Big Swell Hits the West Coast

The forecast was for gale force onshore winds with an 8m+ swell around Pt Campbell on Sunday, peaking a few hours after midnight – and that’s what happened.

Coastal cliffs just west of Loch Ard Gorge & Mutton Bird Island

The wind at the time this was taken was blowing from the SSW at 30-44 knots according to the BoM observations. When I took this photo it was in the higher range and blew me off balance requiring a few backward steps to stay upright.
Just after dawn when the wind was strongest, the seas at all locations I visited were generating a lot of foam. The gale force wind picked it up from the waves and lifted it up and over the clifftops in sizeable foamy clumps. I tried unsuccessfully to capture a shot of the flying foam. But when editing the photos I noticed I had inadvertently caught this clump whizzing past me. The flying foam pieces looked as though someone was throwing scones up and over the cliffs. Car parks were covered in pieces of foam as if there had been a snowball fight.

Port Campbell

The Pt Campbell jetty, looking out to sea. Any ocean swimmer who has done the annual ocean swimming race at Pt Campbell will know that conditions like this at the seaward turn buoy would be a daunting sight.
This photo was taken pretty early in the day. I arrived at Loch Ard Gorge at sunrise just after low tide. This line of kelp and seaweed on the nature strip at Pt Campbell is stark evidence that I had clearly missed the main show in the dark early hours of the day. Even if only momentarily, at some point, this was the high water mark in the wild conditions after midnight! This bay faces south west, the exact direction the wind was coming from at that time. Later in the morning the wind eased slightly and backed around to the south.
I have never seen Pt Campbell beach sand lifted by waves on to the elevated nature strip as shown.

Views from Curdies River mouth at Peterborough

This photo was taken looking east from the lookout in the middle of Peterborough, which overlooks Curdies River mouth and the exposed rocky reefs just offshore which have claimed more than one sailing ship in the nineteenth century. The larger of the two points shown is Point Hesse (which is the point with London Bridge on its western side).

View from cliffs near Two Mile

There is no maintained or marked path to this location. After bush bashing for a short distance to one of my favourite vantage points on this part of the coast, a squall line moved in with very strong gusty winds and driving rain. Luckily I was in fully waterproof gear. The short duration storm was so wet and wild that sitting in the lee of this bush appealed more than taking it all on the chin. As shown, my Nikon with its 150-600mm telephoto lens fitted also has fully waterproof cover. The camera stayed dry all day. I was soaked more than once, including by saltwater from spray and water blowing up and over clifftops at some locations. This photo was taken a few kms west of Pt Campbell.
With gale force onshore winds, Two Mile (a big surf location, also known as Easter Reef) was blown out. But waves of significance were still marching to the cliffs over the offshore reef here, even if they were closing out as shown. The green face of this wave would have been at least four times overhead in my estimation. I readily acknowledge that surfers would call it a ‘solid 8 foot’.
The immediately preceding post on this blog discusses rips including this one near Pt Campbell. The long line of unbroken water heading from inside Pt Campbell bay and out to sea, is a deep channel. In surf of this size it is the location of a strong rip (shown by the arrow in the second of these two shots) as all that water coming ashore with the swell finds it way back out to deeper water.
The channel going out to sea from Pt Campbell bay.
The very centre of this image shows where the rip coming out to sea via the green channel finally reaches deeper water and slows down and dissipates. The area of surface turbulence as currents and wind oppose each other is clear. The water is also discoloured in the rip as sand and other material from the seabed inshore is carried seaward by the rip. It would be quite a quick trip paddling a surfboard from the beach inside the bay at Pt Campbell out to this point beyond the zone of breaking waves. As for paddling back in, surfers would have no option but to use the white water either side of the rip, with wind and waves assisting the passage back to dry land. For the record though, I didn’t see a single surfboard off car racks west of Cape Otway. Had the wind been offshore with this swell, there would’ve been some epic surfing and the day would’ve gone down in local surf lore as Big Sunday.

The Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles as viewed across wild seas. A less common perspective on these iconic sea stacks (of which there are actually 8, and counting, down).

Broken Head viewed from headland near Bakers Oven Rock

Broken Head as viewed from the adjacent headland west of it. Loch Ard Gorge and Mutton Bird Island are just to the east of this promontory. The more vivid colours in this shot are attributable to a brief appearance by the sun. For perspective, visible on the very left of the image on the headland, is a multi-strand wire fence of conventional waist height. The difference in water level ahead of and behind the wave in the foreground is a good indication of the size and power of the swell. The unbroken waves in the top right above the headland also give some idea of the size of the swell.

Mutton Bird Island, viewed from Broken Head

This is the southern tip of Mutton Bird Island, which is where the sailing ship Loch Ard was shipwrecked just before dawn on 1 June 1878. The Loch Ard was a 263 foot clipper, carrying freight, 37 crew and 17 passengers. Only two passengers survived, Tom Pearce (a crewman) and Eva Carmichael (a passenger). They were both around 18 years of age. Parts of the wreck are still visible and divers continue to visit the site. The story of the Loch Ard shipwreck is well worth reading.
Note the difference in water level ahead of and behind this wave. Duck diving under this wave would be a singular experience.

Broken Head & Survey Gorge

I took this photo while standing on Broken Head. The white spray in the foreground is rising from the gorge which feeds into Thunder Cave. The other higher curtain of spray is in the adjacent Survey Gorge.

Thunder Cave at Broken Head

The water was constantly white and turbulent as wave after wave poured untold volumes of water into this narrow gorge, with the water level rising and falling up the rough walls
At the head of the gorge, in a pattern repeated right up and down this coast, the water has created a cave by flowing in and out with great force in sea conditions such as these, thereby progressively undermining the land above it. (See the videos below).

Little Henty Reef, from Hayley Point

No big swell day would be complete without a trip to Hayley Point at Marengo, located a couple of kms from where I live. Readers of this blog will know that I have taken countless photos of big waves breaking over the reefs comprising Little Henty Reef. There are many more to come.
The wave in front has some substance. The looming peak following has more.
The nature of the reef, the seabed and the surrounding channels at Little Henty mean that waves rarely break simply in text book fashion on this Reef. I find it endlessly fascinating when the swell is up, and I spend hours on my photographer’s eyrie on the tip of Hayley Point rugged up, camera in hand. I saw a lot of waves along the coast on Sunday, but none quite like this one.

