Rips and Ocean Swimmers

If you are neither a good swimmer nor an experienced ocean swimmer, or if you don’t swim with someone who is, swim between the flags on a patrolled beach, and don’t swim alone.

No swimmer ever conquers the ocean. The sea requires the utmost respect from all those who submit themselves to it. The ocean is never trying to kill you. But if you fail to respect it, you can die there.

Standing on an ocean shore estimating how far it would be to swim to some identified point offshore, frequently results in under-estimation.

Standing on an ocean shore assessing wave size and power and how rough the water is offshore, frequently results in under-estimation.

Warning: I wrote this post with ocean swimmers in mind and because I wanted to record in one place my thoughts about rips. Others are unlikely to find this post interesting.

Ocean water moves around a lot, on scales ranging from global to local. The photos and observations below are about ocean currents close to shore as they affect ocean swimmers.

Swell direction, breaking waves, tides, wind and gravity can cause small but powerful localised currents within and extending beyond the surf zone. Ocean swimmers have an interest in understanding these currents which flow from the shallows out to sea beyond the shorebreak, either directly or at an angle. Such currents, known as rips, can be a metre or so wide, and they can flow quite slowly and extend only a short distance from shore. Sometimes they can be many tens of metres wide and flow away from shore at a speed which it is not possible to swim against. Sometimes they may extend many hundreds of metres beyond shore and connect to strong tidal currents with potential to take a swimmer to the next postcode. A swimmer in a rip who takes no active steps to leave the current will typically be carried out to deeper water beyond the shorebreak where the rip will fade and end.

Whether or not a particular rip poses a threat to the safety of a particular swimmer in a particular set of conditions depends on a lot of factors: the skill and experience level of the swimmer, the level of detail of the swimmer’s knowledge of the beach where the rip is located, the size, location, direction and strength of the rip, the size and power of the swell, the direction from which the swell has come relative to the direction the beach faces, the contours of the seabed in the vicinity, the general gradient of the seabed in the area, the nature of any reefs or other relief features beneath the water, the direction and strength of the wind and the surface conditions they are creating, the presence or absence of gutters and sandbars and their distance from shore, whether the beach is long and straight or a bay bookended with points or promontories, the tidal range on the day and whether the tide is ebbing, flowing or in the slack water period (if any).

Permanent warning at the eastern end of Skenes Creek beach.

Some rips are highly transient and can appear and disappear in seconds or minutes. These typically occur at beaches with sandy seabeds. Others flow like rivers following permanent rocky channels on the seabed whenever the surf is up and water washed ashore above its natural level heads back out to sea via the nearest line of least resistance. Some rips operate only when a big set (of waves) has come through, and others operate in very small surf.

Importantly, rips are often easier to see from a vantage point on the shore than they are while swimming. But some rips can be invisible from the shore, especially in rough surface conditions such as occur in strong winds with a lot of breaking waves and chop. The photos below illustrate a variety of visible rips at ocean beaches on the west coast of Victoria. The comments under the photos point out some of the tell-tale signs of visible rips.

It is highly instructive as an exercise or when you are planning a swim, to sit on the dunes and closely observe the behaviour of the water in and near the surf zone. This is especially so if you are unfamiliar with that beach. If you watch for say 15 minutes you will see transient currents and recurring patterns. You will begin to understand that the water is telling you a lot more than you learned from your first glance. Look left and right up and down the surf zone – identify gutters, sandbars (evidenced by waves breaking a distance offshore then reforming as green unbroken waves as they pass over the deeper water of the gutter closer to shore), and places where rips have cut through sandbars to feed water back out to sea. Is there a single gutter and sandbar, or a series of gutters and sandbars extending well beyond the shore? See if you can work out which way water is flowing in the gutter/s between the shore and a sandbar (at some points on the beach, this direction can be opposite to the direction of tidal flow beyond the sandbar/s). Observe the long line of a breaking wave and note that there may be sections or gaps where the wave does not break at all (because the water is a little deeper under such a gap). The gap could well be where a rip flows out to sea. If you identify where you think there is a rip, note its position relative to landmarks on the shore to assist in your decision making once in the water.

One fact that can always be relied upon is that if there are waves breaking and water washing back and forth at the water’s edge, gravity will cause the water temporarily transported above its natural level to return to that level as soon as the force washing it ashore ceases. Even though it might not be visible, its presence can be deduced, and an educated guess may be possible as to its location. But knowing there are rips but not knowing exactly where they are, in conditions that are rough, might well be enough reason to exercise the skill every ocean swimmer should possess – making an informed decision as to when not to swim.

Any rip of substance can be detected by a swimmer in the water once they are in the rip. The water is usually murkier than the water around it (due to sand etc being picked up by the rip in the shallows and carried seaward), the texture of the surface where there is a rip differs (often in subtle ways) from the surface texture of surrounding water (because there are conflicting flow directions), and of course the swimmer will be carried away from the shore – sometimes at 90° and sometimes at a lesser angle. Because the swimmer is being carried by a moving body of water, there is no sense of a current pushing against the swimmer whose feet are not touching the seabed. The fact of heading seaward is not always immediately apparent. It is important to develop the skill of being able to quickly assess by observation whether or not a current is taking you somewhere unplanned. Lining up two objects some distance apart while treading water and observing their apparent movement (if any) is one way to do this. If this can be done in two different directions separated by 90° or at least a significant angle, a very accurate assessment of drift (either due to a rip or a tidal current) can be made.

Swimming against a strong current (assume no wind or waves for present purposes) is no harder than swimming with such a current. You will just cover a shorter distance in a given number of minutes when swimming against the current than you would if there was no current (and a longer distance when swimming with the current). Or put another way, at a constant stroke rate and stroke distance it will take you longer to swim 1000m against the current than with the current. What the current changes is the speed at which you pass over the seabed – your speed through the water stays the same whichever direction you swim. This is illustrated by the fact that if you stand in shallow water in a flowing river, you will feel the current on the upstream side of your body. But if you tread water in the same flowing river, you will not feel any current on any side of your body because you are moving with the flowing body of water.

That said, when there is a strong wind blowing across the surface of the sea, swimming against the wind will be quite a different experience to swimming with the wind behind you. It takes more effort to swim into the wind when it is creating waves and chop than it does to swim with the wind behind you, in the same direction as the wind, waves and chop.

