Julie Boxsell - Arounnd Yunbenon (Magnetic Island)

Yunbenon (Magnetic Island) circumnavigation (counter-clockwise)

31.3 km (19.4 miles)

10 hours, 31 minutes on 14 September 2021

Observed and documented by Graham Crawford



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

Support Personnel

  • Paul Meikle - skipper
  • Jill Stephenson - feed sorter, observer helper
  • Patrick Boxsell - deckhand, backup pilot, photographer
  • Joel, Koby, and Ayla Savage - kayak paddlers
  • Phillip Bartel - skipper, 2nd boat


Graham Crawford

Has completed Magnetic Island to Townsville Swim, Lake Argyle 10km, and has an avid interest in Marathon Swimming. Well regarded in the triathlon and local swimming community.

Escort Vessel

Name Type Port
unnamed (Reg. YD760Q) 4.9 aluminum centre console Townsville
unnamed (Reg. AZI70Q) 4.5m alumunium boat, tiller Townsville

Swim Parameters

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

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: Coral Sea, South Pacific Ocean
  • Route Type: circumnavigation
  • Start & Finish Location: boat ramp, Picnic Bay (-19.180500, 146.838139)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 31.3 km (19.4 miles) (map)


I have corresponded to Gemma Jensen (Lowell) who told me she swam from the mainland starting near the Tobruk pool, in a loop around the east and northern sides of the island (anti clockwise) and back to the mainland finishing at Palleranda on the 22/5/2007. The path was longer and U-shaped, and did not close the loop. I also messaged Penny Palfrey and she confirmed that neither herself or Chris have swum this route. I am unaware of any other swims of a similar route.

Swim Plan

Yunbenun (Magnetic Island) Plan
Tuesday 14th Sept.

  • Tide
    • High 0355 2.08m
    • Low 1020 1.10m
    • High 1726 3.03m
  • First Light 5:47 am
  • Sunrise 6:09 am
  • Sunset 6:07 pm
  • Last Light 6:29 pm
  • Minimum crew - Boat, boatie (Paul), Observer (Graham), feeder/helpers - (Jill and Patrick).
  • Paul - able to do the entire day at the helm - Patrick could also drive if needed. Well experienced. Knows the island really well, and has assisted events and loves this stuff. Also - knows marine life, and how they work. Won’t be spooked by a reef shark. Can make a tourniquet out of anything!
  • Graham - loves swimming, has done marathon swims, follows it - would take role seriously. Observer can only observe - can’t also be a feeder or swim.
  • Jill and Patrick - Both swimmers. Could both jump in and swim with me if I needed company for a bit (as per MSF Rules) and still have one on the boat to help out. Both can help observer, and assist with selecting feeds and giving them to me. Patrick has boat licence by then too.
  • Preferred - Additional boats for noise and support. Paul has a friend lined up to be out there too.

General Gist -

  1. Everyone meets at city boatramp by 0430?
  2. Be at picnic bay by 0530. Start at boat ramp. Prep - start Tracker. Get Zinc on. Take last Gel. Put light on goggle strap if starting in dark. Aim for 0545. Get Time stamp hrs:mins:secs. Anti Clockwise. Half hour feeds and observations and photos. Video every few hours, lasting at least 1 minute.
  3. Finish at Picnic Bay, at the boat ramp. Get time stamp hrs:mins:secs. Take photos. Then back to townsville.

Estimated time - swim speed unnassisted or impeded - about 3km/hr. Approx 11 hours swimming - maybe significantly more if conditions aren’t helpful.

Rough Distance Markers

  • 3.5km - northern part of marina
  • 5 km - the end of Geoffrey Bay - where the old pier was/rock wallabies are.
  • 8km - northern end of Arthur Bay
  • 10.5 km - Orchard Rocks
  • 12.5 km - Start of Horseshoe Bay
  • 15.5 km - End of Horseshoe Beach
  • 20 km - that pointy bit at the start of Rollingstone Bay.
  • 22.5 km - West Point
  • 25 km - Bolger Bay
  • 30km - SS City of Adelaide wreck.

