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.

Gale Force Easterlies at Apollo Bay

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

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

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

Gale force onshore winds at Apollo Bay

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

Barham River Swim

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

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

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

High and Dry

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

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

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

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

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

Winter swim around Little Henty Reef

I have long wanted to swim around the inner reef at Little Henty Reef in the Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary. The reefs are not far offshore from Hayley Point at Marengo. The weather and sea conditions here are unsuitable most of the time for such a swim. However, the weather and ocean omens were pointing strongly to early Monday 29 June being a good time to go – and indeed it was. A large high pressure system had parked over the state and stayed for a few days. Monday dawned with the ocean in repose, a cloudless sky and not a breath of wind – cold winter perfection.

The 12 hectares of protected ocean in the sanctuary contain two reefs, and a rich profusion of marine life including a colony of 100 or so Australian fur seals on the outer reef. The protected area is about 750m long and 200m wide. Its southern and eastern areas are subject to big surf and strong currents as they are fully exposed to huge swells from the Southern Ocean. The north-western portion of the sanctuary is more protected, and the smaller reef there semi-encloses a little bay inside Hayley Point. I have swum in this bay a lot with my swimming friends, but there are nearly always tidal currents and often strong rips immediately to the north in Mounts Bay. In big swell the shore break in Mounts Bay can also be something to contend with. There are many days when even the little bay is not suitable for swimming.

Some of the underwater beauty of Little Henty Reef is shown in an earlier post on this blog, written after my first snorkelling swim there earlier this year: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/01/13/my-first-underwater-look-at-little-henty-reef/ On that occasion I snorkelled along the protected western side of the reef.

Little Henty Reef at Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay, where I do most of my ocean swimming. The next bay south (top right in the image) is Mounts Bay, with the small settlement of Marengo on the point (out of frame). This bay is less protected, and has stronger surf and currents than Apollo Bay. The white water visible top right of the image is part of Little Henty Reef in the Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary. Drone photo by Andrew Langmead
Little Henty Reef in winter. The inner reef is in the foreground, and the rocks beyond are the outer reef which the Australian fur seals use as a base for feeding expeditions offshore. The area of reef above water varies considerably according to the tide. On a good high tide the inner reef is completely submerged. The outer reef has higher rocks and is never fully submerged by the tide. But in big surf on a high tide there is no dry place on this little island. The seals seem to cope whatever the elements throw at them. The water in front of the inner reef is the little bay in which we swim. It is open to the ocean at the southern end, and has a small pass between the rock and the shore at the northern end feeding into Mounts Bay. Strong tidal flows and other currents can be found at either end of this little bay, as well as in the rest of Mounts Bay. The currents are difficult to predict as to their existence, direction and strength because of the unique topography of the sea bed with the reefs and associated channels and highly varying water depth. This is a place to be approached with caution and respect at all times for swimming, snorkelling, surfing and boating. Drone photo by Andrew Langmead
The northern tip of the inner reef almost completely covered at high tide. The prolific bull kelp gardens fringing this reef can be seen on the right of the reef in this image. The seabed drops away either side to considerably deeper water. Drone photo by Andrew Langmead
The northern tip of the inner reef. This blog post was prompted by a most enjoyable swim yesterday around the reef in this image, in calm conditions with the tide about half out. Drone photo by Andrew Langmead

The image above of the Garmin swim track superimposed on a satellite photo of Little Henty reef (not representative of actual sea conditions on the day of the swim, but showing the mix of waves and currents the place can produce) shows the route swum yesterday. The right turn across the reef back into the little bay was at the southern end of the exposed rock of the reef on the half tide. It was shallow where we crossed the reef at the southern end, and we had large bull kelp fronds brushing our wetsuits as the sea gently surged against the edge of the reef.

The view from the beach in Mounts Bay to the south east, looking over inner Little Henty in the foreground and the other reef beyond it.
The two elements of Little Henty reef. Seals can be seen on the larger outer reef which is 500-600m offshore. The inner reef less than half that distance offshore. The telephoto lens foreshortened this view making the reefs look closer together than they in fact are.
Australian fur seals on the outer Little Henty Reef.
Real estate is at a premium on the outer reef on a high tide.

