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.

West Coast Beauty

Some natural wonders can be assigned latitude and longitude coordinates. Others are fleeting and occasional, and appointments for viewing are not possible. The west coast of Victoria is well supplied with both categories. The photos below are of some of the fleeting offerings of Mother Nature in and around Apollo Bay which I was lucky enough to see. Each encounter was unplanned and a pleasant surprise. Serendipity fuels my photography.

The shots of the surfers were taken after I failed to find the wild easterly seas that the wind direction and strength promised at dawn when I woke up. The wind shifted as I drove away from my house and the waves changed from unruly rough seas to cracking surf. The Australasian gannets were the result of a drive to nearby Kennett River to find some elusive orcas of which I had heard reports. The orcas were a no-show. Finally, the feeding wattlebird youngsters were sighted from my deck when I went outside to check the windsock during the golden hour late one afternoon. All these photos were taken in the past week.

Local surfers making the most of an unexpected two hour session at this break

Some swell events have a long build up and are monitored by surfers for many days before the waves arrive. These waves were different in that the quality waves breaking at this location were unexpected. There was no shortage however of talented local surfers who either saw the waves or heard about them on the grapevine and made a beeline for this break. There are not a lot of occasions when waves at this spot are the best on offer in the district. But on this morning they were.

Unlike some other more reliable breaks in the area which have mechanically regular waves peeling off over reefs when wind, swell and tide are all aligned, the sea at this spot was moody and the takeoff positions were moving from set to set. There were no ruler lines of waves to the horizon, just glassy variable contours of energy moving towards the shore but not in any sense marching towards shore. There were lefts, rights and long close out sections. The size was not constant either, with the larger sets arriving earlier in the session.
Local surfer Jordie Brown.

Professional surf, landscape & lifestyle photographer Katey catching the action.

There was a powerful side sweep from east to west (from left to right when looking at the first photo above). Some paddled out to the general takeoff area and found themselves heading west parallel to the beach for a couple of hundred metres. These boys were walking back to re-enter the water and probably to try something different to the 200m sweep west with return walk. That all four heads are turned towards the ocean suggests to me that they are examining the waves and shore break very closely with a view to avoiding a repeat walk.
Local surfer Aidan finds a clean right.
Earlier in the morning, the water was rough, then it was choppy until the wind backed around and got some offshore north in it. Then it lightened up, producing the glassy conditions shown. Beautiful texture on the water.
A clean green face is where you find it.
Local surfer Aidan on his backhand finding some speed to beat that lip.
Finn Barry with plenty of speed off the bottom turn for what comes next….
.. .smashing the lip. This was a very classy move.
Slight enlargement of previous photo to permit examination of some of the detail.
All the speed washed off, then accelerating back down the face to go again.
One of a number of ways to exit the ride when a wave starts to close out.
Local surfer Aidan with speed to spare.
Aidan putting that speed to good use with this cutback to return to the steepest part of the wave.
Aidan leaving the wave.
This is the first of four shots in a sequence showing Aidan getting a little barrel towards the end of his session.
The lip enclosing Aidan inside the wave.
You will have to take my word for it, but Aidan is behind this curtain. You can just see the nose of his board a third of the way up the wave at the point where it is breaking.
Proof that he made it through. That’s the collapsed barrel behind him.
Lone surfer eyeing off the shifting peaks advancing towards him in this moody sea.
Driving to the surf break shown above, I passed this eye-catching location. I understand the waterfalls are called, ‘The Falls’. Fair enough too. Heavy recent rain created a high volume of water flowing over the falls on this day. For much of summer there is just a trickle or they are dry. This house has an uninterrupted view of the ocean from close quarters.

Diving Gannets at Kennett River

The Australasian gannet is a great favourite of mine. I had the privilege of a visit to a gannet rookery earlier this year. It was in effect a private visit with just me and the volunteer guide. For my detailed descriptions of the gannet and its remarkable skills, as well as close up photos of this beautiful bird both on the ground and flying, see this earlier post in my blog (published 26 February 2020) at:

https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/02/26/australasian-gannets-breeding-on-southern-ocean-clifftops/

Getting close enough to gannets plunge diving to enable a good photo is very difficult. These photos were taken from three different vantage points on the shore near Sawmills beach at Kennett River. There must have been a huge area of fish for them to feed on as the gannets were diving and feeding over a huge area. Unfortunately no part of that area was quite close enough to shore for the sort of photos I would have liked. Most of the photos below are small cropped sections of images taken with a 600mm telephoto lens at full extension. As a result the sharpness of many of these images has suffered, but I think the content is sufficiently interesting to publish them anyway.

Aerial Reconnaissance

The gannet’s search for fish (such as pilchards) starts up high. Its long slender wings are made for such soaring.
Because the gannet can eat up to 5 fish caught on one dive, it probably dives not when it sees ‘a fish’, but when it sees a sufficient concentration of fish to make the prospect of success in diving and swimming around and catching fish quite high. In this shot you can see two birds on their way down. At top right the bird has banked to 90° before pointing its beak to the sea and building up speed for entry into the water. The bird two up from the bottom of the image is commencing his dive. The wings have been brought in to reduce their area and so reduce drag and allow the speed to build up. These birds are built for these aerobatic manoeuvres and have no hesitation in all the unusual angles and speeds. The transition from high speed flight to underwater swimming puts these birds in a class of their own.
L: Dive decision made. R: Still looking.
The wings assume this ‘W’ plan form as the gannet progressively converts itself into more of a missile to enable it to enter the water cleanly and penetrate to good depth before having to swim using its wings for any further depth.
The large webbed feet are deployed in the dive manoeuvre for aerodynamic purposes, something like airbrakes it seemed to me. Deploying these high drag feet offers one more means of speed control.
You can see the bird here in its low drag soaring configuration – feet tucked away out of the airflow, wings spread wide to maximise their area and the lift they produce.
Attention to task on pilchard reconnaissance.

Diving

As the bird nears the water, the legs go back (landing gear retracts) and the tail is used quite extensively to assist with manoeuvring to keep it on course for its target point on the surface of the water.
Just before entering the water the legs are streamlined against the body and the wings are further retracted becoming even smaller in area. The bird accelerates during this phase as it makes itself more like a spear and less like a bird.
Beyond the point of no return. This bird is about to get wet.

