In contrast this post contains videos and photos taken from a GoPro from one angle only – a camera mounted on the back deck of the ski. They were all taken in a single paddle session yesterday afternoon just after the low tide in perfect swell conditions for the ski. Many sets were breaking around the corner of the harbour mouth (where a couple of surfers had a reliable right to themselves), and some of the bigger sets were breaking across the middle of the bay. Despite very crowded beaches, I had the big green-wave part of the bay entirely to myself.
Launching from the harbour
Through the harbour mouth to the surf
The first wave of the day
The wave of the session
A 60 second ride from the harbour mouth to the beach
This young fellow came up beside me and started a conversation about my ski. After a bit of a chat, his enthusiasm for the ski being obvious, he accepted my offer to taking the captain’s seat and the paddle for a moment or two to see how it felt. He seemed to enjoy that.
Much of my ocean swimming is done alone. But when I swim out to the reef at the southern end of Mounts Bay, I like to swim with company. Conditions looked good for the reef swim on the low tide around mid morning today so I rang some possible starters to swim with me but they were unable to join me. So a solo swim it was.
The constant and ever-changing backdrop to life in Apollo Bay is the ocean. Swells come and go on the west coast of Victoria, unlike the wind which blows most days. The size of the swell is determined by storms in higher latitudes deep in the Southern Ocean. The strength and direction of the wind on the reefs and beaches where the waves complete their journey determine the nature and quality of the waves as they reach the reef or shore on which they break.
Little Henty Reef – solid swell in an offshore nor’westerly
This sequence of three images taken in rapid succession shows a sizeable wave breaking about 600m east of Hayley Point on Little Henty Reef. The wind was directly offshore.
Little Henty Reef – below the surface
The section of Little Henty Reef closest to shore is partially exposed at low tide. It is a swim of between 100m and 300m from shore depending on where you start and whether you swim to the northern or southern end of it. Currents are usually present in the little bay between this reef and the shore, and their direction and strength determine which part of the reef to aim for on the swim out. Swell, tides and currents can create conditions in which it would not be safe to swim out to this reef. I have never swum out to the reef when there were no currents.
Apollo Bay back beach – small swell in an offshore westerly
Mounts Bay is the next bay directly south of Apollo Bay. Point Bunbury separates the two bays. Hayley Point and Little Henty reef are at the southern end of Mounts Bay. Locals refer to this stretch of beach as the back beach.
Sharks are always in the ocean. The only things that vary for swimmers and surfers in relation to sharks are how close they are, and if a shark is close, being aware of that fact. There are desirable and undesirable modes of achieving such awareness.
On the left below is the GPS track of a recent pre-breakfast 1000m solo swim of mine in the harbour. As shown, I turned around at the harbour mouth. All I saw there was a very large stingray on the seabed, which I often see in that area. I didn’t see any sharks and had no concern about sharks posing any threat to me. Upon returning home, I received a reliable message (from a friend who assumed I had yet to go for my swim) that a shark had been sighted at the harbour mouth heading out to sea. The sighting was around the time I was swimming. Around mid-morning (by which time the shark would’ve been well out to sea or kms along the coast), the Dorsal shark app on my iPhone published the location of the sighting at the harbour mouth (top right image below). A little later the surf life savers had placed the standard shark warning sign on the beach.
This shark sighting demonstrates nothing more than the self-evident proposition that sharks are in the sea, and if you go in the sea, you will be in the sea with sharks. It also demonstrates that warning systems (apart from shark sirens and surf lifesavers clearing people out of the water approximately contemporaneously with a shark sighting) such as an app or a sign on the beach, are by reason of delay largely of historical interest and amount to shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.