A myth that seems to enjoy currency in some circles is that a rip in the ocean will pull you under the surface. It won’t.

While I’m debunking myths, here is another: an out and back swim of a given distance with a constant current (head current one way, following current the other way) will take no longer than the same out and back swim in nil current because the time you lose on the way out you gain on the way back. This is incorrect. The total time for the round trip swim into and then with the current will always take longer.

An essential ocean swimming skill is to maintain situational awareness at all times – don’t just swim around without regular reference to the shore and landmarks. If you do, you could find when you eventually assess your location that you have been carried hundreds of metres sideways or out to sea by a rip (and/or tidal currents). The response to becoming aware you are swimming in a current might be as simple as adding a drift angle to your swim (aim a bit left or right of where you want to go so that you track directly there) or altering course significantly to get away from the current if it is not assisting you, or making and executing a plan to return to shore.

Many of the photos below utilise a ‘photo-compare’ function. The round button in the middle with a left and right arrow allows you to use your cursor (hold it over the button and press) to slide the divider fully right (which displays the full first image) and fully left (displaying the full second image). Where the slider is used, the first photo is of ocean water with a rip, and the second is the same image with an arrow or arrows pointing out the location of the rip.

Apollo Bay

Especially in strong easterly conditions, this rip extends out from very close to the beach between the SLSC and the harbour wall to the harbour mouth and sometimes beyond. It flows out to sea parallel to the stone harbour wall. The rip is easily identified by the discolouration from the sand and by the turbulent surface appearance resulting from the current going east out to sea while the wind and waves are heading west towards the shore. In most wind and swell conditions this corner of the bay is sufficiently benign to be known by locals as Mothers’ Beach. Failure to respond to changes such as those shown in the photo has resulted in many people having an unexpected little trip out beside the harbour wall on their boogie board, surf board or while swimming. Surfers and others have often provided assistance to those who found themselves in the rip in this area.
Rips start their flow out to sea using the path of least resistance. The water heading back out to sea flows around obstructions and follows depressions or gutters or gaps in reefs or valleys in the sea floor. Large variations in seabed gradient are not required to attract such currents. This photo shows the main beach at Apollo Bay between the SLSC and the harbour wall on a very low tide. The water flow shown in the photo is coming in from the left and right via shallow gutters and flowing seawards as a single stream through a gap in the sandbar. This is great illustration of the (usually underwater) mechanisms at play in creating a rip. On a high tide there with good swell there is a gentle rip that goes out 100-150m or so at this location.
Very low tide at beach at the end of my street. The swimmer is on the sandbar and the water in the foreground is the start of a gutter. When there is surf this gutter often flows to the left and waves which break over the sandbar can reform as unbroken waves while they travel over the deeper water in the gutter.
I have included this photo because it is on a half tide with very little swell, yet the tell tale signs of water flowing back out to sea are evident along the line indicated by the arrow in the second image. The contrasting surface state of the ripples over the rip with the adjacent water is a feature which is often very visible on days of bigger swell and choppier seas. This surface ripple feature of a rip is one of the signs that is noticeable to the observant swimmer in the water. Visibility in such a rip is usually also noticeably less than in the water either side of it. When swimming parallel to the beach offshore beyond the surf zone, I often swim through such ripples and sandy water for half a dozen or more strokes where the water clears up again as I complete my crossing of the rip. This is easily recognised as the head of a rip. Encountering such a feature is mildly interesting and requires no diversion.
Easterly conditions at Apollo Bay. Wind waves and the general pushing of water into the bay by a solid easterly create a lot of water that flows back out to sea under water in and near the surf zone. It is certain that there are rips and gutters in the water shown. But in such winds (probably in the 15-20 knot range) the organised rip contrasting very visibly with adjacent water is simply not readily discernible. The green water just above the horizontal handrail on the right suggests at least a bit of a hole there, possibly part of a gutter. There would be a current roughly parallel to the beach in that water which would be felt if you waded through it. Beyond that green water the breaking waves clearly show the position of the sandbar. The water would be shallower there than in the gutter. Out beyond the sandbar where there are whitecaps but no breaking waves such as in the shallower water there would be deeper water and a tidal drift possibly a little stronger than you would find in non-easterly conditions. My guess from experience at this beach is that the tidal current beyond the sandbar would be going south (left to right in the image). The green water above the RH rail seems to be angling towards shore with the white water over the shallow sandbar also being closer to shore. Coming ashore from this sandbar would be easier where the shallow water comes closest to shore and the gutter is narrowest or non-existent. But such speculation aside, if this was a beach unknown to a swimmer, while it may be swimmable for some there are sufficient unknowns about the strength, extent and location of currents to justify deferring the swim until the next day or whenever the wind changed around to a more favourable direction.

Castle Cove

Castle Cove is a wild beach west of Cape Otway. It is located at the western end of the Glen Aire valley and is exposed totally to the weather and ocean swells from the Southern Ocean. It is not a spot for casual ocean swimming. Experienced surfers with local knowledge surf here. On this wintery day conditions were a bit wild and ragged with strong onshore winds and a solid swell. The main rip in this bay is the one shown on the left as highlighted by the straight section of the orange arrow. As shown in the photo immediately below it feeds out in a continuous line from very close to the beach on the eastern end of the beach, through and over the reefs to the outer reef and beyond. This rip is always evident in the same spot when there is surf, indicating that it flows through a permanent channel in the reef to deeper water offshore. On the right of this image, the body of green water between the inner reef (white water) and the next wider reef offshore (more whitewater and breaking waves) is interesting. I have no doubt that water from the left hand side of this deeper area feeds into the main rip identified by the ‘tributary’ arrow. The large area of green water on the right of the image just above the portion of clifftop can feed into the permanent rip on the left, but I have seen it on occasions flowing seaward to the right of the image out to the reef with the extensive white water. Swell size and wind strength and direction seem to play a role in where this water flows. Examine the different conditions in the next photo and note the different behaviour of the deeper green water on the right of the image.
Notice the deep gutter with no breaking waves directly adjacent to the beach on the right of the image.
This is a closeup of the water over a section of the permanent rip channel on the eastern side of the bay to show the qualitative difference in the surface water conditions when there is a rip flowing, as compared to the water surface either side of the rip. Note the water colour, the absence of breaking waves, the presence of small peaks and the tiny whitecaps. These are unequivocal indicators that the current there is flowing contrary to the flow of water either side of it. If you were minded to surf here on this day, such a rip would provide a convenient and easy paddle out through the surf zone.

