As Published in
The Coastal Passage,
The idea of visiting the Kimberley
had been ticking over in the back of my mind for a while. Various
options had been tossed around with my mates, chartering a whole
boat, booking a seat in a boat or staying at a fishing camp.
All in all these options were very expensive and lacked a little
So an idea started to gel. Get
a bunch of mates together, chuck some money into a kitty, buy
some boats, fit them out and head to the Kimberley. The huge
tides and spectacular scenery would be a new experience for all
of us. Six guys put their hands up for the adventure. One of
the crew already had a boat, a 6 metre alloy runabout, so that
was a bonus.
We had some requirements for the other vessels, ideally we would
be able to sleep onboard if the need arose and we would need
to be able to carry substantial amounts of fuel, food and Little
Creatures Pale Ale. It was decided (by who?) that a party pontoon
boat and a decent sized dingy would do the trick. What the pontoon
boat lacked in seaworthiness it made up for in load carrying
ability, stability and humour. A suitable pontoon boat was soon
located, wow, it was meant to be.
It was 5.5m long, heavy duty
construction (built the old fashioned way) with 5 separate water
tight compartments per hull. She was soon christened Mudskipper;
not the prettiest of girls, but she had a certain charm about
Soon after a good size dingy was advertised in the Quokka and
that was purchased too. Pheww, the fleet had been purchased,
now the for the job of fitting them out
A trailer was located
and modified to suit the pontoon boat. The pontoon boat was fitted
with table, nav station, barbecue and sleeping platform and all
the other bits and pieces.
The departure date arrived quickly, the dingy and stores were
loaded onto Mudskipper and we set off north, a 2500km journey,
an adventure in itself. Two of the crew were meeting us near
Broome and somehow we met them on time. From there a couple of
hours to Derby where we readied the vessels for sea, working
well into the night. We had a 6am tide to catch the next morning,
and when your boat only goes 5 knots, you want the tide running
with you, not against you!
The first days run was a big
one, 40nm. We set off from Derby and powered through the Gulf
of Chocolate Milk. A light breeze from the stern quarter on the
out going tide pushed us along towards Usbourne Point. Heavily
laden the odd wave was soaking the deck of the Mudskipper, but
with the 2 hulls she was reasonably stable. We sighted the point
in the distance and struggled towards it, our speed reduced to
3 knots as the tide worked against us. There was a bit of nervous
chatter on the radio as we spotted the white water and standing
waves as the tide raced around the headland. Hit it square on
was the general idea. Within a couple of days, that sort of water
disturbance wouldn't even rate a mention.
It was a relieved team that made it to the beautiful little bay
behind the headland. Wow, what a day, everyone was enjoying the
sand under their feet. Soon a fire was blazing and the camp ovens
were seeping the smell of roast lamb. There was talk of crocodiles
around the camp fire, but the majority of the crew decided to
sleep on the beach and enjoy the stars. Our first night in the
Kimberley proper, what a feeling, months of planning and preparations
and we were doing it.
We woke in the morning to find
that some urgent attention was required on the runabout, she
was well down in the water and a closer inspection found a good
100 litres of water in the bilge. Running repairs were made to
the bilge pump, and it kicked into life and pumped out the offending
ballast. Unfortunately the hole was not discovered until many
days and pump outs later. (Point to note, when fitting a new
sounder transducer, make sure the old mounting holes have been
The next few days followed much the same routine, work out a
likely looking destination about 3-4 hours away, work out when
the tides would be in our favour and depart the camp accordingly.
To conserve fuel, we used the Mudskipper as the tug, and towed
both boats behind her, the 50 hp 4 stroke used miserly amounts
of fuel and it was a peaceful trip, especially in the towed boats.
The tow rope was nice and long and all you could hear was the
slap of water on the hull, sort of like sailing, but without
worrying about that wind stuff! Or keeping a lookout or working
out where to go, the tug skipper did all that! We managed to
supplement our frozen meat supply with a few fish along the way,
trolling lures as well as stopping to cast around likely looking
rocky bits and mangroves.
We decided it would be nice to
camp up for a couple of days and headed for the Kyulgam River.
This involved a 4 mile run up the river to an all tide hole right
next to a waterfall. Running a bit behind schedule and with a
9m tide to contend with we bumped the bottom with the hole in
sight. A quick discussion followed on what to do next, but by
that time is was to late and we were sitting on the rocks. We
spent the next 3 hours there, waiting, but what a spot to wait.
You have to make the most of the situation.
It was dark by the time the tide came in and pushed us up to
the hole, but it all added to the adventure. Some fresh queenie
and a couple of litres of oyster flesh on the barbie and that
The next day was catch a Barra day, not really the
time of year for lures (we found out on return to Derby) but
managed to hook and release one (not intentionally, it got off
just before landing) and saw another. Also spotted a croc and
lots of other wildlife so not a bad day. The stinky bats were
a highlight. The return up river was after darkness had set in;
we rafted up over rapids as the tide came in..! Great fun.
The crew, Leon, Glen, Dave,
Cam, Colin and Jeff