Goolwa and the mouth of the river was the target today – a distance of 380 kilometres. For this reason it was planned to run only one boat to Wellington. From there, two boats would tackle the trip across Lake Alexandrina.
Peter and Geoff took off ten minutes before it was light, setting a good pace. Tony and I took the Triton out of Waikerie early to escort the boats around the northern point of the river at Morgan. The Bus crew were directed to head direct to Blanchetown.
The crew was changed and the boat refuelled at the Blanchetown lock (Lock One).
Both The Bus crew and Tony and I in the Triton were able to follow the boats and get to numerous vantage points along the spectacular high cliffs. At Walkers Flat the crew in The Bus decided not to cross the river as requested and instead kept to the eastern bank to Mannum. Apart from creating tension, the action unnecessarily wasted fuel. They crossed the river on the Mannum ferry.
I was concerned that the boat crews would not see the planned refuelling point. Houseboats, willow trees lining the banks, two car ferries continuously crossing and re-crossing the river, and many other activities all potentially obscured the spot.
After a quick refuelling Peter and Geoff took over from Greg and Michael and headed for Wellington. When Tony and I arrived at Murray Bridge the roar of racing ski boats was deafening. We headed down to the river to the sight of about 15 ski boats and skiers racing along a course that took up the entire width of the river.
The noise was as incredible as the speeds – up to 150 kph. My fear was that Peter and Geoff would not be able to get the boat past the racing. We approached race officials who indicated that they believed the boat had passed through along a small channel on the far side of the river. Though this information was not conclusive time constraints meant that I had to accept it as fact and push on to Wellington. I established radio contact with the crew in The Bus. They had found a suitable spot behind the hotel to refuel.
The second boat was placed in the water at Wellington. The two boats were sent off with map and compass to cross the notorious Lake Alexandria. I had given a bearing to Michael that deliberately ‘aimed off’ the target. From Wellington the boats were on their own. The land crews headed to Goolwa to await their arrival.
Another unnecessary detour by The Bus crew through the small settlement of Strathalbyn, inexplicably passing numerous turnoffs to Milang for no apparent reason but at the behest of Adrian and Rin caused a bit more tension. Exposure of errors in their navigational calculations meant that I won was a totally unnecessary ‘battle of wills’.
I had led various different expeditions across Lake Alexandrina since 1981. Every crossing had been rough. This one was to be no exception. A stiff wind was blowing and there were white caps on the lake. The boat crews crossed the lake in reasonable time but then became confused in the marked channels. Darkness fell. They slowly made their way towards the lights of Goolwa.
On land it was a waiting game. The Lock Keeper kept the barrage open till dark, at which time he departed. Under pressure I agreed to start a search. Barely had it got underway when The Bus crew (who had gone to the main town jetty) saw the light from a torch carried by the boat crews. They were guided to the barrage. The crews were cold, wet, tired and reluctant to continue to the mouth of the river, a further seven kilometres. Tony’s ploy of threatening to get in the boat himself got Peter and Michael back into the boat with a battery, spotlight and torch to make the run to the mouth, and return five kilometres to the boat launching ramp.
Lessons learnt on Day Seven were:
- Navigation skills are vital.
- Good maps are vital.
- Searching for a needle in a haystack is pointless.
- Pre-determined ‘action if lost’ plan is important.
- Route directions need to be promulgated.
The elapsed time for the trip from Yarrawonga Weir to the mouth of the Murray River was 59 hours 55 minutes – a reduction of 13 hours on the the previous record.