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 adventure.

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 her.

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 sealed…!)

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 was dinner.

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

  Off to the Graveyards next, an area of a lot of pearl diving activity and hence deaths many years ago. More of the same spectacular scenery that is the Kimberly. This was to be the furthest north we would get, and we started the return journey to Derby the following day. The tides were building to springs and we had a bit of fun around the area known as “Hells Gates”. After calculating when slack water was we still went through the area at 13 knots, a nice 8 knot tide pushing us along, pressure waves, white water and whirlpools all around us.
Into Cascade Bay for the evening, and for the first time, clouds in the sky. Not a good omen, commented one of the crew, shouldn't be clouds around this time of the year. And sure enough it rained, and rained. We heard on the radio that roads were flooded in the Kimberley, in the dry season! We huddled under what little protection we had, a couple of tarpaulins and a few leaking sheets of ply. Sleeping bags and clothes were wet and the humour was starting to fade..

Then a shock back to reality, one of the crew had slipped and cut his foot on an oyster, a piece of skin the size of a 50 cent piece was flapping on the top of his foot. I washed my hands and then attempted to remove the pieces of oyster shell with a sterile bud. The patient immediately went another shade paler (amazing, because he was white to begin with) and started making small panting noises, so the surgery was soon abandoned. The only option was to load him into the fast boat and get him back to Derby immediately for attention at the local hospital.
That left 3 of us with all of the grog and food supplies to crawl back to port, this would be a 2 day trip for us, no point fighting the spring tides. The rain never let up, although we still had an adequate supply of Little Creatures and a couple of bottles of Cab Merlot to wash down the fillet steak that remained in the Engel.
After over-nighting in a dirty little creek near the aptly named Point Torment (Kimberley sandflies are hungrier than no other) we made our way back across the Gulf of Chocolate Milk and arrived at Derby to a heroes welcome.

The pack up went smoothly and some of us had a 3 day drive back to Perth to look forward to, ah….That was a little eventful too, the dif in the Holden packed in at Newman. So a back load was organised for the ute and the boat at a local trucking firm. At Meekatharra a hub on the Mudskipper trailer shattered! It was 8pm and after a bit of head scratching we set off to the local tip with the toolbox and came back with a couple of hubs. The Holden one was a no goer, the Ford one fitting perfectly… Repacked the bearing and we were on the road again…
We arrived in Perth to more rain, but plenty of smiles, what a bloody great adventure. In all we were away 3 weeks and travelled 5000km by road, 400km by sea, broke a ute and a trailer, patched up a leaky boat, had 25 stitches to an injured foot, applied 2 litres of insect repellent (none of which worked) and also ate, drank and laughed to excess.
Can't wait to get back there…..

Thanks to our sponsors, Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, W.A. and Crocs (the shoes, not the reptile).

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Part 1
Part 2