Gale Force Easterlies at Apollo Bay

On the second weekend in August 2020 a high pressure system paused for a few days as it made its way eastwards over Victoria. There was a strong low off the south east coast of the state. The isobars over the state got closer and the wind got stronger producing two days of easterlies above 30 knots with gale force gusts at times. This was followed by a further two days of progressively abating easterly winds. The driving rain and low cloud that usually accompanies such a system were present, but just a little north of the coast this time.

The main beach at Apollo Bay faces directly east which means easterlies are onshore winds. Strong easterlies create rough seas with white water well offshore and right up to the high water mark on the beaches of the local east-facing bays. Such conditions are bad for boating and worse for swimming. I didn’t see any boats arrive at or leave the harbour over the weekend. I don’t swim in the ocean in these conditions. Apart from the general rough seas, the local rips and currents seem to go into overdrive in such conditions and there is a lot of water moving around in the 200-300m closest to shore.

The harbour is a good alternative in such conditions as the 475m long north-south aligned breakwater protects the harbour water immediately in its lee. During this period of strong easterlies I swam in the calm waters of the eastern side of the harbour but also tried another potential alternative I have considered for some time, the Barham River. A few GoPro snaps from that swim are included in this post.

Gale force onshore winds at Apollo Bay

The view out to sea looking due east from Point Bunbury. There are two black cormorants flying in the rough air below wave height
The eastern face of the north-south breakwater at Apollo Bay harbour last Saturday. Fishermen often stand on top of this wall casting out well beyond the rocks. They apparently all had other things to do on this day, or were already swimming out of frame to the right in this image.
The footpath on the north-south breakwater. Spray and drenching large volumes of seawater were regularly making this footpath a very wet place to be.
I watched this couple walk from the northern end of the breakwater through blowing water and spray such as that behind them. They were wet, but seemed unfazed and looked as though they were enjoying themselves.
This fixed buoy is about 300m off the harbour mouth, and about 600m from the buoy to Cawood St beach, or Tuxion as the locals call it. With my local swimming friends, on numerous occasions we have swum out to this buoy, but in much calmer conditions.
View from the corner of the wall at the harbour to the steps at Tuxion. The straight line distance is 800m. We have swum from the corner of the harbour wall (where I stood to take this photo) to Tuxion and back many times. Just below the low red roof in the gap in the trees near the shore is a set of wooden steps. This is usually our aiming point for that swim. But I have never swum this course in conditions like this. The telephoto lens foreshortens the image making it look closer than 800m.
Tuxion to end of breakwater with beacon is about 900m direct track. (Use the slider to see each image in full). With local swimming friends this route has been swum a number of times as part of a two km triangle, but not in conditions shown in the image on the right!
The contrasting sea states at the harbour mouth.
The wind at this time was so strong that even over the very short fetch of the harbour whitecaps were forming on the western side. More than one sailing ship has been wrecked on this beach and surrounding east facing beaches such as neighbouring Mounts Bay by being washed ashore in conditions such as these. The steamship S.S.Casino wreck lies about 400m offshore in a position roughly near the centre of this image and about two thirds of the way across the bay..
Stormy seas, safe haven.

Barham River Swim

The Barham River flows out to the sea just south of Point Bunbury at Apollo Bay. I have long thought it might be a pleasant swim along this river. I swam a lot in the Barwon River in Geelong as a boy, so the notion of swimming in muddy water with muddier banks doesn’t bother me. Of course, clear ocean water is far and away my first preference. The vision I had in mind for re-visiting river swimming was tranquil water as shown in the photo below, with the rich farmland on the fertile river flats and the distant foothills of the Otways offering a continuous series of calendar shots to my left and right.

