Ocean Swimmers at Little Henty Reef

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

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

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

Susie descending effortlessly to the seabed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter in Apollo Bay

The air temperature was 7°C and the wind was blowing at 25-30 knots. The wind chill was around 1°C. There was thunder from time to time and being wet from the near constant rain created a further refrigeration effect. These were the conditions in which some of the photos below were taken. The camera and I were rugged up and I stayed dry (as did my camera) and warm for the time it took to take these photos. Being out in conditions like this always makes me feel really alive and energised.

A deep low, a couple of fronts and a blast of cold air from Antarctica

While the winter solstice in Australia was on 21 June 2020, the coldest part of winter around Apollo Bay always seems to be late August. The sea temperature is coldest then, and deep lows and cold fronts such as we experienced in recent days are common.

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

Below are the usual portents and omens which are always enjoyable reading for those interested in the weather. They are a clarion call to do many things, including making sure there is enough dry kindling and chopped firewood to ensure the open fire can burn continuously during such a cold spell. This weather pattern brought snow down to 500m across many areas in western Victoria which don’t normally see snow.

Photographers’ Eyrie at Hayley Point

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

There was a lot of water moving at Little Henty Reef

There have been much bigger swells in this area. But the deep low centred in the southern ocean south-west of Tasmania and its associated storms still created enough energy to bring sizeable groundswell to the Apollo Bay coast and beyond. As the low moved through the area, the wind eventually swung around to the south-west. But on the day these photos were taken the front had yet to pass and the wind was from the north-west. Such a wind is offshore for the waves arriving at Little Henty Reef which means the waves are shaped perfectly and groomed by the wind with giant manes of white water blowing back as they break.

This sequence of four images shows the stages of a wave first appearing in the large crescent shape dictated by the reef contours just north of Little Henty Reef, then peaking, breaking and finally crashing over the shallow reef with a perfect dark aqua barrel even on this gloomy wet and windy day. These photos were taken between squall lines.

A lot of water moving around.

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

Heavier rain darkened the day and the mood of the sea

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

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

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

Images from a couple of recent swims

Marengo

Winter in Apollo Bay is not all storms and big swell. These photos were taken with my ageing GoPro at Marengo a week or so ago. It was a cold sunny day with not much wind. There was no swell to speak of. Conditions allowed me to swim about 500m north from the small bay at the southern end of Mounts Bay into the more open bay (and back again). There are many occasions when such a swim is imprudent or dangerous. This day was neither. The ocean was at rest. The underwater visibility was also very inviting. The water was cold and clean. I was the only person in the water and Liz was the only person on the beach.

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

Apollo Bay Harbour

As noted in some previous posts, on days with big easterlies, or when the bay and Marengo are not inviting for one reason or another, there is nearly always the harbour. Clean relatively sheltered water can usually be found here.

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

Incidental beauty around Apollo Bay

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

Onion weed on the left. I was disappointed to learn that this delicate and understated but beautiful little plant was not called something more prosaic like ‘the deferential dew drop’ or ‘the reading light’. I was also disappointed on Googling this species to be directed first up to a site informing me ‘how to get rid of onion weed’. This plant apparently has no friends. On the right is a flower called ‘blossom’ (my research on this flower was brief).

I think I will stick to declaring beauty wherever and in whatever I find it, unburdened by unhelpful knowledge.

Grevillea, and king protea (before opening hours).

The exquisite and luminescent king protea.

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

Ocean swimming, Lorne at Dusk and a Storm Cloud

Winter on the shores of the ocean at Apollo Bay is a time of open fires, strong winds, big seas, cold fronts, cold oceans, cold swims and driving rain. It’s a wonderful season to be in this wild and remote part of the world.

Winter Ocean Swimming at Marengo

I woke up to blue skies, a light offshore wind and no swell this morning. I measured the sea temperature at Marengo at 11°C. On July 6 I measured it at the same spot at 14°C. Late August is typically when the ocean is coldest at Apollo Bay. I have never measured it below 11°C here and in recent years it has not dipped below 12° in winter.

