Princess Charlotte Bay – Mood Swings October 2021 Trip Report

Back in March 2016, we purchased Mood Swings (then Unleashed) with a view to travelling remote and filming our adventures. The first trip was planned for May 2016 to Princess Charlotte Bay – with some modifications to the boat due pre-departure.

Well cut a long story short, the boat was badly damaged during the routine repair and took 12 months to fix. Big Boat Shed Cairns did an amazing job repairing the faulty workmanship and she has been fully operational since 2017.

Since then, however, our online fishing courses took off and we became too busy to go anywhere!

Well after years of working hard and hiring some amazing staff, we are now in a position to do some more travel.

On this trip, we are going to Princess Charlotte Bay. Since we will be out of radio or internet range, we will call in these trip reports via satellite phone and have them transcribed.

We hope you enjoy them and stay tuned for the videos to come documenting the trip.

Who’s who in the zoo.

Ryan – fishing legend and skipper. Karen – marine biologist and wife. Stewy – Videographer extraordinaire. Evatt – first mate and sidekick. Roxy – Original Seadog. Gracie – aka. Billy Goat. Mood Swings – 40 foot Black Watch (twin 550hp Cummins, watermaker, 2xGarmin 8412, forward-mounted Panoptix, dual pair GT51 and B264LM 2D transducer, 2000L diesel, 9KVA Cummins Genset). Bipolar aka The Blue Boat– 6.5 m Cairns custom craft built by BMENQ in Cairns. 300L fuel and 100L water, 150HP Evinrude G2. Stroppy – 3m polycraft tender, 15 hp Yammy.

 


WEEK 1


Day 1 - October 2, 2021 - Cairns to Cooktown.

Departed Blue Water Marina at 8am with 1600 litres of fuel 300 liters of water and enough supplies to drop mood swings an inch further into the water. That's what happens when Karen provisions the boat. As our intended departure was 7am, we decided to run the Blue Boat behind Mood Swings at her cruising speed of 24kts at 160 liters per hour for 1.5 hours to catch up. 

We came down off the plane just past Snapper Island. Smooth sailing until the northerly kicked in around Bloomfield and we surfed into Cooktown arriving at Jim and Ann's Fuel Wharf at 4:30pm. 

It was a bit hectic getting the fender sorted so the black rubber of the wharf doesn't mark the shiny white of Mood Swings hull. The only annoyance being the motor on the Blue Boat kicks over under tow, and due to the fly-by-wire steering is unable to be secured. Annoying but not critical. Warming up our patience for things to come. 

We refuelled, taking on just over 1000 liters in Mood Swings, 10 bags of ice, and 40 liters in the Blue Boat. 

Dinner at the Sovereign Hotel upstairs was sublime. 

HIGHLIGHTS

Karen: Sunrise was amazing, and the giant Grouper feeding at the Cooktown wharf was a random gem we happened upon. 

Evett: Pick up from the airport in the 911 and scenic cruise around Cairns with the top down.

Stu: The Grouper feeding.

Ryan: Coastline cruise and catching up with Marlin legend Billy Fairburn at Cooktown wharf.


Day 2 - October 3, 2021 - Cooktown to Lookout Point


Fuel 8 hours at 16 liters per hour.

Up at sunrise for a walk on the Cooktown foreshore. Beautiful fish and sea creatures on each rubbish bin is a highlight. Fabulous Sunrise over the water. Watched a Barra get caught on the jetty. Admired the culinary pastry masterpieces in the window as we purchased our last real coffee at the Cooktown wharf, absolute artistry on the pastry. 

Departed Cooktown at 7am. Weather fine, dolphins in the current line. 

Spectacular coastline, pulling up at Cape Flattery for a fish on one of Ryan's favourite Fingermark spots. Double hook-ups on the RMF jig's we have called Levitator and that will be available in the shop in the coming months. We lost the first one to a shark and landed a nice 5kg Gold Spot Cod. Decided to keep it for dinner before moving on. 

Finally got the internet booster working which gave us extended 3G signal. Not good enough to upload videos sadly. 

Stopped for the night at Lookout Point. Weather 10-12kt Northerly. 

Tucked Mood Swings in behind the headlands, before having a fishing frenzy session on the Pillager lures. Keeping one nice Fingermark to add to the Cod for dinner. 