Gibson Steps

Gibson Steps is another wild west coast beach facing the full onslaught of the Southern Ocean. It is next to the Twelve Apostles. Uneven rock reef extends hundreds of metres out to sea here, and there are solid permanent and transient rips aplenty. The orange arrow shows a channel with a rip flowing out through the surf. The yellow arrow shows the head of a rip which has reached deeper water and is dispersing. The sand carried out and the swirling currents assume a more circular shape where the reef stops heading seaward and terminates.
A narrow rip flowing through a channel near the eastern end of the beach.

The following three photos were taken in rapid succession and show a rip undergoing changes quite rapidly over a short period of time.

Out the back the rip was partially concealed by incoming surf. The channel was quite visible in closer to shore, where it clearly divided the white water.

In this relative lull between sets the rip was clearly visible as it flowed through the surf zone out the back.

The yellow arrow shows a smaller rip extending right through the surf zone to deeper water. You can see the mushrooming sandy water and isolated chop and texture near the head of the arrow, where this rip flowed into deeper water and ended.
Gibson Steps on a very different day. Offshore wind and big swell. This surfer had to paddle out through over 300m of reefs, rips and white water to get to the takeoff point for this wave.

Johanna

Johanna is another exposed west coast beach, not far west of Castle Cove. It has sand dunes on the main beach and cliffs and reefs extend from the western end of the beach. There are numerous reefs here, and pronounced strong rips and gutters. It is the alternative surf break for the Easter Bells surfing competition when there is not enough swell at Bells. The rip in this photo has the visible rip attributes referred to earlier – no breaking waves and surface texture obviously rippled as the rip flows against the direction of the water either side of it.
Closeup showing the marked texture differences in the water surface where the rip is flowing.
These small and irregular little peaks are typically formed where a rip is flowing against the direction of the surrounding currents.
This rip at the western end of the beach is going out through the surf break at an angle.
Note that the actual channel of this rip takes a right hand turn as it nears the deeper water. This was not apparent from the previous photo taken a very short time before this shot. It pays to examine the water from the shore for longer than an initial glance.
This small flow away from the shore is technically a rip. I have included it because it displays very clearly the textural differences in the water surface between a rip and adjacent water. This texture difference is a clue as to the location of a rip and is easy to see when swimming.

Marengo (Mounts Bay)

Mounts Bay, immediately south of Apollo Bay, has stronger rips, gutters, swell and shorebreak than Apollo Bay. This temporary looking sign was put up by the local council last summer after an incident in which there was a near drowning at the beach in Mounts Bay near the mouth of the Barham River. Lives would have been lost had rescuers not gone to assist the swimmers in distress. Lives have been lost at this beach in conditions that could not be described as wild or rough – the cause was rips that took weak swimmers out of their depth.

Where a river, creek or drain enters the ocean expect uneven depth of the seabed and rips and currents in the immediate vicinity.

At the southern end of Mounts Bay, Little Henty Reef lies close to shore. I have included this photo because I find the currents here more difficult to read from the shore than at other ocean beaches where I swim at regularly. The currents in this area are complex because of the following features: the shape and orientation of the reefs which are divided by deep channels, Hayleys Point nearby around which large swell flows, offshore underwater parts of the reef that are quite irregular in shape, area and depth, and variable water depths of some significance. Sometimes identifiable rips and tidal flows can be seen here, but on many occasions, strong and variable rips and tidal flows that are not visible from the shore can be present. I have encountered strong tidal currents here in conditions as shown in the photo. I treat this beach with considerable caution. I have often experienced three distinctly different currents in the short swim in conditions as shown from the shore to the closest reef. The water on left of this image is around 10 feet deep, but at the other end of the small reef the water between there and shore is over 30 feet deep. There is so much more happening here than at a beach with the standard gutter, sandbar and rip setup close to shore. I like to snorkel around this reef and take photos. To swim out to it I aim for a prominent rock in the middle of the closest reef which I line up with Cape Patton on the horizon 17kms to the north east. Close attention to these markers lets me see early and constantly what if any current I am dealing with. If they reveal that the current looks like taking me north or south of the reef before I will reach the reef and is such that even 45° or more of drift correction is not doing the job, I turn around and swim back to shore. And I do this even on a day where the water still looks calm. My guesses from the shore as to currents here are improving, but not based on what I see so much as by reference to previous swims here in similar conditions.
Just north of Little Henty Reef the shorebreak can have a bit of punch to it. This photo shows the tell tale trail of sand heading out to sea in a couple of rips. These rips are narrow, flowing quite fast, and transient. On this day they died off in the longer lulls between sets of waves. Swimming across them to water where there was not a rip would be the obvious thing to do, but care would need to be taken that the next rip was spotted in time so good choices could be made. Also, swimming north beyond the shorebreak on this beach takes you to progressively bigger waves and stronger permanent and temporary rips going some distance out to sea. Further, as the photo shows, the sandbars extend further offshore up the northern end of this curved beach, with a correspondingly wider surf zone. Frankly, I’d find somewhere else to swim in these conditions at this location.
More subtle rips just north of Little Henty Reef heading well out into deep water.

Storm Point, Smythes Creek, Sledgehammers

This small bay and point are near Storm Point, a km or so west of Marengo on the Great Ocean Walk. Small rips going out parallel and close to a rock shelf or other terrain on the edge of bay are common. The surf on this day was very small yet the rip channel on the seabed (probably more rock than sand) is clearly defined by the green water and is probably a permanent feature. If a swimmer floated out in this tiny rip even in these conditions of virtually no surf the current may be enough to drift the swimmer slowly seawards for a short distance. Obviously, swimming to the shallower water on the right where there is evidence of small waves breaking would remove you from any such current and swimming/walking ashore there would be simple. This is a micro model for similarly situated larger rips, and one way to get out of them.
Smythes Creek on the Great Ocean Road east of Apollo Bay is a popular surf break, but not on messy onshore days like this. This photo shows two feeder rips joining forces and heading out through the surf zone to deeper water.
This point break is known locally as Sledgehammers. It is situated between Apollo Bay and Cape Patton. It has open exposure to the south west and big swells hit here without much change of direction which means they arrive here with a lot of force. The shore has reefs and rock shelves and is not user friendly in big surf. There was clean surf this day with an offshore wind. The orange arrow shows a very clear and quite substantial rip heading straight out to sea. In such conditions this rip is easily spotted and could be utilised (to assist in the paddle out the back) or avoided by surfers.

