BACK TO BASICS

BACK TO BASICS

 

Two mates leave the bright lights of Brisvegas to follow a dream of adventure. 

 

 

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The Captain: A’hoy fellas. Tell us a little bit about Back to Basics Adventures. Who’s in the crew and what do you do?

Jack Strickland (Strick): Ahoy Captain, great to ride aboard your barnacle encrusted pages. There are two of us behind B2B, Az (Az Gallagher) and myself.

Az: We’re all about living life to the full. Making the most of where you are, what you have and who you’re with. We’re addicted to the environment around us, above and below the water, the rainforest to the reef, the natural beauty on our doorstep that we are so lucky to call home.

Strick: We’re sure pretty much everyone who reads this mag loves getting back to basics – fishing, camping, escaping the rat race and getting off the grid. So everyone is part of the B2B crew, really. Haha!

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You blokes are sure livin’ the life. Where are you based – Lizard Island? Fraser Island?

Strick: Ha! Social media can be misleading. It looks like we’re on a tropical island catching fish every day. Well, we’re based in Tropical North Queensland and we catch fish every second day!

Az: I’ve just spent the past three years working and living in remote parts of South- East Asia, but I’m now back on the family banana farm in North Queensland. Why did you start Back to Basics Adventures?

Strick: We were down in the concrete jungle known as “Brisvegas” having a crack at a uni degree, but spent more time over on Moreton Island and going camping up and down the coast. We’d come back from these epic trips to see our mates nursing hangovers and playing computer games. It wasn’t for us.

Az: We knew how good it made us feel, getting our heads out of technology and the clutter of the city. There are so many adventures to be had right at our doorstep. We wanted to make people aware and show them what’s out there.

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What’s in the name? Is it just because you can’t tie a perfection loop?

Az: Haven’t cast a lure and had it go flying towards Fiji for a while, unlike Strick! Actually, Back to Basics is something I’ve always lived by, whether I’m camping, on the reef, beach or anywhere outdoors. It’s more a feeling than a name. It’s something that stuck through the years and we all get around it.

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What boats do you patrol around the tropics in?

Strick: We’ve got a pretty proud fleet. The 15ft Salty Dingo tinnie would be my vessel of choice to tackle the seven seas. She’s been swamped, run aground and dragged anchor on pretty much every island up the east coast – but she just keeps on giving.

Az: I’ve got the Salty Banana. She’s a 13ft open tinnie that’ll take me anywhere. We’ve got lots of great mates with solid rigs to do those really wide trips when we can.

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Tell us about some of your most epic trips. A little birdy told us about some drunken nights on Dunk Island…?

Strick: As far as epic trips go, I reckon getting back up to the islands of PNG was top of the list for me. I grew up there and hadn’t been back for 10 years, we went rogue for almost three months; into areas where village kids would run and scream at the colour of our skin as they hadn’t seen white people before.

Oh, Dunk Island what a place! We had a night there recently where we must’ve had a couple of overripe coconuts and all went a bit troppo. My last memory was shark fishing at about midnight, I hooked a big bugger and was fighting him from the edge of the wharf giving him hell trying to turn him… and some boofhead pushes me in. So I’m waterskiing face first, middle of the night connected to a big shark and not wanting to let go of the Saragosa! That was pretty funny.

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Az: Yeah, the good ol’ “Free State of Dunk Island”, what happens there generally stays there, mate! We did a trip north of Cape Tribulation, stopping off at random bays, swimming holes and islands along the way for a long weekend once. We lived off the land and only saw five people the whole time. How did you end up meeting footy legend, Nick “The Honey Badger” Cummins? What’s he like on the rod?

Strick: I was doing a bit of work for Great Northern and the Badger came on one of the tours. Couple of beers around a fire and we had more or less solved all the world’s problems. He’s a bloody top bloke and very handy on the rod.

Az: Badge is legit as they come. He’s a professional life liver. We have some big trips planned in the coming months to go rogue and off the grid, so stay tuned for big things there.

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Top five spots to fish/spearfish in Qld?

Az: Great platform to lead a few people on a wild goose chase here, but I’ll spare ya! We love fishing the reefs off Cairns and Dunk Island – popping, trolling for Spanish and bommie hopping for reefies. The shoals of North West Island are epic (we’re taking groups out here in October, so message us if you’re keen to get involved). Walking the freshwater streams north of Port Douglas for sooties and JPs makes a great day. And the new net-free zones down in Mackay have been producing some solid barra the pastcouple of seasons. Any run-ins with sharks below the surface?

Strick: Too many. As most spearos know, you’re normally met by a few curious sharks. The worst run-ins I’ve had is when diving on shark research trips and tagging sharks. Some of them don’t appreciate the new piercing, turn back and have a real go at you. No lost limbs, though.

Az: The taxman and I know each other very well. I’ve had a couple sneak up behind me, grabbing fish out of my hands and a couple of times they’ve bitten my fins, but their body language will tell you the story in most cases, so just need to respect that.

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What’s your favourite species and why?

Strick: Dogtooth tuna for me. They’re found in remote areas with beautiful clear water, wrapped around epic drop-offs. They’re gnarly looking, hard to catch and have the petrol tank of a yellowfin tuna, yet fight dirty like coral trout.

Az: I love visiting dogtown, but give me a cray any day. They don’t move so far, taste great, look epic and give you that great hands-on experience. If you were on a deserted island would you rather speargun or a fishing rod?

Strick: We’re definitely better spearfishermen than line fishermen, so would have to go the speargun.

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On this deserted island would you rather be with Paul Worsteling, Al McGlashan or ET? Why?

Strick: We did an episode on Al McGlashan’s series and he’s a top bloke, so he would be my vote for sure.

Az: I know Uncle Al brings enthusiasm and shitty jokes to the table, so I’d be stuck with him. Would be great to meet ET and Paul, though.

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What’s next for Back to Basics Adventures? Is TV on the cards?

Strick: We believe everything is shifting from TV towards online platforms, so we are stoked to have just come onboard with FishFlicks. We’ve got heaps of unseen episodes dropping on there over the next couple of months.

Az: We will be running some outdoor adventure trips in the next few months. Get involved if you want to be wild and live! Where can people follow you? Best way is to like our Facebook Page and follow us on Instagram

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For more information on Back to Basics Adventures check out:

FACEBOOK

‘Back to Basics – Adventures’ https://www.facebook.com/ BacktoBasicsAdventures/

INSTAGRAM

@BacktoBasicsAdventures

YOUTUBE

Back to Basics https://www.youtube.com/user/xxBack2Basics


HOW TO PICK UP GIRLS! (WITH A BOAT)

HOW TO PICK UP GIRLS! (WITH A BOAT)

Just how much sex appeal do boats have? We laid down the challenge to Jack Murphy, recently single and ready to mingle. With nothing more than his bristling beard, a cup of charm and a Whittley SL25 hard top, We set him loose among a flock of amorous young females. It’s been a while since Jack has pressed the flesh, So we threw the odds in his favor with some oysters and champagne. Just don’t tell the ladies it was from Aldi!