GPS Co’ords

  1. Bremmer Point S - 19 9’17 E - 146 52’18.837
  2. Headland before Florence Bay - S - 19 7’38.148 E - 146 53’1.446
  3. Headland before turning to Orchard Rocks - S - 19 6’42.165 E - 146 53’3.516
  4. Top bit, before heading across Horseshoe. S - 19 6’11.099 E - 146 51’54.225
  5. Up near White Rock S - 19 6’14.253 E - 146 49’57.489
  6. Liver Point (point before Rollingstone Bay) S -19 6’52.646 E - 146 47’23.333
  7. West Point S - 19 7’46.122 E - 146 46’42.791 SHALLOW TRACK
  8. End of Bolger Bay Reef S19 8’59.67 E - 146 47’42.557
  9. S 19 9’41.622 E 146 48’4.225 OR DEEP TRACK
  10. S 19 9’43.49 E - 146 49’43.537
  11. S 19 10’39.821 E 146 48’22.698
  12. S 19 11’19.436 E 146 49’31.993


Nobby Head - S - 19 10’55.538 E 146 50’11.486

Things considered -

  1. Marine Life - early enough that water still cool for toothy dolphins (probably 23-25 degrees). Beats the Stinger season. Not turtle nesting season that brings them in either (starts mid-october). Considered leaving from X-base - to avoid Hawkings Point at dawn - but this can be negated by extra boat activity.
  2. Daylight - most daylight before the above becomes an issue. Any earlier in the year then daylight hours drop away.
  3. Departure at Picnic - easy to access. Public toilet available. Pub there at the end. Easy to confirm I’ve completed the navigation as lots of landmarks. As above re. Hawkings point at dawn - shark risk negated by extra noise from boats. Wind likely to be against me from Picnic around to xbase - when I’m already tired - so, finishing at Picnic is better. Also - psychologically - westpoint to picnic is going to be the hardest - so rounding the corner knowing I’m done will be great to think about, rather than having 2 k of a harder slog to finish with. And….pub.
  4. Wind - Should get the ocean side done before winds pick up too much.
  5. Tides - might just get the right direction to be helpful at times. Midway between neap and spring tide. Less run either way, and chose a time when the High was just before the start, hopefully making the 1st 10 k’s less inhibited by current. The second 10k across the top, will hopefully see the current moving with me. And, the third segment - the tide will hopefully be in enough to give enough water to go across the shallow reefs, and with the flow in the right direction too.
  6. Kayak or not - going with not. Paul is capable of staying close by. Easy to feed from boat. Kayak adds 2 people - as it’s too long for one. And, if kayak has issues (broken rudder etc) it gets more complicated. Now with a second boat - are reconsidering, but as it’s only a couple days away, chances of finding a kayaker are slim.
  7. Prefer 2 boats for majority of swim, but particulalry from start to horseshoe - means there is a spare if main boat has an issue - the swim could continue. Plus…noise and activity will keep marine life away.
  8. Marina - ferries going in and out. Harder to see the ones leaving. Stay as close as possible to minimise distance across thier path. Radio communication with them on the day. They should be low speed where our paths could cross. No need to log with anyone prior. I will ring the ferries the day before and alert them of presence and likely timing.
  9. First Aid - I’ll make sure we have the basics for major bleed, hypothermia, box jelly fish etc. Have tourniquets, towels, warm gear and vinegar. UHF radio if needed, where mobiles may not work.
  10. West point side - depending on when I get to that side, will depend on whether it is possible to swim in close, or whether we need to take a wide berth around the shallows. By 2pm we should have 2 metres of water. Will make a decision based on timing and conditions on the day. Going wide adds about 1.5kms to the trip. But, might be better than scraping knuckles on rock and coral etc. Deeper water also better for wildlife, as inhabitated by many stingrays etc.

Swim Data

  • Start: 14 September 2021, 05:48:00 (Australian Eastern Standard Time (Australia/Brisbane), UTC10).
  • Finish: 14 September 2021, 16:19:00
  • Elapsed: 10 hours, 31 minutes, 0 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (C) 23.3 28.1
Air Temp (C) 22 29.8
Wind (kph) 0.5 10

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 10 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Click to expand map.

Speed Plot

Observer Log

Download PDF


by Julie Boxsell


I like the idea of my descendents being able to point to the island, and say "my mum/grandmother/great grandmother swam around that once".

I am a late bloomer in the open water swimming world. My first swim squad ever was in late 2015 when I started joining my kids at our local swim club to get fit and do my bronze medallion. In 2017, I swam my first open water event - a 2km swim along the Strand.…and I was absolutely hooked. Things escalated rapidly after I swam my first longer swim in July 2018 - the 8k Magnetic Island to Townsville swim. A psychologist would probably tell you that it's due to me avoiding and distracting myself from other aspects of my life, but I figure it's probably better than taking up some other more destructive habits.

