Leg 4 – Cairns to Darwin: Squinting in the afternoon sun, Riviera owner Andrew Luxton felt a surge of adrenalin as he approached land and his final destination, Darwin, some 1710 nautical miles from Cairns.
After travelling 670 nautical miles over 12 days from Weipa, Andrew and his crew saw their first signs of civilisation when they approached Darwin at about 3.30pm. After washing the salt off Prime Mover they joined fellow Riviera owners for drinks and a few laughs before heading out for an Italian dinner to celebrate completing leg four of his epic journey around Australia.
Leg four began on May 6 when Andrew and his crew, consisting of his wife, Jayne, and friends; Simon and Cheryl Kelly, Tim White and Jade Morris, departed Cairns bound for Port Douglas via the picturesque Michaelmas Cay, a national park and breeding site for thousands of ground nesting seabirds. Arriving at Michaelmas Cay at 12.30pm Andrew and his crew enjoyed lunch, snorkelling in the crystal clear waters and then on to explore the sand Cay and its 20,000 bird inhabitants before moving on to Port Douglas Marina where they would spend the night. “What a magnificent sight out at this sand cay with warm water and no crocodiles,” exclaims Andrew.
After a good night’s sleep and stocking up on supplies in Port Douglas, it was time to head offshore to Endeavour Reef. “The reef is named after Captain Cook’s boat which hit the reef in 1770. It took 23 hours to free the Endeavour followed by five days moving along the coastline before making shore at what is now called Cooktown,” says Andrew. “While out on the reefs trolling, we had an airborne Australian customs do a very low level pass on Prime Mover asking us key information such as where we are from, our last port and next port. After our encounter with customs we moved onto Emily Reef to view an old ship wreck and then continued onto Cooktown before dark.”
The crew spent the next day exploring the historical monuments in Cooktown, including the James Cook Museum, before refueling for the next voyage to Thursday Island. “The museum is housed in a beautiful old Convent and it is very interesting reading about Cook’s repairs to his boat, the first spotting and naming of the kangaroo, and the first encounters with the Aborigines. It also detailed how the Aborigines communicated with one another up the coast about this slow moving boat, the Endeavour.”
On May 9 Prime Mover departed Cooktown bound for Lizard Island via Cape Flattery, the home of silica mines which export 500,000 tons of sand each year to manufacturers such as Toyota. “We arrived at Lizard Island in the afternoon, venturing through the treacherous entry of Blue Lagoon to take a look – so rough and dangerous that we elected to retreat to the safety and refuge of Mermaid Bay, which proved to be a stunning stop over. We snorkelled with giant clams, cobalt blue starfish and an array of beautiful reef fish with bat fish feeding directly off the back of the boat.
“The next morning we enjoyed another swim and snorkel in Mermaid Bay before moving around to Watson’s Bay where we went ashore to explore the island and Mary Watson’s cottage remains.”
Over the next two days Prime Mover made her way to the Lockhart River via the Flinders Group of Islands, anchoring in the Owen Channel, passing through Cape Melville into Bathurst Bay, stopping at Blackwood Island to collect some fresh oysters before continuing down Princess Charlotte Bay for some river fishing and then anchoring at Stokes Bay for the night. After spending two days fishing in the Lockhart River it was time to refuel at the fuel barge for the final run to Thursday Island. “After refueling we made a quick departure for Margaret Bay, which was going to be our stop for the night. With all the birds attacking the water, we had a quick troll and hooked a yellow fin tuna, which I landed with great excitement. After a fresh serve of sashimi for lunch we decided to head for the Escape River further north so we could have shorter run to Cape York the next day.
“Prime Mover made easy work of the 70 nautical miles today, now we have a bit more fuel onboard, allowing us to travel faster and run the air-conditioning 24 hours a day. Once anchored we enjoyed seared tuna in another pretty anchorage among the pearl farms in the Escape River. The pearl farmer gave us a call on the VHF to warn us about a rock outcrop up the river which was not marked on the chart and we were grateful for the information.
“The next morning, Simon, Tim and I ventured out for an early morning fish and I was proud to catch my first mangrove jack. At 11am we pulled the anchor and headed for Cape York. We cruised through the Albany Passage which was very pretty and rounded York Island and into the bay to anchor. We all ticked an item off our ‘bucket lists’ today and enjoyed a glass of Moet to celebrate as we had rounded the most northern tip of Australia. At 2pm we moved onto Horn Island in the Torres Strait for the night before refueling at 8am the next morning and then onto Thursday Island.”