Snake habitat; koala courtship; swimming in and around Apollo Bay harbour

My last snake encounter on the Great Ocean Walk was last year when I was walking ahead of Liz and was informed by her that I had just walked past a coiled up tiger snake on the grass beside the track. We waited a short time and it moved off. This was in mid-winter. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me. Numerous local friends have reported similarly unthreatening tiger snake encounters on this track. But it does seem that the longer the walk, the more snakes you see. A friend on a 14km run along the GOW recently saw three large snakes.

Snake sightings are so common on the GOW that news of a walk on that track without sighting a snake is an occurrence perhaps more noteworthy than a snake sighting. But I have never heard or read of anybody being bitten by a snake on this track. Seems they are not very interested in humans. So a good lookout and not rushing seems to allow time for walker and snake to see each other and get out of each other’s way without threat or incident.

These two photos were not taken by me. The photo on the left shows a tiger snake on the Great Ocean Walk. The photo on the right, taken recently by a friend during a run along the GOW, shows part of a substantial snake (one of three he encountered on a 14km run) which is either a brown or a tiger. Tiger snakes in this part of the world come in a variety of colour schemes and patterns – not all have the distinctive dark stripes. It was the report of my friend from his 14km run and snake sightings that prompted me to take a walk on the track in the heat of the day to see if I could capture a decent photo of a tiger snake in broad daylight.

The start of the Great Ocean Walk.

These warnings are near the start of the GOW at Marengo. The sign on the right is down the track a bit warning of the dangers of big surf. There are numerous points on this walk where there is a choice between a beach and rock shelf walk, or following the cleared track on higher ground. Big swell and a high tide usually remove the first option.

It was on a sunny summer’s day with cloudless sky, high temperature and very little wind that I decided to take my Nikon and telephoto lens for a couple of kms down the GOW around midday to see if I could spot and photograph a tiger snake. I wore jeans and my shin high leather motorbike boots, and carried a compression bandage and an EPIRB (the latter is always in my pack on bush walks and motorbike rides).
Beautiful bays and points around every corner in the early kms of the GOW. Clearly defined little rip in this corner.
Snake territory if ever I saw it!

There is variety in the width and surrounds of the main track on the GOW. Some parts are narrower than others, with more dense vegetation on both sides of the track. I was keeping a very good lookout on the track and its verges, and I walked quite slowly hoping to spot a snake without disturbing it so I could get a good photo using the 150-600m telephoto lens. My anticipation of a sighting was keen. All the omens were right. But I had overlooked one factor which I discovered during whale seasons past – arriving at the scene of a reported wildlife sighting or a location of common sightings, equipped with my Nikon DSLR camera, a substantial telephoto lens, a spare SD card and battery, seems to ensure that no wildlife will be seen that day. I neither saw nor heard a single snake on this entire walk. Disappointing.

False alarm. This is an evolutionary adaptation of sticks, to look like a snake so they will be left alone. It worked. I didn’t touch it. (Disclaimer: I am not a formally trained herpetologist or stick expert).

My Spot satellite messenger is like a recreational EPIRB. It uses the same satellite network (which means it works anywhere on the face of the earth) but instead of calling in the SES, the police, the military and rescue helicopters, it sends an SMS or email with a pre-written message to a limited number of family and friends I have chosen. There are a couple of messages which can be sent. The one I use most is the ‘current location’ message. The tick on the map shown is my location when I activated the Spot satellite messenger (this is the map display received on a mobile phone by my selected contacts). The houses on the right are Marengo.

L to R: EPIRB, Spot Satellite Messenger, snake-fang-proof leather boots and wildlife-deterring Nikon SLR with telephoto lens and monopod.

As an ocean swimmer and ski paddler, I learned long ago that when you get offshore a bit the ocean is always rougher than it looks from the shore. These seas looked pretty calm from the shore with only a hint of whitecaps. But there was definitely some swell out there. This boat was having an exhilarating run to Apollo Bay.

No snake photos for my trouble on this day. But any walk on the GOW is a privilege and a pleasure.

Koala Courting

There is a creek beside my house lined with tall eucalypts. Koalas are frequent visitors. Territorial disputes, competition for mates, courtship and mating are all equally noisy affairs. First-time witnesses to the grunting and growling sound a koala can make are always surprised at how substantial and deep and fierce it sounds.

This smallish female was chased higher and higher up a tree by a male who was snorting and growling constantly as he pursued her. Unsurprisingly, it turned out not to be a winning tactic.

The snorter and growler unhappy that his raucous and overbearing behaviour was apparently entirely unattractive to the female koala who adroitly kept out of his reach. I must say, he doesn’t look as though he’d be great company.
It seems ‘ears down’ signals unhappiness. I think he is annoyed and crestfallen at all that wasted chasing, snorting and growling. He will just have to learn that chasing a frightened female up a tree, snorting and growling and trying to corner her there then sulking upon rejection, simply doesn’t cut it.
He eventually lost interest in the female, raised his ears to their usual position, and sat motionless in the wedge of this tree for a lengthy period. His eyes remained open, so I assume he was sulking, not sleeping.

Swimming in and around Apollo Bay Harbour

While swimming in the open ocean is my first choice, conditions sometimes warrant an alternative, and the harbour is a fine plan B.

As these GPS swim tracks show, doing laps up and down beside the eastern wall of the harbour (third photo) is just one option. The other two photos show swims which go out the harbour mouth then west towards the shore, then back over the harbour wall on foot where there is a pier to jump off to complete the swim via moored boats back to the boat ramp or the little beach.

Some time back I invited any of my swimming friends who felt like an afternoon swim to join me in the almost tropical conditions in the harbour. One response was scepticism and a request for photos. These are the photos I supplied.

Friends swimming in the harbour on a day when easterly conditions made it the best choice.
A peaceful and beautiful location for a swim under the backdrop of the foothills of the Otway Ranges.

February Photos on the Victorian West Coast

Apollo Bay and the surrounding coast and hinterland are where I spend most of my time. These photos were all taken in February 2021 in the final weeks of summer. With the exception of the spectacle of the gas exploration rig being towed through Bass Strait south of Apollo Bay, these photos capture ordinary daily life on the west coast. Sometimes I go on a mission with the camera to capture big swell, whales, the Milky Way or whatever. Sometimes I just take a photo or two while doing other things.