The swim around Little Henty Reef on 29 June 2020

Because suitable weather windows for a swim around the reef at Marengo are not common, I went for a dawn check of conditions. I had wanted to do this swim for some time. Conditions looked ideal. The people in the water are the regular dawn cold water plonkers. Great benefits are said to be available from a simple dunk in cold water without actually swimming anywhere. They all seemed invigorated by their dunk. Good on them!
The air temperature at dawn was around 4°C, and the water temperature was about 14°C.
The view north from the southern end of the beach at Mounts Bay, Marengo. Calm.
Mike and I swam together out to the northern tip of the inner reef, and Nadine rode shotgun ahead of us in her kayak. This was taken between the beach and the northern tip of the inner reef. The reefs are rich in all sorts of marine life. In winter, salmon visit the area and when the salmon are running, beach fishermen are found along the beaches in Mounts Bay and Apollo Bay. Some beach fishermen were present around dawn on the morning of this swim. Over the years sharks have occasionally been spotted swimming along the gutters and sandbars parallel to the beaches, following and presumably feeding on the salmon. The seal colony is also a spot not without its attractions for the occasional shark. Some local fishermen and surfers are of the view that the area is a bit ‘sharky’. Some think otherwise. I see sharks as a factor to consider in swimming around the reefs and channels in the area. So having Nadine keep an eye out for us from her kayak added some comfort in this regard. Water visibility was very good on this morning and Nadine reported having a good view of things below the surface. This photo taken with my ageing GoPro does not do justice to the visibility we experienced, but it gives some idea.
Swimming out towards the northern tip of the reef and the morning sun.
Nearing the reef.
Seaweed including bull kelp beside the reef.
Nadine keeping a good lookout.
Bull kelp on the exposed eastern side of the reef. Even though there was no swell, the regular surge from the ocean was causing the kelp and other plants to wave backwards and forwards.
On the eastern side of the reef. Marengo and Point Hayley in the background. Large areas of bull kelp protruding above the surface – too thick here to swim amongst the kelp.
Swimming along the eastern side of the inner reef.
Algae, kelp, seaweed, sponges, marine invertebrates of all sorts, and that’s just what we could see at a glance as we swam over the submerged southern end of the reef and back into the little bay.

L to R: me, Mike. Eastern side of the inner reef. Photo taken by Nadine Lyford.

Swimming past the prolific bull kelp areas on the eastern side of the reef. Photo below taken by Nadine Lyford.

Happy with my body position – credit must go to my new winter wetsuit. It was a privilege to swim in this cold, clear and wild corner of the ocean. My new 4/3 lined winter wetsuit kept me completely warm on this swim. I also wore light neoprene boots and a lined neoprene cap – completely cosy. The wide-angle lens used to take this photo could create the impression that we were swimming just offshore from the beach at Marengo. In fact we were over 350m out from the high water mark in the corner of the little bay below the walkway with the rails (visible in the middle of the image), swimming along the seaward side of the reef.
More bull kelp.
The sheltered western side of the inner reef was also partly in the shade from the early morning sun.

Back in the little bay.

Image on the right: bumped into swimming friends Michelle and Vicki who were also enjoying the winter perfection at Marengo on one of their regular morning swims in the bay. Some of my Apollo Bay swimming friends recently did a swim around the inner reef at Little Henty, and enjoyed it greatly.

This was neither a long nor a fast swim. But it was a memorable ocean swim. What a pleasure and privilege to swim in this pristine and wild corner of the Southern Ocean.

100 Days, 100 Ocean Swims, 130 kms

The 100 day swim challenge I set myself just after a state of emergency was declared in Victoria because of the Covid-19 pandemic, was to swim in the ocean every day for 100 days and to swim a total of more than 100kms. No daily swim would be less than 1000m. I started the challenge on 18 March and finished it today, 25 June. Over that period I swam a total of 130kms. The majority of the swims were solo swims.

