Social Freedive: Portsea Drift 2014

Set Adrift on Memory Bliss

Port Phillip Bay has a sign hanging over it:

Approach with Caution.

Point Nepean waters have another sign:

Danger – Enter at Own Risk

With attractive beauty, a deep history and spectacular nature, Point Nepean at the very southern tip of the Mornington Peninsula offers a diversity for visitors unequalled. It’s worth the drive even if you don’t enter the water.

The Quarantine Station at Point Nepean is an interesting place to visit at any time of year.

The Quarantine Station at Point Nepean is an interesting place to visit at any time of year.

The Saturday social freedive saw a couple of intrepid visitors take to the water in the bay waters abutting the Quarantine Station. The signage at the water’s edge says it all:

  • Strong Currents
  • Submerged Objects
  • Swimming not Advised
Strong Currents, Submerged Objects, Swimming Not Advised. Be very careful here!

Strong Currents, Submerged Objects, Swimming Not Advised. Be very careful here!

It’s not an area you want to visit without a plan.

The dive plan was centred around taking advantage of the currents to drift towards Portsea Pier from the entry point, wait for the tide to turn and then catch a free ride back to the starting point. The contingency plan was to exit at Portsea Pier and walk back if conditions changed or expectations were not met.

Prepped up and ready. Always carry a float and flag, be bright and reduce risk.

Prepped up and ready. Always carry a float and flag, be bright and reduce risk.

Could be a lunar landing suspect, but no, it's just a freediver.

Could be a lunar landing suspect, but no, it’s just a freediver.

With flat water conditions, blue skies and little wind we entered the water. Immediately off shore, only about 20 metres distance, the sea floor dropped incredibly sharply from 1.5m to over 10m, definitely not a winner for swimmers.

Only 20 metres off shore from the Quarantine station, the sea floor drops away very quickly.

Only 20 metres off shore from the Quarantine station, the sea floor drops away very quickly.

With a float and flag per diver, good buoyancy and powerful carbon fins, we enjoyed excellent visibility below. Within minutes we were joined by an inquisitive Skate. It kept us company as we began our drift with the Flood tide towards Portsea Pier.

First time we've seen one of these, a Skate. (http://portphillipmarinelife.net.au/species/6581)

First time we’ve seen one of these, a Skate. (http://portphillipmarinelife.net.au/species/6581)

With a line and weight to use as a reference and as the safety cord to the freediver below, we took turns to drop down enjoy being swept along the bottom watching relics fly by, fish scatter and marvellous undulations like golf courses pass underneath. Each time returning up the line to the float to report the latest news from below.

Sponges galore, all shapes and sizes.

Sponges galore, all shapes and sizes.

As we cruised in front of the coastline, depth averaged around 10 metres. Within the national marine park marked by yellow buoys we kept an eye out for dolphins as they’re a known visitor to the area, alas not on this day.

We passed by a yacht and snorkeler also keen to check out some friendly species.

A snorkeler enjoys the protection of a yacht.

A snorkeler enjoys the protection of a yacht.

The current was quite strong but not angry. We made good progress towards Portsea Pier and decided to pause inside the marine park before reaching the pier. Here we would wait for the imminent tide to turn and then hitch a ride back.

Probably some 300m from shore, it’s an area that needs a keen eye and ears functioning at all times. Even though it’s a marine park area, plenty of boat traffic frequents the location and on this day a sailing regatta even made it’s way by.

Plenty of water craft in the area, it's important to stay well aware of all kinds of craft, especially the quiet ones.

Plenty of water craft in the area, it’s important to stay well aware of all kinds of craft, especially the quiet ones.

The sight of a couple of dive flags, colourful buoys and big fins descending regularly caught the attention of quite a number of vessels.

The sight of fins descending caught the attention of many.

The sight of fins descending caught the attention of many.

At least three scuba charters went by, one even making a point of passing overhead as one of the buddies was below. A jetskier paused to ask if all was ok, a couple of pleasure craft also motored by. The Coast Guard was also doing a great job of monitoring and offering a lift to shore.

Jetskis are a regular sight and sound off Portsea pier.

Jetskis are a regular sight and sound off Portsea pier.

Coast Guard patrol does a great job in the area.

Coast Guard patrol does a great job in the area.

As freedivers it’s also good to know basic scuba or dive signals to help communicate with others, especially in a risky area such as off Point Nepean.

This is the key one to say all is “OK”. You can use it to signal to divers or other craft above and below the surface.

Dive hand signal OK surface 2

And here’s a link to other common dive hand signals.

As the tide turned to ebb, our free ride back towards the Quarantine station grew in velocity. As we were on a parallel path further out from shore on the return, keeping an eye out for craft was even more important as well as ensuring the safety of the buddy rising up. After all it’s a bit hard to hear a yacht that doesn’t have an engine or propeller running.

Water Police

Water Police

Depth further out was in the range or 16 – 18m and offered different visuals to closer to shore. More undulations, other fish species and unfortunately diminishing visibility. Starting with around 10 metres, it reduced to around 5-6m on the return journey.

Down below, lots of sponges, grasses, undulating terrain.

Down below, lots of sponges, grasses, undulating terrain.

Plenty of colour to keep you fascinated.

Plenty of colour to keep you fascinated.

Effectively sailing the tide back to the entry point, we slowly edged closer to shore on a diagonal bearing towards the Station. With a few more dives on the way in we made the most of what was a long but relatively easy session athletically. With the strong current we could use that power to get around and only kicked the last 50 – 100m to make sure we stayed on course and hit the exit point.

The Quarantine Station, a key part of Victorian settler history.

The Quarantine Station, a key part of Victorian settler history.

It’s not every day you get to crank out a drift freedive in good conditions and decent visibility but on this occasion the plan got delivered.

Not for the feint hearted, but this kind of dive is a good challenge for navigating the sea conditions and developing diver comfort in the water.

Be Careful! And only dive with experienced buddies in this area.

Specs:

  • Air Temp: 23 – 25c
  • Water Temp: 18 – 19c
  • Freedive Duration: Sat 4.5hrs (in the water)
  • Depth: 10m in close, 16-18m off shore
  • Difficulty: HIGH / EXTREME (due to the high-risk area and tidal conditions, thorough planning essential)
  • Distance Carpark to Shore: 3-400m walk
  • Drive from Melbourne: 1.5hrs
  • Nearby Treats? Portsea and Sorrento pubs