I assume on every ocean swim at Apollo Bay that I might at some point be swimming within radar range of a shark minding its own business. I further assume that it’s highly likely that it will have no interest in me. There are numerous types of shark in the area, most of which pose no threat to humans. But if I see a shark fin while I am swimming I will leave the water for a while. On this point, see the postscript to an earlier post on this blog:
But the history of the interaction of sharks and people in the water at Apollo Bay is that humans eat a lot of flake, but the sharks leave humans alone. Being partial to the occasional piece of battered flake with my chips, I do hope there’s nothing in the karma thing.
Looking beyond Apollo Bay, records show that the last fatal shark attack in Victoria was at Portsea in 1956.
I think there is a direct parallel between the risk of shark attack at Apollo Bay and the risk posed by venomous snakes on bush walks in the area. On the first 1-2kms of the Great Ocean Walk which commences at Apollo Bay, it appears there is a resident sizeable tiger snake which likes to snooze on the walking path. Its presence has surprised many walkers. I have seen it at close quarters on that track (in mid-winter) and so have many of my friends (all year round). No-one has been bitten or threatened. There are of course plenty of other snakes on that walk, especially in summer.
But save for a generic snake warning at the start of the Great Ocean Walk, there is no ‘recent snake sighting’ warning system. Nor is there a snake sighting app as far as I know. Snakes are in the bush. Sharks are in the sea. Enjoy the bush and the ocean while taking sensible precautions regarding these and any other low level risks.
Little Henty Reef – moderate swell in an onshore southerly
A couple of days ago there was a moderate swell at Apollo Bay. The onshore southerly wind meant the water was a bit rougher and the waves a little less regular than they would have been in offshore or nil wind conditions.
The ocean at Apollo Bay is cool in summer and cold in winter. This is exactly how a group of ocean swimming locals like it. They swim all year round and have been doing so for many years. There are about 20 swimmers in total and on any given day at least a few of them (usually more) will meet at ‘the wall’ for a short swim or a longer swim as the mood takes them. The swim goes ahead in most weather and sea conditions, save for those brought by very strong winds from the east or thereabouts. Photos of such conditions are in an earlier post at: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/10/28/easterly-seas-at-apollo-bay/ . There is always a convivial post-swim catch up over coffee at one of the local cafes.
Portrait of a King Parrot
There is no smooth segue between the topics ‘ocean swim’ and ‘king parrot’, save perhaps for saying just that. So, moving right along and seeing we are now discussing parrots, this juvenile male king parrot landed on the verandah rail at my house and looked at me through a window as I sat reading the newspaper. He hopped around and stared straight at me, as if beckoning me to come outside. I fetched my camera and went outside and he walked along the verandah rail to a position close to me. He was utterly unfazed by being near me. In fact he was much friendlier and more relaxed than the magpies which visit me quite regularly.
He was a most sociable and cooperative subject for this impromptu portrait sitting.
The ‘great cormorant’, formerly known simply as the ‘large black cormorant’, is unlikely to have objected to the name change. Flattering first names are the preserve of only a handful of Australian birds, such as the graceful honeyeater, the magnificent riflebird, the splendid fairy-wren, the superb fairy-wren and the powerful owl.
Heading the list of birds not quite so fortunate in this regard would almost certainly be the spangled drongo and the lesser noddy.
A great cormorant cutting it fine on a wave
These five photos are from a series taken at five frames per second in continuous shooting mode. On reviewing the photos of the day, I saw that they included a series of shots of a cormorant appearing to leave its departure from the face of the breaking wave a little late. In the first photo, it appears almost airborne. But the subsequent photos show it seemingly overtaken by the advancing and rising wave and failing to get airborne, culminating in it getting mixed up with the white water. The next photos following in the sequence (not shown below) do not show the cormorant at all. So I can’t confirm whether it became airborne or was submerged as the wave passed over it. If it was the latter, I have no doubt it would have survived given its impressive underwater swimming skills. Perhaps this particular bird hadn’t seen the memo about great cormorants having a preference for still water.
An alternative explanation of course is that this great cormorant, being a master of flying and diving, decided to have a crack at surfing. In that case, he rode the unbroken section of the wave very well, completing the ride by deftly turning back into the white water to flick out over the back as it began to close out on him.
