Luxton Leg 6: Darwin to Exmouth: Australia’s rich red beauty, rugged terrain, dangerous wildlife and spectacular coral reefs has Riviera owner Andrew Luxton hooked on adventure. In this edition he recalls his longest and most memorable leg yet in his circumnavigation of Australia on board his Riviera 51 Enclosed Flybridge, Prime Mover.
The avid adventurer is celebrating his 50th year of life with an epic journey anti-clockwise around Australia, which began when he left Melbourne on Boxing Day 2014 and now, some 6,748 nautical miles later, he has arrived in Exmouth in Western Australia.
Leg six took Andrew and his crew on a five-week journey back through the Kimberleys and down the West Coast of Australia. Prior to departure, Andrew spent a full day servicing the engines and performing general boat maintenance and repairs in preparation for the 1810 nautical mile voyage from Darwin to Exmouth. The crew, consisting of Simon Spielvogel, Katrina Luxton (Andrew’s sister), Matthew Smith and Miki Collins, arrived on August 30 and began stocking the boat with supplies. They enjoyed their final night in Darwin at the Mindil Market where they had dinner on the beach and watched the sun set over the horizon before an early 3.30am departure on September 1 bound for Koolama Bay (230 nautical miles) where they anchored overnight.
The next morning they awoke to a beautiful, warm, sunny day with glassy water conditions and after a quick troll around the headland they headed in across the bar at the King George River, one of Andrew’s most beloved destinations.
“The King George River and the surrounding area is absolutely amazing. We were just blown away by its natural, untouched beauty and no matter how many times I visit this scenic river, I will always be in awe of its magnificence. It was as stunning as it was the first time I laid eyes on it,” Andrew exclaimed.
Cruising up the river at 7 knots they arrived at their next anchorage at Twin Falls where they went ashore to climb the rocks and take in the spectacular view.
“I would love to come back to the falls on the tail end of the wet season to see them in full fall but it is challenging picking the weather at that time of year with the possibility of late cyclones and a boat that is based on the East Coast,” Andrew said.
They spent the next day fishing, checking the crab pots and enjoying the scenery under the watchful eye of the resident crocs that appeared to be stalking them.
“The Kimberley Coast Cruising Yacht Club warned us that there would be a lot more croc activity at this time of year with the warmer water temperatures… and they were not wrong.
“On our second night we heard a loud thumping sound from outside the boat and upon inspection we discovered a massive four metre long crocodile lurking in the water alongside Mini Mover II. We all rushed to the side to get a better look just before the croc dived under the water and swam away where he could watch us from a safer distance. This would have to be the biggest croc I have ever seen and if I were to do this trip again, I think I would definitely invest in a much larger dinghy with much higher ‘croc proof’ sides.”
On September 4 it was time to leave the King George River for the 71 nautical mile journey to McGowan Island for the night. Andrew said it was a pleasant stop off point for fishing tours and provided an opportunity for boats like Prime Mover to make the trip across the top of Australia. After refueling on the beach at high tide Andrew decided to head to Vansittart Bay to show the new crew some of the sights he visited when he was there a month earlier on leg 5.
“With a cracking pace we started off at the plane wreck of an American Douglas DC3, which made a forced landing in 1942 after becoming disorientated heading from Perth to Broome. Both crew and two passengers survived and were rescued three days later,” Andrew said.
“The next stop was Jar Island where we visited two aboriginal art sites and then onto Freshwater Bay for the night where we enjoyed a dinner of sashimi entree, spanish mackerel grilled on the barbecue while watching the lemon and reef sharks swim around Prime Mover’s underwater lights in dead still conditions as we reminisced another fantastic day on the water.
“The next day started at 6.30am with a foray to one of the freshwater swimming holes in the bay. The opportunity to swim at long last was too good to miss after having to pass on many tempting spots due to the resident crocs! We could only access the waterhole two hours either side of high tide so we did two trips to get the five of us to the beginning of the short walk to the creek. The waterhole was very picturesque and the water temperature was refreshing but not cold. After a quick swim it was back to Prime Mover. With calm water, we threw caution to the wind and loaded the five of us in Mini Mover II with Simon on the floor as our centre of gravity.”