Moonrise

Taken from the beach at the end of my street. This is a three-quarter full moon rising over Bass Strait. The full moon was a few nights earlier. The town is Skenes Creek and the bright white light is from a car on the Great Ocean Road with its headlights on high beam.
Low tide with no wind or swell.
The waning gibbous moon now higher above the horizon. Silver, white and dark blue replace the golden hues on display when the moon first appeared on the horizon.

Clouds

A cold front passing south of Little Henty Reef. This cloud reveals the wedge of cold air displacing the warmer moist air which rises to a height where the dew point is reached causing the water vapour to condense and form the line of cumulus cloud shown. There is a heavy rain shower just behind this advancing wedge of cold air. This was a classic cold front with a temperature drop and wind change around to the south-west immediately behind it.
The same frontal cloud viewed from the edge of the Great Ocean Road, looking over the Barham River and Marengo. This band of cumulus at the leading edge of the front was very close to forming a roll cloud which can occur in these conditions.
Early development of a cumulonimbus cloud south of Mounts Bay. This cloud evidences very strong vertical uplift, which is invariably accompanied by strong downdrafts. There is heavy rain beneath the middle of this cloud. This would be quite a turbulent cloud to fly through in an aeroplane.
The underside of an actively developing cumulus cloud, viewed through a beach access track in the sand dunes on the back beach at Apollo Bay (Mounts Bay).
This inviting turquoise ocean is on latitude 38° S.
This photo was taken from the back deck of my house in Apollo Bay. It was taken late evening on a day when the wind had blown steadily from the east all day. Such air is moist and as night approaches, the air temperature drops and the moisture in the air which rises as the wind blows against the coastal hills condenses at lower and lower heights forming mist and low stratus cloud. The wind was light by this time, and the mist was slowly moving in and around the eucalypts. It was ethereal and peaceful.

Aire River Mouth

The Aire River mouth near the Glenaire Valley is a favourite spot of ours in all weather and seasons. On this still overcast morning Lizzie and I were the only people there.
We spotted this strongly built male black wallaby in the dunes just watching us walk past him. He appeared to be interested in us rather than wary of us. We wondered if he’d had much or any prior human contact.
Eventually after we had passed him, he hopped off in an unhurried fashion. The black wallaby is also known as a swamp wallaby. They are common in the Port Campbell National Park, the Bay of Islands Coastal Park and surrounding areas.

Port Campbell Ocean Swimming Race

I first entered this ocean swimming race in 2007. I missed the 2010 and 2015 swims, but in 2015 I did the Bay of Islands swim (a one-off as it turned out) instead of the Pt Campbell swim. In relation to the Bay of Islands swim, see the second part of my post at:

https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/02/08/two-ocean-swims-west-of-cape-otway/

These 14 ocean swims were all in genuine (and sometimes challenging) ocean conditions in beautiful remote locations.

The course being setup – basically, out through the heads and back for a total distance of 1200m or more.
There was a light but steady onshore wind and conditions were relatively calm inshore. Out beyond the jetty and the heads there was some swell. Near the outer turn buoys the view down the cliffs is always a spectacular treat and well worth whatever time it takes to stop out the back for a moment and enjoy it. The Garmin recorded my swim stats: 1350m at av pace 2:09/100m and stroke rate of 60spm. Stroke distance 1.57m per two arm cycle.

My swim wave was scheduled for 1020. Around 1000 I put my hat, sunglasses and car keys on the driver’s seat, shut the door, and went to open the back door. During that short walk the car doors auto-locked (a malfunction of some sort) and my wetsuit and goggles were in the car. I made the start line in time. That’s the short story. The next three paras contain the detail for those interested.

No time to get the RACV to attend. So I borrowed a coat hanger from the Surf Life Saving Club rooms and refashioned it in the standard way to hook and open an inside door handle after inserting the wire between the door edge and the door seal. I have done this on more than one occasion (usually on somebody else’s car). But those crafty Germans have designed a car door seal which cannot be entered in this way. It was now about 1005 and my fellow age group swimmers were gathering at the starting line on the beach.

So back to the SLSC at a brisker walking pace where I found the masonry brick shown in the picture. The rear quarter window seemed the obvious and cheapest way to gain entry. A gentle tap with the brick did nothing. After progressively harder whacks which were now attracting the bemused attention of unhelpful onlookers, the window finally shattered but the force used sent the brick and my arms through the new opening. My hands and forearms received numerous minor scratches from the sharp shards around the window frame. I ignored the tiny droplets of blood appearing on my minor scratches as there was now only about 10 minutes to my race start. I thought I was on the home run as I threaded my hand inside the window to unlock the doors using the inside back door handle. But pulling on the door handle did not unlock the doors! Swimming mates were now coming looking for me to tell my my race was being marshalled for the start. The coat hanger wire at full stretch would not reach diagonally across the car from rear left quarter window to the driver’s seat to get the key tantalisingly in full view but so far unreachable.

So back to the SLSC again. I found a broom and twisted an end of the coat hanger wire around its handle, fashioned a hook on the other end, and after a bit of angling with time running out fast I delicately hooked and retrieved the key. It was now approaching 1015. A quick change into my wetsuit (after shaking as many glass fragments off as I could with a quick shake), confirmed I had my cap, watch and earplugs and jogged to the start line and joined the milling swimmers just as the starter’s briefing finished. The starter’s gun was then fired. Not a problem.

It was a very enjoyable swim and I didn’t think once about the VW key saga while doing my 1350m.

Some of my long time ocean swimming friends from Apollo Bay at the finishing line, all wearing the big smile of a cold water ocean swimmer coming ashore. Clockwise from top left: Boo, Vicki and Michelle (third and fourth-place getters in their age group), Suzie (fastest of the Apollo Bay swimmers) and Jenny.

A beautiful location for an ocean swim. Boo coming ashore after her swim. The course buoys are still in place. The course was out on the right hand side of the bay, keeping the white then yellow buoys on the left, and back to shore down the jetty side of the bay keeping the buoys on the left. The tall orange buoys are the seaward turnpoint markers.

Apollo Bay swimmers striking a pose. Boo strolling up the finishers’ race and not looking at all exhausted after her swim. Mark, me and Keelan after the swim. Always a great day. I had ten friends swimming in this race.

The Ocean Onyx, gas exploration drilling rig

Drilling rigs on the open sea are a spectacle.