Anyway, perhaps to prove something to myself about what I might be capable of, and covid putting an end to any dreams of going overseas to swim a big swim.…my thoughts turned local.


There was a lot to consider. I had been mulling this over for well over a year. I'd initially wanted to do the swim in September 2020, but didn't get the right team on board, the weather was fickle, I wasn't in a great place mentally, and I don't think I had the confidence to really push it along anyway.

Traditional Owners - I made enquiries through a friend, that the swim would not be against the wishes of the traditional owners of Yunbenun - the Wulgurukaba people (the 'canoe people'). I received word back that the elder contacted had no opposition to the swim, and would be pleased to have the traditional name Yunbenun used in the title of the swim around what is more commonly known now as Magnetic Island.

Wildlife - includes Tiger and Bull Sharks, Estuarine Crocodiles, Irukandji and Box Jellyfish. I consulted a shark expert from JCU, who advised me to swim in daylight, and particularly to avoid the headlands with big drop offs from dusk to dawn. He also suggested avoiding warmer water (>24c) and turtle breeding season (>October)as it brings the Tigers closer in. So, really, May to September is the window for sharks.

Peak Box Jelly and Irukandji season is November to May - but Box Jellies are bigger later in the season - so if there are stragglers around in May/June...I didn't want to meet them. So - that leaves July/August/September.

I looked at estuarine crocodile attacks and found that only 17 out of 319 were in September, and some of those were in a zoo, or of people washing dogs, fetching shot geese out of water etc. And, crocs tend to be more concentrated on the mainland than on an island. That reassured me, though I know the locals say there is a resident croc in a small creek on the western side of the island, and there had been a sighting in Horseshoe Bay just 3 weeks prior to my swim.

With my swim pace - I need all the daylight I can get - which really puts September as the best month - though it's also often fickle weather and prone to being windy. And, the water temp ranges from 23-24 usually, so any later also takes us into the too warm, sharky zone. Hence - September

Tide/Currents/Wind - I talked to a number of experienced paddlers and boaties. All suggested midway between neap and spring tides was the go, and knocking over the eastern, ocean facing side of the island first in a counter clockwise direction, before the wind and waves increase with the heat of the day was considered the smart choice. We were concious of needing enough water (probably 2 metres) with an incoming tide on the western side of the island as we reached that section.

Tide charts were consulted - Mid September was our window. Months in advance, we picked Tuesday the 14th based on tides. The day before could have worked too, but less so the day after. Not a huge window, and generally unpredictable weather at that time of year. It would be up to the weather gods if it could go ahead.

An additional factor is the whole western side of the Island. It's too shallow to swim for much of the tide, with areas of coral reef and rock as well jutting up, and the water is likely to be pretty turbid with low visibility after the windy weather of late. It may not be possible to safely swim over it, and will be dependent on the tide and where it is when we get to that point. Around the island is about 31.5k, barely skimming the headlands and staying as close in past West Point. But it's at least 33 if we have to go wide around the reefs to avoid the area, and it's a call we have to make early, as we hit the start of the zone. We will have an incoming tide, but the earlier we get there, the shallower it will be.

Team - Through my local swimmer network, I found my skipper, Paul - who, after a bit of thinking, agreed to escort me. I love how much thought he has put into this - he's almost as excited as me at giving this a shot. More excited even, and certainly less anxious than me. My son, Patrick (just turned 16) loves boats and was happy to take the day off to help Paul at the helm. I asked Graham and Jill, who I know through swimming, if they would be interested in observing and helping me with feeds - and they quickly agreed. It's truly humbling to me to think these people would volunteer their time to help a middle aged, mediocre swimmer attempt to do this. Paul roped a second boatie in, just days before the swim. Paul also asked Joel the weekend before the swim if he would be interested in paddling. The day before the swim, Joel said yes, and took his kids out of school to help out. While I had met Joel, at the point he said yes, he had no idea who he was paddling for.

Weather - I just crossed my fingers. I've had a year of weather either cancelling swims, or making conditions tough. For future reference - Late august, early September is the time for the 2 week long Magnetic Island Sailing Festival. I should have kept that in mind - they do it then, because - wind - and lots of it. And they got it this year. However, as the date approached, weather forecasts seemed to put Tuesday the 14th as a golden day. Windy through until Sunday, and then dropping off. I guess luck sometimes has to swing my way!

