Across the sea
A jet ski adventure across Torres Strait
We saw dolphins, turtles and heaps of tropical fish. Crocodiles are everywhere in those waters.
“Am I going to get eaten?” Chelsea Brown asked herself when crossing Torres Strait on a jet ski.
Last July, the 16-year-old Sydney student officially became the youngest person to ride a jet ski from Australia to Papua New Guinea – and back again. During the 480-kilometre journey she braved high winds, rough seas, crocodiles and sharks.
Despite feeling a bit ‘iffy’ at first, she joined a team of adventurous jet skiers from around Australia on a charity ride that took off from Weipa in northern Queensland and reached the south-west PNG island of Daru. After a one-night stopover in the Western Province capital, they headed back to Australia, finishing in Port Douglas.
Twelve of the 14 original group members completed the arduous crossing after a jet ski sank and one rider pulled out because of injury.
“It was pretty crazy,” says Brown. “From Thursday Island the first 110 kilometres was open water with 20-knot winds and a 1.5 to two-metre swell. I wondered what I got myself into.”
But as an equestrian champion, Brown’s horse riding skills helped her stay upright on her aquatic metal steed and ride the waves to the flat waters of Warrior Reef.
“That was amazing,” she says. “It’s a beautiful reef and we saw dolphins, turtles and heaps of tropical fish. Crocodiles are everywhere in those waters, but when you realise they’re not going to do much, you kind of ease up to the idea.”
Throughout the journey, Brown was safeguarded by her team, which included her father, Matt. There was even a watchful eye from above, she says.
“About 50 kilometres from Daru we were also happy to see an Australian Coast Guard helicopter that flew over to make sure we were okay. That was pretty cool.”
But it was the triumphant arrival at Daru that was the highlight of the trip for the determined young woman.
“Thousands of cheering people were waiting for us on the beach and welcomed us with a special ceremony,” she says. “It was very humbling and brought tears to your eyes. The kids were particularly excited and we later gave them jet ski rides on the river and around the harbour.”
“Chelsea’s Dad, Matt, spent about two years preparing for the crossing,” says charity organiser, Mark Wallace, who accompanied the riders in a support boat.
“It takes time and planning to get authorities to accept that you’re coming on a jet ski.”
The July crossing was not the first attempt to cross Torres Strait by jet ski from Australia to PNG.
Wallace, Matt Brown and two other riders completed the journey in 2013. And earlier this year an armed British man, fleeing drug supply charges in Western Australia, almost made it across the strait on a jet ski, but was nabbed by police just before he reached PNG.