To illustrate the image quality problem resulting from photographing a small bird in flight from a significant distance, the highlighted area in the image on the left is the cropped section which was enlarged to produce the immediately preceding photo. Hence the lack of sharpness in the image.

This bird is about to hit the surface of the water. Gannets can reach speeds up to 80kph at the point of entry. Notice how aerodynamically clean it is. The small splash it makes when entering at such speeds reminds me of the small column of water that comes up from the surface of the Olympic diving pool after a perfect 10 entry into the water.
This and the following photo are a sequence of two shot in rapid succession. This dive commenced with an over-vertical manoeuvre.
This is the first of a sequence of four shots of a bird diving and entering the water.
Note the low splash made upon entry, and the streamlining of wings, tail feathers and legs.
The only sign that a bird has dived into the water at high speed.

Red Wattlebirds Feeding Their Young

The red wattlebird is second largest of the honeyeaters native to Australia. Only the yellow wattlebird is larger. They feed primarily on nectar, but insects are also part of their diet. Their eyes open in a week or so and they fledge 2-3 weeks after hatching. They are fed by both parents for a further 2-3 weeks. The young birds shown below could fly and were probably nearing the end of their dependent phase. But they didn’t budge from this bough while the parent was prepared to go back and forth finding and bringing them food.

Fledglings waiting for a feed

One of the two juveniles waiting on the branch for food delivery.
The parent always approached cautiously, sometimes flying into close range then alighting on a nearby branch before actually delivering the food. These birds had spotted the incoming food.
The young birds seemed to stay in close contact. The air was quite cool – perhaps they were huddling for warmth, although those downy feathers look as though they would do the job.
Eyelids shut, eyelids open, nestling.
Because receiving food can be a bit of rowdy and chaotic affair this bird has reflexively blinked while leaving its mouth wide open. Plainly it has faith the parent’s beak will find its mouth for the regurgitation transfer.

Fledglings Feeding

The parent on the left has his/her beak right inside the throat of the young bird with its mouth wide open. This ensures the regurgitation and transfer of food is efficient.
These two had just been fed and the parent bird (with its red wattle clearly visible below its eye) was about to head off to find some more food. The young birds remain ever optimistic leaving no doubt that they are ready for more food.
This shot was taken just after the parent had landed on the branch, and there was quite a bit of jostling and noise and moving around before the beak to beak transfer was performed with each in turn.
The young bird on the left receiving food, and the bird on the right showing no patience at all as it awaits its turn.
There is the appearance of an element of desperation in the young birds getting food. The young bird on the left is receiving food, and the other bird is sandwiched between it and the parent bird. The non-feeding bird stayed put, and didn’t seem fazed by being caught in the middle.

The attentive parent

This is the adult bird during one of its staged arrivals. The two young birds were nearby, but the adult landed on a branch and looked and listened very carefully before joining its young.
The adult looked alert and on the verge of alarm most of the time. The young birds just looked hungry all the time. The day after these photos were taken, the whole routine with the same cast was repeated in another tree about 50m away. Spring is a wonderful time of new life and hope.

A Great Cormorant Riding a Wave, a Swooping Magpie and a Gang of Geese

The ‘great cormorant’, formerly known simply as the ‘large black cormorant’, is unlikely to have objected to the name change. Flattering first names are the preserve of only a handful of Australian birds, such as the graceful honeyeater, the magnificent riflebird, the splendid fairy-wren, the superb fairy-wren and the powerful owl.

Heading the list of birds not quite so fortunate in this regard would almost certainly be the spangled drongo and the lesser noddy.

The great cormorant is said to prefer large bodies of still water. But they frequent coastal waters as well. In the Apollo Bay area, coastal waters are rarely still. This photo was taken from Point Bunbury earlier in the week. Great cormorants are often seen flying up and down the dunes diving and feeding just offshore from the beach south of Point Bunbury.
The great cormorant feeds mainly on fish which it catches by diving. It typically dives up to 20m in depth and stays submerged for up to a minute or so. It swims underwater using only its webbed feet, with its wings folded by its side. This contrasts with the Australasian gannet which uses both its webbed feet and its wings when it wishes to swim deeper than the 10m or so which it achieves from the momentum of its dive. This photo was also taken from Point Bunbury earlier in the week.
There was a moderate swell breaking between Point Bunbury and the mouth of the Barham River at Apollo Bay when this photo was taken. This great cormorant was cruising up and down the shorebreak diving and landing occasionally between waves, presumably feeding. It stayed well clear of the white water.
The great cormorant sports a distinctive bright yellow patch on the cheeks and is the largest of the Australian cormorant family. The other members are the black-faced cormorant, the pied cormorant, the little pied cormorant and the little black cormorant.

A great cormorant cutting it fine on a wave

These five photos are from a series taken at five frames per second in continuous shooting mode. On reviewing the photos of the day, I saw that they included a series of shots of a cormorant appearing to leave its departure from the face of the breaking wave a little late. In the first photo, it appears almost airborne. But the subsequent photos show it seemingly overtaken by the advancing and rising wave and failing to get airborne, culminating in it getting mixed up with the white water. The next photos following in the sequence (not shown below) do not show the cormorant at all. So I can’t confirm whether it became airborne or was submerged as the wave passed over it. If it was the latter, I have no doubt it would have survived given its impressive underwater swimming skills. Perhaps this particular bird hadn’t seen the memo about great cormorants having a preference for still water.

An alternative explanation of course is that this great cormorant, being a master of flying and diving, decided to have a crack at surfing. In that case, he rode the unbroken section of the wave very well, completing the ride by deftly turning back into the white water to flick out over the back as it began to close out on him.

Synchronised great cormorants

Silver gull coming in for a landing just before sunset

Yet another graceful glide to a perfect landing.

Swell breaking over Little Henty Reef

These two shots were taken from a corner of the Great Ocean Road in Apollo Bay, near the banks of the Barham River looking due south. The breaking waves on the south of Little Henty Reef (just off Hayley Point at Marengo) were at a distance of just over 2000m when I took this photo. The sea between the dunes and the white water is Mounts Bay. The swell on this occasion was only moderate, but it was big enough for the offshore bombies (3kms or so ESE of this reef and out of frame) to be working.

Magpies

The Australian magpie is very intelligent, sings most beautifully and in breeding season swoops on any person who it perceives to be a threat. The swooping behaviour is not designed to attack, but to deter. In flight, making contact “…could be very dangerous for the magpie because impact could break its neck.” (Australian Magpie (2nd Edition) (2019) Kaplan G, CSIRO Publishing, 206).