“The beach where we landed had an amazing steep incline with the high water mark giving an indication of just how much water ebbs and flows in this region. The rocks and landscape were fascinating along the flat with a dry water course marked with the occasional rock cairn to mark the way up,” he said.
“Plenty of scrambling over rocks eventually landed us at the rock overhang and the rock art. We all ran around excitedly discovering and photographing the beautiful rock art, often having to lie on our backs to get the perfect shot. Truly beautiful and so privileged to have visited.”
As they continued on their journey to Broome, they stopped at many picturesque and secluded spots along the way including Spitfire Creek in the St George Basin area.
“The journey through the St George Basin was spectacular to say the least. At one point, we hit 120 metres of water below us. A glassy surface saw incredible mirror images of hills and even clouds reflected in what was a perfect day in this area,” he said.
“The landscape was reminiscent in parts of what you might see in Arizona with flat topped plateaus. Upon arrival in Spitfire Creek, we anchored in 9.5 metres and had the mandatory nap and read before we launched Mini Mover II at 5pm for a foray along the mangrove edges. Interestingly, this area has the largest concentration of mangroves in the southern hemisphere. The tide in the creek was running out and to watch the rate at which the water was moving was a sight in itself – someone really had let the bath plug out.”
As the tide was running out, so too was the water depth below Prime Mover and as Andrew eagerly watched the depth sounder, the decision was made to move the boat when the tide dropped from 9.5 metres to 2.5 metres and the water was still running out quickly behind the Prime Mover.
“There was no moon out as yet so it was impossible to see but for every problem there is a solution, so Matthew donned the life jacket, took the torch and headed out in Mini Mover II to be our advance depth sounder. With me at the helm, Katrina on radio with Matthew, Simon calling depths and Miki in support of us all, we essentially played a game of Marco Polo (game played in a swimming pool where you try to catch people with your eyes closed) as depths were called until we found a safe depth. An eternity seemed to pass as we kept watch on Matthew who was like a firefly dancing in front of us. We headed back to the three metre hole that we had passed and anchored for the night and it was at this point that the full moon came out in the most spectacular way and lit up half the bay.”
The following day they prepared for their journey from Spitfire Creek to the Prince Regent River, which is one of the most remote and beautiful places in Australia. Just before weighing anchor they spotted a croc spying on them.
“Another fearless croc gradually inched his way closer to the boat and it was like the great standoff as he kept submerging without trace and reappearing in a different spot. Apparently crocs like to watch you for the first day or two before actually taking you and this is how it felt – we were being sized up and assessed. Not long after, a second croc appeared but fortunately for us it was time to weigh anchor and head for the Prince Regent River, which is almost perfectly straight for its entire 54 nautical mile length. It runs along the eroded remains of the longest single straight lineament in Australia.
“We came to two islands in the river and the track to take is between them. It looked narrow and it seemed there would not be enough depth to get through so we launched Mini Mover II to investigate. Surprisingly, the channel between the islands was deep – up to nine metres in parts. Once through the channel, the river is riddled with sandbanks that vary dramatically from four metres to one metre. The water was too murky to pick the channel so with Matthew zig zagging in front of us and calling depths back to Simon, we literally inched our way up the river. Finally, after 16 nautical miles, Kings Cascade waterfall was sighted. It was the first properly running waterfall that we have seen.”
After a short break for morning tea, they loaded up Mini Mover II and headed to the rock face for the 55 metre climb to the top of the falls where there is a pool at the top.
“It was one of those experiences where you are expecting the scenery to be good but we didn’t expect the magical landscape that greeted us further back. A large shaded billabong with gumtrees and smaller waterfalls cascading into it was before us. Clothes couldn’t be discarded fast enough as four of us jumped into the billabong and refreshed ourselves. The temperature was perfect. There was a discussion about whether a croc could scale the cliffs or come from a point above, or even be dropped in by an eagle – you do become paranoid in this region but the water was crystal clear and Miki opted for croc watch.”