Synchronised great cormorants
Silver gull coming in for a landing just before sunset
Swell breaking over Little Henty Reef
These two shots were taken from a corner of the Great Ocean Road in Apollo Bay, near the banks of the Barham River looking due south. The breaking waves on the south of Little Henty Reef (just off Hayley Point at Marengo) were at a distance of just over 2000m when I took this photo. The sea between the dunes and the white water is Mounts Bay. The swell on this occasion was only moderate, but it was big enough for the offshore bombies (3kms or so ESE of this reef and out of frame) to be working.
The Australian magpie is very intelligent, sings most beautifully and in breeding season swoops on any person who it perceives to be a threat. The swooping behaviour is not designed to attack, but to deter. In flight, making contact “…could be very dangerous for the magpie because impact could break its neck.” (Australian Magpie (2nd Edition) (2019) Kaplan G, CSIRO Publishing, 206).
The magpie is a very vocal species. They message extensively to each other, and more generally to the world at large to defend territory or nests. They can recognise individual magpie voices. They have a quiet warbling song, and a much louder powerful carolling. The carolling is often used in territorial defence, but a group of magpies can also carol in chorus after a predator has been successfully repelled – a bit like a football team singing their club song after a win. Magpies also duet, imitating each other’s call. (Australian Magpie, 185-189). Their carolling is one of the most beautiful bird sounds I have heard.
Generations of magpies have lived in the trees along the creek beside my house. This joyous carolling is a common and welcome sound.
There is evidence suggesting that magpies “…can distinguish between individual human faces and learn who is kind or hostile to them”. (Australian Magpie, 127). The magpies whose territory includes my house know that a carefully chosen small snack is sometimes on offer. Over the years I have had many fly from some distance to my feet on the lawn or the deck rail where I am standing when I call out “Maggie”. They will take a small snack if offered, but after eating it will sometimes just stay there a metre or so from me, looking at me. Of course I talk to them, and they are good listeners, leaving when they are ready.
Sometimes they initiate contact with me by landing on the deck rail outside the window closest to where I am inside the house and peering through the window as if to attract my attention. I usually respond by taking a small snack outside and as I walk towards the door to the outside deck, they hop or half fly along the railing to meet me when I come outside. I have made no effort to train them to do this, but one thing is clear, they have successfully trained me to come at their bidding.
Two of my grandchildren sharing the joy of contact with one of the local magpies.
Cropped enlargements from two of the above photos, showing the detail of this magnificent bird in full defence mode.
Spring arrived as if a switch had been flicked. The air is warmer, the sun is brighter and the ocean somehow no longer looks wintry. Well, at least that was how it looked before the gale force winds arrived.
All these photos were taken in the first 7-8 days of spring 2020.
A morning ocean swim under a clear blue sky
A cold front passes over Apollo Bay
We woke to near gale force winds this morning. A cold front was approaching and the north westerly wind increased in strength as it got closer. I timed my morning swim to coincide with the arrival of the front. Cloud cover increased and the wind slowly backed around from NNW to NW and eventually around to the W. It progressively eased as the front moved through and headed for Melbourne and eastern Victoria.
Some ocean swimming markers
Most of my ocean swimming is done between the Apollo Bay harbour wall and points north. Some trips are one-way, but mostly they are out and back swims. The Tuxion beach steps, the wooden lookout structure on the dunes and the surf life saving club building are frequently used distance measuring and/or turning points. The following three images show these locations. Use the slider to better locate these reference points.
These photos (and a few others in this post) were taken with my GoPro camera on a dull day while rain was falling. The GoPro (or at least the model I have) excels in bright light but not otherwise. Apologies for the lack of clarity, especially on the magnified parts of these three photos.