A perfect day for a solo swim at Marengo with my iPhone 8 in its trusty waterproof housing.

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

Solo Swim at Marengo

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

A Harbour Swim at Apollo Bay

When both Marengo and the bay at Apollo Bay are either not safe or not suitable for swimming, the local harbour offers an alternative. I have swum here when it was rough with a howling northerly coming straight in the harbour mouth. I have often swum here when big easterly seas pound the local beaches, as the eastern side of the harbour water is calm in such conditions in the lee of the breakwater. I have swum here when it was so dirty from dredging that the visibility was zero and the dirt clung to my face and wetsuit after I had left the water. I have swum here when it was dirty because it was rough. On one such swim, in relatively shallow water, I encountered one of the large resident stingrays. We gave each other a fright. Stingrays are not uncommon in the harbour. Finally, I have swum here in the black of night, during a 100 day challenge for which I had to swim at least 1000m every day for 100 days. The only option on one particular day was the harbour after dark. That was not an enjoyable swim and I have no plans to repeat it.

But the day these photos were taken, the harbour was picture perfect. The water was clear, calm and various shades of blue and green. It may have looked like a tropical paradise, but the water temp was 12°C and the air temp less. But it was still a very pleasant swim.

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

Lorne Pier after Sunset

The sun had set as I was driving through Lorne, and the fading light on a layer of cumulus cloud on the eastern horizon beyond the Lorne pier demanded a few photos.

A black and white version and a version with variation of the actual pastel colours. An experiment I won’t persist with.

The next two shots have are the colours I saw. These photos vary in the number of surfers present, and in the inclusion of the tree and headland on the right in the second image. I like these, and if I were submitting them to a surfing magazine, there is no doubt the paddling surfers would add to the appeal of the picture.


But this image was my final choice. I like the balance of the opposing lines of the small wave and the jetty, and the clouds were also a little more detailed and vibrant here than in some of the other shots I took. I like the simplicity of the shot. It has very few elements.

Early Evening Storm Cloud over Bass Strait

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

The Coastal Eucalypt Forest

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

Winter swim around Little Henty Reef

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

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

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

Little Henty Reef at Apollo Bay

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

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

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

The swim around Little Henty Reef on 29 June 2020

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

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

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

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

Back in the little bay.

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

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

A few hours of Southern Ocean solitude

A remote Southern Ocean beach without a name on a rugged little bay on the west coast of Victoria. Sounded ideal. Was. Lizzie and I packed a good map, a picnic lunch, my wetsuit and snorkelling gear and the waterproof camera. We also carried a mud map drawn by a helpful local to assist us in finding this beach. Bit of a trek from where the road ended, but worth it. It was a wonderful few hours respite from the world notwithstanding that the sky was overcast, the visibility underwater wasn’t very good and the March flies were out in force living up to their calendar connection. While many landed on us in their usual annoying way, neither of us got bitten for some reason – a bonus we gratefully accepted.