Apollo Bay harbour and bay in a moderate easterly. One of the tugs which was towing the rig can be seen near the horizon about a third of the way from the left edge of the image. The rig is out of frame.
The Ocean Onyx, a gas exploration drilling rig being towed to an area 30-80 kms south of Port Campbell for gas exploration work. The rig was towed by two sizeable tug boats on very long lines and considerable distance apart from each other.
The breakwater on the eastern side of the Apollo Bay harbour mouth.
Apollo Bay harbour mouth.
The start of the north-south rock wall on the eastern side of the harbour.
Temporary addition to the skyline of yacht masts at Apollo Bay.

Rough seas in an easterly blow at Apollo Bay

Swimmers and surfers stay out of the water and boats tend not to leave their moorings and pens in the harbour when there is a strong easterly blow at Apollo Bay. A number of shipwrecks in the area have occurred on lee shores in conditions such as these. The sea conditions created by wind waves brought by strong easterlies differ in a number of respects from the conditions typically associated with large ocean swells from the south west. But both are a spectacle to behold.

Before the harbour and this breakwater were built, a single long jetty and anything tied up to it used to take the full force of seas such as this.
The harbour is a safe and peaceful location for boats and swimmers in conditions such as these.
Sea water does get past the wall, but it hasn’t got much punch left by the time it does. Swimming in the lee of this breakwater in strong easterly conditions is pleasant on two counts – the water is glassy, and there are periodical water drops pinging off our swimming caps from the spray of the larger waves which hit the breakwater. I had an early 1km swim in the harbour on the day this photo was taken.
The ocean has right of way where it intersects with pedestrians.
Marcus inspecting the breakwater.
No windsocks needed around here (even though there is one on the fish co-op)when there are boats moored from only the bow in these (largely) current-free waters.
Not all craft moored in the harbour fare equally well in an easterly blow. There is enough fetch across the harbour from east to west to create chop and whitecaps on the western side where these dinghies were tied up.
This is the harbour mouth as seen from the ocean side. The dark rocks on the left are the northern tip of the eastern breakwater. The sailing club rooms can be seen just left of the spray in the centre of the image. Such conditions probably go some way to explaining the absence of small boat activity at the time this photo was taken. I imagine it’s the actual harbour mouth with its shallow water, breaking waves and proximity to solid objects that would deter sailors more than the conditions out to sea.
The Kia Ora III safe in its pen near the harbour mouth. The rocks on the right are the northern tip of the eastern breakwater. Boats shown here had a bit more movement while moored in these conditions than the boats in pens further inside the harbour.
If you had to exit the harbour in a small boat, this would not be the precise moment to give it the gun and head out with all this white water on the starboard side (I’m not a formally qualified sailor, but I know my rights).
Taken from the middle of the road in front of my house. Nature’s way of saying ‘swim in the harbour today’.
I returned to the harbour after lunch when the tide was lower. The waves were performing on cue and the light was a bit brighter.
The western dredge buoy. On occasions, friends and I use this as a turn point on longer swims around the bay. It’s 300m from the harbour mouth, 500m from the beach in front of the SLSC and 600m from the steps to the beach at the end of my street (Tuxion).
Safe haven.

Catching a few waves on the surf ski at Apollo Bay

The surf ski is one of my favourite ocean toys. A previous post on this blog contains photos and detailed descriptions of the ski in action from many perspectives. See:

https://southernoceanblog.com/2019/04/26/things-ive-seen-from-my-surf-ski-at-apollo-bay/

In contrast this post contains videos and photos taken with 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.

This is the GPS track of my ski session as recorded by my Garmin swimming watch. For the record, I was in the water for 50 minutes and travelled 3.7kms. It was much more fun than those bare numbers might indicate.

Launching from the harbour

The main beach was crowded both on the sand and in the water. So I opted for a quiet and calm launching spot in the harbour (where I often swim when conditions in the bay are not suitable).
The serenity of the paddle out through the boats and across the seagrass was a contrast to the conditions waiting just through the harbour mouth.
Leaving the harbour between sets.

Through the harbour mouth to the surf

An eskimo roll on this ski is not possible. But a refreshing and surprising half roll without notice is entirely possible. All it takes is a moment’s inattention. The ocean now had my attention. I remained upright for the rest of the session.
There were some solid sets marching through. I let a couple go through to the keeper to see what was on offer before I paddled for my first wave.

The first wave of the day

Video

This was a nice green wave which was easily caught. On the ski, most waves are easily caught. You don’t need much of a wave to get a ride. The slight weight redistribution achieved by leaning forward as I paddle to catch a wave helps considerably.
As this wave neared shallower water it began to show signs of breaking so I exited to the right. The rudder is operated by foot pedals. A paddle blade in the water can also assist in a turn on the wave as a course correction, or to turn 180° and exit over the back of the wave. Here I had the left blade in the water to steady the ski as I was about to be completely abeam the wave which was steepening. This is a point which tests balance and use of the paddle to stay upright.
There is no reason I couldn’t have stayed with the wave after it broke, but I do like the clean speed and ride on an unbroken green wave.

The wave of the session

Video

This was the biggest wave I caught this session. It steepened quickly behind me, requiring only a couple of paddle strokes before the tail rose and the nose dipped down as the wave picked me up and propelled me shorewards. After catching it I generally stay in touch with the water via a paddle blade to stay on course (pointing straight at the shore, or perhaps turning left or right a bit to go along the wave). It’s a great feeling gliding effortlessly across the bay at 20+kph without paddling..
The moment the wave reached me and the tail lifted, the nose was at risk of going underwater. That arc of spray is from the bow being partly buried. I am leaning well back in this photo to get my weight back as far as possible to stop the nose burying itself in the water. (This is the exact opposite of the ‘leaning forward’ technique mentioned above, used when paddling for a wave which is barely steep enough to catch). If the nose does go under, of course the ski goes over. Catching a larger steeper wave and staying in control of the ski is exhilarating.
Not long after I caught it this wave broke behind me. Because it was one of the bigger waves, the white water didn’t just spill gently down the face. It broke solidly and suddenly, with a lot of water completely covering the back half of the ski and hitting me in the back. The ski can easily broach at this point and rudder and paddle blade can be useless to stop it once it starts. Best to get in early. Fast and strong use of the paddle for balance can save the day, but sometimes there is so much water hitting paddler and ski side on that a roll and dismount (refreshing as always) still happen. The early preventative step to take is to lean forward and paddle hard when the wave is about to break, keeping as much of the ski ahead of the white water as possible. This tends to keep the ski more stable.
Until I owned a GoPro, I had no idea there was this much water this close to me on such a wave.
Having decided to exit this wave to the left, the left blade has gone into the water as well as full left rudder being applied, and the ski turns back in a gentle arc to the calm water behind the wave. When abeam the wave as shown, there is a risk of coming off the ski. But I stayed upright on this wave throughout.
Temporary green ledge to rest my left arm on.