On May 17 Prime Mover arrived in Thursday Island and the crew went ashore to explore the town and walk up to Green Hill Fort where they witnessed spectacular views of the surrounding areas before heading back to Horn Island for the night. The following day they began their run down the Gulf heading south for Weipa via the Ducie River where Prime Mover anchored for the night.
“Our first croc was spotted up one of the creeks by Simon, Cheryl and Tim, estimated to be three to four metres in length. I hooked up on a small hammerhead shark which I landed with the assistance of Jade and then returned it unharmed to the river. We departed the Ducie River at lunch time the next day and headed south for Weipa with a final troll and a triple hook up – it was action stations on the back deck with Jade and Cheryl landing nice spanish mackerels. We arrived at Weipa late in the day, set anchor and enjoyed our final night together before the crew change over tomorrow.”
The voyage from Weipa to Darwin began on May 21 with a new crew (Andrew Luxton, Simon Kelly, Tim Macdermid and Susie Musgrove, Mark and Juliana Vaughan) and an early morning trip to the wharf at Evans Landing to top up the fuel tanks for the run to Gove across the Gulf of Carpentaria, some 317 nautical miles. With a one to one-and-a-half metre swell and south-easterly winds blowing at 15 to 20 knots, the crew enjoyed good sea conditions for the 22 hour trek to Gove Harbour. They arrived at 9am on May 22 and anchored with a view of the Bauxite Refinery. The crew caught a taxi into the town of Nhulunbuy where they stocked up on supplies and arranged permits to anchor in the Wessel Islands region, which is under Aboriginal Title. It was a steamy 33 degrees in Gove and as tempting as the turquoise ocean was, the crocodile warning signs were enough to deter the crew from enjoying a refreshing swim.
The next day was spent relaxing, fishing and enjoying the beauty of Gove Harbour and the Gove Yacht Club. The crew filledthe tanks and two 600 litre bladders to ensure they had enough fuel to reach their final destination – Darwin. On May 24, they embarked on the 58 nautical mile journey to the Wessel Islands at a leisurely eight to 10 knots via Melville Bay, in between Wigram and Cotton Islandsand through the Hole in the Wall to the western side of the Wessel Islands, where they anchored for the next few days while they explored this remote and scenic slice of paradise. Over the ensuing five days, Andrew and his crew declared the ‘Battle of the Mackerel’ with all rods rigged up and ready to land the big one. There was plenty of fishing action with Tim landing a 10 kg spanish mackerel, Mark and Juliana hooking up more feisty spanish mackerel, and an afternoon of fishing action out in Mini Mover 2when they found themselves in the middle of a school of giant trevally and queen fish. This set the adrenalin pumping as everyone tried to hook up a giant queenie.
Crew member, Susie, shares her fishing experiences on board Prime Mover.
“Mayhem erupted as Simon had a fish on. His reel was running and then the fish darted under the boat before he finally landed a giant trevally into the boat. Fighting to get the hook out, we finally released her and then bang, a shark attacked and with one chomp half of the fish was gone,” exclaimed Susie.
“With our adrenalin pulsing, not only were we fighting to land a giant trevally or queenie but we were also fighting against this enormous shark that kept circling Mini Mover 2 on the hunt for dinner. Bang! Another hit. This time I was working hard to reel in an enormous queenie and terrified of the shark chasing her prize catch. Finally, she landed the queenie, which was about three kilos and two-feet long.
“Back at Prime Mover, Tim filleted my queenie and then tied the carcass to the back of the boat. Simon shouted, Shark, as a hammerhead (later named Hilda) started to circle the boat sniffing out the carcass. She was a six-foot long hammerhead and put on an entertaining show as she grabbed the bait while Simon tugged on the rope. We were having too much fun here so we decided to stay on an extra night.”
The next day, they enjoyed some more fishing in a beautiful estuary and visited The Hole in the Wall again before the night passage. After servicing the generator, it was time to up anchor and head out to the Arafura Sea. At 6pm they left the Wessel Islands and some 21 hours and 220 nautical miles later, they arrived at Malay Bay on a rolling swell.
