Leg 5 – Darwin to the Eastern Kimberley: Andrew Luxton will never forget his first day in The Kimberley, a remote part of the north west of Australia that is internationally renowned for its striking scenery and spectacular sunsets … and crocodiles – big ones!
Andrew says it was love at first sight.
It was the third day of the latest leg of his epic adventure to circumnavigate Australia, and as he set eyes on the magnificent Berkeley River he could feel the excitement rising deep within, despite the fact it was the end of a marathon 11-hour run of 123nm which had begun at 1am.
“We’ve arrived,” he declared.
On board his 51 Enclosed Flybridge Prime Mover for Leg 5 were Andrew and his wife Jayne, Simon and Cheryl Kelly, up and coming fisherman Simon Barker and Emily Sweet.
“We had early start on the first day across to the loch at Cullen Bay for a 6.30am booking to start our three-week adventure,” he said. “The boat was loaded to the point of morphing into a Riviera 63 with food, drinks and an extra 950 litres of fuel inside bladders in the cockpit – additional room was not an option.”
Fortunately, they experienced very light winds and a flat sea that first day, maintaining an average 10 knots for the next 11 hours until they reached Anson Bay on the eastern side of Joseph Bonaparte Gulf – a distance of 108nm.
The second day was a comparatively short run of 51nm to Hyland Bay, and after much talk of a vegetarian menu, the fish started jumping on to the lines and into the fridge – spotted mackerel, golden snapper, stripey bass and spangled emperor the impromptu but welcome guests for an early dinner.
“We set off at 1am and had the smoothest of night’s passage and good sleep was had by all, except for the crew on watch,” he said. “We arrived at the Berkeley River on the last two hours of the tide and we sent Simon Kelly out front in Mini Mover 2 to find a safe entry over the bar, which we crossed with very little water under Prime Mover.”
The luxurious Prime Mover anchored for lunch at the junction of the Berkeley River and Casuarina Creek and then continued upstream past the awe-inspiring 100-metre cliffs … until a rock bar about 12nm inland which stops further access.
Mini Mover 2 was then launched once more and the adventurers were soon walking among the rock pools, bathing in the freshwater swimming holes and taking in the sights of waterfalls.
“That was a fantastic day in the Kimberley’s – this stunning scenery just can’t get any better,” Andrew recorded in his log.
In this remote part of the world, a skipper needs to keep one eye on the tide and while Andrew would have been happily marooned, the plan was to catch the high tide at the mouth of the Berkeley River so Andrew and Cheryl set about preparing the yacht for departure as the others seized the opportunity to explore this remote part of mainland Australia.
“If we missed this tide, we would have had to wait until 3pm the next day,” said Andrew. “The tides here at this stage only change twice every 24 hours.”
It was then the adventurers saw the first crocodile of this trip, a 3-metre ‘saltie’ as they headed out across the river mouth, who got pretty angry with the wake from Prime Mover.
“Suck it up, croc,” were Jayne’s words of sympathy.
Anchored safely at the mouth of King George River, they drank in the setting sun in a perfect ampitheatre and then all the classics came out – everything from ACDC to Skyhooks and the Rolling Stones.
“The Kimberley’s will never be the same again,” quipped Cheryl.
They say you see the strangest things at the most unexpected of moments and this certainly proved the case the next day – all of a sudden Prime Mover passed two people fishing … stark naked … on the rocks.
“Jayne quickly grabbed the binoculars to check out their fishing tackle but, unfortunately on this super ‘cold’ morning, it was difficult to see what bait they were using,” reports Cheryl.
Anchored in front of the twin waterfalls, the team was enjoying bacon and eggs when suddenly they observed another unexpected local, a curious 3m crocodile.
“Crocodylus Porosus (the saltwater variety) are more common and much more aggressive than they once were – watching, observing and remembering the routines of their prey,” said Cheryl. “It was time to be careful getting in and out of Mini Mover 2 and there was certainly no standing on the duck board – although the boys just had to go and check him out.”
The next few days were spent exploring the national park, scaling the rock face and swimming in rock pools … far away from the watchful eyes of any crocodiles.
“We even found an abandoned suitcase which had been left by previous sailors with a tale about a gremlin being discovered on their boat leading to all sorts of problems – the way to avoid the gremlin invading your boat was to leave something inside – and all we had was a pen. Fortunately he accepted the gift,” says Jayne.
Prime Mover then made its way toward a fuel top-up at Freshwater Bay, McGowan Island, which entailed literally running up and on to the beach – and an unforgettable trip to the tip along a rugged track in a vehicle which, to put it bluntly, had seen better days.
It was then to the Osborne Islands for more fishing and sightseeing, to the muddy Mitchell River and its scary exposed rocks, and the trip’s first mud crab served as compensation for many lost pots … and then there were also quite a few sun-baking crocs.
“Ready for war, we woke the next morning to do battle with the fish and crabs and ‘bang’ Andrew’s rod bent over double and the line streamed out,” said Simon K. “We knew it was good but not just how good until it made to the air – barramundi.
“Andrew was cool and calm as he fought it for eight minutes as the 88cm fish leapt and dived around the boat, making for the rocks but once we got it onboard, we were on again just two minutes later.
“Andrew was aptly named the Barra King but Simon B claimed some of the glory – they were both caught on his ‘favourite’ lure.”
“Hating all this fish … NOT,” was Emily’s approving comment, although not even she would elaborate on that evening’s Status Quo show from Andrew and Simon.
The next few days were spent reeling in plenty of fish – from barramundi to coral trout and a giant trevally over a metre in length which was returned to the water, and a very fortunate spanish mackerel which is now firmly rooted in Glycosmis Bay folklore, thanks to Simon B’s poetic ode to ‘the one that got away’.
“He would never talk of this day again,” wrote Simon B of himself … in third person … already on the receiving end of quite a ribbing from all others onboard.
As the this part of the journey came to an end, the Koolama Bay – Darwin Express was a journey of 230nm but at 20 knots it was a very fast run across the Jospeh Bonaparte Gulf.
“The trip has been amazing – we wish we had discovered the Kimberley Cruising Yacht Club earlier but we are now members with fantastic information on the area,” said Andrew.
“We have had another great crew of friends on board to share the dream – and the adventure of Prime Mover.”
Stay tuned to the next edition of Experience for Leg 6 – back across the Kimberley and on to Exmouth.
Andrew – Berkeley River
Jayne – King George River
Simon B – King George River
Emily – King George River
Simon K – Mitchell River
Cheryl – King George River
TIPS for tackling the Kimberley
1. Join the Kimberley Cruising Yacht Club
2. Make sure when you travel ashore carry in your back pack – EPIRB, satellite phone and VHF. If you lose the dinghy, you cannot swim back to the boat in safety.
3. Carry plenty of water
4. Allow plenty of chain for increased tidal movement.
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