The magpie is a very vocal species. They message extensively to each other, and more generally to the world at large to defend territory or nests. They can recognise individual magpie voices. They have a quiet warbling song, and a much louder powerful carolling. The carolling is often used in territorial defence, but a group of magpies can also carol in chorus after a predator has been successfully repelled – a bit like a football team singing their club song after a win. Magpies also duet, imitating each other’s call. (Australian Magpie, 185-189). Their carolling is one of the most beautiful bird sounds I have heard.

Generations of magpies have lived in the trees along the creek beside my house. This joyous carolling is a common and welcome sound.

There is evidence suggesting that magpies “…can distinguish between individual human faces and learn who is kind or hostile to them”. (Australian Magpie, 127). The magpies whose territory includes my house know that a carefully chosen small snack is sometimes on offer. Over the years I have had many fly from some distance to my feet on the lawn or the deck rail where I am standing when I call out “Maggie”. They will take a small snack if offered, but after eating it will sometimes just stay there a metre or so from me, looking at me. Of course I talk to them, and they are good listeners, leaving when they are ready.

Sometimes they initiate contact with me by landing on the deck rail outside the window closest to where I am inside the house and peering through the window as if to attract my attention. I usually respond by taking a small snack outside and as I walk towards the door to the outside deck, they hop or half fly along the railing to meet me when I come outside. I have made no effort to train them to do this, but one thing is clear, they have successfully trained me to come at their bidding.

Two of my grandchildren sharing the joy of contact with one of the local magpies.

The greens keeper at the local golf club. There is one magpie (a male) which nests in the trees in the background in this photo, which has declared Damian to be his enemy number one. So as Damian does his rounds of the fairways, greens and tees, this magpie regularly swoops on him in full nest-defence mode. The photos below were taken while I was talking to Damian with the mower turned off. The magpie engaged in a relentless cycle of aggressively swooping on him (but never touching him), then briefly retreating to a series of different locations in a close radius around Damian, from which the next sortie would be planned and executed. Interestingly, the magpie never showed any interest in me whatsoever, and on some occasions actually landed near me as it planned its next swoop on Damian. It clearly recognised Damian as its target person.
Most magpies never breed. Only a small minority of birds have surviving offspring. One study suggests that only 14% of all magpies ever reproduce. (Australian Magpie, 99). Accordingly, “….breeding magpies are the high achievers of magpie society. They have survived years of hardship, fought hard to get a territory and have been able to find a partner. The magpies that breed are healthy, mature, experienced and possibly the best stock we have.” (Australian Magpie, 210). In short, Damian’s nemesis is a Top Gun magpie. This tree branch was one of the perimeter points from which it swooped on Damian. The body language of this bird tells the story of his immediate intention.
Damian has taken to wearing flexible nylon wire ties on his cap to encourage the magpie to keep its distance. The magpie here does not look at all deterred.
Magpies use wing flapping and beating, as well as beak clapping as strong and aggressive warning signals. (Australian Magpie, 185). This bird was totally in the zone whether half a metre from Damian’s head, or on the ground regrouping for the next fly past. It seems to have a bit of a wild look in its eye here.
So much for the deterrent value of nylon wire ties. This bird has never actually physically struck Damian. But it seems to revel in swooping him.
The message is clear.
One of the varied approach paths for a close proximity fly past was below the radar at almost ground level. I love the focus on this bird as it manoeuvres getting ready to climb up for another display right in Damian’s face. The undercarriage hasn’t even been retracted here.
All guns blazing.
Compared to the earlier shot of the bird below the radar, this one shows even more intensity as the ‘fists’ are clenched. The target is in the cross-hairs of that laser-like stare and this approach was at speed.
Damian remained impassive, but the magpie was continuously otherwise.
Yet another perimeter location from which to continue the mission. What a beautiful bird. Feathers slightly ruffled by the wind and I suspect by all that acrobatic manoeuvring.
Climbing away after the final fly past at high speed with landing gear retracted. Full sound effects.

Cropped enlargements from two of the above photos, showing the detail of this magnificent bird in full defence mode.

Apollo Bay Harbour Residents and Visitors

These are domestic geese, who belong to nobody, and to everybody in Apollo Bay. They live in and around the harbour. They are arrogant, very pushy when they think food is in the offing and they often get on each other’s goat resulting in some cranky honking and hissing and extended-neck fake charges at each other. They swaggered towards me with a superior and proprietorial air. It was significantly less than a welcome. I felt as though I had wandered into a bad neighbourhood. So I avoided direct eye contact, kept moving and felt grateful to be ignored.
The gang leader.
This goose seemed to be drinking, but it would have been salt water. I can’t find any suggestion anywhere that it has some sort of water desalination filter (such as is found in certain seabirds e.g. penguins, albatrosses, pelicans) – but maybe it does.
It was definitely eating this sea lettuce (green algae).
Goose giving me an unblinking stare from close quarters. I blinked first.
Spur-winged plover.
The sooty oyster-catcher and the Australian pied oyster catcher. They spend much of their life on rocky tidal shorelines. These strongly built birds use “…powerful pecks, stabs or hammering to open heavily armoured prey including mussels, limpets, chitons and sea urchins.” (Menkhorst, P and others, The Australian Bird Guide, 2017, CSIRO Publishing. 122). The sooty oyster catcher nests on offshore islands and sea stacks. The pied oyster catcher nests “…on ground in open settings near shore, especially on beaches and dunes…” (Menkhorst, P & others, 122). These birds have many common features, and share the same habitat. I find it interesting that they evolved in different directions with their contrasting plumage. What evolutionary purpose is served by this difference?
Australian pied oyster catcher and silver gull ignoring the ‘birds of a feather’ principle.
Crested terns. I always think of the crest on this bird as being like some sort of edgy hairdo that only a cool bird would sport. Not sure what’s going on with the wing action here – could be drying their wings.
Crests lowered (not fallen) and preening taking priority over feeding for this pair.
Apollo Bay harbour, with the air full of crested terns and lesser crested terns wheeling in all directions not long after one of their periodic group takeoffs.

Final Days of Winter in Apollo Bay

We had a quick taste of spring weather, then winter finished in style.