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Picking up women can be a long and drawn-out process, not dissimilar to the mating ritual of the male bowerbird. He uses brightly coloured feathers and perfectly choreographed dance moves. Then he constructs a bower, which is essentially an extravagant love nest with walls and sometimes a roof. The female inspects his handiwork and, if it’s up to scratch, the bower boogie begins. The human mating ritual is surprisingly similar – except we have one of Mother Nature’s finest inventions to hasten the process: Tinder. But still, you need to look presentable, be able to string a few sentences or dance moves together and show off your best qualities. But what if you could bypass the entire process with nothing more than a sexy boat? I thought I’d put it to the test with a Whittley SL25 HT.

SUNDAY SESSIONS

The location for my “scientific test” is Manly on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. There’s a beach that runs alongside a grassy strip where girls sip cider and champagne before making their way to the local watering holes. It’s where I decided to parade the Whittley before disembarking and making my approach. Timing is critical: It’s Sunday afternoon and the bubbles are having their desired effect. The afternoon sun bathes the grassy area where girls in short skirts and wide glasses socialise. It’s time to make my move…

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Selecting the right boat is critical. A Cootacraft doesn’t have enough seats and an Edencraft Formula would be impossible for the ladies to board from the beach. On the other hand, a Jenneau would be a credibility killer among any rum-loving Captain fans who happened upon us. So I choose a Whittley SL25. It’s the perfect vessel for run-and-gun fishing missions with mates, but also for rum-and-fun party missions with the ladies. On previous trips in the SL, we’ve noted, “the SL is all business downstairs and party upstairs”. Time to put this bower boat to the test.

THE LOVE DEN

The ladies, peering behind their Ray-Bans from the lawn no doubt appreciate the long sweeping lines flowing over the glass-enclosed Whittley hardtop. Wait until they see inside. There’s comfortable seating for four with a slide-out Waeco fridge within arm’s length.

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Inside the love den it gets even more comfortable with a fully lined cabin and TV. There’s a DVD player with movies like The Notebook and Love Actually should I need to enhance the mood. Thoughtfully, I had removed Titanic for this romantic raiding party. There’s also a porta-potty to ensure no early exits from the ladies. To top it off, the SL25 has champagne storage aplenty with a 30L live well and 200L kill tank.

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The great thing about the SL25 is that it also gets an approving nod from beer-slurping blokes. In fact, it screams weekends away with mates trolling in 3m seas. The sharp entry and 23-degree deadrise cuts a fine path through the water, pushed along by a sweet-sounding 4.3L 240HP V6 Volvo stern-drive. Up top there’s a shiny stainless rocket launcher that most blokes would recognise as a rod holder for half a dozen Tiagras. However, it will transpire the girls think it’s an elaborate display of attention-grabbing bling.

STORMING THE BEACH

Everything is prepared. Oysters, cheese, salami and grapes sit on platters atop the bait-board. There is champagne and Coronas on ice in the live well and a booty of Captain Morgan cans chilling in the slide-out fridge.

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I drop anchor with the electric winch and reverse the bum of the Whittley neatly towards the sand. I can feel the glares as I nudge the stern up to the beach before stepping off the swim platform. I swagger up to a gaggle of blondes and brunettes. I’m well outnumbered, but hoping they’ll feel more confident and be more willing to engage in my cheesy survey. Also, with luck I’ll be spoiled for choice. I’ve got my eye on the tallest blonde in the group. “Maybe all of them would be an option,” the devil inside my head whispers…

“Hey ladies, I’m doing a survey on what women want in a boat? Would you like to be involved?” I spurt.

“Hell yeah, we love boats!” the enthusiastic gaggle responds.

“OK, well I’m pretty sure my hardtopped 25ft Whittley over there fits the bill. How would you like to come for a ride?” I enquire.

“For sure!” they bounce back. It works! The bowerbirds would be proud of me. I’ve secured a three-way hook-up and didn’t even need to switch-bait them with champagne.

NEED FOR SPEED

I escort each of the girls aboard. They take off shoes, hitch up skirts and step onto thmye marlin board without a drop of wet above the knees. I make small talk about my impressive rod rack as we nibble cheese and sip cheap champagne, then ask the ladies if they’d like to go for a spin, explaining that we’ll be thrust along by 240 white stallions with a set of seductive duo-props.

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Some of the ladies look impressed; one just rolls her eyes, fortunately not the tallest blonde. We launch onto the plane instantly, even with the fillies clustered at the rear of the cockpit. I can feel the anticipation lifting – and no, that’s not a euphemism – so I head for the swells at North Head. As I eye the next set, I hear screaming behind me. They’re either loving it or hating it.

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Regardless, I’m having too much fun on the wheel to slow down. The props grip hard and the hull sits low in the water as I bank around for the next run at the swell. I get the hull out of the water several times, but the girls never leave the rear transom, the 90kmph speeds doing little for their neatly ironed hair.

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Returning to harbor, I ask the girls about ride and handling, getting a full six Revlon nail polish-covered thumbs up. Time for the second part of the survey: the cabin. I invite them into the plush love den. Surprisingly, there’s room for all four of us. Damn, I was hoping for something a bit cosier. I close the cabin door and quiz the girls with a few token questions from the boating survey. But my cover is blown. Clearly I’m using a boat to pick up girls – and it works!

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The girls polish off the champagne and down my Captain Morgan then I drop them back at the beach with a solid score of 3.3.0. Now it’s time to put a tag in. I ask the tallest blonde, Karen, if she’d like an extended tour in the Whittley some time. After all I had 240L to burn.

She smiles and gives me her number. Back on board, I give the Whittley an approving pat. She’d done her job like a champion. Yes, boats can pick up girls. Mission accomplished.


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THE 233 FORMULA FAMILY TREE

THE 233 FORMULA FAMILY TREE

The Captain and Western Australian salty SEADOG Nick Davys go deep to discover the family history of the Formula 233.

Ah, the Formula 233. It’s the undisputed hero hull on Australian seas. It’s the most copied, most admired and most spoken-about hull on Facebook and at boat ramps. Don Aronow and his mates clearly got it right in the 1960s, building a high-performance powerboat that proved an instant winner on the racing circuit. More than 50 years later, the DNA of the Formula 233 hull design can be found in many reputable boatbuilding yards around Australia – and some not so reputable, as well.

