Nine days and 900 nautical miles

Plate boat makes maiden voyage from PNG to Cooktown

Nine days, 900 nautical miles and 2 metre high waves – many would question David Howard’s motivation for travelling from Papua New Guinea to Cooktown in a 6.5 metre plate boat.

While not the first person to complete this epic journey, it is probably the first time the trip has been completed in such a small vessel.

In December, David captained his Joshua 6.5m Deep Sea series plate alloy boat from Port Moresby to Cooktown, with three of his mates.

After working in PNG for two years, David was relocated to Canberra and decided against shipping  his beloved rig back to Australia, opting to drive it there himself.

David’s custom built Joshua boat was well equipped with a Raymarine E-Series chart-plotter, radar, sounder, autopilot and DSC VHF radio prior to departure.

A life raft, 400MHz GPS encoding EPIRB, satellite phone and networked laptop with Raymarine navigation software were also fitted.

David chose a Suzuki DF150 four-stroke outboard to power his boat and a Suzuki DF15 for backup power, with engine data from the DF150 displayed on the Raymarine E-Series display via a Suzuki SMIS interface.

Departing from Port Moresby on the 5th December last year, David and his crew set out in perfect conditions on the initial 200 nautical mile leg to Baimuru, west of Port Moresby.

After a day spent unsuccessfully fishing the Pie River for the infamous Papua New Guinea Black Bass, the crew set sail for Daru on the Northern side of Torres Strait.

While the trip started off well, the crew soon found themselves battling difficult conditions in the exposed waters of the Gulf of Papua.

“On the third day we were contending with 15 knot South Easterlies and waves about 1.8 metres high.

“Both the boat and engine performed faultlessly, which was a great relief,” David said.

Subjected to more hammering from the South Easterlies, David made a fuel stop at Lockhart River and then anchored up in an idyllic position behind Lloyd Island just in time to catch the picture-perfect postcard sunset.

“The only thing that could have made that night even better would have been a nice cold beer – but we’d run out and there was none to be found in Lockhart River,” David said.

It was a choppy ride again on Day 8, seafaring out of Lloyd Bay and around Cape Direction, but once in the lee of the reef it was smooth sailing. 

“We spent hours trolling with the 15hp auxiliary pushing us along at five knots. There were no signs of human life which was magic,” David said.

It was all too good to be true, though. Once out of the shelter of the reef and crossing the entrance to Princess Charlotte Bay the crew were given a belting by short two metre stand-up waves blowing in from the North East against an opposing tide. 

“The last 15 nautical miles to the Flinders Island Group had to be negotiated at about nine knots. The islands gave shelter from the wind, but there was no escaping the biting midgies,” David said.

After an extremely rough crossing from Cape Melville to South Warden Reef, David and his crew were soon on the home stretch to Cooktown.

Swells reflecting off Cape Bedford gave the crew one last pounding before they finally pulled into Endeavour Wharf at Cooktown at 6:00pm; nine days and 900 nautical miles after leaving Port Moresby.

After the adventure, David opted to tow his boat from Cooktown to Brisbane before heading down south to Canberra.

While the Joshua boat is definitely sea worthy and suitable for offshore trips, David said it was not what most would consider an ideal vessel for this trip.

“The boats that have done this trip have been larger vessels and sail boats.

“The Joshua vessels are really sturdy boats and have a brilliant hull design, providing a perfect balance between ride and stability, even in choppy conditions.

“There were times when we relied on the Suzuki outboards to get us through the chop and to our destination.

“The displacement of the DF150 provides exceptional acceleration and velocity but is still light and compact.

“The boat never felt cramped with four people living on board, although most nights at least two of us camped ashore,” David said.

Back on terra firma, David said while he loves getting out on the water, it will be a while before he undertakes another mammoth voyage.

“I’m happy sticking to Jervis Bay for now,” David said.

To read more about David’s journey, visit