The high over Apollo Bay provided clear skies and a warmish day, while swell from the south west reached our shores ahead of the low pressure system that created it. This water was winter-cold to swim in. The preview of spring was followed immediately by winter’s last official hurrah. The photo shows the main beach (east facing) at Apollo Bay.
It was a small swell, but groomed nicely by the light offshore wind. This wave is typical of the close-out sets on the sandbank which parallels the shore on the main beach at Apollo Bay.
An eastern great egret normally found along the banks and exposed mud flats of the Barham River, amongst the trees and vegetation on the banks of Milford Creek seeking shelter from rough weather. It was very aware of my presence even though I was quite a distance away. It kept a close eye on me. Interestingly, on its home ground on the Barham River it is cautious, but treats me with much less regard and something more like disdain. This photo was taken from my east-facing verandah. To see photos of this bird in its more usual environment, see my post devoted to the elegant eastern great egret: https://southernoceanblog.com/2018/08/24/the-eastern-great-egret/ Another post on this blog also features this beautiful bird: https://southernoceanblog.com/2018/08/24/the-eastern-great-egret/
The late afternoon view from my back verandah on a still afternoon when salty mist from the surf hung in the air getting golder by the minute as the sun neared the hilly western horizon.
Tuxion Road. Also Cawood St. It was as peaceful and quiet as it looked. But next day winter returned with a strengthening cold northerly / nor’ westerly wind followed by a cold front and gale force winds with rain and hail.
The air temperature dips quickly once we are in the shadow of the hills. A neighbour beat us to the punch at putting a match to the wood fire in preparation for the cold night that followed.
For the few hours before dark a couple of days ago, the swell picked up sufficiently for surfers to consider it worth the paddle out at the Point. Some waves were ridden. Looking south past Hayley Point at Marengo. The wind picked up the next day and blew for days as the last cold front for winter marched over the state.
Photographer on the spot at Hayley Point to capture some late afternoon light on the surf.

Katey and I, recognising each other through the telephoto lenses, each had the same idea.

Photo by Katey Shearer
This photo was taken from a roadside parking spot on the GOR overlooking the surf break known locally as Sledgehammers. The point in the distance is Cape Patton, about 5kms as the gannet flies from where I was standing to take the photo. Another local surf break known as Boneyards, is about a third of the way between the point I was on and Cape Patton. I saw no surfers in the water with the naked eye nor did I notice any through the telephoto lens as I took these photos. I was not surprised given the strength of the wind and the amount of water moving over and around the various reefs between me and Cape Patton.

If you are not particularly interested in surfers and waves, the photos under ‘Lone surfer – photo 1’ will probably be quite enough to get the general idea of a solo surfer well offshore in these seas and weather conditions. Photos 2 & 3 show the same surfer surrounded by different waves.

Lone surfer – photo 1

So it was with quite some surprise that I later learned there was a solitary surfer out in the very waters I had photographed. Upon checking the photos the evening after taking them, I noticed what I initially thought might have been a seal some distance out to sea. On zooming in I could see that I had unwittingly taken a photo of a lone surfer, wetsuited and hooded, sitting on his board way out in the middle of this cold, windy and moving ocean. He would’ve paddled out at Boneyards. I believe the tide wasn’t ideal for surfing this location at that time, which may explain why there was only one surfer out. Seeing a solo surfer out in big waves and wild seas in winter is not an uncommon event along the west cost of Victoria. Respect.

The two photos following are cropped enlargements taken from the preceding photo to better show the location of the surfer.

An alternative method of locating the lone surfer: use the arrows in the circle to slide left and right between these two images to see the surfer’s location on the magnified portion of the second photo.

Lone surfer – photo 2

This sequence of images follows the same format as those of the surfer in photo 1: original photo, two increasingly enlarged cropped portions of that photo, and two slide images with the area around the surfer magnified on the second image.

Lone surfer photo 3

The dark object on the centre left of the image is exposed reef as the water sucks out towards the approaching breaking wave.
Solid swell from the south marching directly into very strong winds from the north.

Gibson Steps, Bay of Islands and Logans Beach

The migration of southern right whales and the humpback whales across the oceans south of the Australian continent is a winter phenomenon. After breeding in the warmer waters along the southern coast of Australia (and along the east and west coasts of the country) between May and November, they head back to Antarctic waters where krill abounds in the cold water. At birth calves would not survive the freezing temperatures deep in the Southern Ocean, which explains the annual migration to warmer waters.

Yesterday Liz and I drove to Logans Beach at Warrnambool, an established whale nursery, to see and photograph whales close to shore. With whale numbers increasing every year, whale sightings along this coast are increasingly common – except for yesterday. Despite keeping an eagle-eyed lookout whenever the ocean was in sight, and despite perfect whale-spotting weather and sea conditions, not a single whale or splash was seen. If you are a reader who likes a blog post to have a theme, then the theme of this post is photos without whales in them.

But the west coast of Victoria between Apollo Bay and Warrnambool is not lacking in points of interest, even when the whales are elsewhere.

