Expedition Members Wanted [47]

Rigid Inflatable Boats Down the East Coast of Australia

By Chris Halliday

Expedition Members Wanted

Caution: This is not a NSWSKC trip. It is not even a sea kayak trip! But it will be exciting!

Would you like to be part of a major trip in an outboard-powered RIB? How about 3,000 nautical miles from Maatsuyker Island to Thursday Island? Can you spare some time, possibly around February/March 2002? Have you seen your psychiatrist recently?

If the answer to the all the above is yes, then read on.

I have been approached by a South African manufacturer of inflatable boats. They want to promote their brand (Crusader), which is new to Australia. They had heard that I was interested in doing a major trip in a rubber ducky, and they have offered to provide the necessary boat or boats for the trip.

I have included here an early discussion paper, which pretty much says it all. I have deleted certain names for privacy reasons. Obviously things are moving quickly, and by the time you read this we are going to be much better organised. Hopefully by then most of the sponsors will be organised.

If you are inspired by the thought of this trip and would like to take part in any phase or for any particular part of the journey, please contact me ASAP (contact details are at the end of this article).

The Top to Bottom Expedition

3,000 nautical miles in a rubber ducky – a trip from Thursday Island to Maatsuyker Island in 2002.

An expedition to prove the strength, seaworthiness, and endurance of Crusader inflatable boats.

This is an initial discussion paper for a significant expedition, designed to put a Crusader inflatable to the ultimate test. To the best of our knowledge, nothing like this trip has ever been accomplished before in an inflatable, so the expedition should establish the Crusader brand as a strong and reliable product in the Australian market.

The aim is to run a small inflatable RIB through 33 degrees of latitude, from the tip of Cape York across to Thursday Island, then all the way down the East Coast and across Bass Straight, then on to the finish line at Maatsuyker Island in the far south of Tasmania. To minimise risk we would use the sea kayak route across Bass Straight, i.e. via Wilsons Promontory, Hogan Island, Flinders Island. The boat would have to cross an imaginary finish line at Maatsuyker, then return to Southport in SE Tasmania for recovery. Note: We will be taking advice from our navigation consultant, and (depending on time of year and prevailing weather/tide/current conditions), we may opt to run this trip the other way round, from ‘Bottom to Top’.

The all-up distance is about 3,030 nautical miles, and we would anticipate that the whole expedition would take in the order of 6 weeks to 2 months (although this will vary enormously depending on media commitments and weather conditions). We will need 4 days to get the convoy from Canberra to Cairns, then another 3 to 4 days to reach the tip of Cape York and get on the water. The return from Southport in Tasmania will take about 3 days.

The bit in between is the great variable. There are 55 legs, but if weather, tide and media permit, it would be expected to do multiple legs on most days. If we are ‘supported’ from the camera boat with fuel and crew changes, then it would be entirely possible to spend at least some nights at sea, making distance. It is entirely reasonable to hope that we could average 100 nautical miles per day (e.g. 10 hours at 10 knots), meaning a trip time of 30 days. This gives us a total expedition time of about 41 days. Add in a number of delays caused by media commitments and weather, and we could be looking at up to 60 days. It is envisaged that we could have expedition members joining us at various ports for particular legs of the journey.

To the best of our knowledge, there has only been one other significant journey by an inflatable boat in Australia. A group of 5 ex-army persons completed a circumnavigation in July this year, however they were using a very much larger boat, they had full ground support from vehicles for the entire journey and it was done as a charity fund raiser, so it took (we believe) about 5 months.

This proposal is for a much smaller boat travelling much faster, without ground-based logistics support.

The expedition will be multi-layered, and will have the following components:

  • Getting There – A convoy of 4WD vehicles to transport the entire sea-going component of the expedition to the tip of Cape York. It is envisaged that we would use members of various 4WD clubs from the Canberra region for this. We would seek fuel sponsorship from the oil companies to help defray expenses for these drivers.
  • Expedition Boat – A suitable smallish RIB which will be donated by Crusader. Crew of two. Preferred engine to be a smallish 4-stroke outboard. If Crusader is not supplying the engine, then support will be sought from suppliers to lend engines for the expedition. We will seek fuel sponsorship for this boat as per the 4WDs.
  • Camera Boat – A larger boat to be found externally or lent by Crusader for use as a camera/support vessel. Crew of not less than two. It is hoped to make a documentary of the trip for possible TV. We will need to determine if we are to make the trip ‘fully unsupported’ in the RIB, or if the larger boat will carry fuel, supplies, and change-over drivers, etc. In either event, the larger boat will need to be there for use as a camera platform. Again, we would seek to borrow engines for this boat from the engine sponsor.
  • General Sponsors – For all the items needed. We can look at all manner of sponsors in this area. For example, sponsor X might like to supply the foods and sponsor Y might even be persuaded to have a chopper overhead at the finish line. We also need support for the film activities – we should try to enlist help from the TV networks. It may be a good idea to get a strong agent on side to do a lot of this legwork for us? Or do we use the internal resources available from Crusader?
  • Recovery Team in Tasmania – It will be necessary to have the vehicles and boat trailer in position at Southport to recover us when the expedition ends. We then need to get the whole show back to the mainland and up to Canberra.
  • Shore-based Support – We will need a navigation consultant who can recommend best times, tracks and direction of travel (for example, Mike Matthews is vastly experienced, has been approached, and is willing to participate – he would also like to spend at least some time in the boat). Also need a weather person who can be contacted each day for up-to-date forecasts for the areas we are travelling in. This person might also double as the safety contact, so we can check in each day to give position, pass urgent messages, etc. We will initially approach our sea-kayaking contacts to fulfil this role.
  • PR Person – The whole point of the trip is to get exposure for sponsors through the media. We need to be talking to newspapers and TV crews at a number of ports along the way. We should look at whether this should be organised by an agent or whether we use the resources of Crusader, or perhaps engage a separate dedicated professional for this part of the expedition. In any event, this must be treated as a major activity and not just as an afterthought. We will need to determine what media commitments we can make within the rough schedule, and from that we can decide which ports we will visit during the trip. This in turn will to some extent determine the time required for the journey.

As I said before, if you are inspired by the though of this trip and would like to take part in any phase or for any particular part of the journey, please contact me ASAP.