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But what happened in between the original design and today, at least on Australian shores? The Captain has scoured every internet forum and called every builder, shipwright and old salt he knows to come up with the Formula family tree. He also got some help from Nick Davys, chief of Tidal Marine & Co. and captain of the Facebook group Australian Old School Trailer Boats. We reckon Nick goes all right – and we like his Facebook page. Thankfully he hasn’t banned The Captain’s crew yet…

1960s: A LEGEND IS BORN

The 23ft 3in hull was born out of American powerboat racing. In the early 1960s, property developer Don Aronow’s drug of choice was powerboat racing and the need for speed was what rocked his boat. So the Don decided to build a really fast boat.

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Don’s “formula” for success was to bring together the best in the business – designers, boatbuilders and riggers – hence the name. He hired a team of gun designers including Jim Wynne (race boat driver, naval architect and inventor of the sterndrive) and his partner, Walt Walters.

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The first boat to wear the Formula name was a 233 called Cigarette after a famous rum-running boat. The boat (and hull) was a winner, launching a tidal wave of successful boating ventures including Magnum, Donzi and Cigarette (not to be confused with the original Formula boat). They were a new breed of high-performance speedster, built for presidents, kings, sheikhs and motorracing drivers. At the top of his game, the Don did business with the US government and drug cartels – at the same time. This double life led to his murder in 1987 in Miami. Aronow’s life will be portrayed in a movie called Speed Kills, starring John Travolta. Due to be shot in Miami this year, it’s sure to get tongues wagging again.

1966: AUSTRALIAN-MADE BY THE HAINES BROTHERS

At the same time that Aronow and his team were testing the Formula in Miami, Garry and John Haines Snr were building Hunt-designed Bertrams under the commission of two businessmen based in Brisbane. Several years later, they were commissioned to build the Formula 233 and eventually were offered the rights to produce the V12, V15 and V19 as well as the Formula 233 that was built under licence to Thunderbird Marine Products in the US.

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The Formula hulls were built in the Goodna factory, Queensland alongside the smaller Bertram hulls designed by Raymond C Hunt. In 1966, John Haines Snr changed the name from Bertram Boats Australia to Haines Hunter due to a competing Bertram interest (started by Arch Spooner and now known as Caribbean). The name “Haines Hunter” is a combination of the brothers’ surname and a tribute to Raymond C Hunt. It’s likely that Hunt’s designs were imprinted on the original Formula 233, but opinion is divided on just how much.

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What is undisputed is that the Haines brothers raced hard and with great success in V19s, Formula 233s and the 773 designed by John. The Formula 233 found its way into the recreational boating market and in the mid ’60s you could pick up a hull for only $4400. Powered by a pair of 150HP Mercruisers fed by a 60-gallon (273L) copper tank, top speed was about 45mph (72km/h). The maximum outboard rating for the day was 220HP. Surprisingly, the hull-only weight was just over a tonne; a featherweight compared to today’s Edencraft 233 Formula and Bass Strait 24 Offshore, which tip the scales at about 1650kg. Back then, the relatively lightweight hull was built for powerboat racing and day cruising, not for commercial fishermen hauling baskets of abalone.

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In 1973, John Haines Snr sold a majority shareholding in Haines Hunter to an Asian business interest and by 1980, the brothers had been forced out of business. Several of the hull moulds were eventually passed on to Yaltacraft then later acquired by Edencraft for a steal.

LATE 1980s: EDENCRAFT CLAIMS A CLASSIC

When word came through the grapevine towards the end of the ’80s that Yaltacraft were shutting the Haines Hunter factory and the moulds were up for grabs, Edencraft, then a marine service centre in Eden, NSW, jumped at the chance.

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Rep Erick Hyland, who now builds WhitePointer boats, tells how it went down. “A Formula mould was sitting out the front of the factory, but the Yaltacraft bloke said it was sold and waiting to be collected. I told them the deal was off unless that Formula mould was included. It was a shit-fight, but after some argy-bargy, we got it – and most of the other popular moulds as well! Erick reckons that back then, the 233 was the flagship model, despite Haines Hunter trying to push the 243.

“John Haines saw the 243 as the company’s pin-up model,” says Erick, “so you could pick up a 233 Formula hull for about $18,000 [hull-only] and we fitted them with 200HP engines. In its early Edencraft days, the 233 was one of the top sellers alongside the V17. Typically we sold them to abalone divers who wanted a tough, commercial grade boat with a dive door.”

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Edencraft went on to change hands several times, but the 233 remained a production mainstay. Design updates over the years included wider gunwales, more spacious decks, a one-piece helm (with the option of an extended helm assembly) and more underfloor storage to keep the commercial operators happy. Solid wave-breakers were introduced because the builders got sick of repairing windscreens broken by taking waves over the top. Seems the standard fit-out just wasn’t up to it!

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Pods were optioned to handle big fourstrokes and the structural integrity of the boat was enhanced for commercial operations, featuring fibreglass stringer systems and foam filling. Edencraft now sits in the capable hands of Grant Maher. The new crew has wasted no time making changes with an all-new lightweight composite deck, new hard-top configuration and dash layout. The most noticeable change is the 6mm windscreen wrapped within the wheelhouse (pictured) that’s sure to get tongues wagging. The model line-up features the hardtop, a shortened windscreen model and a wavebreaker version. There’s also the option of a flooded keel.

All Edencraft boats will still follow the MSV building criteria, meaning they can go straight into survey. Perhaps the biggest change is delivery times. The Edencraft team reckons customers will only have to wait 12 to 16 weeks from the commencement date, to get heir shiny new Edencraft rig.

BASS STRAIT IS BORN

Bass Strait Boats started building the 24 Offshore variant of the Formula in 1998. The “straiter” was shaped by Greg Salmond after a six-year stint at Edencraft. He reckoned he could build a more user-friendly fishing boat, adding length and width and a “variable dead-rise chine” based on a Haines signature. The chine, Greg says, helps with a drier and softer ride, and adds buoyancy to the hull.

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The hull also features a planing plank for low-speed efficiency. He added a wheelhouse and flooding keel option. The Captain tested this configuration at last year’s Battle of the Big Vee, giving it two thumbs up for stability and wet-weather performance. In fact, the wheelhouse changed the perception of a few wavebreaker and runabout fans, and Greg says the wheelhouse option is now all the rage. The ride wasn’t as sleek as the narrower, round-bilged Edencraft, but it wasn’t far behind and every bit the Formula ride we’d come to recognise.

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Seventeen years and about 70 boats later, Greg has crafted a new computer-cut design for the Offshore 24. It’s even longer (an extra 100mm to 7.6m) and 120mm wider at the water-line than his original Bass Strait 24 – the extra waterline beam adding to stability. It’s a full composite construction and there’s more room in the engine well, a slight change in the chines and updates to the windscreen. The first of the 7.6 models will feature a single V8 Yanmar diesel. Not surprisingly, Greg has 18 months’ worth of pre orders!