The vista to the north from a high point on the Otway Ranges not far west of Lavers Hill. Cold air and fog was still nestling in the valleys, but the sun burned it off pretty rapidly from mid-morning. (The connection of this scene with the three places in the heading of this post, is that it was passed on our way to those places).
Coastal planes near Gibson Steps beach.
There was not much swell forecast, but the ocean and beaches west of Cape Otway march to their own drum in this regard. There was a light northerly, and glassy long interval swell lines like this were arriving from weather deep in the Southern Ocean between Australia and Antarctica. The refraction of sunlight shining on the curtain of spray raised by the offshore wind created these fleeting rainbows. This surf, despite its quality, was too small to attract the interest of any of the local surfers. To see the sort of surf at Gibson Steps that does attract the interest of local surfers, see my recent post: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/05/20/big-clean-swell-at-gibson-steps/
At the Bay of Islands, just west of Peterborough, I had my camera switched on with settings for seascapes and landscapes as we walked out a narrow headland covered in hardy shrubs and surrounded by ocean on three sides. We spotted this nankeen kestrel hovering and manoeuvring rapidly with its eyes fixed on prey it had spotted in the shrubs below. Before I could aim the camera (with 150-600mm lens attached) skywards, it drew its wings in and with its gaze locked on its intended prey, dived vertically down to the scrub where it disappeared for a moment or two. It then took to the air and climbed away with this hapless lizard having its first trip by air. This was no mean feat, as the scrub was quite thick. The nankeen kestrel is a member of the falcon family. Falcons are fast flyers, with high level aerial hunting skills, which this bird displayed superbly. The nankeen kestrel can be found right across the Australian continent, but they prefer to breed on the south east of the continent and in south western W.A. I would not normally publish a photo lacking sharpness as this image does. My excuse is that the shutter speed I used, while suitable for seascapes, was too slow to properly capture an airborne kestrel in hunting mode. But the subjects can be identified, and I find the photo interesting enough to include in this post.
The offshore limestone stacks along this coast are wonderfully secure eyries for nesting birds. The silver gull makes the most of it, as do cormorants, shearwaters and a variety of other seabirds.
Nesting areas on these limestone islands are far more densely populated than this photo might suggest.
Silver gull on final approach to join his two mates enjoying the view over an ocean teeming with food.
Coastal cliffs east of Peterborough. Before the light northerly came up, the day had started with fog as a large high pressure area was centred over the state. Once the wind started to move the fog, the sun broke through and heated the ground which reflected heat back into the lower atmosphere which in turn accelerated the dissipation and disappearance of the fog. Low ragged patches of cumulus cloud were the last remnants of this process, which was followed by a cold day with a cloudless blue sky.
A singing honeyeater on the whale watching platform at Logans Beach. It lives on berries, nectar and insects in habitats including coastal shrub land, which covers the sand dunes in this area. An interesting fact I read about this bird is that it is one of the first birds to call before dawn (‘The Australian Bird Guide’, Menkhorst and others, CSIRO Publishing 2017, at page 376).
The singing honeyeater. The facial expression suggests it was not about to burst into joyous song during this brief portrait sitting. I liked its proud assertiveness.
Some rips are easier to spot than others. The surfers shown were using this and other rips for an easy ride through the shore break to get out the back at Logans Beach to their chosen takeoff point.
This well established rip was operating right from the shallows. The figure on the left is a bodysurfer who entered the water at the rip and used it for a speedy lift out the back. From there he paddled parallel to the beach to his takeoff point. It would be a simple swim to shore on the white water either side of this rip. But it would most likely have been impossible for anyone to swim against the current in the calm looking water of the rip which was flowing out to sea to just beyond the zone of breaking waves. The rip could be spotted from the sea beyond the breaking waves by looking shorewards. It would appear as a break in the line of white water of the breaking waves. Surf is not breaking over the rip because the water is deeper there. These rips were at Logans Beach, east of the whale viewing area.

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.

Big Clean Swell at Gibson Steps

A storm deep in the Southern Ocean created swell which quietly arrived on the west coast of Victoria on Monday. It was not a keenly anticipated swell event. Swell was forecast, but not in the exceptional category. Monday was a cloudless autumn day and a gentle offshore wind was working its magic on the ocean. The current closure of the Twelve Apostles lookout and visitor centre and the pandemic travel restrictions took care of the traffic one might otherwise expect on the Great Ocean Road on such a day, and it was all but deserted. We didn’t expect to see any swell out of the ordinary, and indeed Apollo Bay was without swell when we left.

But Castle Cove was indicating the presence of a some swell and excited our optimism about conditions further west. But it was not until we stopped at Gibson Steps that it became clear that this day the planets had truly aligned.

The swell at Gibson Steps on Monday morning

Not satisfied with the faint lines of swell to the horizon and the waves of consequence breaking well offshore at Gibson Steps, we drove on to check out Two Mile from the clifftops hoping for bigger things. But it was not to be. A couple of surfers had paddled out at Third Reef and were floating and paddling around in swell but the break was not firing. A jet ski and surfer had come out from Pt Campbell to Two Mile to find similar regular swell lines. But they gave it away after a lot of circles, parking and a couple of swims in clear water and swell that failed to reach the size required to light up Two Mile.

So after an enjoyable half hour swim in the bay at Port Campbell and lunch on the foreshore in cool air under blue skies, we headed back towards Apollo Bay planning to check the swell at Gibson Steps on the way home. This is what we saw. Ruler-straight swell lines to the horizon, and it had built since the morning.

The afternoon swell

A bit of rainbow action on the right hand end of the spray.
Close-out.

The Gibson Steps neighbourhood

The Twelve Apostles photographed through the anticyclonic haze from 11kms away. Gibson Steps is to the right of frame in this image.

The second image shows the point at the eastern end of Gibson Steps beach. All the wave photos in the post were taken looking about ninety degrees to the right of the direction in which this photo was taken.

Locals on the beach at Gibson Steps

Sooty oyster catcher possibly feeling on the outer of this group of silver gulls on Gibson Steps beach.

Foam ball

When a wave breaks and forms a barrel, the airborne spray and white water deep inside the barrel can be expelled forcefully with the air as the wave collapses. Surfers call it a foam ball.

Sizing up the swell

The swell showed no signs of fading while we were there.
We were lamenting that there wasn’t a surfer or two out there to give a scale reference for these mighty waves.
Then there was. A solitary local surfer drove into the car park and without delay got into his wettie and headed down the stairs and straight into the water. He too had given away Two Mile. He told me he had spotted a left at Gibson Steps directly out from the stair case on the cliff which he thought would be worth the paddle out. It turned out he was right. Surfers have a distinct preference with waves of this size for paddling over them before they break. Getting caught inside by a breaking wave of this size can result in lengthy hold downs, being carried some distance underwater, being pushed back towards shore and getting a general flogging under water. Surfers can duck dive under a breaking wave while on a surfboard and reduce the extent to which they are pushed back. But there are limits to the size of wave where a good result from duck diving is guaranteed.
This surfer repeatedly appeared to just make it over large waves that were about to break. So much so in fact that I was forced to conclude that it wasn’t luck, but the benefit of water knowledge and experience that I was witnessing. I didn’t see him caught inside once or needing to duck dive under a single wave. He seemed to always be in just the right spot.
A combination of his paddling speed and the crest of the wave starting to break just as he reached it saw him pop through the top of this wave to clear water beyond (or at least to the next wave) as shown.
Up at the eastern end of Gibson Steps this left was working with mechanical precision. I have seen it surfed, but not on this day. The next photo was taken a few seconds after this one.
This is the same wave breaking with its peeling long left going unridden and with white water exploding back up above the height of the unbroken wave.
Taking the drop on one of the earlier rides. This surfer caught a number of well chosen waves, and rode them all with style and finesse. In my humble view he was a talented surfer, completely at home surfing solo in these waves of consequence at this wild and remote location. Gibson Steps is fully exposed to the swell which powers in from the roaring forties in the Southern Ocean.
Building up speed as the crest of the wave starts to break ahead of him.
A sizeable wave threatening to break on the surfer. He made it over this one too.
Timing it perfectly, the surfer reaches the top of the wave just as it starts to break, and pushes through the lip easily to keep paddling. Had the wave looked like breaking on him, he would have duck dived under it with his board, as deep as he could, to minimise the impact of the wave.
Looking quite relaxed between waves in the middle of a solid set.
Looking a bit interested in the wave starting to lift him. But he rejected this one and took one a few waves later. It was a good choice.
This seems as good a photo as any as a basis for offering a view on just how high these waves were. Surfers use a measuring system which consistently understates the height of waves. Two big wave surfers I spoke to separately at Gibson Steps told me with straight faces that this surf was ‘solid 8 foot’. The surfer in this photo is about 6 feet tall….
I measure wave height from the lip to the flat water just in front of the wave. This is the distance a surfer about to take the drop when catching a wave would fall if he came unstuck. I have looked closely at the photos on this post and using the surfer as my measure, my view is that the faces of many of these waves were over 20 feet.

