A Storm and a Swim



August is usually the coldest month of the year in Apollo Bay.  The forecast for last Friday was for an intense low pressure system and a couple of associated cold fronts to bring very strong and cold winds to the west coast, and indeed to the whole state. Winds in the 50-60 knot range were forecast. Snow was forecast down to low levels. A sizeable swell would be expected with such a weather pattern, and was forecast. 

So it was that I forsook my Friday early-morning ocean swim and headed west for Pt Campbell with my camera, an hour before first light, to see what the southern ocean looked liked in such conditions. The recorded wind at Cape Otway (see right) at 0519 was 85kph (46 knots). 

The red dot on the BoM rain radar screen shot is Apollo Bay. It’s on the protected side of Cape Otway and accordingly doesn’t feel the full force of weather and swell from the west and south west. In fact a westerly wind is directly offshore at Apollo Bay’s east-facing beach. Pt Campbell and the adjacent coast line on the other hand are ‘around the corner’ on the weather side of the cape, and take the full force of weather and swell from the west and south west.

It all looked very promising for being at the right spot at the right time, as far as big storms and big seas go.


The pre-dawn attempt at driving to Port Campbell to witness the storm and big seas

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I was the first road user this day on the Great Ocean Road between Apollo Bay and Pt Campbell – not a sought-after distinction, especially after a night of gale force winds. I expected tree litter and the odd large branch or small tree.  The air temperature was around 6°C in the hills, and 7°C or so on the coast. Wind chill was probably near zero. There was a fair bit of rain, and it was literally blowing a gale.
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The first half dozen or so of the trees of around this size which I encountered weren’t too difficult to get past. I saw a few roos/wallabies, and wasn’t sure whether they were getting along under their own steam or simply being blown downwind.
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33kms east of Pt Campbell (69kms from AB), I came across this show stopper.
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No option but to do a U-turn and head back to Apollo Bay. The only practical alternative route was through dense bush and I was certain it would be impassable with fallen trees.  Between 0450 and 0600 the recorded wind at Cape Otway averaged more than 40 knots (gale force) with gusts up to 60 knots during that period.
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Castle Cove in gale force winds – a compulsory stop on the return drive to AB. Swell not as big as forecast, but wild seas nonetheless.
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Castle Cove. This coast gets more than its share of rain. That grass is as soft and lush as it looks.

Plan B – an ocean swim at Apollo Bay

There was a strong offshore wind at Apollo Bay.  There was certainly some swell, but it was much smaller than forecast.  So, the pre-dawn photographic mission to Pt Campbell having been aborted and perhaps not a lot lost in terms of photographic opportunities, I settled for a solo swim in squally weather conditions at AB with my GoPro camera. What a contrast the offshore conditions at AB were to the wild white ocean at Castle Cove and points west.

The sea temp was 12°C, and the air temp (with wind chill) was in low single digits.  The continuous succession of squall lines brought heavy showers, and some hail. Great day for the Patagonia R3 wetsuit (and cap, and boots – call me soft if you must). I stayed warm. The offshore wind held this wave up and smoothed it out to this perfect form.
I swim a lot in this bay, mostly over distance. But the glassy green waves over the sandbar near shore drew me in on this occasion, and I spent my entire session in the water just swimming around aimlessly in and beyond the shore break, diving under waves, floating on my back, and enjoying the weather and the water.  Playing like a seal. I love looking along the line  of an unbroken wave just before it breaks.  I was the only person in the water and there was nobody on the beach. Very peaceful.
Toasty toes.
New squall and rain arriving, peppering me and the water surface with big raindrops. Previous squall line in the distance, partially obscuring Cape Patton.
The wind was strong, and the rain and hail pinged noisily of my cap. It’s a sound I enjoy.
These might looks like raindrops, but they are not. This is spray blown over the back of a breaking wave by the offshore wind. The wave was breaking immediately behind me when I took this photo. You can see the marked line where the spray stops, and beyond it is the calm water surface with not a drop of rain to be seen.  The nearest rain at this moment was in that disappearing squall line on the centre horizon. In strong offshore winds, spray blowing over the back of wave stings your face if you are immediately behind it, but in a good way.
All disturbances on the green water here are from spray blowing over the back of the breaking wave. Cruising up and down in this zone, being lifted and lowered by the lines of green swell about to break, is a favourite pastime of mine.
One of my favourite vantage points at Apollo Bay. Marriner’s lookout is on the horizon.
An insider’s view of a breaking wave.



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Power and beauty. Moderate swell breaking over a reef near Boneyards, west of Cape Patton.  This photo and the one below were taken a week or so ago, before the cold fronts arrived.
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A majestic solitary wave breaking over Little Henty Reef in the twilight.

6 thoughts on “A Storm and a Swim

  1. Photos taken inside waves always appeal to me. Sounds like a very enjoyable swim John. I’d have been there with you, albeit freezing my nuts off in my thin, sleeveless summer wettie. What was the water temp?


    1. I know you would’ve been out there if you could Andrew. If you persist with that sleeveless summer wettie though we will have to pass the hat around and get you a hot water bottle to stuff down the front of it for winter swimming. The sea temp was 12°C.


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