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Half of Greg’s customers are commercial – from abalone divers to Police, Fisheries and Coast Guard – and the other half are serious fishermen. He even built a deck for a parasailing operation. Greg’s other notable boat is a 30-footer – not an extended 24, but a full-scale, blown-up Formula. He’s built seven, mostly for charter operators, two with outboards and the rest diesel. Internal volume is so large Greg can fit a single diesel under the floor. The ride is said to be nek level. We wonder what Don Aronow and the Yanks would think of this beast?

Footnote: the Bass Strait Boats 6m Offshore model is built by Ben Toseland in a separate factory south of Bairnsdale, Victoria. Ben used to be an apprentice at Greg’s before going out on his own. The boys still share ideas, materials and a beer.

CAM STRACHAN CASHES IN

Necessity is the mother of invention and Cam Strachan put this into practice in the late 1970s, building his own Formula variant for commercial operation as well as privateers. Payload was the priority so the original hull was split down the middle and widened about 50mm, with extra-wide chines based off a V19 added to keep the boat stable and upright in big seas. Pods were also added to give the boat more volume and to keep twin motors up and out of the water.

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Cam proudly boasts of bringing home 1.7 tonne of abalone from Tasmania in huge trailing seas. His abalone catching abilities caught the attention of Fisheries and he was busted for poaching, serving several stints in the clink. In testimony to his boatbuilding skills, the Tasmanian Water Police confiscated his boat and put it into service.

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In The Captain’s opinion – and much to Cam’s chagrin – we reckon his Formula rides harder than some of the sleeker versions. Extra beam, weight and larger chines will do that. But as a commercial workhorse, the cubes on Cam’s rig can’t be beaten. Secondhand models occasionally hit the market, but unfortunately this model is no longer built. Cam makes no apologies; he considers the Formula as “tiller-steer technology” compared to the boats he builds now, which feature a 30-degree monohedron design – essentially a consistent dead-rise running all the way along the hull – without any strakes. Yikes!

BEST OF THE WEST: RANGER AND MARKO SAMBRAILO

In the mid ’70s, Ranger Boats took a mould from a Formula Thunderbird. The Ranger featured a cabin cruiser model with a set-back helm position and fly-bridge, which proved too heavy up top despite being counterweighted with lead in the keel. The Ranger-built Formula models only hung around for about a decade and old models can be found starting from $10K. Also from Western Australia, Marko

Sambrailo created a stylish console from what was believed to be the old Ranger mould. It had belonged to a WA farmer and wasn’t in the best condition, but that didn’t stop Marko producing about 10 boats. The Sambrailo model featured a low-profile deck design and built-in bowsprit, adding to the sweeping lines the Formula is famous for. Marko had a reputation for building solid boats, and fisherman and west coast daytrippers typically pay around $40K to $50K for a second-hand model with motors and trailer.

VERY BEST OF THE WEST: PETER MILNER YACHTS

In the mid 1990s, Peter Milner had a vision to create a modern centre console to suit West Australian conditions. It was built to suit longrange offshore runs with big fuel capacity or to serve as a tender to larger vessels. He got his hands on a 233 mould, built a hull (which then became the plug), flipped it over and cut through either side of the keel, replacing the round bilge keel with a 260mm-wide planing pad (plank). He then removed the trademark wedges. A mould was also created for a glass stringer system along with a new console deck.

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It was around this time that the Australian dollar dropped and a flood of American consoles hit our shores. A full one-piece floor liner was added, pods were trialed and later the transom was extended with built-in platforms to accommodate singles or twins. The hull length was now 7.6m and the weight came in at 1500kg, about 400kg more than an original Haines 233 Formula and just shy of the east coast cousins. The centre console was pleasing to the eye and functional. It was full volume with plenty of dry storage, room for a toilet below and 450L fuel capacity – a big ask in a centre-console configuration.

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The hulls proved popular. So much so that a cabin was added to counter the infamous Fremantle Doctor. These southeast trade winds run up the coast from the Arctic during summer, bringing large swells and horrible, short, sharp chop. The cabin configuration worked beautifully, the planing plank complementing the heavier cabin configuration. It rode a little harder than the round-bilged Formula design, but the higher transition meant less wetted surface area, lower revs, better fuel consumption and lower horsepower hanging off the back. Oh, and the missus, protected in the cabin, now approved of long fishing runs!

About 45 Formula boats were built by Peter Milner Yachts and 95 per cent of those remain on the west coast. You’ll often see one or two models mooching around Rottnest and surrounding islands on the weekend. Second-hand models start around the $60K mark. They’re still in production and a facelift to the centre console model is expected later this year.

RESTORING YOUR OWN 233 FORMULA

Who hasn’t been inspired to rebuild a Formula? Before you jump on Gumtree and reach for the pinch bar, here’s some sage advice from Nick Davys.

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As each year passes it becomes harder to find the perfect project. I scout the oldschool forums and groups on the internet, but the best tactic is to keep my eyes peeled around farms, industrial areas and seaside towns.

There are a few hull options (see previous pages), but the original Formula Thunderbird is the granddaddy of them all. The Haines Hunter variant has plenty of cool factor, and the Edencraft 233 and Bass Strait Offshore 24 would be epic boats to own and build, but in reality there are few bargains in these latter models and they’re not exactly ripe for a rebuild. There are some dark horses such as the WA-built PMY24 that represent good value.

Second-hand hull prices fluctuate wildly between $6K and $35K, but personally I wouldn’t pay over $12K for an old Formula hull. At this point you should probably start a list of must-haves before you start blowing the kids’ inheritance.

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Once you’ve got the dream hull you’ll need gel-coat, paint, internal refit or rebuild materials, fit-out, motors and a decent trailer. You’ll need a decent tow rig, too. Other than money, you’ll need plenty of time. That’s the biggest killer of many project boat dreams, but it also represents the opportunity for the canny buyer – finishing someone else’s dream boat! With the hull in the driveway you’ll typically block the hull up off the trailer. The last thing you want to do is put a twist in her or hook the bottom of the hull. This is a matter of setting her straight, levelling her up and running your eye over her chocking the keel, transom and chines.

Now it’s time to get itchy. One option growing in popularity is fibreglass top-hat stringers, foam core internals and foam filled hulls. Using vinylester resin, stitch cloths and foam core internals could set you back about $10K. While costly, the benefits of a full composite rebuild usually mean higher resale price due to the prevention of wood rot as well as lightweight hull characteristics. A cheaper way would be to use marine ply, polyester resin, chop-strand mat and woven rovings. This would set you back about $6K in materials.

