Late November saw the start of the Great Australian Inland Cruise down the mighty Murray River. It all began at Echuca with a suitable variety of craft varying from large and small paddle boats and more conventional boats.
The wooden boat associations were well represented with Queensland members Graeme Lynch (Bolger Tennessee Moonshine) and later John and Katherine Webb (Yellow trailer sailer), Victorian members Russ and Marg Hurren (Lapstrake fishing boat Agnes), myself and wife Hanh Nguyen (Berkeley Minitug Mars) and the occasional visitor Roderick Smith (Bolger Tennessee Jessie11) and various South Australian members.
In the first leg the quantity of river flow determined whether our craft would successfully negotiate the river. We were fortunate in that there had been an environmental release to the river which raised the levels in the river. The slow moving river meant this release travelled at 70km a day.
The group didn’t quite keep up to the flow and we travelled about 50km a day.
The first leg of the trip was complete arriving in Mildura about ten days before Christmas. The second leg began early in the New Year and went through until the beginning of the Goolwa Wooden Festival at the end of February. The total number of river kilometres travelled was over 1700.
During the trip we encountered many challenges. These varied from technical breakdowns to navigational hazards. The most notable breakdowns were transmission failure, paddlewheel float breakages, steering breakages, outboard carburettor sticking and battery failure. All the boats travelled as a group and assistance with any problems were collectively solved.
There was a fairly casual routine to travelling days where we would start travelling down the river at about 8 o’clock and motor to a destination in mid afternoon, Russ was usually the advance party and selected the appropriate beach to stop for the night.
Most of the travellers lived on their boats but Russ and I did bush camping most of the time.
Navigational hazards such as transiting the locks and having the bridges raised for the big paddleboats were expected but there were many unmarked snags, sand bars and reefs, many of which extended more than half way across the river. At the helm was fairly arduous because there was a need to drive while checking the map while looking for any unmarked snags, so most travelling days I was asleep just after sunset.
Although there were the extremes of weather encountered, the weather was mostly fine and hot.
Scenery encountered was nothing short of breathtaking. Places along the river had apt names like Devils Elbow and Dead Horse Point. Chalk cliffs, huge trees, lagoons and anabranches and sandstone cliffs were the highlights.
There were also the sightings of kangaroos, emus, goannas, snakes and wild goats and horses. Hanh photographed so many pelicans the camera nearly ran out of memory capacity.
I think by the end of the trip my boat skills were fairly polished, even though I couldn’t select astern on my outboard remotely. My Navy seamanship mates would have been proud of me helping tie up the large paddleboats with slip bowlines and running turks heads on the bite knots, not to mention setting kedge anchors and spring lines to counter the wakes from the jetskis and wake boats.
Like with any pursuit there was much thought devoted to contemplation of, “if only I had fitted this or that to my boat”. I didn’t have much time before the trip to prepare my boat but I did manage a few modifications. These included fitting a kort nozzle to my outboard leg to protect the propeller from damage from river snags and a sacrificial aluminium shoe attached to the underside of my box keel for the same reason. I had started making a wooden canopy over the cockpit but was unhappy with its strength and ran out of time to fix it and ended up tearing it down and buying a binimi and installing that. I think major improvements should have included a solid cover over the cockpit with drop down insect screens, waterproof windows and privacy screens. If I had basic furniture inside my cabin our gear could have been better stowed and we could have had a basic galley set up. We had no method of boarding the boat from the bank so a method of fixing a boarding platform to the boat rubbing strake would have been invaluable.
Overall, the trip was a trip of a lifetime. The book of river maps I had was from the 1990’s so I must have been contemplating a trip since then. I was not alone, I think all on the trip had dreamed of doing the trip for a long time.
It is planned to have further similar cruises down the Murray River in about two years and I would recommend it to anyone.
Come to our club night on Wednesday 20 May to hear and see more about this fantastic trip.