Logans Beach, Warrnambool

Logans Beach is a whale nursery near Warrnambool. It is also a popular surf spot. I have seen this highly visible rip on repeat visits here. There is obviously a permanent channel where this rip is flowing out through the surf break. On the day this photo was taken I watched a surfer enter the water in this rip and get a speedy ride out to his takeoff point in this rip; highly preferable to paddling out against breaking waves and duck diving the surfboard under them.

Port Campbell

The Southern Ocean at Port Campbell can be wild. There are many stories of shipwrecks in this area. The bay near the town is narrow and less than a km in length. If faces south west and receives the full force of wind and weather and swell from that direction.

This photo was taken from the clifftops overlooking Two Mile on a day with strong onshore winds and big swell. There is a permanent channel created by the underwater topography which sweeps out of the bay and around the western headland at the bay entrance to the offshore reef known as Two Mile. It is a famous big surf location. When conditions of tide, wind and swell combine to push huge amounts of water against the cliffs and into the bay, strong rips return the water out to sea via this channel. This channel is highly visible in big surf conditions. On days with less swell, the channel can still be quite visible with areas of breaking waves either side of it and no breaking waves over the channel. This is not necessarily because there is a strong rip (or indeed any rip) flowing at the time, but rather reflects the significant depth of the channel.
This photo was taken looking south from the clifftops on the eastern side of the entrance to Port Campbell. It shows the same channel flowing out to sea and turning right towards Two Mile. The green arrow traces a path over shallower water immediately east of the channel where the surf breaks from many hundreds of metres offshore. Surfers paddling out to Two Mile use the red arrow route for current assistance, and for the paddle back in I have seen many use the green arrow route to avoid the head current in the rip over the channel, and to get some assistance from breaking waves heading shorewards. A few years ago I was swimming in an ocean race at Pt Campbell on an out and back course of 1200m or so from the beach to the entrance of the bay. At the seaward turn buoy, even though conditions were nowhere near as intense as shown above, I relaxed with my back to the buoy to unfog my goggles and take in the view only to quickly discover I was being taken out to sea at a good rate by the rip in this channel. There was a rescue boat holding position seaward of me (for exactly this situation) and the crew directed me to immediately swim east towards the other headland which quickly got me out of the channel and the current and eventually back to the town beach.
Sometimes the weather and the ocean can make a familiar bay like Pt Campbell totally uninviting….
…..and sometimes the ocean there is completely at rest.

If you unexpectedly find yourself in a rip taking you somewhere you don’t want to go

Don’t panic. This is more easily said than done. Being uncomfortable about your position is OK, panicking about it is not and may well cause you to drown. If you suddenly realise you are making zero progress towards your aiming point (the shore) or that you are going out to sea when you thought you were swimming to shore, don’t just put the head down and start swimming harder. Best to tread water while you have a think about the situation and allow a few moments for any adrenaline rush from being out of your depth while going in a direction you didn’t want to be going to ease off a little.

If you are in unpleasantly turbulent water and there is quieter water in close proximity (even if it is the unbroken water beyond the surf zone) consider drifting or swimming there at an easy pace to regroup. If you are in deeper green water beyond the surf zone, the rip will have eased up or stopped. You are unlikely to come up with a quality plan if you remain in 2 metres or less of water over a sandbar where the breaking waves are big enough to throw you around and repeatedly thump you into the sand.

Come up with a logical plan. Your opportunity to swim back to shore will be either to your left or right if you are facing shore in or near the rip or just beyond the surf zone (where the rip has faded or ended). First line up a near and a far object on the shore to see whether you are drifting left or right. If you are it will most likely be tidal drift, but it could also be a rip taking you away from shore on an angle. If there is a strong drift, its direction is a consideration in whether you go left or right before heading back to shore.You must think your way out of the situation, not frantically try to power your way out of it.

Be prepared to amend your plan if execution of it is seriously not working out as hoped.

If the breaking waves are not making life too uncomfortable for you in the surf zone, look for an area of white water where waves are breaking as each set comes through and swim parallel to the shore until you have that area of breaking waves directly between you and the beach. This will usually take you out of the side of the rip. Then head to shore.

If you have swum out to the green water just beyond the surf zone, when a set of waves is breaking between you and the shore, sometimes you can see where the higher sections of the wave are (over the shallower seabed which can be your ticket to the shore), and gaps where the breaking waves are lower or not breaking at all (deeper water where a rip may be flowing out). Your route to shore will be through the shallower water, not the deeper water where the water may well be moving out to sea.

If you are in the green water beyond the surf zone looking for the best option to get to shore, provided you are not cold or exhausted, it may be worth treading water while you carefully watch a couple of sets of waves go through. You can then time your return to shore based on the sets of waves you observed. In small to moderate surf you may seek to go ashore with wave assist, or in bigger surf you may wish to wait for a lull between sets to head for shore. The timing of your swim ashore can be everything in this situation.

Pick a landmark to aim for so that you ensure you stay on track and don’t drift back into the rip. If you are drifting left or right as you swim towards shore, apply an angle of drift to help you track in a straight line. Check every few strokes by lifting your head a little and looking forward that you are staying on track. Take regular glances back over your shoulder as you swim through the surf zone to keep an eye on waves approaching you. If it is a completely broken wave of manageable size you could accelerate a bit as it reaches you, or perhaps even body surf it if you have that skill. If it is a large broken wave you might pause as it approaches, turn and face it, and duck dive or ‘pin drop’ to let it pass over you – then resume swimming towards shore.