The 100 consecutive days of swimming in the ocean included some interesting sights and conditions. Combinations of weather, swell and pollution at Apollo Bay due to a harbour dredging project made it difficult on some days to find some ocean suitable for a distance swim. The 1000m minimum distance aspect of the challenge was met save for one day when I had three attempts at doing the swim and on each occasion had to give it away for various sound reasons of unsuitability. The unsuitable locations that day were Marengo, the harbour and the bay. These three aborted swims totalled only 750m.

Day 100 The finish

Very low tide, no swell, offshore NW wind, cold morning, sunny skies. The ocean truly was having a rest day today. Finishing the 1833m swim at Tuxion (which is what locals call the beach at the end of our street). I started just south of Milford Creek and swam to the harbour wall and back to Tuxion. First swim with my new Rip Curl 3/4 steamer wetsuit – excellent. I was warm throughout and could speak clearly at the end. There was a good current running north to south when I swam today which is always fun. The swim back was a little slower.

This gutter, rip channel and the the inner and outer sandbars at the beach at the end of my street, exposed here by the low tide, are not normally visible. Grandson Gus was at the beach with his mum, his brother and Liz when I finished the swim. Two members of a local magpie family of three were waiting for me at the outside shower and sat as I talked to them. When I got under the shower they threw their heads back and treated me to a duet of their beautiful warbling. Wonderful birds.

Apollo Bay Beach at low tide this morning after my 100th swim . (Photo taken by Jess).

The photos and paragraphs below sample some of the interesting swims I had during the 100 days.

Day 3 swim with dolphins

This swim with a group of dolphins which I enjoyed with four of my local swimming friends was a highly memorable encounter. The details appear in a post on this blog: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/03/21/a-few-things-that-havent-changed-recently/

This is a photo of dolphins of the same species as the ones we swam with (common dolphins). I took this photo from the bow of a fishing boat off Apollo Bay a month or so after our swim with the group of dolphins.

Day 34 solo ocean night swim

Commitments in Melbourne and a late return to Apollo Bay just after dark, gave me the choice of a swim (of at least 1000m) in the dark or giving up the 100 day challenge at swim #34. So the night swim it was.

As we drove through sunset and dusk on the Great Ocean Road on our return to Apollo Bay conditions didn’t vary from calm water and small swell. So I put on my warmest wetsuit, walked down our street in the dark, waded out to chest deep water at Tuxion and started swimming. There wasn’t much town lighting that reached the water. Once past the SLSC some lighting reached the water, but more importantly the lights of the jetty were more or less directly ahead from this point, and reduced the blackness of conditions for the last part of the swim. Visibility in the water was of course zero.

I stopped at 1000m near the wall and walked home in the dark. It was an odd feeling. I was also quite cold. In hindsight, it wasn’t really fun. I have experienced no inclination to repeat the experience. But I would of course swim on any cloudless full moon night, but preferably with company for a number of reasons.

Suffice to say this swim was something of a ‘meerkat’ swim.

Day 47 fin sighting

On a solo swim in murky water in the bay about 300m north of the wall and 180m from shore I saw a dark dorsal fin going the opposite direction about 20m away from me. I saw it rise, cruise level then subside not to be seen again. It didn’t change course or show any interest in me (at least not while the dorsal find was above the water). This interesting event is described in a postscript to a post in this blog: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/05/03/storm-surf/

I cannot identify with any certainty whether this was a shark or a dolphin. If I had to guess I would say that it was probably a mako shark or something similar, looking for salmon which were running in schools in the area at the time. I have seen a lot of dolphins over the years and I have never seen one display a dorsal fin in this manner. In any event, seeing an unidentified dark dorsal fin at close proximity while ocean swimming is more than enough for me to head straight to shore, which I did. I completed my planned swim distance for the day in the harbour.

Day 62 Port Campbell swim

On a day when the pollution in the bay from a harbour dredging project made it too dirty for swimming, the swell and currents made Marengo an undesirable alternative and the water in the harbour had zero visibility, I decided to swim in the bay at Pt Campbell. Conditions there were very pleasant.

