“A wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.”

I stood on the shore of the Southern Ocean this morning under a blue sky with a cool wind on my back, squinting into the sun.  Cold sea water was washing over my feet and a small swell was rolling in orderly lines across the bay.  I was savouring these moments and didn’t want to rush them.

I waded through the shallows then swam over the sand bar at Tuxion and under a few green waves which briefly stood tall in the offshore wind before breaking. A friend I bumped into on my walk to the beach joined me for the first 500 metres. We found our green-water distance from the shore and headed south. The water was cool and clear. The swell lines gently lifted and lowered us, something I always enjoy.   Then after a short chat while treading water out from the SLSC we went our separate ways.

Hamish took some drone footage from a point midway between the SLSC and the lookout from the beach as I swam out to sea a bit and then back.  I then swam north back to Tuxion, the beach at the end of my street. This return leg was a little further seaward of the sandbar because the waves were now breaking further offshore as the tide went out.

The video below (which has no soundtrack) was edited by trimming it to 1’52”. There was no editing of any other aspect of it.  The colours are as the drone camera recorded them. I have also posted 10 screenshots from the drone footage which capture a few features of the swim which I found enjoyable. In sharing this video and the screenshots I hope the reader gets some insight into the joy of an ocean swim.

 

  • At around 0:50 in the video, I have paused at my turn point to enjoy the scenery. A wave passed under me as I did so. I also spent a short time (not captured on the video) before heading back to shore just floating on my back in the swell while looking at the clouds and enjoying being effortlessly suspended by the ocean, weightless, between heaven and earth. Most of my ocean swims are out and back, and in company.  A bit of a chat at the turn point is an established ritual. A longer chat over coffee after the swim is an even more established ritual. Conversations over coffee among those still warming up after an ocean swim are somehow livelier and more convivial than normal coffee chat. There is truth in the ocean swimmers’ aphorism that ‘you’re only one swim away from a good mood.’

 

  •  What appears to be a large dark mass of fish swimming at great speed towards me and then under me as they are chased by a large shark not visible in the shot (at about 1:20 in the video) is simply the shadow of a small cumulus cloud sailing overhead in the brisk sou’westerly.

 

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Always a joy to stroll into the sea without another soul in sight.

 

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Cape Patton (17kms east of Apollo Bay)  on the horizon on the left, and the Apollo Bay harbour wall on the right. Who could stand gazing at this scene and not want to walk into the sea and swim?

 

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Perfectly formed little waves were breaking on the sandbar. They had a brightness and colour which only the backlighting of the morning sun can give.

 

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I walked out through the water pretty much to the edge of the sandbar as can be done on a lowish tide, then started swimming. The stirred up sand visible in the image is from the last set of waves to break over the sandbar.

 

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The middle part of an ocean swim is always about putting the head down, stretching out long, finding your rhythm and pace and settling into it for a while.  It’s a phase of a swim I particularly enjoy. An occasional glance forward looks after navigation.

 

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That’s me in the foreground of this image, just left of centre. I was heading back to shore at this stage. The small swell lines can be seen here. I also like this image as it conveys something of the sense of the vastness of the ocean which is felt by every swimmer when a bit offshore. I like this shot. The apparent remoteness from shore is a bit of an illusion, but the feeling evoked by this picture of a swimmer being so small in such a big ocean is not.

 

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The swim back to shore is assisted by regular brief acceleration as waves pass under me. Just before a wave passes under me, it sucks water immediately in front of it back towards the approaching wave. This is more noticeable with bigger waves. When I can see the seabed while this is occurring, it is clear that despite continuing to swim at the same stroke rate, my forward progress slows or sometimes stops completely for a moment before the wave makes it up to me with a short-lived acceleration towards shore.

 

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As I approach the area where the waves are breaking, I sometimes swim parallel to the shore trying to stay exactly on the line where they are about to break, but without actually getting caught up in the white water. (Swimming along this wave is not in the edited video). This maximises the pleasant sensation of being lifted then lowered by unbroken green water. On some of my longer swims on small swell days I do this for the entire length of the beach which I swim. In the photo the wave is about to break and I am still on its face, but I did manage to stay in the green water. If a bigger wave arrives, or I misjudge the point at which a wave will break, a casual duck dive under the white water is all that is required. Swimming in the waves like this makes me feel really alive.

 

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Strolling ashore after the swim. Behind me is an almost spent broken wave about to reach me, and behind that a green wave just starting to break (see around 1:37 in the video). Self-preservation requires a swimmer to always keep a lookout over the shoulder in the surf zone so as not to be caught unawares by a breaking wave. As the video shows, neither of these waves required a second look over the shoulder in the small conditions. But a breaking wave you are prepared for is so much more easily handled than one that surprises you.

 

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When leaving the surf after a swim, I generally find myself looking back out to sea and down the shoreline at where I’ve just been. These looks, especially if from the vantage point of a sand dune, sometimes reveal where and why the variety of currents I experienced while swimming were happening. They are also a chance to look for the often subtle signs of the general direction of the drift out the back of the waves which I know by that stage having just swum in it.  The direction of this current can be one of the more difficult things to pick from the shore before a swim. At my home beach though I can usually make an educated guess based on tide, wind direction and swell size and direction. But away from my home beach I simply ask an informed local. For the record, the general drift out the back this morning between Tuxion and the wall was south to north.
Drone footage courtesy of Hamish Christie.

Some readers will recognise the title of this post as coming from the poem ‘Sea Fever’, published by John Masefield, the English Poet Laureate, in 1902. The first two lines of the second stanza are:

“I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;”

2 thoughts on ““A wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.”

  1. It seems that the parody of Sea Fever learned in your childhood has at least been effective to fix the poem in your mind for all these years. And a worthy poem it is to recall. Some of the lines in the poem seem to resonate with a lot of people.

    Pleased you enjoyed the photos of the ocean swim Peney. Does this mean you might be quietly considering getting into a wetsuit and swimming across the bay at Kennett with Richard some time soon?

    Like

  2. Hi John – and Hamish
    (I started this comment earlier and it disappeared so if this is a repeat I apologise)

    Really enjoyed the colours in the video and the vistas of our wonderful beaches!
    Great storyline as always – interesting!
    Regarding John Masefield’s poem – apart from being very apt it took me back to my childhood whence I knew a slightly different version:
    I must go down to the sea again
    To the wonderful sea and sky
    I left my shoes and socks there
    I wonder if they’re dry!!
    Cheers Peney

    Like

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