If you have swum towards shore through a surf zone you will reach shallow water where you can walk to shore. But if the surf zone you have swum through was over a sandbar you may encounter a gutter where the waves are not breaking as much or at all. Don’t relax completely, because if conditions were enough to form a rip that carried you out a ways, the water in the gutter is probably flowing strongly too, feeding the nearest rip. You may need to point towards somewhere left or right of your target on the shore to avoid drifting parallel to the beach in the gutter. In such conditions the gutter may well be too deep to stand in.

Alternatives to swimming directly back to shore. If you are swimming in a curved bay with a nearby point (what is ‘near’ depends on your distance swimming ability), and you find yourself out in the green water just beyond the surf zone and looking for the best way back to shore, swimming parallel to shore to go ashore at the point can be considered if swimming through the surf zone looks entirely unattractive or unsafe for you. But remember that most points have a rip running out to sea alongside the rock shelf which will have to be contended with if this option is taken.

In a curved bay, I have noticed that the sand bars are often further offshore where the beach has a marked change in direction, than where the beach is straight. So an option to consider in that situation is to select a spot for your swim ashore which has less distance of white water to swim through ie on a straight section of the beach. This may involve swimming parallel to the beach for some distance to find the shortest appropriate swim to shore through the surf.

Note that in big swell, where the water is not too shallow, duck diving under a breaking wave works very well at avoiding turbulence even if it requires duck diving a couple of metres or more below the wave. But as the water gets shallower, a point is reached where duck diving under the wave does not avoid the turbulence and you will get rolled and tossed around as each wave passes over you. Don’t linger in such a zone – you need to get to either shallower water where you can safely stand or to deeper water (either by swimming towards a gutter closer to shore and then to shore, or out to sea beyond the surf zone where the waves while large are not breaking) where you are not receiving a flogging with every wave. The latter is quickly exhausting.

A Reminiscence

I have been swimming at this Victorian west coast beach for years. The swim I am about to recount happened not on a half tide on a sunny day with small surf as shown in the satellite photos below, but on a cold mind-winter’s morning a few years ago. The water’s edge was much closer to the dunes than shown in the photo, and the gutter was wider than shown in the photo.

There was a solid swell and a high tide with a strong offshore wind. It was overcast and showery and the line of the horizon across the sea was notchy indicating big swell way out to sea across the entrance to Bass Strait. The water would’ve been around 12-13°C. The air temp was less than that with wind chill in low single figures. I was wearing a good quality winter wetsuit, a neoprene armless vest under it and a lined cap. I wasn’t cold. I was swimming fit and had swum virtually daily since summer which included some long distance swimming races of distances up to 5kms.

I paused before entering the water a bit south of Milford Creek as the waves were breaking quite a way out, probably beyond the sandbar. The distance across the gutter to the sandbar was only about 50m. Being a bit daunted by the size of the breaking waves and the distance I’d have to swim to get to the green water out the back for my swim to the harbour wall, I paused and watched a couple of sets come through. They weren’t getting smaller, so I decided to take it in stages by swimming across the gutter (where I knew I’d be out of my depth) to the sandbar where I believed the water would be shallow enough to stand in. I figured that would be a good vantage point from which to assess whether to swim back to the beach (a short and easy swim) or to continue to swim through the surf zone to the deep water out the back and then down to the wall – a swim I have done many times in widely varying conditions.

I quickly reached the breaking waves over the sandbar and while at a stretch my big toe occasionally brushed the sand, I was out of my depth. That was OK and had happened before. The brief 50m or so swim to the sandbar revealed a steady current to the north. That was pretty standard in such conditions. I was having to keep ducking under breaking waves while I was over the sandbar. Some I bobbed down for, others I duck dived under. Both techniques saw me getting rolled and bounced around rather than cleanly making it under the waves. I swam out just a bit further thinking the water might be a bit deeper giving me room to dive under them with comfort before I decided whether to continue or retreat. But the waves were still breaking heavily and the water while not deep enough for comfortable duck diving, was not shallow enough for me to stand.

The view out to sea revealed waves that certainly looked bigger than they had from the shore, and they probably were. The breaking waves were a very substantial wall of advancing white water. Diving under each wave was the only option. A retreat back to shore was suddenly looking very attractive. I realised I had been swept up the beach a bit and was some distance north of where I entered the water. I headed back towards the edge of the gutter for what I still believed would be the short swim back to shore, albeit in water too deep to stand in. On entering the gutter I quickly realised I was going north and that my distance from shore was increasing. There is a break in the sandbar near where the Milford Creek runs into the sea, and (as I later discovered) the gutter I was in was feeding into the rip there.

So I only really had one option, and that was to swim away from the shore until I was beyond the breaking waves and in deeper water. I duck dived every approaching breaking wave as I swam seawards again across the sandbar. Some gave me a disorienting somersault or two and hard contact with the sand. I swam past the outer edge of the sandbar where the breaking waves usually stop, but there were large enough sets rolling in that some were breaking out to sea beyond the sandbar. I have seen this before, but not often while swimming. Once I cleared the sandbar I was in deeper water and while I couldn’t reach the sand when I duck dived, I could go deep enough to avoid the main turbulence of the breaking waves. On a few occasions I dived deep enough for my ears to pop which happens to me when I’m snorkelling at a depth of 8-10 feet or more. While I was heading away from shore, as soon as I stopped getting thrown around out of control under breaking waves I began to feel that my situation was improving a little.

I was relieved when after diving under yet another sizeable breaking wave out the back I surfaced and saw that there were no more breaking waves on my horizon. I stopped swimming and trod water. I was about 150m offshore (out from the waterline) according to my Garmin GPS watch. I realised I was breathing harder than usual and that my pulse rate was up. I didn’t feel panicked, but I knew I was closer to it than I should have been. I looked around and checked the tidal current – it was not huge and was going south. That was good – a tail current for the longer swim to the harbour wall at the southern end of the beach. I was now in a familiar situation – out the back in green water with an entirely manageable swim south to the harbour wall – the final leg of my original plan when I entered the water.

I couldn’t see the shore when I was in the trough between lines of swell. I had a great view in all directions from the crests. The seas felt big. Normally I love swimming in rising and falling green swell lines. I wasn’t quite feeling the love at this stage but I did feel that the situation was now under control. My breathing had slowed and I felt comfortable.