A 60 second ride from the harbour mouth to the beach

Video

I took this ride from near the harbour mouth all the way into the beach near the corner of the breakwater wall. It was a 60 second ride. There was some breaking wave action behind me on the way in, but not as much as on the earlier larger wave.
Riding a wave right to shore here involved threading carefully between swimmers and all sorts of things that float. You can’t afford to let the ski get out of control and broach, because the broken wave will take it all the way in and as it’s 18 feet long, it has potential to injure swimmers who don’t or can’t get out of the way. Better to keep it pointed at the shore and to paddle hard if necessary in the shore break to stay on course. That is of course, provided there is reasonable room for the ski to come ashore safely nose first or sideways, as there was on this ride.

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.

Final paddle into the calm of the harbour

After my wave ride into the shore, I paddled back out close to the breakwater (where there are less breaking waves) to the harbour mouth. I didn’t have to slow down too much to comply with the 5 knot speed limit.
The compass pole in the harbour. This is marker around which we often swim. This pole is used by fishing boats and other boats to moor on when swinging the vessel’s compass. This involves measuring minor errors in the magnetic compass readings attributable to interference with the earth’s magnetic field by metallic objects on the boat. The precise errors on various headings are measured and recorded on a compass deviation card (usually fixed to the compass or somewhere very close to it). So if e.g. the boat is actually pointing due magnetic north (360°M), the compass due to interference from objects on the boat may read 357°. This information is recorded on a deviation card which permits the captain or navigator to compensate when using the vessel’s compass to allow him to steer an accurate magnetic course.
Such peace and tranquility in the harbour after the session in good surf.
A most satisfying session ended as peacefully as it started.

Wind and Waves

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.

This was solid swell. The volume of water in this wave is apparent from the fact that it had already broken over the shallow water above the reef (see the curtain of breaking white and green water forming something of a barrel in the centre of the image), yet there was so much water pushing forward that a second curtain of white water has pushed over the top of the first creating a second lip and curtain of water. In my experience this is not a common feature of a breaking wave.
The two green triangles of breaking water on the right of the image must have been caused by two underwater promontories on the reef lifting these parts of the wave causing them to break ahead of the rest. I have seen and photographed this feature of this wave on many occasions, albeit that it takes different forms depending on the tide, the wind and the size of the wave. Obviously a much shallower part of the reef is beneath the breaking wave on the left of the image. The unbroken section on the right must have deeper water beneath it.

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.

I took these three photos on a leisurely solo swim out to the reef on a low tide in early January, when there was not much swell or wind. There was however a solid current flowing parallel to the reef. This photo shows the dense beds of algae in the shallows around the perimeter of the reef.
This was near the southern end of the inshore reef, and as shown by the marine plants the current was flowing and swirling constantly.
After swimming around the reef over the kelp beds which surround it, I swam north of the reef to the open beach for a play in the clean glassy little waves of the shore break. This is a breaking wave not far from shore, shown from the inside.

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.

This small swell, looking tidy and groomed courtesy of a steady offshore westerly wind, was breaking around the middle of the Mounts Bay beach. There is a well established sand bar not far from shore here and the waves were essentially closing out (breaking along a long section at the same time, rather than from left to right or right to left) upon reaching the sand bar. There is a shallow channel between these two lines of breaking waves.
This long boarder was not deterred by the constant supply of closeout sets. He spent most of the time while I was watching sitting on his board, and negotiating white water as wave after wave closed out in front of him (and on top of him). I didn’t see him catch an unbroken green section of a wave – but he did get up his board for a few brief rides on the white water after the wave had broken. At least he avoided the slightly busier lineup a little further up the beach.
Up the beach from where the waves were closing out, there was a more rideable break a bit further offshore. These waves were peeling nicely, and a handful of surfers were catching a lot of waves and clearly enjoying themselves. This photo and the next were taken when the surfers were out of frame to the left, paddling back out after their rides. The low point with the sandy beach is Point Bunbury.
The offshore wind working its magic on small clean swell. A quite rideable left in the foreground.
Certainly not overcrowded.
This photo is the first of a sequence of three. This young bloke was catching at least his share of waves, and acquitting himself well on the rides I saw.
To get serious ‘air’ you need a bit of speed for which you need a wave perhaps a little steeper (and ideally larger) than this one. He did well to get his board around 180° while airborne, but instead of continuing to rotate, the nose dug in and he exited stage right. Good attempt.

Shark Warning

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:

https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/05/03/storm-surf/

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 notchy uneven horizon is a reliable indicator of swell at sea.
You’d need to tighten up your swimming goggles (and perhaps even your Speedos) to duck dive under these waves.
In the aqua barrel of momentarily smooth fast flowing water (just right of centre in the image) is a length of bull kelp going over the falls. A swimmer or surfer in the wrong spot at the wrong time would have a similarly exhilarating experience. But it would have an unpleasant ending as that aqua water is about to smash on the exposed (or very shallow) reef under it. The mass of white water rising in front of that wave has already hit the reef and ricocheted skywards.
After the wave initially broke over the reef, it rapidly changed form and size as it dissipated its energy over the extensive shallow reef beneath it. While a mini barrel can be seen in this photo, it was short lived. The whole wave smashed into chaotic white water shortly after this shot was taken.
This is the first of a sequence of three photos of a single wave taken in rapid succession. This was a larger wave which commenced to break in the shallower water some distance seaward of the exposed part of the reef.
With or without a surfboard, it would be a memorable duck dive under this wave at this point.

The Ocean at Rest

Cape Patton photographed from Apollo Bay beach (Tuxion) under a rising full moon. The thin white line at top right is a meteor.

Beauty Hiding in Plain Sight

Nature provides special events in and around Apollo Bay from time to time, against a backdrop of spectacles equally beautiful and awe-inspiring but perhaps less appreciated because they are available all the time. The photos below could have been taken in and around Apollo Bay virtually anytime in daylight hours.