When they returned to Prime Mover they decided to anchor for the night near Gap Island rather than stay in the river where they could become trapped until a high tide allows them back into the main river.
The next day they were greeted with amazing weather and sea conditions as they continued their voyage to Broome. There were so many beautiful destinations along the way but Andrew was truly impressed with Montgomery Reef. Arriving at 7am on September 15, they anchored Prime Mover and watched in astonishment as the reef rose out of the water as the tide dropped.
“The reef is an amazing sight as the water held in the lagoons on top of the reef begins to cascade into the deep channel in the reef where we were anchored. The actual reef is about 13 miles x nine miles so it stretches as far as the eye can see and a low roar is constantly heard as the water flows off.
“It is possible to walk on the reef, particularly in the many sandy patches but we could feel the crunch of coral under our feet so we limited our exploration of the reef to minimise our impact on this phenomena. The channel has many turtles, about five different types, but they are very shy. The minute they popped their heads up and saw us, they would duck dive again. The reef was definitely a highlight for me, especially the way it rises out of the water as the tide drops.”
They enjoyed morning tea at the reef and explored the sandbank before the high tide and then made their way to their next anchorage at Talbot Bay. They continued on their journey for another four days, stopping at many picturesque bays, including Beagle Bay, and meeting new people along the way before arriving in Broome at 1pm on September 19.
“We departed Beagle Bay in the dark and headed Prime Mover for the final leg to Broome. It is hard to believe that we have been travelling for almost three weeks and have just passed the 6000 nautical mile mark for Prime Mover. We are also very proud of our fuel burn which has been very low on this leg with consistent slower travel and working the tides.”
They had a crew change in Broome with Andrew’s wife Jayne, Simon Barker and Emily Sweet, Tim White and Jade Morris joining Andrew for the 692 nautical mile trip from Broome to Exmouth.
Departing Broome at 5pm on September 22 bound for Rowley Shoals and Mermaid Reef, the crew made the 162 nautical mile journey in uncomfortable conditions.
“As daylight arrived on the horizon, we made a small change to our compass heading to try and improve the ride and a wind change brought the wind around to the back port corner of the boat. As the wind started to gust up, the seas started to build very quickly and Prime Mover was soon surfing the last couple of hours to the Rowleys,” Andrew exclaimed.
“As we made our way around into the lagoon at Mermaid Reef, we picked up our public mooring which we had to book in Broome since it is a no anchorage zone.”
The Rowley Shoals Marine Park is made up of three coral atolls, Clerke Reef, Imperieuse Reef and Mermaid Reef, which are home to a wide variety of corals, fish, manta rays, sea turtles, whales and dolphins, making it one of the world’s most spectacular diving and snorkelling sites.
“With the wind gusting up to 30 knots we were all stuck on board reading, resting and rolling around hanging off the mooring on Prime Mover. After lunch, the wind died down so we launched Mini Mover II and went snorkelling on the reef.
“Wow! This was the best snorkelling of my life with many fish, great colour and a variety of corals.”
The next day they departed Mermaid Reef for the 25 nautical mile trek to Clerke Reef where they moored for the next couple of days.
“As the weather improved with the wind dropping off after lunch, we launched Mini Mover II and headed across to the edge of the reef for a snorkel among some of the best coral and fish life I’ve experienced in my life. With reef sharks, rays and fish of all sizes and colours cruising around us. We all went across to the sand spit to watch the sun go down before returning to Prime Mover just before dark.
“The next morning I was out of bed and snorkelling before breakfast with the best conditions we have had out at the Rowleys over the past few days. I thought yesterday’s snorkelling was good, this was even better with many sharks, rays and fish spotted again. Jayne was a bit nervous at first with all the reef sharks around us but snorkelled with an incoming tide at the entrance to the lagoon we just drifted in – it was absolutely amazing and Jayne said all her fears disappeared because she was mesmerised by myriad fish and colours in this underwater haven.
