HAMILTON ISLAND, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA – When 14 Riviera motor yachts passed through the Gold Coast Seaway into the open Coral Sea on a perfect winter day, it was the beginning of many adventures with one destination – the sparkling Whitsunday Islands nearly 600 nautical miles north on Australia’s fabled Great Barrier Reef.
For some, this was the start of an annual migration to take their Rivieras to the Whitsundays for the next three or four months.
For one couple, it was a shakedown cruise for their newly-acquired Riviera Sport Yacht.
For another couple, it was an opportunity to cross the notorious Wide Bay bar with people who had been there many times and then to visit Lady Musgrave Island.
Brenda and Larry Watson live in Fremantle, Western Australia. Yet they found their ideal Riviera, a 5800 Sport Yacht they have named Circle of Trust, on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
“Larry flew over for a couple of days, inspected her and took her for a sea trial,” said Brenda. “Then he called me and said this was for us. The yacht’s name is a family joke!
“We decided to join the Migration as a shakedown and to learn as much as we could about our new Riviera. We had been on board for less than a week when we joined the cruise north.
“We used to own whale watching charter boats in Hervey Bay so we have seen much of the Great Barrier Reef, but never without a skipper and crew. This was our opportunity to be in command of our own motor yacht. It was very exciting.”
After a dawn start inside the Seaway, the flotilla turned north to begin the longest leg of their voyage, 167 nautical miles and nearly nine hours to Fraser Island and the Kingfish Bay Resort.
“The conditions were perfect,” said Russel Paul aboard his Riviera 4700 Sport Yacht Positano . “The sea was almost glassy. We had a six-hour voyage in open waters to reach the southern end of Fraser Island and the bar. I am not sure about my wife Jenny, but I was looking forward to the challenge of the bar. It has a powerful reputation and I wanted to understand it so we could navigate it on our own in future.
“In the end, it was quite calm. Ben Crawley and his team were fantastic. Ben positioned his Riviera so he could observe each of us as we made the crossing. ”
The sands of the Wide Bay bar change constantly and the reference points for the dog-leg crossing into the enclosed waters between the island and the mainland are updated regularly.
“Ben and his team made us feel at ease,” said Brenda Watson. “They arranged for Marine Rescue to be on hand. It was reassuring but it was an easy passage on the day.”
The water across the bar was so calm that Trish Cathcart asked husband Troy whether they had crossed it.
“I did not know about the danger of the bar and there was no reason to be concerned on the day,” she said.
Like the Watsons, Troy and Trish used the cruise as a shakedown for their new Riviera 45 Open Flybridge, Hammer Time. They joined the flotilla outside the Wide Bay bar from their home on Bribie Island in northern Brisbane.
“I am not a good sailor, so I like being up on the bridge where I can see the view,” said Trish.
“The Kingfisher Bay resort was fantastic. We took our tender over to the beach and joined everyone for a great dinner. We knew many of the adventurers and it is always great to catch up in a social environment.”
From Fraser Island, the flotilla headed to the Lady Musgrave atoll and island.
“One of the many pleasures of cruising in company with the R Marine Crawley team is the constant conversation over the radio,” said Trish Cathcart. “Everyone has questions and we know Ben and technician Travis will have the answers.”
Russel Paul said: “Ben organised a fishing trip from Lady Musgrave to the outer reef during the day and the team cooked up the catch in the evening. Freshly-caught fish is always delicious, especially over an open fire on a beach with friends!
“Ben also conducted a charity auction. Some of us contributed unusual items and the bidding was very competitive.”
Further north, the flotilla stopped briefly at Middle Percy Island for a visit to the two-storey A-frame structure on the beach known affectionately as the Percy Hilton.
“We found the name plate for our charter boat at the Hilton,” said Brenda.
“We saw a lot of whales on the voyage. At Middle Percy one came up very close to us and breached. Spectacular.”
Some of the families then decided to head into Mackay for fuel and, in Russel Paul’s case, communication.
“I need to stay in regular touch with my business and mobile contact was intermittent out at sea,” he explained.
Brenda and Larry, too, went into Mackay.
“The fog as we reached the area was incredible,” said Brenda. “We could hardly see beyond the bow of the boat. Again, Ben stepped up. He was on the radio all the time, warning us of boats – or ships – ahead. There are an incredible number of ships anchored off Mackay.”
A few short hops later saw the flotilla safely at the Whitsundays.
“We gathered in Cid Harbour, a sheltered bay of the large Whitsunday Island,” said Brenda Watson. “Seven of our motor yachts decided to raft up in the bay. We had never rafted up before and it was great fun hopping from cockpit to cockpit and spectacular in the evening when we all turned on our underwater lights.”
The final gathering on Hamilton Island was dubbed “White Night”, an evening of fun and fine street-style food at CoCa Chu restaurant.
“The highlight of the entire voyage was simply being with the Riviera family,” said Trish Cathcart. “Drinks at sunset on the beach, great conversation and so many delightful experiences. What could be better!”
Russel Paul agreed. “This was the best thing I have ever done,” he said.