Due to the fin fish closure we traveled an inshore route checking out headlands and inshore reefs primarily for Fingermark. 

Finished the day combing the snow white silica beach for treasure. Lazing in the crystal clear waters and watching the dogs run their legs off chasing crabs and bait fish in the shallows.

Stunning location, a MUST revisit. 

HIGHLIGHTS

Karen: walking on the silica beach 

Evatt: viewing the mountain ranges coming to greet the ocean. Postcard blue skies and generous cloud cover with a breeze. Swing dancing on the back deck with Karen to Busby Marou after we got the Fusion system cranking. 

Stu: watching Evatt do Tai Chi on the back deck. 

Ryan: Session on the fish and walk along the beach.


Day 3 - October 4, 2021 - Lookout Point to Comb Island

Fuel 8 hours at 16 litres per hour. 

First night at anchor, Northerly at 8 knots. Not much sleep. 

We ran out of power at 4:30am. Checked the inverter and it had turned itself off but not tripped. A mystery. Could be the microwave power point. 

We noticed the battery banks were critically low, this is due to the bilge pump continuously going. Design fault on Mood Swings that the rear compartment outlet is under the waterline when heavily laden, and the one way valve is faulty. Water sloshes in and is continuously pumped out. We used cable ties to raise this float switch. 

Strong swells rocking the boat exacerbated the issue. 

Departed anchorage early with some issues networking the Active Captain of the Garmin unit but we got it going. 

Then we had some mucking around to get the deck hose operational, with a Fire Fighters celebration, spraying water everywhere when we got it going. At least now we have a way to clear the landmines off the back deck (thanks Gracie and Roxy). 

After thinking the snorkeling gear was left behind, we finally located it on the Blue Boat in a black tub. Crisis averted. 

We went ashore on the Turtle Group for a drone fly and snorkel. Coral average, water sublime. Didn't realize until we reviewed the drone footage later that there was a beautiful blue hole in one of the Islands which we will have to revisit at a later date. 

After lunch we were off to the Howick Islands but could not go ashore due to the tide and rocky foreshore. 

Decided to continue north and stop for the night at the stunningly beautiful Combe Island. Parked the Blue Boat in a small bay and circumnavigated the island on foot. 

Saw huge schools of fish offshore and directed Stuey with aircraft landing movements and thong paddles to video them. 

We found ten dead pelicans on the northside in various stages of decay, which we will report to parks. Had a merry dance with the Ghost Crab on the beach who seemed unafraid and owned that patch. 

Ryan stubbed his busted toe badly. Returned to Mood Swings for dinner of steak and veggies with the skipper having the night off due to ice on his throbbing toe and a rest up from the night before. But just as the veggies were half cooked the genset failed. 

We first thought it was the impeller, however the impeller was not damaged. Not good news. The genset was recently serviced with a new water pump and impeller, so the problems lie elsewhere. Upon checking the strainer we opened the sea cock and nothing happened indicating a blockage under the hull. 

In pitch black water who is going in?? 

So much for the skippers night off. Squeezing around in a tiny space, in a hot engine room, he eventually managed to air blast the blockage from the top and we were all relieved to hear bubbles escaping under the hull. YAY! Lots of dancing but it was short lived as the bilge pump kept kicking in and draining the batteries giving us no power again. So in true MacGyver style, Ry blocked the hole with a rod butt and gaffa tape. 

The genset was a critical issue and we were prepared to pack our bags and return to Cooktown but Ryan saved the day and the trip breathed life once again.

HIGHLIGHTS

Karen: Combe Island walk 

Evatt: Combe Island walk 

Stu: Reviewing the drone footage obtained 

Ryan: Getting the genset going


Day 4 - October 5, 2021 - Combe Island to South Warden Reef

Glass off. The most amazing morning. Of all his 35 years on the water this was one of the most glorious mornings Ryan had ever seen and Stuey was up with the drone. Stunning. Ryan came and woke me up by saying "you better get up this is something special", and it was. 

After taking it all in for an hour we anchored up and headed to Moore Reef for a snorkel. We had to fix the sounder as it wouldn't go out of freeze mode and was in the black screen of death, so no ability to navigate through the reef. Thankfully after some troubleshooting we figured out it was a faulty card and we swapped it out and were on our way. 