The wave of the session (sequence of 8 photos)

The drop.
Building up speed.
A good look at this powerful turn off the lip of the wave

The three photos on the left show the turn as seen through the telephoto lens from the shore. The photos on the right are cropped details to show the turn up close.

The speed with which he entered this turn can be gauged by the angle of his board, which has the rail buried as he tightens the turn. Centrifugal force is sticking him to the deck of his board.

Stylish completion of this radical turn throwing spray high into the air
What a spectacular turn. I’d score this ride a 10 on the basis of this turn alone.
All these wave photos were taken from the lookout at Gibson Steps, using a Nikon D810 and a 150-600mm Sigma Sports telephoto lens. The surfer was a long way offshore. The water’s edge was not an option because it wasn’t much closer horizontally than the cliff tops, and the waves were of a size that meant from sea level I couldn’t see anything past the closest breaking wave.

Returning to shore

After the waves break well offshore, white water, waves, chop and currents are generated as the waves’ energy dissipates further over the reefs, channels and sandbars in the final 300+m of the journey to shore. Transport for a surfer from the end of his last ride to shore is basically a matter of taking anything and everything on offer, as shown.

The footprints show where he stopped, unhurried, and turned to have a look out to sea. I had a chat to him and didn’t get the impression this was a standout session by his standards. I suppose with his experience on breaks like Gibson Steps and Two Mile, this is understandable.
Respect.

The Glenaire Valley

The natural wonders of Gibson Steps and the surrounding coast and ocean do not overshadow the contrasting quiet beauty of the rich hinterland. This is the Aire River flowing through the Glenaire Valley after a period of good rain. It’s just starting to spill over its banks. This location is only a short distance from the coast about 25kms west of Apollo Bay and only a couple of kms from Castle Cove.

[With the exception of the photo of the Twelve Apostles, which was taken in the morning all photos are posted in the order in which they were taken.]

Autumn at the Bay

The experience of sunrise is greatly enhanced by full immersion in cold ocean water. It is not possible to feel anything other than fully alive when greeting the day in this manner.

Indeed, in late August at Apollo Bay it is not possible to feel anything much at all after a lengthy ocean swim, apart from exhilaration. Fingers and toes cease sending messages to mission control, the gift of speech is reduced to short words only understandable if accompanied by sign language, and whistling is completely impossible until after the administration of hot tea or coffee. But the water on this day was 14°C, which is cool rather than cold.

Sunrise at Marengo in autumn

Five or six dawn swimmers can be seen on the far right above the dark line of a small wave. The sun is rising just to the right of Cape Patton. The photo was taken from Marengo beach at the southern end of Mounts Bay.

Moderate swell on Little Henty Reef off Hayley Point

The waves over this reef are only surfed by seals and dolphins. Apart from the fact that the waves here mostly break over exposed reef, there are breaks nearby in deeper water which are ideal for surfing.
The water exploding upwards has already hit the reef and ricocheted back into the air to almost double the height of the wave.
The breaking wave in the background is over the reef. The surfers in the foreground are paddling around to their takeoff spot which is to their right.
This was one of the larger sets of the morning. This wave reared high and threw out a big lip of water as it reached the shallower water near the reef. A light north west wind smoothed out the face of the wave, held it up a little longer than would have happened with the wind from behind the wave, and also blew the white mane of spray up and over the back of the wave.
Finishing off the ride between Hayley Point and the reef which is home to an Australian fur seal colony.
Mesmerised.

Body boarder

The Harbour

Safe haven.
Crested terns love to huddle
That edgy hairdo on crested terns requires that beaks be kept pointed into the wind.
One of four resident geese at the Apollo Bay harbour. His limited facial movement permits only two moods to be conveyed – disdain and indignation. I think he was in transition to indignation at this point upon learning I was there to take a photo, and not to pay my respects with a bread offering which he was fully expecting.

One of my many studios

My attempts to capture an image of the full moon rising over the sea were thwarted by cloud on this night. A cold, quiet and beautiful place nonetheless.

Storm Surf

Whenever a solid swell is forecast for this coast, some locals in Apollo Bay quietly start to pay just a little more attention to the weather maps, to their tried and tested omens and to the feeling in their bones. They gaze out to the horizon for signs of swell, they judge the frequency and size of the small swell breaking in the bay hoping to be able to describe it as ‘building’, and they keep checking for any visible action on the bombies a few kms offshore. Surfers, fishing boat skippers, swimmers and photographers are among those who will be variously delighted, thwarted or simply awestruck if the Southern Ocean delivers big swell from storms gathering in the cold and desolate southern latitudes well to the south of the Great Australian Bight. The trajectory of the low pressure systems and the associated cold fronts and troughs will be closely followed to learn whether, or where and with what force the weather will hit the Victorian west coast.

The forecast

The following information and forecasts (screenshots from my iPhone) are the first omens I consulted when there was talk of solid swell on the way. They were auspicious enough to warrant me charging up the camera batteries, preparing the wet weather gear and getting just a bit excited about the reasonable prospect of big swell on May 1 and 2 at Apollo Bay and along the Victorian west coast generally.

Waiting

The swell was forecast for Friday and Saturday on the first two days of May. So on the last day of April I visited the local reefs and a point where any early signs of swell would be apparent. I have seen forecasts of sizeable swell which failed to deliver. I have also seen substantial swell when none was forecast.