The swim to the beach at the southern end of the bay was uneventful. The swell size started to ease once I got south of the SLSC into the relatively protected corner of the bay. While I was a little further offshore than usual, deep water is deep water. I had a following current and the swim was entirely safe. I was enjoying the swim well before I swam past the rock wall of the harbour and into the shallows in the corner. Despite having friends swimming in the bay that morning, I didn’t see any of them. Our long habit of swimming together is really a habit of swimming at the same time at the same beach, but for all practical purposes, solo.

Postscript: I should’ve listened to the inner voice telling me I didn’t like the look of the size and extent of the surf where I went in. I allowed confidence to overrule caution. When I finally got out the back beyond the breaking waves, the shore looked a very long way away. I should’ve realised that on the high tide in that swell I wouldn’t be able to stand on the sandbar. I should’ve looked at the conditions a bit longer before going in, and I might have spotted the rip that I encountered. I shouldn’t have felt uncomfortable about the longer than usual swim through the solid surf zone. I have swum similar distances out through solid surf before at the start of a distance swim. But I think it was the fact that I decided to swim back to shore (and attempted to do so) but couldn’t get there that heightened my sense of discomfort about having no other option but to keep swimming out to sea.

I was in the water for longer than I had intended, and my warm wetsuit, vest and cap served me well. I wasn’t cold at any point. I was distance swimming fit and had confidence that subject to hypothermia I had a much greater distance in me than I would need to swim to get to shore.

I have had a handful of rip episodes over the years. Each one has taught me valuable lessons. I have heard pilots say that experience is the sum of the frights you survive.

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.

A short and beautiful swim

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 bay between the reef and Hayley Point was not crowded. There was a low tide of 0.7m, no swell and an offshore wind. I was wading in waist deep water at this point.
On the swim out to the reef I duck dived a few times and did some low passes over the sandy seabed in the channel. I have seen better underwater visibility, but the water was certainly clear enough for an enjoyable swim-tour along the fringe of the reef.
As I swam out to the reef I lined up a rocky feature on the reef with a second reference point on the hills in the background to identify which way the current was moving. The current varied across the short swim and this morning it was most noticeable near the shore and near the reef. But at no times was it a problem.
The seabed between the shore and the reef is pure sand without a single rock or marine plant. But the rocky fringe of the reef is covered in a profusion of marine plant life. This was the view as I neared the reef from the west.
Shafts of sunlight illuminating the reef plant life. The ocean here looks and feels so nutrient rich.
Towards the southern end of the reef, the water in the channel I swam across is much deeper than it is at the northern end. The underwater fringe of the reef slopes down at quite an angle.
Looking south to Hayley Point as I cruised over the shallows beside the reef. The aqua water on the top right is the sandy channel between the reef and the beach..
The plants in the water close to the reef were in constant motion as gentle currents swirled around them.
Bull kelp attached to a rocky underwater outcrop of the reef.
I saw quite a few small fish in this area.
The view due south from the kelp beds beside the reef – Hayley Point on the right. There is a shallow pass in the reef out of frame to the left here which you can swim through to get to the eastern side of the reef. It is full of healthy giant bull kelp which is enjoyable to swim over and through on a low tide, especially in a wetsuit.
I had my usual ocean swim at Apollo Bay this morning which I enjoyed. But the ocean and the underwater views at this reef in these gentle conditions are something else.
My relaxing swim back to shore started from this point. A solo swim at this reef in conditions such as these is a very special privilege.

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/

Ocean Swimmers joined by Wild Dolphin

This morning on my ocean swim with friends at Apollo Bay a wild dolphin appeared in the water very close to us and a remarkable encounter followed.

Sue saw some dolphins up close near the harbour wall. The next contact was when a single dolphin surfaced right beside Michelle and Mary about 150m offshore and 300m+ north of the wall where we entered the water. I swam across 30-40m to join them upon hearing the exhilaration and excitement in their voices at what they had just experienced. The dolphin disappeared momentarily then surfaced again right beside Mary and greeted the three of us. Then Sonja and Vicki joined us, and a series of unhurried wonderful audiences with this dolphin followed. Susie was doing a longer swim, but joined us and saw the dolphin up close on her return leg. The pattern of the encounters was simple. The dolphin would disappear after spending time with us, the pod of swimmers would briefly resume swimming north, and the dolphin would reappear and repeat. Eventually it didn’t reappear, and we think it may have gone out to sea a little to feed. By this stage we were 450-500m from the wall. The return swim seemed effortless, mainly because my thoughts were consumed with what we had just experienced.

Wonderful aspects of this dolphin choosing to swim with us included seeing it in smooth and powerful motion at much less than arms’ length from us. Each of us experienced the dolphin surfacing, porpoising and diving with effortless power and verve at very close quarters.

A couple of times the dolphin swam directly beneath me at a distance of a metre or so, and rolled on its back as it glided past me. The visibility underwater wasn’t great. But I could see enough to have no hesitation, despite needing a breath, in leaving my face in the water until it swam out of visual range. It surfaced right beside me at one point and I saw its whole head and blowhole out of the water at very close range, as well as its back and dorsal fin. The front of its head was lighter in colour than its body, which was various shades of grey. There were scuff marks on its body and dorsal fin which were no doubt a unique record of this creature’s life in the ocean. The texture of its skin could easily be seen – it looked solid but smooth and rubbery. The water flowing over and around its body flashed in the sunlight. The swimmers were reasonably close together when this was occurring, and the speed and agility of its movements without touching any of us was exhilarating.

A memorable moment, while I was swimming, was when it approached me from directly behind without me being aware it was there and appeared directly beneath me at speed and without a lot of separation. I lifted my head and looked forward. It surfaced right in front of me at that moment and rose out of the water at speed in a beautiful porpoising arc. To see this manoeuvre while in the water directly behind and close to the dolphin was thrilling. The white water of its wake was streaming over its body. It then circled back and joined us all again.