Towering mountain ash in cool temperate rainforest

Mountain ash dominating the upper storey of this forest in the Otway Ranges.
Silhouettes against a cloudy but bright sky.
Mountain ash standing tall in the cool temperate rain forest through which Turton’s Track passes.
Such mighty trees require substantial bases.
Mountain ash in the morning mist deep in the Otway Ranges. It was perfectly silent except for the birds. This photo gives some indication of the great variety and profusion of plant life in this ancient rainforest.

The white-faced heron

Late afternoon low flight over Wild Dog Creek near Apollo Bay.
I cannot resist observing that in addition to the lift from these powerful wings the perfect aerofoil curve of the upper body of the heron would also create lift. The undercarriage is neatly retracted and streamlined to minimise drag during flight.
What magnificent lift and thrust generators these wings are.
Pausing for a moment on the beach between Wild Dog Creek and the ocean. Slightly less prepossessing than when in flight, but still elegant. Legs built for wading. Knees that articulate in the opposite direction to human knees. Neck and beak perfectly designed for fishing and foraging.

Masked lapwing chick

Masked lapwing chick handling the challenge of head-high uncut lawn.
Adult masked lapwing.

The little corella

The little corella (the adjective being supplied by the bird namer, not me) is found in a wide variety of habitats in Australia, including the coast and semi-arid inland areas. They are typically found in flocks and smaller groups. It has a short crest which can be raised or lowered at the bird’s discretion. These birds are common around Apollo Bay, albeit not as common as galahs or sulphur-crested cockatoos.
The setting sun shone through a gap in the clouds for a brief period, bathing this little corella in ‘golden hour’ light. Not sure what the ‘right wing extended’ signal means, but it could certainly be read from a great distance. It may have been simply waving at a passing friend.
Clear for takeoff. The golden hour had ended and twilight was beginning. These photos of the little corella were taken in the eucalypts along the banks of Milford Creek in Apollo Bay.

Strong south westerly winds on the coast

The effect of a strong south westerly wind on the ocean close to shore depends on which way a particular beach is facing. At this east facing beach in Mounts Bay (just south of Apollo Bay), the wind was pretty much offshore (blowing from the shore to the sea) which blew the tops off the breaking waves creating these clouds of white spray. The position and arc of this surfboard reminded me very much of the way dolphins and other sea creatures spear out of the water behind waves in exuberant short flight. It was interesting to see what a riderless surfboard gets up to when left to its own devices in the surf.
Little Henty Reef juts out into the sea near Hayley Point, exposing it to the full force of the south westerly wind. The sea close to the lee side of this rocky outcrop (near the foot of the image) is slightly protected from such a wind. The Australian fur seals to whom this reef is home, or short stay accommodation, were not deluged by these seas because while they were rough, there was not a large swell associated with it. But they would have been constantly damp from the spray. They didn’t seem to mind.

Swell and a Northerly Wind at Little Henty Reef

The northerly wind blows directly into the swell at Little Henty Reef, creating the white manes of spray shown. When swell above a certain size hits this reef, it inevitably creates an aqua barrel. Huge waves create big barrels. Smaller waves create tight little barrels as shown in this image. An interesting feature of the light in these breaking waves is that even on dull days (which this was not) when the sea is not particularly blue or green or any colour, the inside of the barrel is always vivid aqua….the emerald eye of the wave.
Slightly bigger wave, more water throwing out in the lip and consequently a bigger barrel. The reef is partially exposed as water is sucked out in front of the advancing wave.
This was probably the biggest wave I saw that morning (but well short of the biggest waves I have seen here). The reef is fully exposed as the water sucks out in front of the breaking wave. This is the reason I have no photos of surfers on this wave.
When the lip of a sizeable wave throws out in front and smashes on the reef, a large volume of water ricochets skywards as shown here. The forces are amazing, given that each cubic metre of water weights one tonne. The force is multiplied by the fact that it is moving at speed when it hits the reef. The rather mutant shapes on the breaking wave on the right reflect the variable topography of the seabed and reef immediately beneath that water.

A couple of bars of slide guitar

My gracefully ageing Martin 000-28H lives on its stand in my lounge room on permanent standby for my regular short performances to an empty room. Sometimes the performance lasts less than 30 seconds, sometimes slightly longer.

Morning Ocean Swim (and a King Parrot)

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.

‘The wall’ is where the stone harbour-wall meets the beach. This is the meeting and starting point for the daily morning swims. These eight were heading in for their Saturday morning swim. There are varying levels of fitness and swimming experience and ability in the group, which are accommodated comfortably by each person swimming on a route of their choice at a pace of their choosing. Some swim in pairs, but larger groupings are rare.
Catching up with each other is an important feature for all the swimmers. So the pre-swim chat, the post swim chat and the chat during a breather at the turn point are never hurried. But in winter the duration of the chat at a turn point can be determined by swimmers needing to resume swimming to stay warm.
The standard routine is to enter the water without rushing. Some wet their face to begin the adaptation to cold water. Everyone wets their goggles. L to R: Will, Aileen, Marion, Boo, Sue N, Sonja, Caroline and Jenny.
I included this shot for the unusual spectacle on the horizon on the left. This is part of the payload and superstructure of a large container ship traversing Bass Strait from west to east. This ship was well out to sea. But as I was taking these photos 600m or so from the swimmers entering the water, the foreshortening effect of the telephoto lens created the illusion of proximity shown.
And they’re off. But it’s not a race. Every now and then some swimmers will casually initiate or accept the challenge of an undeclared race, but it’s all in good spirit. This photo shows another feature of this group – they have only done half a dozen strokes each here and yet they are already heading off in different directions. This always occurs. There is generally a gathering at the turn point, but on the return trip the group once again spreads across the bay at different speeds and in different directions. This adds up to varied arrival times. While there were ten swimmers in the water this morning, at no point was it possible to capture them all in the one photo, either in or out of the water. Independence in the water is the norm.
This demonstrates well the difference between ships and boats. It has been expressed this way: a boat can be carried on a ship but a ship cannot be carried on a boat.
A ninth swimmer (Susan M) arrives just after the others had started swimming. Three swimmers can be seen swimming over an unbroken wave. Not long after Susan arrived, a tenth swimmer (Jim) also joined those already swimming.
Swimmer in the foreground (Will), ship in the background. I was taking photos from a raised vantage point. Will would not have been able to see this ship on the horizon beyond the harbour walls.
The orange buoy is one of the reliable seaward markers provided the sea isn’t too rough. It is one of two used by the harbour dredge to anchor while it clears sand from the harbour mouth. It is about 500m off the beach at the SLSC. On occasions we have used it as a turn marker for a longer 1500m or 2km swim. Will is on the far left, Sonja is directly in line with the buoy and that’s Jenny’s left arm on the right between the waves. The notched horizon is a good indication that there was definitely some swell around this morning.
L to R: Boo, Caroline, Susan M and Sue N. having a leisurely chat at their selected turn point. These five would have swum 500-600m this morning. Marion, not with the group at this point, may have swum further.
Marion (in the pink cap) joined this group at their rest/chat/turn point, probably after swimming a little further north on her own.
Sonja heading back towards the wall after a brief stop at the turn point opposite the servo. Sonja, Aileen, Jenny, Will and Jim would have swum around 1200m all up.
Jenny swimming over a wave showing signs of breaking. As a general rule green water is preferred on a distance swim, but there is no problem duck diving under breaking waves – it just becomes a slower swim.
Jenny cresting a line of green swell. It is exhilarating swimming beyond the surf zone when there are lines of green swell rolling across the bay. Being lifted and lowered on rolling swell is one of the many pleasures of ocean swimming.
Aileen and Jim on the return trip.
L to R: Boo, Susan M, Sonja and Caroline. Not sure if Caroline is forcefully making a point to Boo, or whether they are both leaning against a current or wave.
Jenny and Jim chatting in the shore break at the end of their swim as Aileen swims towards them.
The swim ends. The enjoyment of the company continues. Apollo Bay ocean swimmers reliably turning up virtually every morning of the year for a swim in the company of whoever else turns up, without any specific arrangement, is a wonderful thing.