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On top of that you’re going to have labour time, either your own, a handy mate or a professional to steer you in the right direction. That’s more bucks – and time spent away from your paying job, not to mention your family. Spend some serious time considering weight distribution – fuel tanks, water tanks, ballast tanks and flood chambers. If you get this wrong, you can quickly turn a legend into a nightmare.

Due to the convex hull shape and deep vee design, a 233 Formula requires decent horsepower to get the hull going. I reckon the inboard option is underrated; interesting, given they were originally designed that way. Twin-rig outboards are the most popular option, but single outboards from 250HP will do the job. Pods or transom-mounted outboards seem to be a hot topic. A pod running engines with the correct set-up can work, although you should consider the internal layout so the longitudinal centre of gravity isn’t disturbed. I prefer transom mounts. Trim tabs can help keep the nose down and with lateral stability – but learn how to operate them as its easy to come unstuck if you don’t know what you’re doing. They don’t have a reputation as a “driver’s boat’ for nothing!

One thing you’ll definitely need is proficiency around power tools. I always remind myself to measure twice and cut once to avoid costly mistakes. If you’re not good on the tools, get a qualified boatbuilder to help. Anyone can fibreglass, but attention to detail and how you use your materials makes a difference. Most of all enjoy the process. If you’re not a boatbuilder, it’s likely you’ll only do it the once!

YEAH, I GOT ONE

Grub, aka Brandon Cole, joined the Formula fan club when his dad bought an original Thunderbird Formula 233 in 1993. We gave Grub a call to find out what all the Formula fuss is about.

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Hey Brandon, nice rig. Why a Formula 233?

Well, Dad had an interest in Formulas and picked up the hull about 25 years ago. It sat around for a while then he fitted fibreglass stringers and a stepped-up pod to maximise cockpit space. John McQuarrie built it and back then a couple of 150 Yammie Saltwater Series sat on the back.

A man ahead of his time, eh? Where did the boat come from?

It was owned by an ab diver out of Port Campbell – it used to be called Red Quarrells – and was painted orange, then went to red in 1998. Now it’s bright orange again, and called Awabi, which is Japanese for abalone.

That colour looks pretty epic.

Yeah, it was sprayed by John McQuarrie. Mum would never let Dad paint it that colour, but unfortunately he passed away from cancer in 2013 and I guess she’s relaxed her opinion a bit. Mum and my brothers, Jarron and Travis, got to work organising the new paint, as well as a new wave-breaker, flat-back transom and stainless bimini by McQuarrie.

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Dad would be proud.

Yeah, we had the driver’s seat embroidered with: “Max – Gone Fishing” as a tribute to him.

Nice touch. Tell us about the bolt-ons.

It’s got a Furuno 685 with 1kw transducer and two 150HP four-stroke Mercs fitted by Marc Durham from The Marine Shop in Melton. It’s doing some very impressive numbers – we burned a litre per mile (combined) on a recent run to King Island. It’s rolling on a galvanized Easytow trailer.

What are you chasing?

Crays around the lighthouse, mainly as well as barrels, sharks and snapper. Now the boat’s up to scratch, I want to bring a huge

swordfish on board.

What’s the best feature about your Formula?

The ride… and the fuel economy with the new Mercury four-strokes.

Worst?

No dive door. Trying to bring big fish over the side is a mission. Everyone recognises us, too. It’s hard to hide in a big, brightorange boat.

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True dat. 207kg of bronzie coming over the gunwales also turns heads. Would you ever sell her?

Nope, I don’t think there’s anything as good around. Maybe an Edencraft Formula, but it wouldn’t have the same sentimental value.

We hear ya, Brandon. The Captain salutes you – as we’re sure your Dad would.

THEN & NOW: BY THE NUMBERS

How times have changed for the Formula 233. We’ve compared the first known test of an Australian production Formula built by the Haines brothers, to the most recently tested Edencraft 233 Formula – the rig that featured in The Captain’s Battle of the Big Vee, owned by Matt Webb.

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FORMULA FANG

The old twin Mercruisers on the Haines Formula hold pace with the Suzuki powered Edencraft over the first 10 seconds, then max out at about 4400RPMs, travelling at 72 km/h. The twin Suzukis on the Edencraft keep giving all the way through to 6000RPMs, travelling at 88 km/h – all while pushing about 50% extra weight.

ONE HELL OF A HULL: HOW THEY GOT IT SO RIGHT

Nick Davys on the defining characteristics of the original Formula hull. There is no part of a vessel more misunderstood than the running surface of a hull. Water is heavy stuff and can be unpredictable – just a cubic foot of water weighs 28kg. The wave is changing speed, direction and shape while the water on the surface of the wave is forming its shape with the wind. The hull is consistently changing speed and direction in relation to the sea. A fearless racer with fishing boat pedigree, Don Aronow knew the ocean better than most. With Jim Wynne and Walters they created the Formula 233 – born to take on the likes of the Bertram designed by Raymond C Hunt. Here’s how they did it…

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Length: 23 foot 3 inches in length and 8 foot across the beam.

Entry angles: 62-degrees at the forefoot, running through a variable dead-rise to midships, then to a dead-rise of 24-degrees at the transom. The convex running surface of this hull (banana shape) allows the Formula to run higher with less wetted running surface below the waterline.

Flare: The stylish flare rising up from the sharp entry guides walls of blue water out and away. The dramatic look is accentuated by the upward raking chine line and the famous droopy nose.

Chine: Designed to give the boat lift and lateral stability, the chines are a convex design, reducing wetted hull surface meaning less drag and better fuel consumption. The chines aren’t  as wide as some of today’s variations as she was designed to be a narrow-beamed ocean racer.

Strake: Two strakes on port and starboard are sharp and pronounced. They aid in lift and directional stability, particularly in hard turns. One strake runs the full hull length and the other three quarters of the way.

Built-in tabs: Due to the convex running surface of the hull, wedges or “hooks” were added to the original Formula design. They are about 200mm long and 300mm wide and faired in between the chine and first strake in each corner of the transom. They are designed to give the hull a bow-down attitude while accelerating on to the plane. This was especially important because the heavier inboards and outboards didn’t produce the torque and power of today’s engines.


PART 3: KIMBERLEY BY LAND

PART 3: KIMBERLEY BY LAND

TROPICAL CYCLONE

Having conquered the Kimberley by sea and by sky, it’s time to test our mettle like most tourists do in these parts – by 4X4. We have a bit of a problem, though. The Gibb River Road, that iconic stretch of dirt road that runs between Kununurra and Derby, is still closed after the big wet. There is worse news: a tropical low forming off the Tiwi Islands is threatening to bulk up into a cyclone as it passes over Darwin. So threatening, in fact, that the guys from Cannon Charters have cancelled their next trip.