I have a long history of swimming in this bay, and this blog has many posts about it. This day it was clear, clean and I had it all to myself. Experience here has taught me that a current going out to sea along the cliffs on the west of the bay would be likely. The current was there. I swam laps back and forth across the bay between the jetty and the western cliffs. Each time I got near the cliffs, I would be carried gently seawards, requiring a somewhat circular turn to regain my selected track as I headed back east across the bay. There is a lot of marine life in this bay. The underwater plants are like a garden in places.

Day 65 after dark harbour swim

Having decided after my day 34 swim that night swimming was best done by others, on this day I again found myself returning to Apollo Bay late after another trip to Melbourne. We arrived in AB after sunset but before last light. I decided on a 1000m swim in the harbour. Quite a few of my 100 swims were in the harbour when conditions elsewhere left no other option.

The harbour after last light. By the time I finished my swim it was pitch black. I couldn’t see anything underwater, and was conscious mainly of the stingrays which I often see in the harbour when swimming. They are not aggressive, but (most of them) do have stingers and bumping into one at night would be undesirable. I didn’t touch any this night. I have swum in the harbour in daylight with zero visibility and in quite shallow water encountered a large stingray. We both started as we collided and his wing waved right past my face at close quarters as he swam away from me. But beyond an exchange of frights there was no harm done.

Day 78 Peterborough – Curdies River swim

I thought my 100 day challenge was going to come to an end this day. Apollo Bay and Marengo were simply not swimmable with swell and currents (and pollution in the bay and the harbour from the harbour dredging). So Liz and I planned a drive west along the GOR to see what the big swell was doing on the exposed west coast.

My guess that the bay at Pt Campbell would not be swimmable turned out to be right. The two smaller photos below show the jetty at Pt Campbell. The bay was a bit of a washing machine.

The larger shot of the waves breaking on the cliffs of a headland was taken from the river mouth at Peterborough. This was not a day for ocean swimming on the west coast unless in very sheltered water.

After taking the photos above, Liz noticed the pleasant looking water in the mouth of Curdies River at Peterborough. It turned out to be an ideal 200m seawater lap pool. There was a slight tidal drift in the river as the tide was coming in. So day 78 of the challenge saw the required swim done and dusted at Peterborough.

The lower right small photo was a failed attempt at staging an exit from an invigorating swim in the wild ocean conditions at Peterborough. It was motivated by two swimming friends who sent me an equally unconvincing staged photo of them allegedly exiting from a swim in a snow meltwater lake in the south island of New Zealand in winter.

Day 88 currents in Mothers’ Corner

Currents in the corner of the bay near the harbour wall have changed since all the sand was deposited there by the harbour dredging. On this day with a 25 knot northerly blowing, Mike and I decided on an invigorating downwinder in choppy water with a bit of swell in it from Tuxion to the corner. Our pace was 1:42/100m on the downwind/down-current swim.

When we turned to swim into the current for a short distance to finish off the swim I noticed that after 75m or so I was making no progress north and was being carried east out to sea by a fair current. I believed I was swimming against a regular rip in that location and the current created by the waves and water blowing south into the dead end where the beach and the harbour wall meet. So I kept swimming north thinking I just had to cross the narrow rip and I would then be able to swim north against just the general north/south current. It didn’t happen. My watch at one point showed 9:16/100m (that’s a speed of around 1 hour 34 minutes for a km!). So I turned left and swam west for the nearest beach from where I could walk up the beach a bit, and resume our short swim north. But I couldn’t make progress in that direction either. So plan C was implemented, which was straight back to the wall and the corner. Not a fright, but unusual to have to go to plan C to get back to shore. Also a good reminder that such currents can be found in places that are normally quiet and calm.

Day 92 Eastern Beach swim

Another day with Melbourne commitments, which required finding some seawater where I could. Turns out it was in Corio Bay at Geelong. I decided that the stretch of beach between the yacht club and Eastern Beach would be OK for a 1000+m swim. The water was surprisingly clear. I waded out through the large areas of sea grass and found some deeper water and headed off to the east. There was a slight east to west tidal drift when I swam.