Rain drops, not spray from a breaking wave
Silver gulls at Peterborough
The mature silver gull has bright orange bill, legs and eye rings. These birds were juveniles. The colour of the legs etc on these birds has been faithfully reproduced in these photos.
A calm, golden evening at Apollo Bay
Gale force winds ahead of another cold front
This cold front brought very strong winds to Victoria, especially along the coast. Close isobars, steep pressure gradient, stronger winds, wind blowing anticlockwise around a high and slightly angled across the isobars to the outside of the system etc etc
I measured the wind at Pt Bunbury at 41 kts (76kph). This is a Hall wind gauge used by hang glider pilots. It is calibrated in knots and is quite accurate. It can be used as shown to measure wind speed. Alternatively, it can be used (and I used it in this way) as an airspeed indicator when attached to the base bar of the hang glider.
Winds at just 2000 feet above means sea level were calculated by one of my weather apps to be over 50 knots (92kph). Many locations at elevations of this order and above experienced winds of this strength and more on this morning.
The wind was of sufficient strength while I was trying to take a photo of the wind gauge, that on more than one occasion I was blown back and had to take a backward step to stay upright. When the wind speed doubles, its force increases four fold, when it triples, the force increases nine-fold etc. So this 40 knot wind compared to a 10 knot wind had 16 times the force. It felt like it.
We had a quick taste of spring weather, then winter finished in style.
Katey and I, recognising each other through the telephoto lenses, each had the same idea.
If you are not particularly interested in surfers and waves, the photos under ‘Lone surfer – photo 1’ will probably be quite enough to get the general idea of a solo surfer well offshore in these seas and weather conditions. Photos 2 & 3 show the same surfer surrounded by different waves.
Lone surfer – photo 1
The two photos following are cropped enlargements taken from the preceding photo to better show the location of the surfer.
An alternative method of locating the lone surfer: use the arrows in the circle to slide left and right between these two images to see the surfer’s location on the magnified portion of the second photo.
The air temperature was 7°C and the wind was blowing at 25-30 knots. The wind chill was around 1°C. There was thunder from time to time and being wet from the near constant rain created a further refrigeration effect. These were the conditions in which some of the photos below were taken. The camera and I were rugged up and I stayed dry (as did my camera) and warm for the time it took to take these photos. Being out in conditions like this always makes me feel really alive and energised.
A deep low, a couple of fronts and a blast of cold air from Antarctica
While the winter solstice in Australia was on 21 June 2020, the coldest part of winter around Apollo Bay always seems to be late August. The sea temperature is coldest then, and deep lows and cold fronts such as we experienced in recent days are common.
Below are the usual portents and omens which are always enjoyable reading for those interested in the weather. They are a clarion call to do many things, including making sure there is enough dry kindling and chopped firewood to ensure the open fire can burn continuously during such a cold spell. This weather pattern brought snow down to 500m across many areas in western Victoria which don’t normally see snow.
Photographers’ Eyrie at Hayley Point
There was a lot of water moving at Little Henty Reef
There have been much bigger swells in this area. But the deep low centred in the southern ocean south-west of Tasmania and its associated storms still created enough energy to bring sizeable groundswell to the Apollo Bay coast and beyond. As the low moved through the area, the wind eventually swung around to the south-west. But on the day these photos were taken the front had yet to pass and the wind was from the north-west. Such a wind is offshore for the waves arriving at Little Henty Reef which means the waves are shaped perfectly and groomed by the wind with giant manes of white water blowing back as they break.
This sequence of four images shows the stages of a wave first appearing in the large crescent shape dictated by the reef contours just north of Little Henty Reef, then peaking, breaking and finally crashing over the shallow reef with a perfect dark aqua barrel even on this gloomy wet and windy day. These photos were taken between squall lines.