“After a long day we bunkered down early to get a good night’s sleep before our journey to Port Essington the following day. We left at 5am and by 11.30am we had arrived at Black Point, where we went ashore to visit the cultural centre, meet the rangers and explore The Wetlands of Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. Our crew split up with Tim, Susie and Simon embarking on a very hot two-hour walk through the barren countryside to meet Ranger Steve and visit the cultural centre. A flock of about 30 squawking black cockatoos (red tail feathered) flew overhead, followed by the ranger in his plane, which caused some excitement among our crew. The rest of the crew spied their first crocodile (later on Juliana’s camera) in the swamp among beautiful water lilies during their exploration of the wetlands,” explains Andrew.
“We decided it was time to head back to Prime Mover; we boarded Mini Mover 2 very quickly, keeping an eye out for crocs. Once back on board we cruised around to Berkeley Bay and found a hidden entrance to lush green mangroves at the start of a large river system.”
Andrew, Simon and Mark set off in Mini Mover 2 to explore the area and even after Simon spotted a croc, it couldn’t deter the avid fishermen who were on the hunt for barramundi.
“Mark reeled in a barracouta, which was quickly eaten by a shark – you have to be quick around here.”
After an exciting late afternoon fishing adventure, they returned to Prime Mover for fish and chips and enjoyed a visit from a playful dolphin who enjoyed eating the fish that were attracted to the boat’s blue lights.
Nearing the end of their voyage, the crew spent their final day exploring Port Essington and then they motored to Adam Head to visit the Victoria Settlement, which is a two-hour hike around the ruins.
“The British settlers landed in the 1830s and established a small community with a hospital, kitchen, blacksmith, quartermasters store and cemetery. They endured cyclones, box jellyfish, crocodiles, sea snakes and long periods of isolation, which caused the abandonment of the settlement in 1849,” explains Andrew.
“On our hike, we saw the ruins of these buildings and found ourselves feeling quite isolated. We enjoyed a walk along the beach before heading back to Prime Mover and motoring to Coral Bay, the site of a private resort where we enjoyed some reef fishing.
“That evening we were treated to the most beautiful sunset and enjoyed our last dinner on the back deck before heading to Darwin the next morning.
“We woke to another stunning sunrise and feeling a little sad as it would be our last cruising day together. We left at 7am and encountered a little rock ‘n’ roll to begin with, which caused a little discomfort for some of the crew. We spotted a turtle and box jelly fish but the only sign of civilisation was about an hour out of Darwin when we passed a couple of yachts.”
After travelling the final 135 nautical miles, the crew arrived in Darwin where the marina manager arranged for the Loch to be opened at Cullen Bay where they were given a 20-metre berth. After cleaning Prime Mover, it was time to celebrate the end of leg four and start preparing for the next part of Andrew’s epic journey around Australia – a trip of a lifetime for Andrew, who in his 50th year of life wanted to do something special to celebrate – circumnavigating Australia, a total distance of some 9,000 nautical miles, in his Riviera 51 Enclosed Flybridge is certainly an experience he will remember.
Experience is following Andrew’s adventure which began on Boxing Day 2014 in Martha Cove in Victoria with Prime Mover bound for Hobart in Tasmania (leg one) and return via Flinders Island, Deal Island and Wilson’s Promontory (leg two). The next leg of the journey from Martha Cove to Cairns, a distance of some 1,730 nautical miles, provided a scenic experience as the crew took in the sights of the beautiful Hawkesbury River in Sydney, the tranquil Lady Musgrave Island and the stunning Whitsunday Islands in tropical North Queensland, landing a few decent size fish along the way and battling Tropical Cyclone Ita in Cairns. There have certainly been many memorable and challenging moments for Andrew and his rotating crew, and in Andrew’s own words – “Living the dream on my Riviera with great friends.”
The next leg of Prime Mover’s circumnavigation of Australia is Leg 5 – Darwin to Eastern Kimberley’s and return to DarwinStay tuned to Experience for updates.
ANDREW’S CRUISING TIPS
- Ensure the boat is properly serviced and appropriate spares/tool kit carried
- Select the right crew for each leg of the journey
- Good food, great wines, music and DVD/games for the slow days
- Lizard Island
- Cape York / Thursday Island
- Gove Harbour
- Wessel Islands / Hole in the Wall
- Port Essington plus many more
- Amazing scenery
- Spectacular sunsets and sunrises
- Great company
Journey to date:
- Melbourne to Hobart and return: approximately 1050 nautical miles
- Melbourne to Cairns: 1925 nautical miles
- Cairns to Weipa: 787 nautical miles
- Weipa to Darwin: 923 nautical miles
- Total nautical miles travelled to date: 4685
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