I grew up in Geelong, and Eastern Beach featured prominently in my youth. The Eastern Beach promenade and buildings are wonderful art deco structures, maintained to this day in good condition. Many family picnics and swims were had there when I was a boy. So were school swimming competitions. I gained some beginner swimming proficiency certificates in this pool (for those brought up in Victoria, the ‘Herald’ and the ‘Junior’). But all swims here were inside the shark bars of the semicircular promenade enclosing the designated swimming area.

So on day 92 of the challenge, I broke with long tradition and swam close to the shark bars but outside the semicircle. I somehow felt this put to rest the fears I had as a boy that those shark bars (or nets as they were in my day) meant there actually were sharks nearby. My 2020 assessment is that finding a shark in that area is highly unlikely. I saw neither shark, nor any other living creature on this swim – save for sea urchins in the shallows east of the enclosure which were good incentive to swim rather than walk while in the shallows.

After avoiding the sea urchins, I climbed over the bars on the eastern side of the semicircular walkway, swam across the swimming area, then resumed my course back towards the yacht club to complete 1250m. I’ve had worse swims. In my adult life I have avoided swimming in Corio Bay. But I enjoyed this swim more than I thought I might.

Day 93 Williamstown swim

Two nights in a row in Melbourne necessitated a swim in Port Phillip Bay. One of my swimming friends from AB swims at Williamstown (usually at dawn) when in Melbourne. So I decided to have my first swim in the bay at Williamstown. A friend who normally swims in the ocean at Kennett River joined me. There was a light northerly which made the water glassy.

I was very pleasantly surprised. I have had unpleasant experiences swimming in Port Phillip Bay on the eastern beaches when forced. But the water was clear, uncrowded and had only light currents. It was an enjoyable 1335m. There was even a cafe serving coffee and cakes for the post-swim chat. I’d go back to this place as a city sea-swim option.

Torquay swims

Quite a few of my 100 swims were at Cosy Corner in Torquay. It’s an east facing beach (same aspect as Apollo Bay) which is semi-protected from the bigger W/SW swells which break on the back beach. But there are days when this beach and neighbouring Zeally Bay are surfable.

In the early 1970s I qualified for my surf life saving bronze medallion at Torquay back beach. I also used to surf in the area. I feel at home on the beaches anywhere around Torquay.

There is a large contingent of keen local ocean swimmers who swim year round at Cosy Corner. There are two permanent yellow buoys about 100m offshore and 300m or so apart which many use as turn points. I often seem to find a solid N to S current here. But yesterday (Day 99 of the challenge) the current was strong and in the opposite direction. I did three laps. The laps with the current were at around 1:42/100m pace, and against the current an average pace of 4:13/100m was all I could muster.

I was swimming at Torquay on my way back from Melbourne to Apollo Bay. I was a bit cold after this swim, and the standard life saving first aid measure was applied – hot salty chips.

Marengo swims

Marengo was the alternative swimming spot favoured by the local swimmers when the bay became too polluted to swim in due to the harbour dredging effluent pouring into it. But there were more than a few occasions when currents and waves made this little bay uncomfortable or downright unswimmable. There have been a few frights and swims not going to plan in this area over the last few months, including for experienced swimmers. But there were also many enjoyable and safe distance swims had at Marengo over the last few months. In my view it remains a swimming spot to be treated with great caution and respect.

Some local fishermen have expressed the view that with the winter run of salmon in the bays and along the shores in the area, there is an increased risk of shark presence. Common sense suggests that the seal colony might also contribute to shark presence. But it seemed to me sharks were given little thought by the swimmers in recent months as we were preoccupied with currents and the water conditions.

On the bright side the water in the little bay is often crystal clear and fish and marine plants, especially near the shore and offshore reefs, abound. When the swell and currents don’t preclude swimming there have been some memorable swims here. I had a very enjoyable swim last summer snorkelling along the boundary of the closest reef of Little Henty Reef (see photos in an earlier post: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/01/13/my-first-underwater-look-at-little-henty-reef/). Quite a few of my 100 swims were also here. It’s a wonderful spot to swim or snorkel, but only on the right day.