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Rather than waiting in a motel eating pizza in our pyjamas, we make the most of the good-weather window, exploring some of the national parks closer to Darwin. Most are only accessible by 4X4. The Gibb also features deep, sandy river crossings and endless corrugations, so a 4X4 is a compulsory accessory. We opt for a 2.8L turbo diesel Toyota Hilux from Australian 4WD Hire. These rigs come kitted out with all the camping and 4×4 gear you need. Ours has all the bells and whistles, including a TJM awning and rooftop tent, camping chairs, table, stove, jerry cans, first aid kit, recovery kit and detailed Hema maps. To take on the corrugations it has an upgraded suspension system and all-terrain tyres – the perfect carriage with which to tour the Kimberley on rubber…

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DON’T GO CHASING WATERFALLS

First item on the agenda is Kakadu National Park, a few potholes down the road from Darwin. Sadly for us, the big wet had closed the big-ticket destinations like Jim Jim and Twin Falls Gorge. We’re offered another scenic flight, but word comes through from HQ that The Captain’s treasure chest is drying up and we’ll have to stick to land-based slithering. Never mind, we slide into the hiking boots and check out some incredible Aboriginal rock art. The fishing options are plentiful in Kakadu, every causeway occupied by someone flicking a lure.

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Then it’s south to Katherine and Litchfield National Park to ogle the massive Edith Falls. We also get dwarfed by the 4m-high Cathedral Termite Mounds, snorkel with sooty grunter at Katherine Gorge and soak our weary bones in the Bitter Springs thermal pools. The snorkel also comes in handy here – the water is crystal clear!

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BERTIE THE BUSHMAN

Cruising through town looking for a caramel soy milkshake for Millie, the phone crackles into life. “You in Kununurra?” comes the familiar bark of Macca (aka Anthony McDonald from Red Desert Tours). “You’ve gotta catch up with a South African buddy of mine called Bertie. He’s the best bushman I know, an ex-pro hunter who can kill and skin a croc with his bare hands!” I have to meet this bloke, so I grab his number and tap it in the phone while Millie slurps away.

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“Hi, erm, is this Bertie the croc-peeling bushman?” I squeak.

“Yes, who’s this”, comes the heavily accented reply.

“My name is Jack Murphy, I’m trav…”

Bertie interrupts, “Listen, I’m filleting 100kg of Spanish mackerel at the moment. Meet me at the tavern at 5pm.”

Before I could say “Yes Mr Kill-Everything-in-Sight”, he hangs up. It was yet another Wild West moment – wild enough for Millie to stop chugging her milkshake and stare at me wide-eyed, probably looking for reassurance we wouldn’t be skinned alive!

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At the appointed hour, we tentatively enter the tavern, half expecting to be leaving as a decorative rug for Bert’s floor. To prove my virility I puff my chest out, strut to the bar and order the darkest beer on tap. Then I wait. A few minutes later, a bloke with a lean frame and Croc sandals sits down at the table,  lemon lime and bitters in hand.

“You must be Jack. I’m Bertie. I love The Captain,” he says with a friendly smile. Fears abate and we share tales and sweet drinks for an hour or so before he offers a run in his tinny. Hell, yeah!

CATFISHIN’

When I arrive at the boat ramp, Bertie is already on the water with a crew of three dogs raring to go. His platey console is well worn, hinting at epic battles with crocs, barra and wild boar. The T-top is held in place by an orange ratchet strap after a collision with an overhanging tree left it a little the worse for wear. It’s the boat for the job, though, with a big casting deck and wide gunwales. There’s no sounder, just a steering wheel and, surprisingly, a shiny new Suzuki 115HP four-banger on the back.

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Cruising up the Upper Ord River, Bertie words me up on the aquaculture of the region. “It’s a very healthy system,” he says. “In fact, I was involved in stocking the river with barra.” You bewdy, it’s going to be a turkey shoot. “A spot of barra fishing?” I enquire.

“Nah mate, we’re going catfishing today. They’re massive in here – tasty and damn fun to catch.” Not knowing if he’s joking or not, I just smile and nod, glancing at the bone-handled knife hanging from his belt for onlya few seconds.

Upriver, the Ord scenery becomes more dramatic. The river narrows, then twists and turns beneath huge orange cliffs, their reflection perfectly mirrored on the still water before being shattered by our wake. We arrive at Jump Rock and tie the boat to a tree before hurling a cast net at a couple of unsuspecting giant glassfish. “Excellent cattie bait.” Bertie remarks.

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The fish look like they’d be more at home in an aquarium than pinned to a rusty 6/0 hook, but Bertie has other things in mind. He places the rod in a makeshift rod holder fashioned from rocks and trees. Five minutes later, it’s wrenched by a solid cattie. After a sporting fight with long, fast runs, the ugliest fish I’ve ever seen bobs to the surface, gut protruding like an overinflated balloon.

“Oh, what a beauty!” Bertie shouts before scooping the blackand- white blob from the water and hoisting it up for a photo.

BUNGLING ALONG

We leave Bertie with a firm handshake. He’d suggested we visit Purnululu National Park, home of the Bungle Bungle range and only a half-day’s drive from Kununurra. The mountains look like giant beehives on Nat Geo documentaries, but seeing them in the raw is way more impressive. The Bungle Bungle region has serious cultural significance to the Aboriginal people, but it wasn’t until 1983 that the rest of the world fully appreciated its beauty when a documentary film projected the area into lounge rooms around the world. Interest peaked and in 1987, Purnululu became a National Park; then, in 2003, a World Heritage site.

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Getting to the Bungle Bungles is a challenge – a bunch of river crossings and a rocky 4×4 section with a few thousand corrugations thrown in. We pick a campsite then kit up for some cool walks. Over two days we hike to the Domes, Cathedral Gorge, the Window, Whip Snake Gorge, Mini Palms Gorge and Echidna Chasm.

BROOME OR BROKE

We depart the Bungles heading for the Gibb, which had only just opened. First stop is El Questro Wilderness Park, where we visit Emma Gorge, Zebedee Springs, Saddleback Ridge and one of the most spectacular destinations, El Questro Gorge – where I hike for three hours with heavy camera gear only to discover the battery is flat. Dang!

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Continuing along the Gibb, we hit the Pentecost River – a crossing I’d been dreading for weeks. It is 60m wide with strong currents and can’t be walked to check the depth as there are too many salties lurking about. We get there at low tide as planned, it doesn’t look too bad, so we plough through – a cinch for our hearty Hilux!