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.

I was not close to the bird for these closeups. I had a telephoto lens on the camera, and had to increase my distance from the bird to take these shots. Sometimes this took several attempts as he would keep walking towards me after I had walked back a bit.
Neck extended and feathers streamlined.
Neck shortened and feathers fluffed out.
Beautiful pose. The sheen on the feathers on his back caught my eye.
At maturity this male will have bright red feathers all over his head and underparts. His wings will remain bright green, with a light green (almost pale blue) stripe on the inner leading edge of his wings (which is partially visible in this photo). His upper beak will be bright orange, in contrast to the female’s dark brown upper beak. There will be hints of deep blue in his dark tail feathers. A dazzling bird, in flight and perched.
What a treat to receive a visit from this exotic and friendly native bird.

Ocean Swimmers at Little Henty Reef

Little Henty Reef lies just a short swim off Hayley Point at Marengo on the west coast of Victoria. The reef and adjacent waters are part of the Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary.

There are days when it is unsafe to swim at Little Henty Reef. Early this morning conditions for an ocean swim there were perfect. Clear blue skies, no wind, no swell and only a light south-to-north tidal current in the bay between the reef and Marengo beach. The water was cool and clear. This morning I swam with Mary, Michelle Sue and Susie – all regular local ocean swimmers.

The two parts of the reef as seen from above Marengo Beach. That’s Cape Patton on the far left of the horizon. This photo and the next two were taken by Andrew Langmead using a drone. The reef in the foreground is the one we swam out to this morning. Unlike the winter conditions shown, we had clear blue skies, no wind and no swell.
This shows the northern tip of the reef closest to the shore where the photos below were taken.
The photos of swimmers below were taken along the edge of the reef on the left in this image. Yesterday Michelle and I swam right around this part of the reef. The golden bull kelp was one of many sights that made that swim well worthwhile.
Hayley Point and some of the Marengo houses. Mary, Michelle, Susie and Sue entering the water this morning. It always brings a smile to see the clarity of the water in the shallows looking like this when walking into the sea for a swim.
Hayley Point from sea level. Water that looks like this brings an even bigger smile to the face of an ocean swimmer.
The view straight ahead just after I commenced my swim east to the reef.
Michelle arriving at the reef stroking strongly. Michelle, Mary and Susie together with three other local ocean swimmers (Heather, Sonja and Jenny) swam across the Rip in February this year (3.2kms across the entrance to Port Phillip Bay between Point Nepean and Point Lonsdale, a notorious stretch of water even for shipping). (See https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/02/22/six-apollo-bay-ocean-swimmers-swam-across-the-rip-today/ ). These six all trained up and improved their stroke and endurance for that swim. The benefits have been permanent.
The small bay we swam across to the reef has a white sandy seabed, which gets deeper as you go south. The seaweed begins close to the reef. Having a destination to swim to, even if not an epic voyage, adds greatly to the pleasure of an ocean swim. Clear water and things to see under the water add even more.
Michelle flying stylishly in slow motion with the reef and the morning sun behind her.
Michelle gliding through filtered morning light.
Mary in her element.
Mary finding the flow.
A sloping garden of marine plants on the side of the reef. On the right at greater depth is the seabed.
The water was clearest in the shallow water around the reef.
Brown algae and a host of other plants flourish in the shallows near the reef.
Dashes of colour amongst the forests of algae.
Luxuriant marine plants in exceptionally clear water.
Looking down into deeper water away from the reef.
Mary swimming the reef’s low tide maze.

Susie descending effortlessly to the seabed.

Susie is a great swimmer, and completely at home in the sea. Here she is thoughtfully giving the photographer a friendly wave.

Little Henty Reef has featured on this blog since it began with my first post in June 2017. If you’re interested in seeing the reef in other moods:

https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/06/30/winter-swim-around-little-henty-reef/

https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/01/13/my-first-underwater-look-at-little-henty-reef/

https://southernoceanblog.com/2017/11/01/large-southern-ocean-swell-pounds-local-reefs/

https://southernoceanblog.com/2017/06/25/winter-swell-at-little-henty-reef/

https://southernoceanblog.com/2017/06/24/the-henty-firing-in-a-big-swell/

Easterly Seas at Apollo Bay

The main beach at Apollo Bay faces east and is completely exposed to the wind waves and rough seas brought by easterly and south-easterly winds. The waves erode the beach and dunes up to and sometimes above the high water mark and the wind moves huge amounts of sand. Once the wind gets above around 25 knots the bay becomes a potentially dangerous place for swimmers, entirely unattractive to surfers and a magnet for kite surfers who revel in the 25-30 knot winds.

In strong easterly conditions there is a lot of water moving around creating rips and side sweeps and general movement of water in often unpredictable directions. An ocean swimmer could stay afloat and swim in these conditions but would most likely encounter currents quite different to those normally experienced in the bay which could make it very difficult or impossible to return to shore before becoming exhausted or hypothermic.