The light and the texture of the ocean surface changes when it rains
Heavier rain darkened the day and the mood of the sea
Brief sunny interlude late in the day before the next squall line
Images from a couple of recent swims
Winter in Apollo Bay is not all storms and big swell. These photos were taken with my ageing GoPro at Marengo a week or so ago. It was a cold sunny day with not much wind. There was no swell to speak of. Conditions allowed me to swim about 500m north from the small bay at the southern end of Mounts Bay into the more open bay (and back again). There are many occasions when such a swim is imprudent or dangerous. This day was neither. The ocean was at rest. The underwater visibility was also very inviting. The water was cold and clean. I was the only person in the water and Liz was the only person on the beach.
Apollo Bay Harbour
As noted in some previous posts, on days with big easterlies, or when the bay and Marengo are not inviting for one reason or another, there is nearly always the harbour. Clean relatively sheltered water can usually be found here.
Incidental beauty around Apollo Bay
Onion weed on the left. I was disappointed to learn that this delicate and understated but beautiful little plant was not called something more prosaic like ‘the deferential dew drop’ or ‘the reading light’. I was also disappointed on Googling this species to be directed first up to a site informing me ‘how to get rid of onion weed’. This plant apparently has no friends. On the right is a flower called ‘blossom’ (my research on this flower was brief).
I think I will stick to declaring beauty wherever and in whatever I find it, unburdened by unhelpful knowledge.
Grevillea, and king protea (before opening hours).
Disclaimer: I am not a formally qualified botanist. In fact, as a gardener, my skills end at mowing bold spirals in my front lawn.
Winter on the shores of the ocean at Apollo Bay is a time of open fires, strong winds, big seas, cold fronts, cold oceans, cold swims and driving rain. It’s a wonderful season to be in this wild and remote part of the world.
Winter Ocean Swimming at Marengo
I woke up to blue skies, a light offshore wind and no swell this morning. I measured the sea temperature at Marengo at 11°C. On July 6 I measured it at the same spot at 14°C. Late August is typically when the ocean is coldest at Apollo Bay. I have never measured it below 11°C here and in recent years it has not dipped below 12° in winter.
A perfect day for a solo swim at Marengo with my iPhone 8 in its trusty waterproof housing.
Solo Swim at Marengo
A Harbour Swim at Apollo Bay
When both Marengo and the bay at Apollo Bay are either not safe or not suitable for swimming, the local harbour offers an alternative. I have swum here when it was rough with a howling northerly coming straight in the harbour mouth. I have often swum here when big easterly seas pound the local beaches, as the eastern side of the harbour water is calm in such conditions in the lee of the breakwater. I have swum here when it was so dirty from dredging that the visibility was zero and the dirt clung to my face and wetsuit after I had left the water. I have swum here when it was dirty because it was rough. On one such swim, in relatively shallow water, I encountered one of the large resident stingrays. We gave each other a fright. Stingrays are not uncommon in the harbour. Finally, I have swum here in the black of night, during a 100 day challenge for which I had to swim at least 1000m every day for 100 days. The only option on one particular day was the harbour after dark. That was not an enjoyable swim and I have no plans to repeat it.
But the day these photos were taken, the harbour was picture perfect. The water was clear, calm and various shades of blue and green. It may have looked like a tropical paradise, but the water temp was 12°C and the air temp less. But it was still a very pleasant swim.
Lorne Pier after Sunset
The sun had set as I was driving through Lorne, and the fading light on a layer of cumulus cloud on the eastern horizon beyond the Lorne pier demanded a few photos.
A black and white version and a version with variation of the actual pastel colours. An experiment I won’t persist with.
The next two shots have are the colours I saw. These photos vary in the number of surfers present, and in the inclusion of the tree and headland on the right in the second image. I like these, and if I were submitting them to a surfing magazine, there is no doubt the paddling surfers would add to the appeal of the picture.
But this image was my final choice. I like the balance of the opposing lines of the small wave and the jetty, and the clouds were also a little more detailed and vibrant here than in some of the other shots I took. I like the simplicity of the shot. It has very few elements.
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
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.
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.
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.