But the remarkable and unique aspect of this dolphin so actively and intimately engaging with us was that at various times it swam right up to each of us and just stopped, looking directly at us with its nose and head partially out of the water. Its blowhole was out of the water and clearly visible. The back of its body was submerged. Its tail flukes were under the water. Its dorsal fin was partly out of the water, and its pectoral fins were motionless by its side underwater. We could look into its eyes. I did not hesitate in embracing the irresistible self-deception of seeing a smile in the fixed curved line of its closed mouth. The dolphin was not swimming or moving much at all. It just floated there, as if checking us out one by one, face to face at a distance of a foot or so. This did not occur fleetingly. It was relaxed and deliberate. Most of us were appraised by the dolphin more than once in this manner. These unusual up close and personal encounters lasted longer than I expected, then the dolphin would turn and swim or dive away.

I was moved by this unique experience even though I have swum with dolphins before – see the couple of paras under the sub-heading ‘The Awesomeness of an Ocean Swim with Wild Dolphins’ in an earlier post at: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/03/21/a-few-things-that-havent-changed-recently/

That this wild and highly intelligent creature would, entirely of its own volition, choose to interact with a handful of us as it did, was a great surprise and a great privilege.

I have no photos of the dolphin to share. On reflection, I am glad I simply enjoyed the experience we had, rather than the different and decidedly inferior experience of taking photos of the dolphin up close. The words above merely record that together with my swimming friends, today was the day we met a wild dolphin in its ocean in an unhurried way, on its terms. But there was something wonderful about it which elevated the experience far above my pedestrian description. Rarely have words so failed me in sharing an experience.

This is not the dolphin we swam with this morning. I took this photo earlier this year from a boat some kms out to sea from where we swam this morning. See my earlier post about this at:
https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/05/06/wild-dolphins-in-the-southern-ocean/ But the dolphin we met today was similar in many ways to this dolphin. My impression was that the dolphin we saw this morning was a little bigger (perhaps a little older). But the colouring was certainly similar. Regrettably, instead of the clear azure seas shown in the photo, our encounter was in duller green and less clear water. But we were much, much closer to the dolphin this morning.

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.

Winter in Apollo Bay

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.

View of the Barham River, and Marengo on the point in the distance (as seen from the Great Ocean Road). You know there’s exciting weather on the way when clouds like this appear. The developing cumulo-nimbus cloud on the horizon typically occurs when cold moist air is lifted as a wedge of cold air (the cold front) pushes underneath it. The diffuse boundary and developing anvil shape on top of this cloud indicate that it is still developing. The rising moist air condenses and releases latent heat which causes the air to rise further and the process repeats. This is the start of the self-contained system of a thunderstorm cloud. The cloud shown had formed out to sea and was a sure sign of the instability in the atmosphere (rapid drop of temperature with altitude) and of the influx of cold moist air into the area. The stage was set for a day or two of squalls and thunderstorms, which is what occurred.
The place where the Barham River enters the sea can be seen at the top right edge of the image. Heavy rain had lifted the water level in the Barham and increased its flow out to sea. The mixing of the muddy fresh water with the sea is clearly visible in and beyond the surf zone on the left half of the image where the brown river water flowing out to sea is clearly delineated from the green ocean water.
The view due south from Hayley Point at Marengo. Departing squall on the left horizon and approaching squall on the right. The apparent calmness of the inshore area is a function of the strong offshore NW wind, and the fact that the wind eased a little between squalls. While there was a wait between sets, there were solid waves coming ashore here.

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

Many of my wave photos are taken from this spot. The air temp was around 7°C this afternoon. Wind chill was in very low single figures given the wind strength. It rained heavily most of the time. I was rugged up in waterproof walking boots, my motorbike waterproof overpants, a fleecy lined hoodie, a North Face hooded ski jacket, a NZ possum hair beanie and hand warmers kindly knitted by my good friend Boo. The camera is more difficult to protect. But this raincoat for the camera and telephoto lens works very well, provided I keep my back to the wind. Rain drops and running water on an exposed lens (which occur when facing into the weather even with a lengthy hood such as this lens has) do not make for useable photos. The camera cover is an ingenious bit of equipment. I am confident I could take the covered camera under a shower and it would stay dry. On this day I spent over 90 minutes outside with heavy rain falling most of the time. The camera raincoat is not quite long enough for my 150-600mm telephoto lens (being designed for a 200mm lens), which is why the very tip of my lens and the hood attached are in the rain. But there are no moving parts there so the rain does no harm. And so it was that I was able to spend an hour and a half or more in near constant rain in complete warmth and comfort with my camera totally protected yet fully functional. It is helpful to know your way around the various controls on the camera by feel when it is covered like this. Taking photos of the heavens on moonless nights has been good training in this regard.

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.

A lot of water moving around.

The light and the texture of the ocean surface changes when it rains

Heavier rain darkened the day and the mood of the sea

I don’t know whether it’s the low light, the indistinct horizon, the heavy rain and stormy conditions, the size and darkness of these waves or all of the above which vividly conveys the majesty and power of groundswell such as this. Great spectres from the deep. Witnessing such a sight from the deck of a sailing ship 200 years ago with wind howling through the rigging and sizeable swell with breaking waves in very close proximity would surely have struck terror into the hearts of such seamen. On this coast, history records that this scenario is not idle speculation.
Streaming white mane of spray flowing behind this wave throwing out a small lip before it breaks. By the way, that’s a crested tern top right flying in the heavy rain over the waves. I always marvel at the ease and command of seabirds in stormy conditions and big seas. They truly are above it all and such conditions pose no threat to them. They are the masters of their domain.

Brief sunny interlude late in the day before the next squall line

This photo was taken from Hayley Point looking across the southern end of Mounts Bay towards the foothills of the Otway Ranges. The day’s weather was a series of squalls. Sometimes between the heavy rain there would be just grey skies, and sometimes sunshine. The lowering angle of the late afternoon sun worked its usual magic on the ancient weathered folds of the hills behind Apollo Bay. The dark clouds beyond added to the spectacle.
Looking across Mounts Bay to Apollo Bay and Wild Dog Creek valley in the hills beyond. Between the town and Wild Dog Creek valley is a distance of 2.5kms or so across the waters of Apollo Bay.
About 800m offshore at the southern end of Mounts Bay is the outer reef of Little Henty Reef. It provides overnight accommodation for travelling seals, and is home to a colony of 100 or so Australian fur seals. The rainbow in the eastern sky is backdrop to the small silhouette of what I believe to be an Australasian gannet. For a post of mine devoted to the remarkable and beautiful Australasian gannet, published on this blog on 26 February 2020, see: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/02/26/australasian-gannets-breeding-on-southern-ocean-clifftops/

Images from a couple of recent swims

Marengo

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.

