runs is strong, it is not wide, and swimming east with a bit of drift correction will soon see the swimmer beyond its reach. I have sampled this current.
One of the SLSC rubber ducks.
Al, who I’ve known for over 50 years. We’ve had a lot of swims together. He should be pleased with this shot.
To the right of this turn buoy, in the distance, is Port Campbell. Even without the impact of the GoPro wide angle lens, it looks a long way away when swimming – especially when conditions are rough (unlike today).
About to swim past the pier on the return trip, which signals the return to shallower and calmer water with the finishing line clearly in sight.
I was not bothered by crowds or fatigue at the finishing line. I was feeling fit and fresh given the number of photo shooting breaks I’d enjoyed en route. (Photo by Andrew Langmead)
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Ocean swimmers do seem to smile a lot – me and Kerr (photo taken by Liz Langmead).
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Three ocean swimmers who rode to Port Campbell today. L to R: Andrew, Mike and Hamish. Mike and Hamish swam today. Andrew enjoyed the ride to this beautiful place (and lunch with our happy band of swimmers). It was Hamish’s first swim here.  Andrew and Mike have done the Port Campbell swim on previous occasions and in rougher conditions. Perfect mode of transport down the Great Ocean Road on this beautiful summer’s day.

5 thoughts on “Port Campbell Ocean Swim February 2019

  1. Beautiful sea conditions, a camera, bikes and friends with wide smiles – a pretty perfect combination for you John. I am a little surprised your competitive spirit allowed you to swim for a ‘good time’ rather than a ‘good time’. Especially with Hamish in attendance. None the less the results are pleasing to see and read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it was a good day Serena.

      My role with Hamish and his ocean swimming is in transition between a series of enjoyable years of taking line honours ahead of him, and settling for coach’s kudos as the faster stroke he is developing (with guidance) will soon see him finishing ahead of me.

      On balance, I think the photos above are a better memento of the swim in that exotic location in perfect conditions, than a race time and place best quickly forgotten.


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