But last Thursday, on the eve of its forecast day of arrival there was no swell.

But the permanent Australian fur seal colony on the Marengo reefs was present, and the late afternoon light was beautifully clear. They were crowded up a little as it was high tide, and above-water real estate on which to loll was at a premium. But no sign of any swell.
Late afternoon showers were passing through the area. The seal colony is directly under the end of the rainbow.
The telephoto lens was almost up to this task. Most seals have adopted the traditional resting posture with head held proudly high, like so many lifelike bronze statues. The one on the far right has chosen comfort and sloth over style.

The swell arrives

The wind backed around on Thursday night and increased to gale force. The swell arrived on schedule. Winds gusting over 40kts, heavy showers and stormy seas delivered more than I, and probably others, expected. This shot was taken looking south from Hayley Point at Marengo on the Saturday morning. The Australasian gannet above was effortlessly and (so it seemed to me) exuberantly soaring the storm.
This was also taken looking due south from Hayley Point, as one of the early waves in a big set closed out in this spectacular fashion on the reef. I was on a rocky headland, and while I didn’t feel the ground shake, I felt as though I should have. It was an awesome sight. So much power.

A-row for Southern Ocean watchers

Bottom to top: Barham River, Mounts Bay and Marengo. This swell had arrived from the south west and rounded Hayley Point to cross the bay directly into the westerly wind as a substantially smaller but still powerful wave.
Squall lines were coming through in a constant succession. Heavy rain obscured the hills to the north of Apollo Bay. The grey clear strip under the power poles in centre frame is part of the Great Ocean Road.
Wider shot of the same view as in the previous shot, but between squalls. The telephoto lens set to a focal length of 600mm significantly foreshortened the scene, making the Wild Dog Creek valley and hills beyond look closer than they would to the naked eye.

Storm waves on Marengo reefs and south of Hayley Point

Hayley Point, with my regular eyrie for taking photos of the ocean right on the tip near that notch in the scrub line. This photo shows some different stages of a sizeable wave breaking on the reef. On the far right the massive lip has thrown out and is cascading as a giant curtain with white water along the lip and solid curves of green and aqua water flowing down as the tonnes of water in the wave are thrown forward and down. The wave on the left shows the white water having crashed down into the reef ricocheting back into the air in great clouds of white water. Such water often reaches a height as great or greater than the height of the original wave before it broke. The centre section of breaking waves shows the wave finally dissipating and coming ashore, almost completely spent, as merely a two metre wall of white water with spray blowing back off it.
This was taken looking south west from Hayley Point as a massive set pounded its way to shore. There are three waves of this set visible in the photo, and all consist entirely of white water. Top left, through the curtain of spray, the crest of another wave just starting to break can be seen. The show put on by this set did not end at the three waves shown above.
I spent about 90 minutes taking these photos, standing on my usual windswept grassy vantage point beside the reefs. Very heavy rain squalls were coming through, without much respite between them. I have an ingenious waterproof covering for my camera and telephoto lens which keeps them totally dry. I have full access to all camera adjustments and controls when using the cover in driving rain. I wear a snow coat with a hood, my motorbike waterproof pants, and a pair of waterproof boots. I am pleased to report that this allows me and the camera to stay completely dry in the heaviest of rain. The waterproof gear is useful not so much for taking photos in the rain, but for allowing me to stay on a given location during the rain so I can take photos in the periods when it is not raining.

Hooded plover and a sooty oyster catcher

The reef on the shoreline was being successfully foraged on by this little hooded plover and his mate. They seemed to find plenty to feed on. When white water approached from behind, as I have observed on this day and many other days their first reaction was to run rather than to fly, choosing the latter only when absolutely necessary. This bird might have had to counteract a a bit of an uncommanded turn to the left in flight due to the orange plastic tag and the metal band on his leg. Difficult to see why two tags were needed.
Sooty oyster catcher with no oysters in sight. His diet apparently extends well beyond oysters (and in this part of the world his diet may not even include oysters), but the more accurate alternative name of ‘crustacean, worm, bivalve mollusc, starfish and sea urchin catcher, not to mention small fish catcher’, was probably considered too unwieldy. I’m sure the sight of that over-engineered beak strikes fear into the heart of bivalve molluscs.
The swim record was my daily 1000+m swim, in a location sheltered from the big swell.

The majesty and power of the Southern Ocean in a storm

I have never seen (in person) a more intimidating storm wave than this one. It was overcast when this was taken and there were heavy showers in the area. If you peer through the spray blowing over the back of this wave you can see the horizon and whitecaps on breaking waves out to sea.

Postscript

I saw a fin

Ocean swimming is a favourite activity of mine. I have been doing it for many years. One way or another, I have been playing in the ocean for over 50 years. During that period the only sharks I have ever seen in the water are (harmless) reef sharks while snorkelling in the Solomon Islands, a bronze whaler (which seemed to ignore us) while swimming in the shore break at Fishery Bay near Pt Lincoln in South Australia, and a number of large great whites off Neptune Island while on a cage dive organised for that purpose. I have thought about the topic a bit, and my carefully considered view is that seeing a shark in the water, much less being attacked by one, is a very low risk at the places I choose to swim. I remain of that view.

Today was my 48th consecutive day of swimming 1000m or more in the ocean at Apollo Bay (a continuing little project of mine during the pandemic lockdown). I swam a short distance in the bay, then topped up for my 1000m in the harbour. Those 48 swims included one night swim.

I swam out from the harbour wall this morning heading for the wooden lookout for a 1000m round trip. The crew I usually swim with were all leaving the water as I headed off. I had the bay entirely to myself. About 300m from where I entered the water, and about 180m offshore, I was swimming in a leisurely rhythm against a slight head current just enjoying the space and peace. I was not in a rush, and I didn’t care that my Garmin watch indicated I was closer to 3:00/100 pace than 2:00/100m. Each time I breathed to the left I could see the passing scenery on shore and knew the ramp and walkway up to the SLSC were about to come into my direct line of sight. There was nothing and no one to disturb my relaxing reverie. But then there was something.