So far this week at Apollo Bay the wind has been blowing non-stop day and night from the east at 25-30 knots, gusting higher at times. Monday had some sunny breaks, but on Tuesday we only saw cloud and cold winds. The forecast is for the winds to moderate and stay from the east or south-east until at least the end of the week.

Any water person in the area shown the photos below without being told anything about when they were taken could immediately identify the conditions as easterly. They are very distinctive compared to the conditions when the wind is from anywhere between the NW around through W to S.

Persistent easterly winds in the area can vary in strength from gale force (see my previous post on this blog at: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/08/10/gale-force-easterlies-at-apollo-bay/) to lighter winds with sea fog and mist (see an earlier post on this blog at https://southernoceanblog.com/2017/11/20/rain-from-the-east-three-days-at-least/). The winds of recent days were less than gale force but consistently in the 25-30 knot range – strong winds.

I live in Apollo Bay and start most days with an ocean swim. I don’t swim in the open bay in strong easterly conditions, but fortunately the local harbour provides protected waters which are an ideal plan B. These photos capture something of the easterly sea conditions, as well as the contrasting harbour waters in which I have continued my daily swims during the otherwise unswimmable easterly conditions so far this week.

First day of easterlies

If I stand in the middle of the road in front of my house, this is how the sea looks during an easterly. No quick walk or drive needed to check out the conditions. In fact even the walk out on to the road is not necessary, because I would have woken up to the eucalypts along the creek beside my house being whipped around by the easterly wind. Also, the sound of the surf would have been carried by the wind to my house identifying that there was an easterly. By the third day of these easterlies sand had blown up this street from the beach and the dunes and was lining the sides of the road. In some places sufficient sand had blown across the Great Ocean Road to warrant placement of warning signs for drivers.
This was taken from the beach in front of the Apollo Bay SLSC early on Monday morning while the sun was still reasonably low, creating the golden glow of the eastern sky. Sometimes in a lighter SE wind, the corner of the bay can have some protection and be swimmable. But this view sealed my decision to swim in the harbour.
As I drove to the harbour, the sun was higher in the sky, the clouds were darker and there was some rain on the way. But for a very short period there was a break in the clouds and the sun shone brilliantly on the water for a few fleeting moments. I parked, grabbed the iPhone and ran to the steps to the dunes to get this photo. The breaking water glowed aqua and sparkled snow white, in contrast to the khaki and duller white water in the cloud shadows. Before I had returned the few steps to my car, the sun had disappeared from view. That’s the AB harbour wall in the distance.
This wall of the harbour is roughly N-S. The white water crashing over it came from waves smashing into the neatly placed huge rocks forming a reasonably uniform sloping surface on the ocean side of the wall. The water in the harbour in the lee of the wall is glassy and clear. There are a few mild currents in the harbour but nothing compared to the action immediately outside it. When I swam on Monday morning some of this white water landed on my back like gentle rain.
The harbour mouth and Wild Dog Creek valley in the coastal hills 2-3kms to the north. My swims usually include going to the right of small boat nearest the wall and then parallel to the wall to the mouth and back the same way. Note that all the moored boats are pointing due east into wind. No need for windsocks here. With rough seas beyond, I generally turn around a bit before the mouth as there are some interesting currents there in big swell and rough conditions. An often busy boat ramp is to the left of frame. Swimming nearer the wall gives safe clearance from boats. There are some beautiful sea grass plains on the sea bed in this corner of the harbour supporting a good variety of small fish. Stingrays are a reasonably common sight, and from time to time seals pay a visit. Neither pose a hazard to swimmers here.
This is Marengo as seen across Mounts Bay from the Great Ocean Road in Apollo Bay. Mounts Bay is the next bay south of Apollo Bay. It only gets rough here in this manner in a strong easterly. More typically, large south west swells swing around Hayley Point to march with precision and beauty across this bay into an offshore westerly wind, with perfect manes of white spray blowing over the back of them as they break approaching the shore.
These sand dunes are between the Barham River and Mounts Bay. The reef is Little Henty Reef, foreshortened by the telephoto lens to look closer than its 1600m or so from where I was standing.
Looking south over the Barham River and the dunes between it and Mounts Bay.

Day two of the easterlies

The corner shown here, where the sand dunes meet the harbour wall, is referred to by local swimmers as ‘the wall’. It is their most common starting point for the regular morning swims in the bay. This beach is also known locally as ‘mothers’ beach’ because it s usually sheltered and safe.
This shot was taken from the wall looking north, showing the steps to the beach (under the low red-roofed dwelling) at Tuxion, the beach at the bottom of my street. From where this photo was taken to the steps is 800 metres. Swimming from the wall to Tuxion or to one of the landmarks a bit short of Tuxion, are popular courses for local swimmers – but not on this day.
The harbour mouth in easterly conditions.
This photo of the harbour wall was taken from Tuxion. The orange buoy is not the cap of a local ocean swimmer bobbing about, but is one of two markers for anchoring points used by the local dredge which keeps the harbour mouth clear of sand.
This is the N-S harbour wall viewed from some distance north. On the day this was taken I had my swim in the lee of this wall inside the harbour.
The harbour mouth in easterly conditions.

Harbour swim on day three of the easterlies

The easterly by day three had eased a little and was closer to 20 than 30 knots. The open seas were still white and rough. The inviting glassy clear water inside the harbour was the spot to swim today. Eight of us swam in the harbour this morning instead of the usual locations of Apollo Bay (and sometimes Marengo). Of course, warming up over coffee and a chat followed.

Sue and Boo after their swim. The water was cold, and they both wore wetsuits (as do all the local swimmers during the colder months). Michelle and Susie are stroking towards shore mid-frame.
Susie and Michelle in the shallows after their 1000m or so swim in the calm waters of the harbour. The mist sitting on the coastal hills was there all day. Such mist is one of the features of easterly winds here – formed by all that moist air from over the sea lifting over the hills where it cools and condenses to form mist and low layers of stratus cloud.
Possum on the left and Duke (one of her offspring) on the right. These curly haired retrievers belong to Heather, one of the long-time local ocean swimmers. They love the beach and the water. These two are local identities known to many. They know their way around town and the harbour. They had a splash in the shallows then waited, watching patiently from the beach, for Heather to finish her swim in the harbour.