Nitty Gritty Details - I'm a planner. I have tourniquets, vinegar, communications, and plans for all eventualities in place. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. Be Prepared. I contacted the ferry companys the day before to alert them when I'd be in thier zone. We were set to continue swimming in the dark if needed.

Training - Well, it's been a year of upheavals with training and life and honestly, for a good part of the year, I was a pubic hair away from giving up on my swimming goals. However, at some point I realised I'd be unhappier quitting, than just continuing to train in a different form - and that kept me going through the tough bits. For starters, I can't sleep at night if I haven't worn myself out a bit in the water. I love the feel of the water flowing through my hair and past my body, and nothing soothes the chaos in my brain more than a lovely long swim. I managed to keep training through the really rough stuff, and ticked off a couple longer swims (24 - 25k) interstate around all the border restrictions. And 3 weeks and 3 days prior to this swim, I had a 10 hour 42 minute swim at the Gold Coast in pretty horrid swimming conditions, where I did not reach my end goal due to failing light - only made about 20kms of the 21.5 goal. However, that did give me some confidence that I can mentally cope with a tough day in the water. Plus, all the training that I'd done by myself particularly earlier in the year - the long solo sessions in the pool when I felt like absolute rubbish - went someway to reassure me that I could pull myself together mentally for a long swim with the right supportive, encouraging crew by my side.

How did the swim go?

Freaking fantastically! I had been most worried about the weather, but Paul told me when we first met, that he would sort it out. He did. It was magic. Water was calm, very little swell or wind. Especially in the first third - it felt like swimming through silk. Tides - well, there was a bit of help at the start, mostly neutral in the middle, and a bit of tide against me at the end. Ultimately, I'd thought if conditions were neutral, I'd be looking at 10 and a half hours. I came in at 10 hours 31, so it all evened out I think.

Visibillity was pretty poor, due to the windy rough weather of the previous month, so I saw absolutely nothing in the water the whole day. At most, it was maybe two metres. At worst, on the western side, I couldn't see my hands in front of my face. Never once saw the bottom, and I saw absolutely no wildlife. (Though fishermen we past did tell the crew about all the sharks they'd seen that day and the crew saw some pretty big movements etc). Above water, the scenery was spectacular for the first 2/3rds.

The team worked brilliantly together. Water was warm - and got pretty bloody warm in the afternoon - up to 28. I did get pretty thirsty - I hadn't expected those temps and could have done with feeds made up to a higher volume all day. Otherwise, nutrition worked well.

We reached the western side earlier than expected, so there was not a lot of depth to swim through in the shallowest section. I couldn't see the bottom at all, but every now and then, my fingertips would touch a rock or coral as I took a stroke. One boat scooted ahead, using a sounder to make sure we found the deepest section we could. Occasionally, I got I got pretty freaked out thinking about the crocodile as I went past kilometre after kilometre of mangrove in zero visibility . If there is one thing North Queenslanders know - it is you should never swim around mangroves. That's probably where I had the worst mental battle. Once that set in, then things also started to hurt more - and it was probably when the current started working against me. I asked Joel to stay really close with the kayak, and eventually, I calmed down after an hour or two of anxiety and pain, particularly in the left shoulder.

There were some notable moments. Hearing Joel singing Bon Jovi "you're half way there" - that song did not leave me for the rest of the swim. Swimming past West Point, I could see two people walking the beach - I could have sworn they were nude. They weren't, but it was funny and amused me for a long while. About an hour out from the finish, I ripped my cap off. OMG - what a feeling. I don't wear a cap except for events when I have to, or for safety or warmth. It was SO good to get it off, and took the focus away from the fatigued and sore bits.

In that last hour or so, passing the wreck of the SS Adelaide, the Cockle Bay houses, and turning around that last headland - I was so excited. I knew I'd make it. Then...I spotted the old Picnic Bay Jetty leading to the finish. Ayla was paddling, and told me later she could see me smiling as I swam. And I was. I was beaming. I couldn't believe it we had pulled it off, and easily in daylight hours. Fantastic. As is tradition, I butterflied in the last 20 metres or so, and in those last few metres - finally saw the bottom, and spotted a school of little fish.

A freaking amazing adventure with an incredible team.


Click to enlarge.


Appendix: Weather & Tides