Julie Boxsell - Around Coonanglebah (Dunk Island)

Coonanglebah (Dunk Island) circumnavigation (counter-clockwise)

14.5 km (9.0 miles)

5 hours, 27 minutes on 27 September 2021

Observed and documented by Tayla Hickey



  • Name: Julie Boxsell
  • Gender: female
  • Age on swim date: 50
  • Nationality: Australia
  • Resides: Townsville, Queensland

Support Personnel

  • Scott Ellis - skipper
  • Mark Costin - paddler


Tayla Hickey

Long term multisport athlete and volunteer for many events. Has recently completed her first half Ironman.

Escort Vessel

Name Type Port
unnamed (Reg. AUE76Q) Quintrex Renegade 4.2m, 50hp outboard Cairns

Swim Parameters

  • Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
  • Equipment used: Textile swimsuit (Fashion Fish kneelength), latex cap (removed for last hour), goggles (Fiski Hunter)

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: Coral Sea, South Pacific Ocean
  • Route Type: circumnavigation
  • Start Location: east side of jetty (NW corner of island) (-17.936111, 146.136583)
  • Finish Location: west side of jetty (-17.936222, 146.136528)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 14.5 km (9.0 miles) (map)


I contacted Anne Pleash - she is unaware of any previous. I also checked with Chris and Penny Palfrey - they are unaware of any previous. I also spoke with Wanda Lowe, who has been in Mission Beach and involved in Surf Lifesaving and Swimming since 1972 and she was also unaware of any previous swims around the Island. However, all had swum to or from the Island to the mainland (approx 4km).

Swim Data

  • Start: 27 September 2021, 06:31:15 (Australian Eastern Standard Time (Australia/Brisbane), UTC10).
  • Finish: 27 September 2021, 11:59:11
  • Elapsed: 5 hours, 27 minutes, 56 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (C) 23.2 23.9
Air Temp (C) 23.8 27.8
Wind (kph) 1.1 17.9

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 5 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Click to expand map.

Speed Plot

Observer Log

Download PDF


by Julie Boxsell

What inspired you to do this swim?

I holiday in the area every year with my family - have done for 20 years. Dunk Island is easily visible from our spot at Kurrimine Beach (just north of Mission Beach). About 18 months ago, I was talking with swimmer friends from Mission Beach and Cairns at a swim weekend and we tossed around the idea of doing it. As a group, it did not get off the ground, but I kept it on my "to do" list, thinking maybe one day I could do it while on holiday. I knew there was a lot of reef along the side nearest the coast, and the whole area is beautiful. Though, there are also a lot of crocs and sharks, which was a bit off putting.

Describe how you planned for the swim

Well. There was pretty much a less than 24 hour window leading into this one. Basically, one of the blokes we met through holidaying in the same place for the last 20 years has a boat. And, after my Magnetic Island swim, he asked on a facebook post if I had thought about swimming around Dunk. I said yep. He said he might be interested in escorting me. So, when I went on holiday, I took just enough gear with me in case the opportunity arose, but I really didnt' think it would. Swimming weather is also fishing weather, and his family do love to fish. Anyway, day 2 of holiday, he said he was in. This was on Sunday, the 26th of September. We looked at the tides, and our schedules - and decided the very next day, Monday the 27th, was worth a shot. Neap tides, very little movement predicted. Weather a bit iffy - was predicted to blow up late in the morning, but hoped that it would hold off. We looked at the reefs on the western side - it's pretty shallow close in, so knew we might also need to go quite wide.

One problem - we didn't have anyone to help in the boat. My son and family wasn't keen to be involved, and I needed an impartial observer anyway. So, I put a help wanted note up on a local SLSC page, which was shared to a couple other pages. A woman who was currently driving up from Mackay to be in Atherton by Monday afternoon saw it and contacted me. Said she was prepared to keep driving through to Mission Beach rather than stay in Townsville overnight, and her friend could do the same - and he could paddle and feed me! It all just fell together, and I ended up with an experienced athlete as an observer and an experienced paddler to accompany me.

As far as wildlife goes - it is frequented by Esturine Crocodiles (big one spotted just off the coast the day before, tailing a kayak), Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, Box Jellyfish and Irukandji. However, the research I had done for the Magnetic Island swim applied here, so I was ok with the risk at this time of year. We did plan to start later with the sun well up though, and that made me feel it would be a little shark-safer than the early part of the Maggie swim.

How did the swim go, generally? Did you face any unanticipated challenges?

It was great! The start felt slow. For the northern section, I had expected the current to be in my favour, and it was not. Also, the sand spit is big...way bigger than indicated on the map, so had to go further out to get around it. I reminded myself that I always find the first couple k's tough and that it gets better once I warm up - and it did. Once around the sand spit and going south down the western side, it felt great.