This is the remote stretch of coast exposed to the full force of the Southern Ocean where we found a small bay without a name. The full force of the ocean was not happening on this day, which meant I could go snorkelling. On days of big surf, swimming would not be possible anywhere along this part of the coast.
Exciting and remote places, but no arrow to Unnamed Beach. The Great Ocean Walk is a famous coastal walk of 100kms or so from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles area. It takes about 8 days to do the whole walk. This sign is on the walking track which we crossed on our walk to the beach.
Out of sight below the cliff is a beach. My snorkelling location was in the sheltered small bay inside the reef with the small breaking waves on the left of the image. The sky was making no secret of the approaching change in the weather.
I have never seen seaweed like this before. It was like dark green rope, and it was everywhere on these reefs.
This was taken through the dome port on my waterproof camera housing. After immersion underwater, initially there is an even layer of water over the 6 inch diameter dome port, which contracts in stages as it runs off the convex glass dome. On this occasion, the disappearing water symmetrically framed Lizzie. Rookie error not clearing the dome port before clicking, but an acceptable result all things considered.
I entered the water by sliding down the rocks which were thickly covered in all sorts of seaweed and kelp which was entirely comfortable for such a mode of entry. Lizzie was on lookout for anything on our single-item list of good reasons to get out of the water immediately.
Most stingrays I have come across while swimming or snorkelling in the ocean in this part of the world are pretty laid back. They glide with purpose and composure and never seem rushed. I think I must have surprised this one, because his exit was at high speed with a few wild high bank turns thrown in. We exchanged the giving of frights.
Closeup from the previous photo.
The marine plant life here was highly varied, large and exotic. There were varieties of seaweed and kelp I had never seen before.
The broad strips of thick yellow kelp (on the left) were all over the place. The long flowing tendrils of thinner kelp (on the right) were also common. While there was no surf to speak of, there were some waves and the water was in constant motion with currents coming and going. The long kelp undulated back and forth in slow motion in these currents.
Substantial flattish rocks were spread around on the seabed. I found them useful to provide a clear backdrop against which to photograph fish. I have taken quite a few underwater photos of fish which were visible to me at the time mainly because of their movement, and the still picture was nothing more than a testament to their excellent and sometimes perfect camouflage marking. I regularly see more fish at the time of taking a photo than I can find in the photo later.
Marine plant garden. At least this fish can be seen against the colourful backdrop.
There is a rocky outcrop hiding under all this plant life. There were areas of deeper water quite close to the reefs. The colours under the water surprised me given that it was on overcast day.
The marine plants temporarily flattened out in a surge of current from the deeper water. I was going backwards too as I took this photo. The colours present would’ve graced any garden.
There is unfortunately nothing in this photo to give any clear sense of scale of the size of this species of kelp. It was a great sight, especially when extended and waving in the currents.
Rocky rampart between sea and shore.
As the bubbles, reduced visibility and seaweed tangles show, there was quite a current at this spot.
Between the surges of current.
My memory of this scene was that it included more than three fish. Whatever.
There must be a lot of nutrients in this water, or this spot must be just the right temperature and depth to allow such a tangle of prolific growth on this narrow strip of sand between large rocks.
My intended subject, the distant horizon, remained unphotographed thanks to a small wave passing by just as I pulled the shutter trigger.
Aesthetic curve.
Looking for some seaweed covered gently sloping rock on which to slide up and out of the water.
The rock shelf extended some distance from the beach.
Hot cup of black tea after my swim and a picnic lunch on the rocks. Social distancing par excellence. The nearest land mass south of where we we sat is Antarctica.

Shorebreak at Dawn

Occasionally the ocean simply offers peace.

These photos were taken before breakfast this morning at Tuxion beach at the end of my street in Apollo Bay, Australia. A consistent surfable swell rolled into the bay from dawn to dusk.

My first underwater look at Little Henty Reef, Apollo Bay

I mentioned to a swimming friend who is married to a shark fisherman that I was planning to go snorkelling at Little Henty Reef. “Shark Alley!” was her response, albeit with a smile. Well, there is a seal colony (non-breeding) on one of the higher exposed sections of the reef. But surfers surf this reef, kayakers regularly paddle around it and there are often swimmers in the shallows. I have also heard that local snorkellers are happy to swim at this location. I asked around. I concluded it was a reasonable thing to snorkel on the inner reef, in appropriately calm conditions between tides. I see no reason why this water should be any more ‘sharky’ than the other places where I swim in this area.

The Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary is a short distance south of Apollo Bay. This protected area encompasses the Little Henty reefs and a total of about 12 hectares of ocean. It is rich in marine life. The reef furthest from shore is permanent home to a colony of about 100 Australian fur seals.

