When solid ocean swell hits the coast around Apollo Bay, the spectacle of waves of substance hitting the exposed reefs and beaches is not to be missed. This is so even with swell such as in these photos which is not in the large wave category. Little Henty Reef and Point Bunbury are two of my favourite vantage points for such swell events (as anybody who has had even a cursory glance at the posts on this blog will know). The early December 2019 swell shown in these photos was solid and in the moderate range by local standards. I have seen much larger swells breaking on this reef. (For example, see the post on this blog titled ‘Large Southern Ocean Swell Pounds Local Reefs’, published 1 November 2017).
I am a regular ocean swimmer. On days with swell like this, the southern end of the east facing main beach in Apollo Bay is quite swimmable. In fact it’s exhilarating to swim in the smaller swell (which should not be taken to necessarily mean small swell) which results after larger swell has lost some of its size and energy in the process of turning left through nearly 180° around a point to break on that beach. Big swells are usually accompanied by winds coming from between north west and south west. Winds from those directions blow offshore (from the land out to sea) at the main beach at Apollo Bay, which makes for clean and glassy waves which stand up as they near the shore for longer than they would without the offshore wind.
Having swum in the ocean for most of my life to date, I have experienced all sorts of sea conditions in many different locations. These experiences make it impossible for me to look at the ocean, whatever the conditions might be, without wondering what exactly is causing what I am seeing, and without imagining what it would be like for me to be out there in the middle of it all. Such ruminations usually end up with me conjuring up some delusional scenario in which I survive the troubled seas against all the odds, and make it ashore unaided and triumphant.
None of this is intended to give the impression that I actually want to be out there in wild seas where drowning would probably be a certainty, it’s just that I can’t resist imagining what it would be like and what I would do if out there. So please don’t read any of the observations in the captions below as actual plans, or as expressions of any desire to actually be in the water with these waves. But I certainly find them mesmerising to watch.
The ocean does not issue invitations or free passes and it grants immunity to nobody. For an ocean swimmer, knowing how to swim is probably less important than knowing when not to swim.
Little Henty Reef, Marengo
This reef is only a couple of hundred metres offshore at Marengo, just south of Apollo Bay. It forms part of the Marengo Reefs marine sanctuary. The reef has many elements to it, and it has quite irregular formations under the water which dictate how and when a wave passing over it will break. Waves seldom break in a uniform way here as they might at a beach with a flat sand or rock seabed near the shore.
The two photos following were taken a second or two apart.
Point Bunbury, Apollo Bay
The beach immediately south of Point Bunbury has a reef lining the shore. This reef is more uniform in its structure than the Little Henty reef. So waves tend to break in a more uniform manner at this location, except where there are irregularities in the reef and channels or a change in contour of the sandy seabed.
Two shot sequence of one wave – taken only a second or two apart.
Another two shot sequence of one wave, taken seconds apart.
These next two photos show two different waves breaking in about the same location just south of Pt Bunbury. There is a reef near the shore in the area near where they are breaking.