We realized we are not paying homage to Gloria the Goddess of marine equipment, hence all the trouble. So we gave thanks and sucked up big time, drawing a line at a sacrifice of one of the dogs. 

Stopping at Moore Reef it was absolutely glamour. Evatt, Stu and I swam with turtles and Coral Trout, got drone footage of the boat and swimming. 

Meanwhile Ryan ran the water maker, at first it didn't start but we emplored Gloria to help and she came to the party. 

Once the tank was full, we moved to a beautiful unnamed lagoon, complete with coral caves and a stunning reef nearby. We snorkeled from the back of Mood Swings and went ashore in the blue boat, wading between the sand cays and learning all about shells from Ryan's shell collecting days. We all got a master class in how to locate them under the sand. Although these days his time of collecting live shells are gone. So we replaced them all, and we're amazed at all the different ones. Auger shells, Bailer shells, Olive shells and even some deadly Cone shells, so it's best to leave them alone if you don't know what you're doing. 

We watched big GT's, 90 centimeter Humphead Wrasse and sea turtles cruising and frolicking around the boat in crystal clear shallow water. 

We wanted one more day exploring the reef so we departed to anchor at South Warden Reef around 5pm. 

Sadly, the weather blew up overnight and we had to wake at 2am and untie the Blue Boat from alongside and let it drift out behind us.

HIGHLIGHTS

Karen: the glass off sunrise, snorkeling and diving 

Evatt: the glass off sunrise, snorkeling and diving. 

Stu: filming us swimming around and the glass off sunrise. 

Ryan: the glass off sunrise


Day 5 - October 6, 2021 - South Warden Reef to Flinders Island

Initially our intention was to swim one more time before heading off, however, southeasterly winds picked up overnight and it was not the best conditions. So we headed off early for the Flinders Group. 

Stunning scenery weaving our way through the islands to our anchorage for the night. Castle Peak towered over us with red and cream cliffs, and we learned later that the traditional owners call it Ell Pal - The Dolphin. You can see the shape of the Dolphins head, fin and tail from the other side of the Island. 

Initially we were thinking about an anchorage behind Stanley Island but some ground swell was rolling the corner so we headed back to Owen Channel and anchored behind Apier Sandspit. The wind really funnels through here and would not recommend as an anchorage again. 

However, it's a great place to go ashore. 

I went walking and discovered some markings on a rock dated 1899 apparently left by crew members of the HMS Dart. 

The area was a well known gathering place for traditional owners with middens and a water well, however in the absence of their upkeep it has dried up. 

The pink and red rocks at sunset were spectacular and the boys caught a couple of small fish land based. We met some students that had been camping at Marina Plains and they gave us directions to the Aboriginal rock paintings for tomorrow. 

Japanese curry compliments Stu's wife for dinner and an early night. 

We set the anchor alarm and it was extremely windy from varied directions due to the funnelling effects of the Southeaster down Owen Channel. 

HIGHLIGHTS

Karen: sunset on the sand spit and walk to the well 

Evatt: rugged landscape of the Flinders Island group, spectacular and had me grabbing from my camera. 

Stu: Castle Peak cliff faces 

Ryan: scenery of the Flinders Group


Day 6 - October 7, 2021 - Apier Sandspit to Blackwood Island.

Up at daylight with ham and egg muffins for brekky. Evatt is becoming the Cod master and chief cook and bottle washer. 

Headed off at 7am to Stanley Island cave paintings. 

Anchorage for the cave walk was on hard silica sand, and a rocky ledge so we had trouble anchoring as the anchor would not hold. We secured the Blue Boat with a little help from the mangroves keeping the transducers off the rocky shelf. 

With the boat secure and the tide rising we headed off on a 2.8 kilometer circuit walk traversing a magnificent sandy beach where we found an old unique bottle. No message inside though.

The traditional owners, the Wathawarra, lived here up until about 60 years ago, with carbon dating their original occupation to at least 6000 years ago. 

The caves are amazing and a must see, a painting log of their lives on the island including sailing ships, turtles, frogs and dugong. The images have not been restored in any way and were first seen by Matthew Flinders in 1902. 