“Clerke Reef is located about 160 nautical miles offshore, north west of Broome and is the best reef I’ve ever snorkelled. I imagine the Barrier Reef would have been like this back in the 50s and 60s before all the damage. We could have spent a whole week here but I wanted to make sea miles while we had nice weather conditions for a 26 hour night passage to Dampier Archipelago so we left the reef on September 26 for the 254 nautical mile passage.
“We could see 18 ships heading in and out of Port Headland on the chart plotter so it will be like crossing a freeway in the dark with a lot of the ships just under 1000’ and travelling at 11-12 knots. Surprisingly, the night drive was smooth and uneventful with the nearest bulk carrier being 11 nautical miles away from Prime Mover.
“We witnessed a fantastic sunrise on the Indian Ocean and altered our course to Port at about 6am to avoid rubbing boats with a 984’ bulk carrier heading for Port Headland. As we cruised past Malus Island, we decided to stop at Whalers Bay for the night and enjoy a break from our 26 hour trek from Rowley Shoals.”
The next morning they headed ashore at Whalers Bay for a walk along the beach before moving on to Enderby Island at about lunch time for the next overnight anchorage. The ensuing three days saw the crew visited the Montebello Islands, a group of 174 limestone islands interspersed with white sandy beaches, North Island and Serrurier Island where they enjoyed more snorkelling and on their final night before the 46 nautical mile journey to their final destination, Exmouth, they witnessed a spectacular dolphin show behind the boat.
“We had just sat down for dinner when two dolphins appeared in the underwater lights at the back of the boat and spent the next three hours eating all the garfish behind the boat. It was an entertaining display as they ducked, weaved and twisted and at times rubbed their noses together, obviously excited by the night’s haul.”
They departed Serrurier Island at 5.45am on October 2 bound for Exmouth. The wind had increased overnight making it a very uncomfortable ride for the two hour trip to Muiron Island where they found a public mooring to stop for breakfast and have another look at the weather. Weather forecasts predicted increasing wind and swell height over the next two to three days so they decided to push on to Exmouth a day early, which meant Prime Mover would not visit the Ningaloo reef on this trip. After a very uncomfortable two hour ride they arrived in Exmouth and began the big clean of Prime Mover. They all stayed overnight on board and spent their final day in Exmouth exploring Turquoise Bay and celebrated Simon’s birthday with chocolate mud cake for their last captain’s dinner on board.
Andrew said they were blessed with sensational weather until they reached north of Broome where they encountered strong wind and short sharp waves making it an uncomfortable ride to Exmouth but the days spent snorkelling at Rowley Shoals were magic. Despite the poor weather conditions on this final stretch of the journey, Andrew said he and the crew always felt safe and confident on board Prime Mover and she handled the conditions extremely well. He was impressed with her overall performance, fuel economy and comfortable accommodation for an extended blue water voyage.
“I will keep Prime Mover berthed at Exmouth for the next couple of weeks before heading on to Geraldton. I don’t think I will bring Prime Mover back across the Bite until March next year as I want to make sure I have good weather conditions for such a long stretch of open water and we plan to spend some time on board over Christmas and the New Year exploring Rottnest Island and the South West.”
Andrew’s epic voyage around Australia has taken him to some of the most remote and spectacular destinations as he shares many memorable moments and milestones with family and friends.
King George River – Scenery, Aboriginal Rock Art, crocodiles
Swift Bay – Aboriginal Rock Art
Montgomery Reef – Watching the reef rise out of the water as the tide drops
Rowley Shoals – Snorkelling
Clerke Reef – Snorkelling
Serrurier Island – Entertained by dolphins feeding on gar fish
1810nm Darwin to Exmouth
692nm Broome to Exmouth
6748nm since leaving Melbourne (Melbourne to Exmouth)
- Make sure you have plenty of snorkeling equipment onboard
- Carry a spare anchor
- Plan your food menu so you don’t overload and waste food
- Make sure you have plenty of water filters on board
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