This little jetty is 500m north of the bridge which carries the Great Ocean Road over the Barham River. I have been told platypuses have been seen here, but my turn is yet to come. This photo was not taken on the day we swam in this river.
The strong easterly winds meant that an alternative to the ocean was required for a swim. I had a few swims in the harbour while the easterlies were blowing, but on Sunday a swimming friend (Deb) and I decided to swim in the fresh cold water of the Barham River.
This is the Barham River from the GOR bridge showing its proximity to the ocean. It gets shallower from this point so we decided to swim upstream from the other side of this bridge.
The river is always flowing to the sea, but I underestimated the strength of the current on this day. There were numerous stops to marvel at how much of our planned swim remained still ahead of us! All stops saw us going backwards towards the sea. There had been recent rain which both filled the river to a good depth, made it colder than usual and perhaps increased the speed of the current a bit. I measured the temperature at 9.9°C. If we kept our heads down and a maintained a good stroke rate we made slow but steady progress towards the next bridge upstream on the river. We experimented with the middle of the river and both sides to see if the current was less in one of those places. It wasn’t.
We eventually made it to this bridge over the river and found a slimy submerged tree to hold while we had a look around. We then let go of our slippery underwater log mooring point and started swimming north. The loose plan was another 300m to a little jetty on a bend in the river.
But the river narrowed upstream from this bridge, and when we headed in that direction my progress as assessed by looking at the rate the river bank was moving past me suggested it could take quite a while to swim the next 300m to the little jetty. The current seemed a bit stronger as the river narrowed. So the loose plan to continue against the current was abandoned and we did a U turn. The current rapidly took us downstream even while floating on our backs. Deb seemed impressed with this form of transport. Note to self: next river swim start at the little jetty on the bend and finish at the Great Ocean Road bridge!
Occasionally we did bother to swim and the pace was very impressive. I had to be quick to get this shot of Deb gliding past like an Olympian with time for a ‘thumbs up’ without losing any pace whatsoever.
The river might have been murky, but when going downstream but it did take care of navigation and propulsion while we floated on our backs enjoying watching the scenery slide past..
Barham River water visibility report: zero and brown.

Measuring the temperature after the swim (9.9°C). The course we swam as recorded by the Garmin watch.

High and Dry

Each receding tide during a period of strong onshore winds leaves a higher than usual volume of kelp, seaweed and other things that washed ashore. Bull kelp (also know as string kelp) and other brown algae and seaweed line the high watermark when the easterly winds blow.

I see a stingray in this shape.
I see a large fish here.
Detail of the previous image.
This strong cord like length of algae was connecting two large tangles of seaweed. I estimated its length at round 9-10m. It was under a bit of tension but showed no signs of snapping. The two photos below show clearly that it is in fact organic, and not some man made cord caught up in the seaweed.
Small bivalve mollusc passengers on this cuttlefish skeleton (which is a central part of the cuttlefish buoyancy system) finally reach the end of their time at sea, well after the life of the cuttlefish had ended. Cuttlefish are in the cephalopod group of advanced molluscs, which includes squid and octopuses. The living cuttlefish looks a bit like a preliminary draft of an octopus. It has eight arms, and two tentacles with suckers, which are retracted when not in use. They can change colour for camouflage purposes, but mostly opt for a striped patten. They are a favourite food of dolphins.

 These photos record two consequences of not keeping an eye on the tide charts and the approaching waves. They are related in that I was busy taking a photo of the pufferfish (or porcupine fish – one type of the large and varied group of puffer fish) and paying no attention to the sea when the incoming tide brought a small wave to my feet. Well, to my legs to be precise. The pufferfish appears to have come too close to shore in the 30 knot easterly to be able to resist being washed ashore and stranded.

Pufferfish contain a powerful poison called ‘tetrodotoxin’. It is said to be many times more dangerous than cyanide. It’s stored in their skin and internal organs. The spines are merely sharp and don’t contain the toxin. Touching a pufferfish is not a good idea. Eating one could kill you. They are found in shallow temperate waters world wide.

Been waiting for a couple of hours now. Beginning to wonder if the volunteers with the wet towels. buckets of water, hugs and rescue attempts are coming at all. Sometimes it sucks being a porcupine fish.
As found. Gift wrapped by the ocean.

5 thoughts on “Gale Force Easterlies at Apollo Bay

  1. You might have swum in the Barwon as a youngster John, but I was taught to swim by dad in the Kennett River. And in those days the dairy down there resulted in the cows routinely using the river for their business. Consequently the Kennett was more than murky and brown as you described the Barham to be on your swim day. Perhaps that’s why I learnt to swim with my head out of the water!
    And I like the shot of the puffer fish. Certainly looks a bit bewildered. “Don’t leave me here, I’ll be a good boy”
    Beautiful day today and the wind has turned round to the west so I trust you had a lovely swim back at the main beach.
    Cheers, Richard

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now I understand why you used to swim with your head high Richard, and a very good reason it was! You’d find the Barham an entirely agreeable spot for swim.

      The wind has not swung around here yet – it did back around to the north east during the afternoon, but it was blowing a steady 14-15 knots with whitecaps in the bay and beyond. I had a lovely swim this afternoon in bright sunshine and clear glassy water in the lee of the north-south breakwater at the harbour.

      Cheers,

      John

      Like

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