Most of the elders that have since passed have traditional skin names and also adopted white fella names with the surname Flinders. Very Interesting.  

After the caves we went back to Mood Swings to run the watermaker and have an afternoon sleep. The boys then went fishing around a likely looking headland and had a manic session on the Fingermark. Evatt caught more Cod (The Codmaster) and big Golden Trevally stretched his arms. All using our Pillager lures, often not hitting the bottom, with double hookups galore.

Fresh Fingermark for dinner and the most amazing sunset to the tune of Van Morrison Tupelo Honey. 

HIGHLIGHTS

Evatt: the trifecta, the cave, the fishing session and the sunset. 

Ryan: the cave, the fishing session and the sunset 

Stu: the cave, the fishing session and the sunset 

Karen: the cave, sunset and great music


Day 7 - October 8, 2021 - Blackwood Island to Cons Black Rock

Up early and cruised into Princess Charlotte Bay around 9am, a bit drab compared to Flinders Island. 

Bacon and egg muffins for breakfast. 

Wind 25kt SE. 

Went for a walk on the beach, bait everywhere and several croc slides, so the dogs were kept on the lead and we were careful around the water. Something big lives here. One cast of the cast net and it was full of mullet, and we had to release three quarters of the captures. We spent more energy releasing them than catching them. This area is full of bait. 

We also found carpets of small, very old shells way back into the ravine and suspect it was from a time of higher water level. We found several shell middens in the area as well. 

We fished the headlands for Barra in some perfect scenarios, but no Barra were caught and we didn't even sound any up. So we headed back to Mood Swings for a sleep. 

I read my first book cover to cover for about seven years, Jimmy Barnes Killing Time, and highly recommended it. 

We tossed some livies over the back and Evatt caught a 5kg Cod. Evatt the Cod King. 

Rib Fillet on the back deck as the sun set to Fleetwood Mac.

HIGHLIGHTS

Evatt: nice walk up the back of the beach checking out shells. 

Ryan: 20kg of mullet in one cast (not literally but it seemed like it haha) 

Stu: Ryans cast over the mullet school 

Karen: walking the dogs into the shell carpets


WEEK 2


Day 8 - October 9, 2021 - Cons Black Rock to Marrett River.

No idea what day of the week it is, so we called it Blue Salmon Blues day. Swarms of them. The only thing that managed to get past them was Evatt the Cod King catching a Cod. 

Checked out the Marrett River, only saw 2 Barra on the sounder. Water is pretty cool for this time of year. 

We had a tonne of fun with the Blue Salmon but cant believe there are no schoolies in the vast mangrove forests. 

Training the dogs to not get so excited when we have a fish on using Evatt's referee whistle. It's hard when the fish are jumping everywhere around the boat. 

We decided to move from the Blue Salmon and fish the Bizant tomorrow. Got the weather report saying 20 to 25kt Southeast swinging Easterly in the afternoon. Then after moving Mood Swings, the wind started to pick up and we had to let the blue out the back. 

Dodging copious amounts of crab pots we got near the Bizant around 4pm, but the wind was a gale over 35kt from the Northeast. 

We got another weather report which said the afternoon sea breeze was swinging to the Northeast, so we're not staying here. 

We could hardly stand in the cabin, as the wind was from one direction and the waves from the other and were rolling us violently. 

Returning to the shelter of the Marrett River we arrived at nightfall. The Blue Boat got smashed during the journey back as the motor kicked over sideways and was taking the sea side on. Bloody boat motor!

HIGHLIGHTS

Evatt: Having Blue Salmon leave the water chasing the lure 

Ryan: the sheer numbers of Blue Salmon 

Stu: watching Blue Salmon fighting over lures 

Karen: the rough trip back - I love a bit of rumble


Day 9 - October 10, 2021 - Marrett River to Bathurst Heads.

Got up early and headed to the Normanby in the Blue Boat. 

Not much chop again and didn't mark any Barra. River full of silt due to strong winds. Fished the snags for tiddlers after hearing some boofs in the mangrove. Ryan lost one, so we went back to the feeder creek for fun with the Salmon. 

High tide we moved Mood Swings to Bathurst Heads. No way we're taking on the Northeasterly again.