Little Henty Reef is at the southern end of Mounts Bay. Strong tidal currents and rips often surge between the reefs. These reefs are also the first landfall of big swells generated to the south west in the roaring forties. I have seen triple overhead surf on and around these reefs. Snorkelling can only be contemplated in low or no swell conditions, and ideally on or near a low tide. But calm water in this area is never still water. There are always currents of varying direction and force to consider carefully.

The inner reef of Little Henty which looks to be on the horizon is in fact only 150m or so offshore. From front to back: Mike, Hamish and Nadine who kindly offered to accompany us in her kayak to keep a lookout for any additional company in the water. A strong front with solid rain showers and big winds came through earlier in the afternoon. But by late in the day, despite it being overcast, the wind had dropped and sea conditions were as shown. We seized the moment on short notice as conditions abated. We entered the water half an hour before low tide. I expected there to be a fading current from north to south as the last of the tide ebbed out. But it became immediately apparent as we swam out that the current, unexpectedly, was going the other way and was reasonably strong. We had to aim for the reef with a significant drift angle to our right. I am still contemplating whether the forecast time for low tide was in error, or whether there is some other explanation for the current going north in the opposite direction to the outgoing tide. The current eased a little once we were in the shallows near the reef. But we still had to swim strongly going south, and could drift at a comfortable speed going north.
Mike at the northern end of the reef closest to shore. The seabed between here and the shore was only about 10-12 feet deep. There wasn’t much plant life until we got near the reef, where it was flourishing. There were many and varied fish species in the seaweed and kelp beds near the reef.
Mike & Hamish by the reef after swimming only 150m or so. Low threshold for a high five, but why not.
Nadine keeping a watchful eye out for us.
Kelp beds swaying in the currents.
A dozen or more smallish fish swimming past me just below the surface. Whiting?
The high point on the hills on the horizon is Marriners Lookout, which overlooks the township of Apollo Bay. To the left of frame are the sand dunes along the beach in Mounts Bay. The line of rocks on the right is the northern end of Little Henty Reef.
Bomp Bomp Bomp Bomp…..
Mike and I were heading north in reasonably shallow water over dense areas of kelp and seaweed. This is where the fish were. This stingray was heading south, no doubt looking for dinner. We had the current behind us, and when I touched Mike’s arm to point out that he and the stingray were heading for each other, the current kept him going for longer than he might’ve preferred. But the stingray was across the situation, and at quite close quarters did a right hand turn away from us out into the deeper water.
So much about a stingray swimming looks to me like flying. The fact that they have wings adds to this impression. They are very graceful.
Hamish enjoying the scenery and showing off his Apple watch as it resists splashes while not claiming to be waterproof.
At the southern end of the small reef the water between the reef and the shore was much deeper. You can see it falling away in the lower right of this photo.
Swimming this close to the marine plant life meant that we came across most fish quite suddenly. We saw quite a few sizeable fish. When swimming with the current, there was no need to kick or swim – we just drifted with it.
I have no idea whether this is a zebra fish, but it should be. The underwater gardens were fresh and almost tropically luxuriant. The colours were vibrant – not bad for early evening on an overcast day.
This plant species no doubt has a name, but seaweed is as specific as I can get without further research. The clean white sand was a feature of this area. Because there was movement of the water, visibility was less than in the rock pools I visit, but it was still very good.
Background: Marengo township. Foreground: Mike using his long arm to check the depth.
I think this was the same stingray we saw earlier. Seems we were both doing laps up and down the seaweed and kelp beds.
Once again, it headed away from me to deeper water. Stingrays in my experience are not aggressive creatures. They are quite gentle, and sometimes even a bit inquisitive of humans swimming near them. I have had them follow me, and swim slowly around me. But that stinger on the tail remains worth avoiding.
Silent low flying.
On the right, the deeper water near the southern end of the reef can be seen.
Swimming against the current required a few more horse power. At least the fish knew we were coming.
Nadine and Mike.
Mike looking a bit sceptical about Hamish’s fish size story.
L to R: Hamish, me and Mike. Marengo point in the background. This was taken just before we headed back across the short pass to the beach. Once again, the south to north current was as strong as when we first entered the water, requiring a drift angle of 30-40° to end up where we wanted near our car.

