Celebrating Australia's first surf report
As Australia observes 250 years since Captain James Cook landed in Australia, the surf forecasting community is celebrating another significant milestone: It's also 250 years since Australia's first surf report!
In late April, 1770, HMS Endeavour spotted the Australian mainland at Point Hicks and then sailed up the south coast of what would become New South Wales. Each of the Endeavour's officers kept a log, which in various ways mention the surf, usually as a barrier to launching a landing party.
They also record the wind, which for almost a week blew from the west or southwest.
Lots of surf, offshore wind.
On the 27th April, 1770, the Endeavour was offshore from Garie in the Royal National Park, midway between Sydney and Wollongong, but light wind saw it drifting south on the southerly current.
Lots of surf, variable wind.
The next day, Cook tried to land at Woonona, just north of Wollongong. If circumstances had been different, the Gong would've been the first place the Brits set foot on Aussie soil, but alas, Cook was beaten back by a solid autumn swell.
Cook subsequently dialled it in: “...we found that we nowhere could affect a landing by reason of the great surf which beat every where upon the shore.”
However, Cook's 2IC Zachary Hicks made the more memorable observation: “Ye captain went away in ye yawl, but could not land for ye surf."
Thus, on 28th April 1770, 250 years ago, the wind was light and variable following a week of offshore west and southwest winds. No doubt the swell Cook passed while heading up the coast would've been related to that southerly wind regime, perhaps a Long Wave Trough passing under Victoria and moving out into the Tasman Sea.
Whereas on the day of the attempted landing the offshore winds dropped and turned variable, while the swell - still big enough to stop ye yawl from landing - continued unabated.
Even from 250 years hence we can be farily sure the surf was pumping.
This was to be the last day of the southerly weather cycle that accompanied the Endeavour up the coast.
After the failed landing, the Endeavour was becalmed in the shallow bay that comprises Woonona and Bellambi slowly drifting south towards a dangerous offshore reef. Cook's journals said they were, "within some breakers that lay to the south of us.”
At 6pm, a west-southwest change hit and filled the Endeavour's sails, moving it away from virginal danger. Cook sailed north with the wind and the swell at his back, and the next morning he rounded Cape Solander to land at Botany Bay.