Millers Run: Sea Urchins, Bluebottles and Big, Big Waves

Saturday, 22 April 2006 13:20 | Written by 
Rate this item
(0 votes)

...happy, sunny harbinger of fun - the summer southeaster

“Very windy with large seas. Small craft advisory. Large long period swell. Winds: SE 21 to 28 knots Seas: SW 14 feet at 14 sec.”


“Millers Run calling all surf skis. Awesome run predicted.”



There are two southeasters in Cape Town. The summer southeaster is a happy, sunny harbinger of fun. The bright sky turns the sea a friendly blue and picks out the gleaming white caps on the waves. The “black” southeaster, however, is grim and threatening. Low, dark clouds scud across the sky, and the sea turns a dirty, cold, unfriendly grey.

Last Monday saw a black southeaster hit Cape Town – and the forecast spoke of a huge 4-5m (12-15ft) groundswell at sea. The waves wouldn’t be quite that size in False Bay, but they’d be out of the ordinary – and the long interval between them meant that they’d be moving fast.

Naturally (given the forecast) Wayne - my A-type personality, adrenalin-junky paddling buddy - called me to arrange a Millers run.

The Millers run is one of the classic Cape routes. You head west, out from the Fishing Club ramp at Millers Point towards Bakoven Rock for about 800m parallel to the wind and waves. At Bakoven Rock, you take a deep breath, press the Lap button on your GPS and take off downwind towards the Roman Rock lighthouse some 6km away. From the lighthouse you head straight for Fish Hoek bay - another 6km or so - to the finish on the beach.

Millers run route

When we arrived at Millers Point, it was obvious that the forecast had been spot on – the little bay was a maelstrom of breaking water. As we watched, we could see that there was a regular pattern: a series of waves would come in past the point, breaking in the shallower water and surging up the slipway.

But every ten waves or so, an enormous swell would come in and break right at the point, closing out the entire entrance to the bay. In all my Millers runs, I had never seen such waves - timing would be critical on our way out.

I stood on the ramp a while and watched the waves. Yep, there was definitely a long gap between the big ones. Let’s go…

The tide was far out – spring low - and with the huge surge we had to step off the end of the ramp onto the rocks in order to reach deep enough water to launch the skis.

...45 degrees off course...

As Wayne set off, a gust of wind caught him and flung his ski round so that he was heading out about 45 degrees off course to the left. You definitely don’t want to head left from the ramp – you want to stick close to the rocks on the right – and I stood and watched as he shot off across the bay straight into the worst of the white water.  

...staight for the worst of the white water..

I could see that he was trying to turn right, but he kept being hit by the breakers. Finally he fell off and I thought he was destined to land on the rocks. But no, in an instant he was back on, and heading directly into the waves. Up and over, up and over, and he was on his way.

...kept being hit by the breakers

I stepped off the ramp and felt a crunching sensation under my bare feet. Too focussed on the launch to think anything more of it, I leapt in and sprinted for the point. Over one small wave, and oh boy, here comes one of the monsters… Sprint, sprint, twenty strokes and I knew we’d be OK.  

Image comes one of the monsters...

Click here for a larger image.

...sprint, sprint...

Click here for a larger image.

...we'd be ok...

Click here for a larger image. 

Wayne paddled up beside me and yelled, “Have you noticed how many bluebottles there are? I hate the bloody things!”

Sure enough, there were carpets of the nasty critters everywhere we looked. If you’re paddling upwind you have to be careful not to catch them on your paddle blades – it’s all too easy to flick them out of the water and onto your body. But going downwind I figured we’d be OK. With any luck they’d be blown forward, away from us.

We’d agreed to keep each other in sight and to join up when we reached the lighthouse, whoever was in front stopping to wait. I couldn’t figure out why Wayne was falling so far behind and when I reached the lighthouse I turned back to find out.

“These damn bluebottles are everywhere,” he bleated, “I’m not enjoying this at all!”  

“See you on the beach,” I replied unfeelingly, and headed off again, chuckling at the image of Wayne delicately tiptoeing through the carpets of bluebottles.

I was having fun – the swells were running fast and were difficult to catch, but by looking for the smaller, wind-generated waves, I found I could pick up enough speed to turn onto the monsters. It definitely wasn’t going to be a personal best time, though.

Fish Hoek was alive with kite surfers and I threaded my way in through them, broaching on the wave into the beach, losing my cap as I was dumped. When Wayne arrived some minutes later he was still complaining about the bluebottles. “I got one into my foot wells,” he grumbled, “and I was sitting there with my legs half out the ski, trying to flick it out with my paddle. All I managed to do was cut the thing in half – and had half of it one foot well, half in the other!”

I was highly amused. Normally Wayne is completely fearless – as evidenced by his cool recovery in the mayhem at Millers Point. His wimpish reaction to the bluebottles was totally out of character.

He had the last laugh though – I’d walked over a carpet of sea urchins at Millers Point and several nights later passed an unpleasant hour digging out no fewer than sixteen spines with the aid of a needle and bottle of wine…  


Latest Forum Topics

  • No posts to display.