BLT wraps for lunch, a sleep and book reading till 3pm. Then headed ashore to do some land based fishing around the headlands. 

Amazing rock formations, we can't wait to show you the photos. 

Jumped off a couple of good Barra before Ryan catching his smallest ever Barra on a lure, like aquarium fish small. 

Tonnes of bait near the boat so we topped up the bait tanks before realising we were stuck on the beach. Rocking the Boat sideways made a deep enough channel for us to push her free and head back to Mood Swings for dinner. 

Cod and Blue Salmon for dinner on the back deck to the tunes of Busby Marou. Cold beers at sunset - absolute gold.

HIGHLIGHTS

Ryan: losing every good Barra we hooked (that's sarcasm in case you hadn't noticed haha)

Evatt: Seeing Barra, even if we didn't stick any and the amazing geographical formations of the rocks 

Stu: seeing Ryan get excited about the Barra on the rocks even if he didn't catch one. 

Karen: The rocks. I can't wait to show you the photos


Day 10 - October 11, 2021 - Bathurst Head to Cape Melville 

Weather report says good weather is coming so we start making our return. Un-forecast SW wind having us up anchor and move early back to Flinders Group where the boys had fun on the Fingermark last time. Anchored up in the protection of Blackwood Island and the guys departed in the Blue Boat to explore some more fishing areas while I enjoyed my next book and cooked up a sausage sizzle for their return.

They got some good fish smashed by sharks, but of course got a good 1m Queenie to the boat as the sharks only like red fish. Captain Cod strikes again and Evatt landed a huge Gold Spot Cod plus a giant Herring on a Pillager. They are catching everything. Got sick of re-rigging and losing lures and Fingermark so they headed back to the big boat. The wind dropped off by then so we moved to Cape Melville to get ready for our return journey. Coming back through the Flinders group via a different passage — Rattlesnake Channel — was spectacular, arriving at Cape Melville around 4:30. The black boulder mountains here with shady tree lined beach and natural spring are spectacular and a must see for every Aussie. Decided to make some water as we like to do it every few days and couldn't start the Desalinator. Oh no. It's temperamental at the best of times but on this occasion it would not start.

Troubleshooting we decided to change out the near new filters and they were clogged. Especially the 10 micron which was black. A couple of days ago we used it in the green estuarine water as I love long showers and pushed Ryan to run it inshore. Big mistake so note to self. Blue water only. Enjoyed a fabulous sunset. Leftovers for dinner to the tunes of Robbie Williams and some 80's classics. Gracie peed on our bed. Not happy Jan. Plenty of turtles having sex.

HIGHLIGHTS

Evatt: Cape Melville up close and catching a giant herring for the first time

Ryan: Getting the desal going and the giant Herring on a Pillager

Stu: Catching a shark taking the Mackerel on film 

Karen: Returning to Cape Melville.


Day 11 - October 12, 2021 - Ryan's birthday. Cape Melville to Howicks Island

Wind dropped out overnight to SE at 10 knots. Glorious morning with bacon and egg muffins for breaky compliments the Cod King. First stop Barrow Islands. On the way found a nice Wonky Hole covered in fish. Lost two good fish first off. Pulled the hooks which may have shut down the Nannygai because all we caught after that were 10 kg + Golden Trevally and 10 kg Slatey Bream so we pulled the pin on the fishing and continued on to the Barrow Islands. Stopped to stretch our legs on a sand spit jutting out from this beautiful island. We noticed an exhausted baby tern sitting on the water in a rather abnormal way. His wings were wet so we rescued him and placed him on the rocks to dry out and recover. His mates were swopping and calling to him as he floated which prompted us to act.

Pulled at our heart strings that his mates were encouraging him. Anyhow we left him safe and well on the rocks out of harms way, had a refreshing swim and continued on our way. This anchorage was a standout, sheltered from SE and NE winds which we will return to one day. The abundance of Wonky Holes in the region requires our return. Next stop Noble Island via Wonky Alley. We didn't stop at them but we marked them for next time. Plenty of shagging turtles along the way. Everywhere in fact. Arrived at Noble Island. Wow. Noble Island is a volcanic core and utterly spectacular. We have been admiring it from a distance and close up it is a must see. Stunning healthy mangrove surrounds over a crystal clear lagoon. Azure kingfishers working the shallows of the lagoon.