The first feed made me laugh. Mark, on his brand new ski, went for a dip. Feeds were fumbled and floating. And I just giggled. I fed, and swam off and let him sort himself out. He did - though I'm told he went in at least 4 times on the way around. He said later it was great experience for him adjusting to the ski. I am just happy he came along on the adventure!

Even going quite wide away from the island, it was very shallow over Stingaree reef but visibility was good. I needed to look ahead constantly to avoid coral and the like, and adjusted my stroke a bit to get through. Any shallower, and we would have had to divert around Kumbeela Island. I occasionally put my hand through some sea weed or grazed coral with my fingers, but not often, and managed not to scrape myself. Thankfully Scotts boat doesn't draw much water and they could spot bombies and avoid them.

I saw sting rays, amazing shells as we went over reef (there were moments where I hesitated and thought about stopping for a closer look)...and once I hit the green zone (where no fishing is allowed) the fish life became abundant. Smart fishes! I was told the reefs had been seriously damaged by Cyclone Larry in 2006, so it was great to see a lot of live and colourful coral as I plodded along.

The lower half of the western side - past Coconut Bay - we stayed far enough out to avoid the reef and shallows. The the water was much deeper, but it was a very confused ocean. Wind was coming towards us I think, and it was quite choppy and rough. I think the swell was bouncing off the rock faces of the island and coming back at us as well. It made for a bit of fun, and I was feeling great.

At the southern end of the island, we snuck between Woin Garrin Island and Coonanglebah. Fantastic. Saw a small dusky shark, and amazing coral. There were some pro and recreational fishing boats around - can only imagine what they thought watching me go past. Funnily enough, I found out later my son had seen a boat, with lines out, right where I needed to go through the two islands. He had buzzed ahead, and asked a dad with a couple of kids if they would reel in thier lines as I was heading straight into them. Turns out, those kids belong to a colleague of mine - so I know what they were thinking - that there was "some crazy lady", swimming around Dunk - apparently it was all they could talk about that day to their mum.

The next section, rounding back up the Eastern side of the island is referred to locally as "40 foot". It's much deeper (ha - 40 foot, in fact), and many people had warned me that it was "Shark Alley" with numerous reports of Tiger Sharks crusing around.

My 16 year old son had not wanted to be on the main boat, but had convinced his dad on the day, and taken his 12 foot tinnie out instead. He told me he just wanted to have a look at the island and fish, but mostly, he buzzed around behind and beside me. Whatever he was doing, it was nice to have the second boat near me and I felt safer with extra activity around. Plus, it's pretty special to have him around sharing my adventures.

We had anticipated based on forecast wind and swell, that this side of the island would be pretty cruisy and that it'd all combine to give some assistance and I should be able to scoot up the outside pretty quickly. Ha. It wasn't bad - it was certainly smoother. And I could feel the swell pick me up and then roll over me.…and then I felt like the under drag in the trough pulled me to a stop. It was fun in a stop start sort of way. I really enjoyed that side. It remained a bit cloudy overhead, with a gentle breeze making it also comfortable for the crew. The only thing they complained about later were the march flies/horse flies. Big mothers, that bite. If they were that bad out at sea, I hate to think how bad they would have been on the island!

The scenery was epic. The water was deep and clear. It was magnificent. About 4.5 hours in, I was feeling pretty fatigued and sore, but could see the final corner and knew I didn't have that far to go. I haven't had a lot of recovery time since the last big swims, so the fatigue was not unexpected. I still had bruising and scars visible from the previous 2 swims - the last was just 13 days prior. I was doing ok, but was pretty happy that it was a shorter swim than the last couple. I took off my swimming cap. I hate wearing them, and only wear it for events when I have to, and to prevent a sunburnt scalp. That feeling of water flowing through my hair was fantastic and gave me the bit of a lift that I needed to get through the last part.

Rounding the top corner on the eastern side, was pretty groovy. I could see the jetty in the distance. The forecast would suggest this would have been a quick little trip with swell pushing me directly from behind - but again - nope. The current was straight into me - not bad, but I could feel it - and the visibility dropped considerably even though it was only about 1.5 metres deep. I could make out shapes of rocks on the bottom - but only just. And the jetty seemed to take forever to get to. But, we got there. We had started on the eastern side of the jetty, and I swam around the jetty to the western side to finish. I rolled over to backstroke in - and immediately got a foot cramp, so I gave that up as a bad joke.…and butterflied in instead, just to show off. Fantastic. Fantastic team, thrown together in a hurry - but we got the job done. Even better, they all genuinely seemed to have enjoyed the day and were happy to have been part of it. What a fabulous experience.


Click to enlarge.


Appendix: Weather & Tides