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Chapter Three: Fax Machine Flurry!

The 1998 crossing started like most others. A warm sunny afternoon on Sydney Harbour, crews in shorts and tee-shirts enjoying the afternoon as they reached the Heads and set sail south through the Tasman Sea towards Bass Strait.

Already the weather men were predicting a change, a front was approaching and strong winds were expected further south.That is pretty much par for the course for this tough ocean race and at that point no one was unduly worried.

What followed during the next couple of days was to become Australia’s greatest peacetime maritime emergency, yachting’s darkest hour and a shining example of heroism on the high seas as rescuers defied giant waves and murderous winds whipped up by a once-in-a-decade storm.

chapter three: fax machine flurry!

So it was agreed.

A new TRUE NORTH would need to be a much larger and more comfortable TRUE NORTH.

No more dining on the deck or grabbing a beer from the esky.

There would be a dedicated dining saloon, a lounge complete with a bar and even a helicopter!

Perhaps not everybody was convinced but construction began in earnest and the 28 guest TRUE NORTH was launched in 1999. More akin to a floating boutique hotel and featuring a soon to become trade-mark shallow draft, multiple adventure boats and as promised, a helicopter sitting conspicuously on the upper deck.

But despite all this new inventory – the resultant ‘waves’ were at first, quite small.

The maiden voyages were popular and the helicopter was an instant success but forward sales remained a challenge. Running costs had increased significantly and the struggle was set to continue.

And then something quite remarkable happened. Film maker Malcom Douglas joined a Kimberley cruise and almost without warning a one hour documentary featuring his time on-board screened on national television. From memory it was 6.30pm on a Saturday evening – a pretty good timeslot and as it transpired, not a bad way at all to introduce a seemingly none the wiser Australian public to the wonders of the Kimberley coast.
So it was agreed.

A new TRUE NORTH would need to be a much larger and more comfortable TRUE NORTH.

No more dining on the deck or grabbing a beer from the esky.

There would be a dedicated dining saloon, a lounge complete with a bar and even a helicopter!

Perhaps not everybody was convinced but construction began in earnest and the 28 guest TRUE NORTH was launched in 1999. More akin to a floating boutique hotel and featuring a soon to become trade-mark shallow draft, multiple adventure boats and as promised, a helicopter sitting conspicuously on the upper deck.

But despite all this new inventory – the resultant ‘waves’ were at first, quite small.

The maiden voyages were popular and the helicopter was an instant success but forward sales remained a challenge. Running costs had increased significantly and the struggle was set to continue.

And then something quite remarkable happened. Film maker Malcom Douglas joined a Kimberley cruise and almost without warning a one hour documentary featuring his time on-board screened on national television. From memory it was 6.30pm on a Saturday evening – a pretty good timeslot and as it transpired, not a bad way at all to introduce a seemingly none the wiser Australian public to the wonders of the Kimberley coast.

It must have been later that night when the fax machine ran out of paper and when Adie opened the office on Monday morning the evidence was all over the floor. A flurry of thermal enquiries. There was no room left on the answering machine and the phone was still ringing. Craig had to fly his mum up from Perth to help with the calls.

The TRUE NORTH had finally arrived and it was much more than a flurry. More like a perfect storm.

The Australian economy was in good shape and the baby boomers were doing just that! An adventure-cruise in your own backyard quickly became one of the country’s most desirable holidays. And there was one boat that was better than the rest – the TRUE NORTH.

But even with all this newfound success – the bills kept mounting. Twenty eight guests and a six month season was not enough to balance the books.

As for a solution – too easy, “let’s build a bigger boat!” A bigger boat that can carry more guests and go further afield!

Again – not everybody was convinced.

But Mark Stothard was and he soon became Craig’s new partner and with some help, they convinced the banks that an even bigger TRUE NORTH was the only way forward.

And then it was back to the drawing board. This time not a boat but a ship was required because the adventure was to be over more distant horizons – to Papua New Guinea and back. The cabins now needed to number 18, the dining saloon would need to be bigger and so would the lounge. Some things needed to stay the same – that trade mark shallow draft, the multiple adventure boats and, not forgetting the helicopter but the new TRUE NORTH would once again be one of a kind – this time a ship in a class of its own, not an expedition ship but an adventure-cruise ship!

At the same time Craig and I visited the land of the unexpected for the very first time. With not much more than a backpack and a couple of introductory emails we landed in Moresby. From there it was onto Alotau, Kavieng, Rabaul, Madang, Goroka and the many villages in-between.

Already it was an adventure beyond belief.

We spoke to ministers and governors, village elders and even some younger folk who hadn’t seen too many waitpela before!

And there was one thing that mattered most.

They all had to agree that our idea was a good idea.

But there was never any cause for concern. To this day, the people of Papua New Guinea remain some of the most welcoming people that you might hope to encounter.

And so they were there in 2005. At the launch of the new TRUE NORTH – the huli wig men from the highlands of PNG celebrating with us all.

Everyone wanted to be on the new TRUE NORTH. The comfort and convenience had gone to another level and time spent in the Kimberley was just that much more enjoyable.

But thoughts about the mysterious land to the north were never far away. How good was it gunna be! Jungle, volcanoes, mud men and, some of the best diving and snorkelling on the planet.

Eventually the sailing schedule was released and just 2½ weeks later the entire season was a sell out!

Papua here we come.

Mar. 22, 2016

Qantas announces new Melbourne/Broome flight

Qantas has announced the inclusion of a third direct flight between Melbourne and Broome this year.

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Apr. 02, 2015

True North wins eighth gold list award in three years

The adventure-cruise ship TRUE NORTH has again won the coveted award for Best Australian Adventure Experience at Luxury Travel magazine’s annual Gold List Awards.

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Nov. 14, 2013

Kimberly names no.2 in Lonely Planet list

'Escape' October 28, 2013 9:01PM - Perthnow.com.au It's not surprising the Kimberley has been named in Lonely Planet's top 10 regions to visit in 2014. That's the opinion of Tourism Council of WA chief ex...

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Sep. 25, 2015

Larry Mitchell – where True North takes me

Larry Mitchell is most famous for his landscape painting, particularly his images of the Western Australian coastline. Over the past decade Larry has been increasingly focused on the urgent need for environment...

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Jan. 18, 2020

The Kimberley – the place to go

The Kimberley has been included in the New York Times prestigious “52 Places to go in 2020”.

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