Thee above photos show the area surrounding the little bay in which we swam at times. (The drone shot of Little Henty Reef was taken by Andrew Langmead). The Garmin swim track (superimposed on a satellite photo) gives some idea of the complex movement of water between the shore and Little Henty Reef.

From top to bottom below: Hayleys Point and the shore reef platform; the seal colony on the outer reef of Little Henty Reef; the shore break directly south of Hayleys Point in storm surf. We generally didn’t swim in the little bay when conditions were like this.

Apollo Bay swims

Apollo Bay was of course my first preference for swimming during the 100 days. I have been swimming in this bay for many years. It can produce beautiful winter conditions as shown here in photos taken at the end of my street before my early morning swim on day 95.

For many weeks the bay was polluted by dredge effluent which was pumped into the bay for all daylight hours and on many nights. It’s now a few weeks since the dredging stopped, and the bay remains polluted with a large amount of accumulated dirty sand in the corner near the harbour wall, which seems to be feeding back into the bay with every tidal cycle resulting in generally dirty water in the south of the bay and patches of dirty water floating north especially along the shore. Another unfortunate legacy of the dredging is broken glass along the beach, dredged up from the sludge in the harbour seabed. Efforts to collect and remove all the glass by those involved in the dredging as well as by many locals walking the beach (especially between the wall and the SLSC) have not been completely successful. The photo below shows a typical collection from a single beach walk during the dredging period. There is less glass present now the dredging has stopped, but the occasional sharp glass fragment can still be found in the sand on the low tide.

During the 100 days there were the COVID-19 movement restrictions to contend with. The ‘Apollo Bay Beach fully accessible….’ notice shown below was from a Colac Otway Shire COVID-19 update email about council-imposed restrictions in addition to those legislated by the Victorian Government. At this time, many if not most suburban beaches in Melbourne were closed by councils for all purposes including swimming for exercise during the lockdown period. In Australia, England and other overseas locations, at the height of the pandemic lockdowns, open water and ocean swimmers had no access to beaches or even pools and had to suspend their ocean swimming for some months. Fortunately, Apollo Bay beach was never closed for swimming, so subject to it not being too dirty due to dredging, and to swimmers not exceeding the outside gathering limits, we could swim there. Nearby beaches were similarly available to us for swimming throughout the lockdown.

The elements have added interest to many of my 100 swimming days. Here’s a sample.

Top photo: the bay in front of the SLSC in solid swell with a strong westerly offshore wind (taken with a GoPro from the water behind the breaking waves). Lower L photo: the bay at Tuxion in an easterly. Lower R photo: somewhere between the wall and the SLSC in choppy conditions in a strong northerly. Masts of yachts in the harbour are just visible above the waves.

But the memories of the ocean at Apollo Bay which I draw on most when not here, generally include days like these.

I pulled up well

On day 95 I was heading for a total distance over the 100 days of 125kms (revised up from earlier goals of 100kms then 120kms). I realised that if I put in four 2km days, then a couple of 1700m days I could make 130kms. And so it was. I mention this because it reflects that I am feeling fit and well at the end of the 100 days.

I had no injuries during the 100 days, and didn’t miss rest days. In fact, I think that swimming only 1300m a day is something that could be done for a very long time without a day off.

I feel very distance-fit now.

I found that the morning swims went best with a bit of food in me. My standard became half a slice of toast and honey, half a banana and a couple of glasses of water. This of course was not breakfast, just a starter. A substantial breakfast always follows my morning swims.

But I may have undershot on my banana intake. Ross Edgely who in 2018 swam right around mainland Great Britain in 157 days, covered 1792 miles (2884 kms). By day 100 of his epic feat, he had swum 1230 miles (1979 kms), and consumed 442 bananas, among other achievements. On day 100 he also had RAF aerobatic aircraft perform overhead as he swam to honour his achievement to that point. I may also have undershot in my 100 day challenge by not giving Red Bull a chance to sponsor me.

This is the Garmin record of my downwind leg this morning on day 100. The photo is a favourite taken some time ago from the sand dunes at Tuxion. The silver gull is flying over Apollo Bay, and Cape Patton is the point in the distance.

I don’t plan to swim tomorrow, unless of course conditions are really inviting.