Now in its 5th Edition, this handy little reference covers a region that suffers desperately from lack of information. Cruisers who venture into Cape York waters and beyond to the far-flung region of the Gulf of Carpentaria and Arnhem Land have pretty much done it on their own for quite some time, with the notable exception of John Knights Northern Territory Cruising Guide.
Much of northern Australia remains either unsurveyed, or is otherwise still reliant upon information from that great navigator Matthew Flinders. All of which makes this guide book a valuable addition to the northern cruisers library.
Written in a personal, conversational tone, Richards provides plenty of insight into his own cruising style and experiences. He offers anecdotes of experiences he has encountered, such as the occasions during fire burn off-season when he’s had to use radar one mile offshore the smoke was so thick. And this is perhaps the charm of this cruising guide. It’s very much a personal history of Richards 20 year’s experience of cruising these remote grounds. By offering his own perspective he allows the cruiser to gain a deeper understanding of the hazards and pitfalls of the area. He doesn’t gloss over the crocodiles, the big tides or the isolation. It’s all laid bare for the cruiser to make up his own mind about the risks.
Hand drawn mud maps are included throughout, clearly based on the authors’ observations. Though, being black and white line drawings without any shading, it does take some time for the eyes to distinguish the land from the sea. Anchorage references like ‘house’ or ‘coconut tree’ are useful for mariners feeling their way into an anchorage in a region where GPS is often inaccurate.
Indeed, Richards recommends that in many cases, a forward scout in a dinghy should go ahead to check depths before proceeding. Distinctly lacking however, is an overview map of the cruising region. There is an assumption made that the reader knows the location of each anchorage, making it a confusing exercise to work out a chronological order of passage planning anchorages. Another small criticism is the cover photograph, which most cruisers will recognise as Whitehaven Beach, well outside the geographical region covered in this guide. A curious choice.
The guide includes almost 200 anchorages, many of them deep into Gulf country where few cruisers dare to venture. And it is this aspect, which makes the guide invaluable, simply because of the lack of information available. Richards has clearly spent a most enjoyable part of his life in this region, observing the tides and weather that deter most cruisers from more than a cursory exploration on the way to or from Darwin.
Dispersed throughout are tips on entering rivers and creeks, plus some good advice on personal safety and crocodile behaviour. There are even tips on storing eggs, a few favourite recipes, and a page devoted to the author’s favourite rhyming sea ditties. All of which makes A Cruising Guide to Northern Australia: Anchorages Cairns to Darwin appear somewhat eccentric. And in that respect it is perfectly positioned for the often-eclectic characters found exploring the rivers and creeks of remote northern Australia.
Leslie Richards has published three books in this series:
Cairns to Carnarvon
Cairns to Darwin
Darwin to Carnarvon