The rock face is spectacular and unforgettable. Got lots of great drone shots and can't wait to show you. After lunch we headed to the Howicks for Ryan's favourite dinner. Super hot (Indian hot) Vindaloo. Wind totally dropped out so we were awaken by midges in the boat and had to close and start the air con for the first time. Restless sleep itching continued till dawn. Plus Roxy spewed in our bed. Brightside. Dogs getting better with launch and retrieval of drones.

HIGHLIGHTS

Stu: Noble Island 

Evatt: Noble Island stunning healthy mangroves, azure kingfishers and spectacular scenery of the place — like something out of a James Bond movie waiting for the cave door to open and a jet to fly out with Dr. Evil aboard. Tern rescue 

Ryan: Finding a ton of Wonkys to go back and look at and Noble Island. 

Karen: Tern Rescue. Mangroves and mountain on Noble Island.


Day 12 - October 13, 2021 - Howick Island to Lizard Island

Wind 5 knots easterly. Woke up scratching so we were a bit tired. Stunning glassy morning so we headed off with the Blue Boat in tow beside us for easy launching. Evatt got a nice Nanny on a Wonky from the back deck of Mood Swings enroute to Jewel Reef. One of the gems of the GBR. The opening is virtually on the outer reef and the water is the colour of the azure kingfisher. Stunning. Went for a swim and snorkel. Reef sharks, footballer trout, Maori Wrasse and many other fish species present. Coral good in places but mostly average. Best in the deeper bommies.

Did some top water fishing and Evatt got a good GT of 15 kg for his first experience of top water fishing. Great smash taking the lure with shoulders out of the water on the second cast towards him. Lost at the boat but we got some good footage. Hand on leader counted as a catch! Called Lizard Island on the radio. Marlin bar is open tonight so we headed there for a rum. Ryan ran out a couple of days ago! Stopped for a fish in the blue boat on the way and resulted in some nice green jobfish, some grassys and a nice eating size coral trout after dropping a big one. Always the way. Checked out the shipwreck we discovered last time and took some more soundings on it. Still there. Arrived Watsons Bay at sunset. More boats here than I have ever seen. About 40 at last count including a cruise ship. Dinner at the Marlin bar was not uneventful. Stuey did a full belly flop out of the boat and trying not to get his camera wet created a new yoga move. The backward facing downward lizard dog.

The place was packed and the blue boat washed up sideways on the beach. Lucky Ryan went to check it. The rear anchor did not hold in the stunning soft super white and fine sand. The sand is something else to witness and walk on but Ryan back breakingly sorted it out (and after we noticed him missing) with assistance from Captain Cod. The rocking trick worked again. Magic anchorage and if you want to see more on Lizard check out our last blog from here.

HIGHLIGHTS

Evatt: Personal best 10 kg Nanny. Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. 

Stu: Snorkeling on Jewel Reef

Ryan: Jewel Reef and checking out the shipwreck again. 

Karen: Snorkeling on Jewel Reef.


 

 

 


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About The Author

Ryan Moody

Ryan Moody started his fishing career on the reef boats before catching bucket list marlin for the likes of champion heavy tackle angler Johnno Johnson, INXS and the King of Sweden. Branching out in the late 80's to guided barramundi fishing, Ryan has made a name for himself as a Big Barramundi specialist and to date has put clients onto over 2000 metre plus barra. That is over 2 kilometres of metre plus barra! With attitudes changing from 'keep all you can' towards catch and release, Ryan has decided to share his extensive knowledge and hopefully inspire people of all ages to get out from behind the computer screen/TV and into the fishing outdoors lifestyle he has spent his life perfecting.

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2 Comments

  • Gary Hivers

    Reply Reply October 12, 2021

    I did the PCB trip in about 1979 in a 28′ converted mackerel dory. We had similar gear issues – including loosing the tender. The experience was worth it. I am envious!!

  • Gary White

    Reply Reply October 12, 2021

    Hi folks, Looks like it’s pretty hard going up there, but
    I suppose someone’s gotta do it.
    Looks like great trip, enjoy reading about your trip.
    Enjoy.

    Regards

    Gary.

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