The sea bed in the bay inside Little Henty reef slopes away gently to the east (to the right in this image) a short distance offshore.
Closer to shore the seabed is relatively level.
Just one of the reasons I love ocean swimming.

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.

This was a bit of a stormy day. You can see the raindrops on the water. With the wind from the north west there was enough fetch across the small harbour to create chop on the eastern side where I swam. The water was clean and cold (around 12°C).
The jetty beside the public boat ramp. The seabed below me here is covered with healthy dark green seagrass. For underwater photos taken on a day of good visibility see my previous post: https://southernoceanblog.com/2019/12/12/an-hour-amongst-the-seagrass/
The surface of the sea does wonderful things to light, whether in the pristine ocean waters of the reefs near Marengo, or the Apollo Bay harbour.

Incidental beauty around Apollo Bay

The ubiquitous arum lily. When I rode my motorbike around Australia in 2010 I saw these all over the place. I knew nothing about them but I thought they were beautiful. I have since learned that they are a declared pest in WA. I have also discovered that, unexpectedly, all parts of the plant are poisonous causing a variety of very nasty symptoms if ingested. I think I liked it better when I knew none of this. Before I was burdened with such knowledge (a simpler time when I in fact thought they were called Aaron lilies) I was never tempted to eat one. I didn’t need to know they were poisonous. I shall continue to view them as simply beautiful.

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).

The exquisite and luminescent king protea.

Disclaimer: I am not a formally qualified botanist. In fact, as a gardener, my skills end at mowing bold spirals in my front lawn.

Ocean swimming, Lorne at Dusk and a Storm Cloud

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.

Looking north from the little bay at the southern end of the beach at Mounts Bay (Marengo). These big skies and vast ocean seascapes are easy to take for granted. But so too is the other world just below the surface of the ocean. So I decided to swim around and take some photos underwater of the beauty I regularly swim over.
Most of the seabed inside Little Henty Reef is clean sand without any seaweed. But along the shore of the mainland (Hayley Point) there is rock shelf which supports an abundance of kelp and seaweed and all sorts of marine life. The fringe around Little Henty Reef a couple of hundred metres offshore is the same. If you are interested in seeing underwater photos taken around Little Henty Reef see these two previous posts of mine:
https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/06/30/winter-swim-around-little-henty-reef/
and
https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/01/13/my-first-underwater-look-at-little-henty-reef/
The rock shelf surrounding Hayley Point extends well below the high tide mark. The rocky areas underwater or in the tidal zone are covered with limpets, barnacles, seaweed and sponges of all sorts. We often see fish in this environment.
Hayley Point and a glimpse of the the underwater zone between the rock shelf and the clear sandy seabed in the middle of the small bay.
Underwater gardens fringing the reefs.
Only a few metres north of where the previous three underwater shots were taken the seabed of the little bay looks like this. It’s not all perfectly flat, and there are channels and significant contours when you get offshore a bit towards Little Henty Reef, especially at the southern end of the reef. The colour of the water varies on a bright sunny day according to whether the sun is ahead of, beside or behind me when I take the shot. I enjoy swimming over these sandy seabeds disappearing into the distance when the water is so clear. Currents here can sometimes give swimmers the same experience.
After 40 minutes in the water I was heading back to the beach when I came across these two swimmers.
Headstands and duck dives are a critical part of the ocean swimmer’s repertoire, especially duck dives (for diving under breaking waves when swimming out to deeper water beyond the surf zone).
Semi-synchronised swimming.
Hayley Point in the background, and some of the Marengo residential area.
Duck diving.
After warming up with a few duck dives and headstands, the swimmers headed north between Little Henty Reef and the shore for a distance of 500m or so and back.
Jenny just entering the water – another experienced local ocean swimmer.
Looking south towards Hayley Point and the two low lying reefs of Little Henty Reef.
There was tiny but clean swell breaking at times in the little bay which, combined with the bright sunlight and clear water, set the scene for yet another shot of mine of a breaking wave from underwater. The dark area on the sand is the temporary shadow of the more opaque whitewater on the breaking wave.

Solo Swim at Marengo

My friends and I have all had a lot of solo swims at this beach. Even if the swell and currents are a deterrent to going outside the little bay, there is usually the opportunity to do laps of between 100m and 300m parallel to the beach depending on the tide and swell. This day, my 1000m was done as 4 x 250. I was pleased with my almost 2:00/100m (20mins per km) average pace. For no particular reason, 2:00/100m is a pace benchmark for me, and reaching or beating it always puts a smile on my face. But the great thing about ocean swimming in this part of the world is that with the watch left at home, swimming always bring joy anyway, regardless of the pace.

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.

This pole is a convenient turn point for a 300m lap along the north-south breakwater.
Clean and clear water on a day like this. Our 300m salt water lap pool. A very acceptable plan B when the bay and Marengo are not suitable for a swim. But it is best swum on a high tide so that the shallows along the breakwater are deep enough for swimming.

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.

Early Evening Storm Cloud over Bass Strait

I was driving down the Great Ocean Road to Apollo Bay and saw this cumulo-nimbus cloud off-shore in Bass Strait near Hutt Gully (between Anglesea and Aireys Inlet). The cloud was sufficiently well developed to warrant a shot, and the rainbow in the falling rain beneath the cloud capped it off. The ocean is a powerful presence vital to the shot, but its relative calmness mean it’s not a distracting presence. I have piloted light aircraft past such clouds many times, a bit too close a few times, and right through the middle of one in the dark on only one occasion. The cumulonimbus cloud has long fascinated me. Majesty and awesome power on a huge scale.
My account of my flight through an active thunderstorm at night appears in an earlier post on this blog, under the sub-heading ‘The June 1978 Flight’. Here’s the link to that post: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/01/20/whiskey-india-lima-a-flying-reminiscence-or-two/

The Coastal Eucalypt Forest

Pristine coastal eucalyptus forest breathing. This valley was at St George River, just west of Lorne. The air was moist and there had been recent heavy rain. There was no wind, but this mist was floating slowly through the treetops and fading as it did so, like a sigh.