I often swim for an hour or more in the ocean at Apollo Bay for the pure enjoyment of it. I don’t feel cold after these swims because I wear a wetsuit. But I found it interesting that even though I wore my winter Patagonia suit on this summer snorkelling excursion, and despite not hurrying my time under the hot outdoor shower when I got home, it took me a while to warm up. I suppose I got colder quicker because snorkelling is a lot less active than swimming non-stop freestyle. I was not back to my normal operating temperature until after my battered flake, two scallops, min chips and a potato cake. Of course no other meal could even be considered after such a swim.

When swimming in southern latitudes near the 40th parallel (38.75°S to be precise), with or without a wetsuit, the hypothermia clock is always ticking.

Just for comparison, these photos were taken about three weeks ago at a location on the Little Henty reefs about 300m from our snorkelling location. This was not a snorkelling day. (For more photos of big swell breaking on and near these reefs, see the post on this blog titled ‘Summer Solstice Swell’, posted 24 December 2019).

Beauty beneath the Surface

The reefs and rock pools along the west coast of Victoria only reveal their beauty to those prepared to get wet.  For half the time they are entirely concealed by the ocean at high tide, and for the other half they present as relatively unattractive seaweed filled pools scattered between rocky outcrops on the reef, visible only at low tide.

But for those prepared to slide into the kelp, the seaweed and the still water of these pools with a face mask and snorkel, a beautiful world awaits.

 

John Langmead_untitled_0481_20191226_Online
While most of the pools are connected one way or another to the ocean through the maze of channels between the rocks, at low tide much of the water in the pools is still and clear.  The further from the breaking waves a pool is, the clearer it will be.  A glance from dry land as shown gives some hint of the plant life beneath the surface, but no hint of the beauty beyond.

John Langmead_untitled_0509_20191226_Online
Prolific kelp beds dominate the larger marine plant species on this reef.

John Langmead_untitled_16_20191226-2_Online
The safest way to enter these pools is to sit on the edge, which will feel upholstered as it is cushioned with Neptune’s necklace and other seaweed forms completely concealing the rock on which they grow.  Then slide on your backside down the sloping wall of the pool on the slippery beds of seaweed.  To attempt to walk in this shallow water near the edge, with or without flippers, seems to result in me sitting down in the water after a fall or a near fall on the uneven rocks concealed by the seaweed.  As soon as the water is deep enough to float face down and prone without scraping rocks or sand, do it.  Gentle kicks with suitable fins will see you effortlessly gliding at the speed of your choice to deeper water.  At their deepest these rock pools are 12-15 feet deep.  But 18 inches of water is also enough to glide over the pristine sand and sea gardens.

John Langmead_untitled_17_20191226_Online
Generally speaking, views of the surface of the sea from above or below are not available simultaneously.   But the gentle movement of the surface of these rock pools can allow you to view both at once, even if only for a moment.  

John Langmead_untitled_0382_20191226_Online
What a contrast between the bare rocks above the surface, and the richly coloured world immediately below.

John Langmead_untitled_0470_20191226_Online
The unhurried visitor to this world will see the gentle curves and arcs of the water surface, and the mesmerising movement of refracted light patterns on the contours of the seabed.

John Langmead_untitled_0461_20191226_Online
 Boundaries between ecosystems in nature are rarely so clearly marked as they are by the surface of the sea..

John Langmead_untitled_39_20191226_Online
These pools have an abundance of fish in them.  But mostly their colour and markings make them very hard to see in a still photo.  While snorkelling, it is only their movement that allows them to be seen.  They are only easy to see as they swim over sand.