About 20m to my left I saw a shiny dark dorsal fin emerge while moving south (the opposite direction to me). I saw it surface, stay level for a short time and then subside not to be seen by me again. It did not appear to change speed or direction as we passed each other. I immediately turned left 90° and headed to shore by the most direct route. It was more a case of observing that I did this, rather than recalling any conscious decision to head to shore. I am pleased that I turned before I had a chance to think about it. No point wasting time making decisions. I sensed no adrenaline rush or racing pulse or altered breathing rate. But I did increase my pace and take a few looks over each shoulder to see if the fin or its owner had reappeared. I also hoped to see a few dolphins swimming nearby as had occurred recently when swimming not far from here with four of my swimming friends. But there was no fin and there was no pod of dolphins. There was nothing but glassy ocean.

At one point on the return to shore, without losing forward speed I rolled through 360° changing from freestyle to a couple of strokes of backstroke then back to freestyle, to allow a quick look at the ocean behind me. No fin. Nothing to see to offer a chance at identifying what had swum past me. Just glassy water. My normal roll and breathe routine sees me looking out to each side at about 90 degrees to my direction of travel. The swim to shore for much of the journey saw me looking back over each shoulder as I breathed. I was conscious that I was swimming harder and faster than usual, and I do remember deciding it was probably best to keep doing that. I do remember thinking I should splash as little as possible. I kept swimming until my fingertips were brushing the sand. I was definitely pleased to stand up in shin deep water. I stood on the shore for a while looking out to sea for something, anything that would inform me as to how to file this experience. But there was nothing.

Upon reflection, I would certainly leave the water immediately if this happened again. An ocean swimmer responds to a solitary dorsal fin nearby (with an unidentified owner) the way a chicken responds to the silhouette of a hawk in the sky above it, whether it’s a cardboard cutout or a raptor with intent. But was it a shark or a dolphin? There is no way to reach a sound conclusion either way. There are solid entries for column A and column B. I don’t have enough information to resolve what it was. The fin did not have that inward curve on the trailing edge typical of a dolphin fin. Also, the movement I saw was not the familiar top of the parabola appearance and disappearance of the fin and part of the body – there was no hint of ‘porpoising’. Further, it only surfaced once while I was looking, which is not typical of dolphin behaviour I have witnessed. I understand dolphins can swim alone, but most that I have ever seen around here are in pairs or larger groups. The fin owner appeared to be swimming alone. It was definitely not a seal. I saw no disturbance of water behind the trail of the fin which could have suggested a vertical shark fin. Yet it showed no interest in me. The most recent swim I had with dolphins (with four friends) saw them acknowledge our presence and swim towards us from a distance of greater than 20m. The fin was of a size which gave the impression of something bigger than me, but not something huge.

I intend to continue to leave the water when solitary dark dorsal fins on unidentified creatures swim in my vicinity. Today’s prematurely concluded swim must be filed as merely an interesting experience. I will of course continue to swim in the bay.

The unimpressive track of my brief swim. Note the initial relaxed pace of 2:32/100m at 60 strokes per minute (the watch records only the left arm, hence 30spm = 60spm).

This initial relaxed pace contrasts with my pace after the 90° turn. My initial pace improved from 2:32/100m to 1:56/100m, and my stroke rate went up from 60 to 68. The second window shows that I then settled down to a steady 2:00/100m pace, but at 70 strokes per minute which I sustained!

Not worried, just interval training.

Coasting

Images from recent days in Apollo Bay doing stuff that requires only time – all within walking distance of home.

The New Holland Honeyeater and the House Sparrow

These birds literally flew between my camera lens and the surf break I was trying to focus on. They landed on cliff-top scrub that was just below my line of sight to the reef. As there were lengthy breaks between sets of waves, I wound the telephoto lens right back and took a few shots of these feathery little photo bombers from close quarters.

The New Holland honeyeater seems constantly on the move. It flits and darts at high speed, and only alights on a plant for a very brief time. They are a very difficult photographic subject. The sky was overcast when this photo was taken.
The clouds parted temporarily providing blue skies as the background for a few shots.
The beak on this female house sparrow was discoloured from feasting on the crimson berries on the branches all around it. This bird is not native to Australia. It was introduced from India and England in the 1860s. The species has thrived right across Australia, except in W.A. where they have not become established because of prevention measures taken by the W.A. state government.

Ocean scenery & ocean swims

The view to the north from Apollo Bay beach. There was a moderate swell this day. Friends of mine live in the low house on the cleared land in centre frame. The view from there is even better than you might think.
The stone wall on the right is at the entrance to Apollo Bay harbour. The ship was much further away than it appears here (due the foreshortening effect of the telephoto lens) as it headed west from Bass Strait. This photo was taken from Apollo Bay beach – the breakwater shown was about 600m from where I was standing.

The first two swims were done in the conditions and at the times and locations shown in the photos with the sunrise and the steps. The third swim was done in calm water – I just love the photo (which showed the conditions about two kms south of where I swam).

Surf & Surfers

Unrideable Waves

Around Anzac Day (25 April) there was a reasonable swell for a couple of days. There was a light offshore wind, and the sea was generally glassy. There was a long interval between sets, but when they arrived they were solid. This was a sneaker wave (surprisingly bigger than average on the day). The photo shows it breaking over the southern side of the Marengo outer reef. This shot was taken near dusk under overcast skies. I had the aperture wide open, I was constantly reducing the speed and increasing the ISO as the light rapidly faded. I was about to give it away and pack up when I saw this wave building out to sea. It was a short wait, and well worth it. This was one of the last photos I took for the day. The poor light washed out virtually all colour, except the vivid aqua sections as shown. The soft white manes of spray were the product of the light nor’ westerly wind.
Smaller wave breaking over the same reef (as shown in the preceding photo) but earlier in the day with much better light and a bit of sunshine.
The unrideable barrel. The dark areas directly in front of it are exposed reef.
Under overcast skies and with only a light wind, the swell was moody, glassy and grey.

Seamus

Seamus looking for speed as the lip started to throw out overhead. The other photo shows the end of the ride on this wave, with Australian fur seals relaxing on the reef in the background.

Tommy

Tommy can certainly lay claim to paddling out and over an unbroken section of this interesting and unrideable wave. But the wave he was heading out to ride was on the break to his right as he paddled out (as shown top right), which while not quite as spectacular, was eminently rideable.

The third photo was taken as the wave was closing out, the ride was over, and Tommy decided to bail out over the back of the wave. The photo captured the moment when it appeared he was levitating from the deck of his board to achieve this exit.

Leroy

Leroy is over 60 and surfs like a young bloke.

Angus