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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The white-faced heron
Masked lapwing chick
The little corella
Strong south westerly winds on the coast
Swell and a Northerly Wind at Little Henty Reef
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.
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.
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
Day two of the easterlies
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.
Some natural wonders can be assigned latitude and longitude coordinates. Others are fleeting and occasional, and appointments for viewing are not possible. The west coast of Victoria is well supplied with both categories. The photos below are of some of the fleeting offerings of Mother Nature in and around Apollo Bay which I was lucky enough to see. Each encounter was unplanned and a pleasant surprise. Serendipity fuels my photography.
The shots of the surfers were taken after I failed to find the wild easterly seas that the wind direction and strength promised at dawn when I woke up. The wind shifted as I drove away from my house and the waves changed from unruly rough seas to cracking surf. The Australasian gannets were the result of a drive to nearby Kennett River to find some elusive orcas of which I had heard reports. The orcas were a no-show. Finally, the feeding wattlebird youngsters were sighted from my deck when I went outside to check the windsock during the golden hour late one afternoon. All these photos were taken in the past week.
Local surfers making the most of an unexpected two hour session at this break
Some swell events have a long build up and are monitored by surfers for many days before the waves arrive. These waves were different in that the quality waves breaking at this location were unexpected. There was no shortage however of talented local surfers who either saw the waves or heard about them on the grapevine and made a beeline for this break. There are not a lot of occasions when waves at this spot are the best on offer in the district. But on this morning they were.
Professional surf, landscape & lifestyle photographer Katey catching the action.
Diving Gannets at Kennett River
The Australasian gannet is a great favourite of mine. I had the privilege of a visit to a gannet rookery earlier this year. It was in effect a private visit with just me and the volunteer guide. For my detailed descriptions of the gannet and its remarkable skills, as well as close up photos of this beautiful bird both on the ground and flying, see this earlier post in my blog (published 26 February 2020) at:
Getting close enough to gannets plunge diving to enable a good photo is very difficult. These photos were taken from three different vantage points on the shore near Sawmills beach at Kennett River. There must have been a huge area of fish for them to feed on as the gannets were diving and feeding over a huge area. Unfortunately no part of that area was quite close enough to shore for the sort of photos I would have liked. Most of the photos below are small cropped sections of images taken with a 600mm telephoto lens at full extension. As a result the sharpness of many of these images has suffered, but I think the content is sufficiently interesting to publish them anyway.
To illustrate the image quality problem resulting from photographing a small bird in flight from a significant distance, the highlighted area in the image on the left is the cropped section which was enlarged to produce the immediately preceding photo. Hence the lack of sharpness in the image.
Red Wattlebirds Feeding Their Young
The red wattlebird is second largest of the honeyeaters native to Australia. Only the yellow wattlebird is larger. They feed primarily on nectar, but insects are also part of their diet. Their eyes open in a week or so and they fledge 2-3 weeks after hatching. They are fed by both parents for a further 2-3 weeks. The young birds shown below could fly and were probably nearing the end of their dependent phase. But they didn’t budge from this bough while the parent was prepared to go back and forth finding and bringing them food.
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.