This 24 second video clip shows the abundant fish life in the vicinity of a rocky outcrop with all sorts of hiding places on and under it.  In still photos of the fish shown swimming here, their camouflage makes them virtually invisible unless they are over clear sand.  This area was close to the ocean beyond the reef, and so the water was highly aerated and moving constantly.  If I were a fish, I would seek out such conditions.

The parts of these pools connected directly to the ocean have currents pulling out to sea on the outgoing tide.  But there are lengthy sections which are perfectly calm and still. I cruised slowly through them turning left and right as pathways presented themselves.  This 21 second video shows  me swimming through a wall of kelp which opened up into a wide and deep pool fringed by kelp beds.

 

I drifted weightlessly at low altitude over the white sandy trails through the rock pool labyrinth.  Enjoy some of the highlights of the tour.

 

 

John Langmead_untitled_0418_20191226_Online

 

 

John Langmead_untitled_0428_20191226_Online

 

John Langmead_untitled_0430_20191226_Online

 

John Langmead_untitled_0431_20191226_Online

 

John Langmead_untitled_0435_20191226_Online

 

 

John Langmead_untitled_0449_20191226_Online

 

John Langmead_untitled_0454_20191226_Online

 

John Langmead_untitled_0464_20191226_Online

 

John Langmead_untitled_0475_20191226_Online

 

 

John Langmead_untitled_0468_20191226_Online

Southern Ocean Coastal Reef

Continue reading “Southern Ocean Coastal Reef”

An Hour amongst the Seagrass

I decided on a whim this morning to have a good look at the seagrass which grows on the sea bed in Apollo Bay harbour. I’ve seen it many times from above the surface when doing a lap of the harbour on my surf ski. I’ve also noticed it out of the corner of my eye when I have used the harbour for an ocean swim on days when a big easterly makes the open sea an unattractive option.

So I donned the Patagonia wetsuit and fins and went for a snorkel. I was enthralled and very surprised by the beauty and variety of what I saw. These photos were all taken within 75m or so of the little beach in the harbour, and the water would not have been deeper than 6 feet at any point. I now can’t wait to snorkel around the points and reefs in the area when conditions permit.

 

John Langmead_untitled_9691_20191212_Online
Marriners Lookout on the horizon, some yacht masts in the middle distance, and the seagrass.  This video gives a thirty second tour in slo-mo under the water at this point.

John Langmead_untitled_9673_20191212_Online
There was a gentle current at times under the water. There was also a short length of some marine plant, which found its neutral buoyancy depth just below the surface where it floated vertically.  Its solitariness and stillness caught my eye. (You had to be there.)

 

John Langmead_untitled_9675_20191212_Online
The main surf beach at Apollo Bay has no seagrass at all. I assume it requires sheltered water such as exists in the harbour. As this video shows, other plants do grow in among the sea grass. Following is another relaxing meander across the sea-bed garden (slo-mo video lasting 1 min 20 seconds) for those interested in such things.

 

 

John Langmead_untitled_9697_20191212_Online
This primitive transparent jelly fish was somehow managing to stay out of the seagrass. Not sure if it was having a good day or not – but I do note it had assumed the universally recognised shape of a smile. (Disclaimer: I’m not a formally trained marine biologist.)

John Langmead_untitled_9701_20191212_Online
This seagrass waving gently in the currents reminded me of a paddock of  long green grass waving gently in the wind.

John Langmead_untitled_9703_20191212_Online
Floating between heaven and  earth.

John Langmead_untitled_9754_20191212_Online
The uneven surface of the water momentarily lifted the curtain to reveal the sea bed and seagrass.

John Langmead_untitled_9756_20191212_Online
The random curves on the surface of the sea seemed at times to perfectly frame the scenery above and below the water.

John Langmead_untitled_9759_20191212_Online
Wind ruffled water from below looking a bit like clouds over this field of grass.

John Langmead_untitled_9773_20191212_Online
Quite a number of fish swam across my path. I have no idea what species any of them were (save for the porcupine fish mentioned below). As a child I fished a lot off piers, and caught many porcupine fish.  Survivors were released into the wild. Flathead and snapper proved more elusive.