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Next stop is Mount Barnett Roadhouse in the King Leopold Ranges, where we get whacked $2 for a litre of diesel, in fairness pretty standard along the Gibb. Our campsite is near Manning Gorge, which has a massive waterfall that caresses the shoulders of weary travellers while filling up their souls. We also visit the nearby Galvans and Adcock gorges – both are spectacular.

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To our surprise, the Gibb has been pretty tame, the road in good nick with a few sealed sections. There are a few livestock hazards, including wandering cattle that seem to enjoy playing, er, chicken with TJM bull bars.

FROM BUSH TO BEACH

Soaked to the bone with freshwater waterholes, we opt for a salty alternative, motoring on to Broome to reacquaint ourselves with electricity, hot showers and fresh veggies, fill our bellies and charge the camera batteries. Next stop is the Dampier Peninsula, towards Cape Leveque.

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The road is tedious, seriously dusty and heavily corrugated, but totally worth it once we arrive at Kooljaman, a remote wilderness camp owned by the indigenous Bardi Jawi communities. Vivid blue water laps white sandy beaches bordered by red rock cliffs. And it doesn’t just look good – you can swim here without fear of stingers or salties.

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There is no Bertie, Metre Mike or Tricky Nick to put me onto the barra in these parts, so I’m left to my own fishing devices. Grabbing a bag of pilchards, I trundle down to the beach and lob bait into the blue. The Hail Mary session is a winner. Little golden trevally, GTs, sharks and a cracker cobia are stars in my mini fishing festival. We spend the next few days exploring underwater and ticking off some bucket-list fish, even snagging my first bluebone (Venus tuskfish) on stinky old squid. It’s one of the prettiest fish I’ve ever seen and the perfect exclamation mark for our Kimberley expedition.

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THE LAST FRONTIER

The Kimberley is remote, hot, dusty and unforgiving, but that’s part of the attraction. Once you get past its raw and rugged exterior, you’ll discover an amazing ecosystem made up of rock formations, powerful waterfalls, gorges, crystal-clear waterholes and ancient Aboriginal history. And did I mention the damn good fishing? Malcolm Douglas certainly did. Good on ya Malcolm, I’m bloody glad you did. The Captain salutes you.

contact Australian 4WD Hire

1300 360 339; australian4wdhire.com.au

Email: sales@australian4wdhire.com.au

5703/9 Hamilton Ave, Q1 Tower, Surfers Paradise, Qld 4217

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PART 2: KIMBERLEY BY AIR

PART 2: KIMBERLEY BY AIR

NICK’S TRICKS

Having conquered the Kimberley by sea, it was time to take to the skies again. We head down to Kununurra and meet up with the guys from HeliSpirit. They specialise in scenic flights and heli-fishing, which involves spotting the best fishing grounds, lobbing right next to them and flicking in your lure.

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Millie is all fished-out after a week aboard Cannon, but the idea of exploring the gorges and waterfalls from the air is enough to get her off the hotel bed and into the sky. Nick our pilot fires up the gleaming Robinson 44 and moments later we’re soaring towards a secret river. Slotting into a narrow chasm between two red rock cliffs, he lowers the bird onto a convenient rock platform. It’s the prettiest gorge we’ve ever seen – even prettier than the Instagram photos we’d salivated over on tourism feeds.

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Abandoning the joystick, Nick assembles a couple of three-piece rods rigged with choice lures. A couple of throws with the casting net later and we’re stocked with live-bait. Nick sure has the moves and Millie is looking way too impressed with his handiwork. It’s time for me to snag another barra, I reckon.

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NEW HORIZONS

We notch up a few mangrove jack while soaking up the serenity. After an hour or so, Nick calls it barra o’clock. We clamber aboard the chopper and fly over more rivers and pools with Nick peering out the window searching for metre barra. He spots a few, but finding somewhere to land is a challenge until he settles on a narrow flood plain west of the Cambridge Gulf. Every cast is a hook-up and there seems an endless supply of willing barra under the lily pads. Millie racks up the numbers, while Nick goes with quality, donging an 85cm donkey. It nails a baby Roosta popper right at his feet!

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THE COCKBURNS

Before heading back, Nick has a treat in store. He’d tucked away a cool bag with a six-pack of icy Matso’s beer and we slurp happily. Nick detours over the Cockburn Ranges – yes, unfortunate name – swooping and buzzing through a maze of sheer cliffs that peer down into countless beautiful gorges. The cliff sides are stained black and Nick explains that in the wet season, the entire range is pretty much a huge waterfall.

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This place really is the Wild West. Unless you’re partial to millipedes in your underpants, we reckon flying is the go. The bird’s-eye view showcases the rugged beauty of this remote landscape. We shudder, remembering that in a few days time we’ll be out there, all alone in our 4X4.


PART 1: KIMBERLEY BY SEA

PART 1: KIMBERLEY BY SEA

The north-western tip of Australia is remote, wild and beautiful. Well, that’s what Malcolm Douglas had me believing after watching his many videos. He traversed the Kimberley with his dog Boondie, a cameraman and his trusty ol’ alloy Trailcraft. The legend of the Kimberley was imprinted on me – I had to do it. My fair-haired partner, Millie, and I headed west to the land of red dust, towering cliffs and fat barra…

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Before you get the chance to pull out the camera to snap a gobsmacking gorge, there are long drives along corrugated roads to navigate. In the wet season, there’s a good chance the main route has washed out or a causeway has collapsed after torrential rain. In Kununurra – gateway to the Kimberley – the average annual rainfall is 790mm. This year, as The Captain’s crew were packing their finest Gold Bombers into dry weatherproof packs, it pelted down a sock-sodden 1072mm. Cripes! It was the wettest season since the ’60s!

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On the upside, waterfalls would be flowing and the gorges swollen. On the downside, it’d be a slog all the way. The Captain’s crew back at mission control hatched a cunning plan to avoid all those soggy socks and trousers. It involved a highly capable 4X4, a plane that floats, a chopper and a luxury live-aboard boat – just to be on the safe side. And so the legend unfolded – the Kimberley by land, sea and air.

CANNON FIRE

It’s 4am at Darwin Airport. Squatting inside a dimly lit hangar at a corner of the runway is a Grumman G-73 Mallard amphibious aircraft. It might be named after a duck, but this twin-prop aircraft with its massive 20m wingspan and classic 1940s lines is a flying boat. It even has a deep-vee hull shape and big reverse chines – The Captain’s kinda aircraft. Most days it transports workers to the Paspaley pearl farms, but today it will be freighting us to the west coast of the Northern Territory to rendezvous with our mothership. I try to help by sucking in my gut as they weigh all our gear, then we’re up, up and away.

