Six Apollo Bay ocean swimmers swam across the Rip today

The Rip is a notorious stretch of water at the entrance to Port Philip Bay on the south eastern coast of Australia. It is narrow, with a distance of only 3.2kms between Point Nepean on the eastern side and Point Lonsdale on the western side. It is also deep (especially in the middle) and has very strong tidal streams which conflict with swell rolling in from Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean. It is a challenge for ships, a positive hazard for boats and a total no-go zone for swimmers, until 1971 when Doug Mew became the first to swim the Rip. The number of people who have swum the Rip remains small.

Today six women from Apollo Bay, every one of them an experienced and fit ocean swimmer, had an appointment with the Rip between the low and high tides (or more accurately, on the slack water after the tide finished going out, which is around 2-3 hours after the forecast low tide time) to jump off a boat just inside the heads off Point Nepean with a plan to swim straight across the Rip to the beach near the Point Lonsdale lighthouse. They were to be accompanied by an experienced kayak paddler, with other boats in the vicinity as a safety backup. They were one of a number of groups doing this swim today.

Dawn from the Devil’s Elbow on the Great Ocean Road today as I drove from Apollo Bay to Point Lonsdale. There was a bit of texture on the water but there were no white caps, which meant the wind was under 10 knots. This is an exposed part of the cost, and the swell was small. The weather pattern meant that these conditions should also be present at the Rip. The swim had been planned for some time, and had been cancelled twice due to adverse sea conditions creating an unacceptably high risk. A third cancellation was looking very unlikely. I was only going to watch the Rip being swum, but it was still exciting to conclude that it would be happening today.

The weather omens were positive this week. From about mid-week it looked increasingly likely that there would be small swell, a gentle south easterly wind (which is a following wind for the swim) and otherwise good weather – highly favourable conditions for a one-way downwind current assisted swim in pleasant weather.

These were the reasons for the optimism earlier in the week – a slow moving high was forecast to be positioned and shaped as shown, and the wind forecast (I use the Windy app) for the heads was a 9 knot south easterly. The forecast gust maximum was 15 knots, but early in the morning with a high pressure system dominating the weather, such gusts were unlikely. When I arrived at Point Lonsdale, conditions were as forecast. By the time I arrived the swimmers were all wetsuited up and doing the short boat trip from Queenscliff to their deep water drop off point.

The jetty at Point Lonsdale, looking across the Rip to Point Nepean. To the right of the nearest light pole is Point Nepean (not the distant flat promontory, but the darker headland which angles up to the right) – the swimmers jumped off the boat and started their swim just offshore in that area.
Point Nepean as seen from the Point Lonsdale lighthouse beach.
This jetty moves in big seas.
The Point Lonsdale lighthouse. This would have been an aiming point for the swimmers for most of their journey.
The lighthouse was built in 1902 and continues in active service.

There is an elevated lookout at Point Lonsdale from which I was able, with a telephoto lens, to see the boats at the drop off point over 3kms away. The kayakers were in the water waiting for their respective swimming groups to enter the water upon a signal for the swim to begin. This swim is not a race.

The drop off point. The largest boat did the swimmer and safety crew transport. Smaller safety boats were also present and the kayakers were on standby ready to head off with the various groups of swimmers they would be escorting across the Rip.

The admin table on the beach. Rip Swim staffer and English Channel swimming legend Don Riddington who did that swim at the age of 68, and at that time was the oldest Australian (and the third oldest person ever) to swim the Channel. Don and others looking intently out to sea as the first swimmers came into view.

Just outside the heads on the southern side of Point Nepean, the sea was in a different mood altogether. It was not a huge swell, but I imagine the occupants of the boats shown were pleased the engines kept going. The crew on the small boat just visible in a trough on the left might take issue with me calling it a small swell. But the swimmers reported that it was a swell which they felt as nothing more than a gentle rising and falling with no white water. The larger boat in the image is a tourist boat of some sort, and it seemed very fully loaded. The coast shown here is very close to where the Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared while snorkelling in December 1967.
Four kayak paddlers and their swimmers mid-swim. The haziness in the air was salt spray from the surf.
There were a lot of high fives, hugs and photos as each team came in. This was one of the first teams to complete the swim.
Kayaker Andrew during the crossing, with none of the
AB team visible due to the swell and small wind waves.
Andrew with some of his team of swimmers visible in this shot.
Three teams completing the swim around the same time.
The Apollo Bay swimmers coming into good camera range, with Andrew taking it easy by the look of things.
Approaching the shallows.
Feet finally on the sand. From my observation, Sonja was first to stand up. But they all arrived together, and it didn’t turn into an undeclared race for the final 200m (as has been known to happen on more than a few social ocean swims at Apollo Bay). Time for some high fives and hugs and general jubilation and satisfaction.
Mandatory group hug. Sharing the joy.
These six are all good friends, and they trained together solidly for many months until they could swim 5kms comfortably individually and as a team. They have swum together all year round in Apollo Bay for many years.
The tight formation march out of the ocean didn’t last long. The yellow flotation device belonged to the organisers, who required one member of each team to carry the device.

The Apollo Bay 2020 Rip swimming team: Heather, Jenny, Mary, Michelle, Susie & Sonja, and Andrew, their kayak paddler for the swim.

Very happy ocean swimmers. The instructions given to all who registered for the Rip swim made clear that the Rip can present very challenging conditions for swimmers attempting the crossing. The swimmers’ expectations and training had certainly taken this into account. But today, the ocean was almost at rest and the currents were entirely favourable. It was a one way down-winder. So the training these six had done more than equipped them for a 3.2km swim in such conditions. But it was of course necessary that they have the reserves to go a lot further in much more difficult conditions in case that was what the Rip dished up today. They all finished with plenty of fuel in the tank, not exhausted and not even cold. All that training paid off in spades.

Sonja’s Garmin watch tells the simple story: 3.2kms swum in 1 hour and 2 minutes, at a pace of 1:55/100m. The last of the outgoing tide would have provided a following current for part of the swim.

Great work you six! You did yourselves and the Apollo Bay ocean swimmers proud.

What’s next?

7 thoughts on “Six Apollo Bay ocean swimmers swam across the Rip today

  1. and you call that only “textured” John; I wonder what those intrepid ladies called it – I know what I’d call it, “where’s the boat?”
    please pass on my best to those extraordinary women
    best wishes to all, Richard

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My pleasure Grant. The Apollo Bay 6 who swam the Rip are good friends of mine. I’ve been swimming in the sea regularly with them at Apollo Bay for some years now. It was a pleasure to see them reap the reward of their solid and disciplined training.

      I still recall my 26 February 2017 swim very clearly. I swam with Eugene Docherty, Dick Williams, Susan Berg, Clive Williams and Chris Clarke. Keep up the good work Grant.


      Rip Swimmer 235.


  2. RESPECT Ladies, the Rip is a REAL swim – 1/10th scale model of the English Channel, hint, hint – a relay maybe???
    Great to catch up with Ripper John. Thanks for the detailed report n great pics. Cheers D

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A tale of six strong and united swimmers by a chronicler experienced in all the elements.
    A pleasure to read this nuanced account John and the photographs are superb. That shot through the bowels of the Point Lonsdale jetty arouse images of sturdy men felling those giant local gums and labouring to affix them at low tide. What a feat. Your swimming friends must have been thrilled to see their teamwork recorded for posterity.



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