John Langmead_untitled_9776_20191212_Online

More seagrass vistas.

John Langmead_untitled_9804_20191212_Online

John Langmead_untitled_9820_20191212_Online

John Langmead_untitled_9829_20191212_Online

The Porcupine Fish

This 59″ video is another slo-mo wander through the seagrass, taken as I followed an active little porcupine fish who seemed to know his way around the byways of this locality.  It was an enjoyable if short tour. The stills immediately following are from this video.

John Langmead_untitled_9830_20191212_Online

John Langmead_untitled_9832_20191212_OnlineJohn Langmead_untitled_9837_20191212_Online

 

 

 

 

 

John Langmead_untitled_9845_20191212_Online

John Langmead_untitled_9851_20191212_Online

John Langmead_untitled_9852_20191212_Online

 

Surprise encounter with a stingray having a quiet bite to eat

I swam north along the edge of a rock wall leading to the little jetty. There seemed to be a lot of fish staying within cooee of the rocks no doubt because of the excellent shelter on offer in their nooks and crannies. My eyes were focussed on quite small fish, which was basically all I was seeing. So I did not register when confronted with the scene shown below that there was a larger thing feeding on the remains of a smaller thing.

John Langmead_untitled_9782_20191212_Online
I did make a sudden stop when I realised that this was one of the big stingrays which call the harbour home.  I’d like to make clear that my pulse stayed the same and I was not hearing any ‘bomp bomp bomp bomp’ bass lines in my head. There are four or five large stingrays in the harbour, so well known to fishermen and  boaties that some have been given names. But I reckon this is the largest.  It  had a dead fish on a rock beneath it which it had substantially devoured before I arrived.

John Langmead_untitled_9855_20191212_Online
I have encountered these at very close quarters in and outside the harbour when swimming or on my surf ski. They are never aggressive, but they do show interest sometimes and have on occasions followed me. I recall swimming over the sea grass here some years ago and crossing a sandy area in quite shallow water. I didn’t see the stingray there because when resting they can cover themselves with sand, and often the end of the tail is all that can be seen. So the first I knew of its presence was when the empty patch of sand suddenly came to life right beneath me and a large ray emerged to greet the day, and me as it turned out. I did a sharp turn away from him and put in what was probably a PB for 30-40m. I then slowed down and turned to confirm he was not in sight. But there he was, pretty much on my heels and following me. When I stopped so did he, and this time he slowly veered away and  headed off first, but much slower than I had done. In hindsight, I think he was mildly  interested in me (and not as a food source), but he was absolutely not aggressive. I regret bolting. I should’ve stayed to see what he would do.

John Langmead_untitled_9807_20191212_Online
A beautiful creature. I have often thought it might be possible for humans to interact peacefully and quietly with these rays at close quarters, by e.g. feeding them in the shallows. It has happened elsewhere, but while the local rays don’t bother us, I have seen no sign that they have any real interest in getting to know humans.

John Langmead_untitled_9808_20191212_Online
There was quite a bit of flapping of the outside of his ‘wings’ as he ate.

John Langmead_untitled_9810_20191212_Online

John Langmead_untitled_9854_20191212_Online
I felt as though I had stumbled into this big stingray’s lair. I know of course that he and his mates treat the entire harbour and bay and probably beyond as their home and rightful place. But this spot with its large and apparently comfortable rocks and the dark jetty pole silhouettes receding into the green gloom in the background seemed entirely befitting for this denizen of the shallows.

John Langmead_untitled_9853_20191212_Online
Perfectly positioned to feast on the fish remains beneath it. That’s a very substantial tail.

This 22″ video shows the stingray just after it had finished feeding. It seemed to pause as if conscious of my presence while not looking directly at me.  It eventually decided to move along.  As for the fish that was lunch, there wasn’t much of it left.

 

Simple pleasures.