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Millie had barely pinged off a selfie before we were soaring across the coastal fringes west of Darwin, spotting crocs in the rapidly flowing river systems. I picture big barra lying just below the surface in the eddies swirling around the mangrove-lined banks. Less than an hour later, the Grumman loses altitude, tips a wing and circles the MV Cannon like a pelican coming in to nest for the night. This is the mothership, a 75ft custom-built liveaboard – our home for the next week.

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The pilot lines up a clean strip of water before lowering the belly of the behemoth on to the tannin-stained river, the bow wave soaking the rear windows. Landing on water is a strange sensation, louder but smoother than a runway. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have sweaty-palm thoughts of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. We motor towards the Cannon and two tenders come out to meet us. The pilot shuts down the engines and cracks open the rear exit. A wave of warm, humid air hits us in the face as a sunburnt head pops inside and says, “G’day guys, welcome to paradise!”

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FISHING VALHALLA

Ah, if Malcolm could see me now. Back in the day, he slept in a dusty old swag and cooked fish on open campfire. We’re being treated to five-star dinners, three times a day and an air-conditioned bedroom – plus each pair of guests gets their own fishing guide. All up, the boat accommodates eight paying customers, six staff and a BCF worth of tackle.

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On the first day we were paired with a guide called Aiden, who was dressed in the standard NT garb of tan Columbia shirt, boardies and polarised sunnies. He has the unenviable task of teaching Millie how to use a bait caster. We jump into the tinny, fasten our sunnies, reverse hats and snake up the river at full speed, soaring past mangroves that are choking trees into submission. Around every bend is a double-page spread out of Australian Geographic: saltwater crocs lurking, sea eagles soaring and jabirus wading peacefully before being startled by the thrum of our Honda BF40 and the wake from the aluminum hull.

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Bursting through the forest canopy onto the floodplain, dense greenery gives way to grassy flatlands punctuated with tributaries feeding the main river system. The water is clear and we sight cast to small barramundi with soft plastics. After snagging a couple, Aiden sensed my relief at notching a barra and suggested we double back to the river mouth – metre-long models were caught earlier in the week. With two Bombers out behind the tinny, we work the edges of the sandbank near the entrance. Medium-sized barra and bluenose salmon fight for attention among the squadrons of salty crocs. Without a canopy, we feel the full fury of the blazing sun. One big saltwater croc joins the frenzy, dragging a 4kg threadfin salmon to the muddy bank and chomping down like it was a chicken nugget.

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When Aiden calls prime time for casting lures into the river’s shaded feeder creeks, Millie, her soft white skin now an angry shade of pink, readily agrees. It looks like barra heaven – a maze of snags where a small tributary feeds black, nutrient-rich runoff into the main channel, creating a backeddy like a cup of freshly stirred Milo. The barra are hungry and we both hook 70cm fish at the same time. Millie forgets about her sunburn for a while as we high-five. Egos and eskies filled to the brim, we return to the mothership, where our fellow cruisers are already regaling each other with fishy stories. We’re greeted by a vast platter of mud crabs – which proves to be just the entrée…

METRE MIKE

The following days are a blur of barramundi scales and Gold Bombers – each session better than the last. The sea is a glass-off, so we hit the offshore reefs in tinnies. Fat fingermark and juicy jew are destined for the dinner table, but the conversation turns to metre-long barra. Nobody has snagged one yet. Not until fishing guide Metre Mike rocks up.

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Mike’s from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, but spends seven months a year guiding on the Cannon. The next morning with Mike starts like most other days, casting soft plastics and hard bodies into snags and feeder creeks. Cannon Charters is a sport-fishing operation, there’s no bait, no cast nets – just lures. But I break all the rules when I foul-hook a mullet the size of my index finger. Mike laughs, until I ask him to hook up a live baiting rig. He pauses for a minute, swivels around to see if anyone is watching then mutters, “What the hell.”

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Spying a good-looking snag he’d never fished before, we approach silently to see a barra tailing around the cluster of algae-covered logs. I cast a soft plastic into the honey hole and it’s immediately snuffled by a nice fish, but after less than five seconds I’m railed in the sticks. Multiple fish of different sizes follow our lures out, but won’t commit to a strike. It’s time to deploy the secret mullet directly into the honey hole.

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Within a few moments, the line is peeling off at right angles. A huge swirl on the surface exposes the thick shoulders and massive paddle tail of a metre barra. An epic battle ensues, a 10-minute tug-o’-war, the fish running the shock-leader over snag after snag. We finally get the 110cm beast into the net and onto the boat. This is my first metre barra, the first and only for the trip. Belt notched.

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TROUBLE IN PARADISE

The epic Cannon adventure is almost over and it’s time to head home. We’re 100nm west of Darwin when Captain Ben Sambrooks turns the ignition key to fire up the big 820HP M.T.U diesel… and nothing happens. The starter motor has packed it in so we call in air support. A chopper will have to fly the broken parts into town for repairs and the skipper decides this is a good opportunity to ferry a few passengers back to Darwin. I opt to stay on the boat – might as well keep fishing, eh? However, Millie jumps at the opportunity of a heli-ride home and in no time is back in a springy hotel bed in Darwin, watching The Bold and the Beautiful and eating Nacho Cheese Doritos.

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WHADDA TRIP

It’s been an epic adventure – bookended with a grand seaplane entrance and evacuation by chopper a week later. The Cannon makes it home late the next night and the crew calls for a celebration. The crew are drinking Captain’s Blood, a mixture of Captain Morgan, soda water and bitters that sounds nice, but actually tastes like brake fluid. I pretend to enjoy it as the crew turn from sailors into pirates. The barra grow a few centimetres and the back slaps get harder. Given the jovial mood, I figure it’s the perfect time to drop my live-bait confession. There are a few wide eyes from the crew as Metre Mike stares innocently into his Captain’s Blood, but we all have a laugh and even get invited back to do it all again one day.

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FIVE BARRA TIPS FROM CANNON GUIDE CLINT

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1 –Barra are very lazy, but more intelligent than you’d think. Look for snaggy, slow-moving water sitting alongside fast-moving water. Barra love these areas, conserving energy in the slow water then ambushing prey as they scurry past.

2 –When fishing the run-off (end of the wet season), locate yourself near the colour changes. The tannin-coloured water that comes off the flood plains is full of nutrients and attracts the bait. This is like Bourke Street for big barra.

3- Keep your eyes peeled for crocodiles. They’re hunting barramundi too. Multiple crocs congregating around sandspits or edges are a sure sign of barra en masse.

4 –Barra are often the first predators to come in with the tide, so fish the first flow of the run-in tide and last flow of the outgoing tide.

5- You can never retrieve a barra lure too slowly. If the lure is in the zone, a subtle twitch is usually all it takes to encourage a bite.