Cruising Broken Bay

The Australian dock talk we’ve heard is that there are only two areas in New South Wales that are worth cruising, Broken Bay and Jervis Bay. Cate arranged a couple of weeks off work and I finished most of my boat project for the season, so we took off for a little “sail-about” to see for ourselves.

We put in a bit of “tucker” (food) and sailed out to the Sydney Heads. With the winds blowing a fresh 20-25 knots out of the South-South East, it was an easy decision to head north toward Broken Bay. Alan Lucas, in his Cruising Guide to New South Wales, touts Broken Bay as one of the world’s great cruising grounds. It is also one of the few areas where one can encounter both a koala and a penguin and not be in a zoo. Two long gybes and two short hours later we were rounding Barrenjoey Head, the entrance to Broken Bay.

Our first anchorage was at Palm Beach, just inside the most popular lobe of Broken Bay called Pittwater. Located just a 45 minute drive from Downtown Sydney, Pittwater is both a lazy suburb and a beach resort. The spit of land between Pittwater and the Tasman Sea is quite narrow so a walk or short ride will get one from the beautiful surf beaches on the outside to the flat, protected waters inside. Inside Pittwater, the leafy shoreline is dotted with gorgeous million dollar homes sporting docks, boatsheds or semi-private beaches. Oh, and yes, lots of boats, ranging from 10 foot “tinnies” (aluminum dinghies) to spectacular mega yachts. The yacht-racing scene is quite active, and the Royal Motor Yacht Club’s Monday twilight series is purportedly the biggest Monday sailing yacht race in the Southern Hemisphere. Just a bit ironic, I would say.

Cate and I were keen to get in on the action and hooked up to crew with Newport resident Les Lovett (no relation to Lyle) for a race on his yacht Jayne. Thinking long term, Les safely named the yacht after a deceased pet as opposed to a wife or girlfriend. We thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed racing and easy sailing on the calm waters of Pittwater, some good Aussie humor and fellowship, and of course a bevvie or two afterwards at the Royal Motor Yacht Club. Apparently Les liked us, as he invited us back, and we joined him for the following Monday and Friday’s twilight races. Warm weather, cold beer, flat water, and gentle breeze-as it should be!

Australia has some extremely strict regulations as it relates to yachties and water pollution. Dumping any sort of waste overboard is a major no-no and it is even illegal to use any sort of soap when washing one’s boat. Make bubbles, go to jail. Since Moonshadow had been collecting grime for three months in Sydney with no more than an occasional fresh water rinse, she was overdue for a major scrub. Cate and I sailed up to a secluded cove on the brackish Hawkesbury River near the town of Brooklyn and committed the unthinkable, heinous crime of boat washing. With malice and forethought, we conspired to mix up buckets of soapy water and then, for nearly three hours, we viciously and savagely brushed and scrubbed the decks and rigging. The swift ebb current washed away the evidence of our evil deed, and Moonshadow’s renewed luster was the ill-gotten spoil of our criminal act.

While in the area, we did a bit of exploring around the town of Brooklyn and nearby Dangar Island. Brooklyn’s main attractions are the Angler’s Rest Pub, a very nice and modern marina, and the railway station. We enjoyed an excellent Indian dinner at one of the little restaurants, marred only by the proprietor’s insistence on indulging himself in conversation about American politics. We knew it was time to get the check when he insisted that Bill Clinton was the greatest American president of all time.

The railway bridge at Brooklyn limits boats with masts taller than 12 meters from navigating further up the Hawkesbury, so the following day, we struck out to do some exploring by dinghy. We headed up the mighty Hawkesbury, which meanders through a valley lined by green hills and dramatic sandstone escarpments. It was quite a scenic ride, and with mostly flat water, we were able to zip along at full throttle most of the way. Yeeehaaaaa!

After nearly two hours, we had mild cases of “dinghy butt” and a pretty good appetite. We tied up to the wharf at the little town of Wiseman’s Ferry, which from our charts we estimated to be 20 miles or so upstream from Brooklyn. After refueling dinghy and crew, we headed back downstream. By then, the afternoon sea breeze had begun to follow the track of the river up the valley, making the ride home a bit more bumpy and wet. By the time we reached Moonshadow, we had major “dinghy butt” and “dinghy back,” as well as wet clothes from punching through the wind-driven chop. Our anchorage had also turned uncomfortable, so we pulled up the pick and headed for Cowan Creek, another lobe of Broken Bay.

Cowan Creek is located in the Kuring-Gai Chase National Park. We were told that it was “pretty nice up there” but found that to be a typical Aussie understatement. We cruised up a tributary called Smiths Creek and found a mooring in one of its snug little coves. According to my GPS, this gorgeous spot where I took the photo of Moonshadow on a mooring was just 12.7 nautical miles from Downtown Sydney! It could easily have been1200 miles.

The steep banks (actually this is at sea level) are dotted with sandstone outcroppings and covered with beautifully barked eucalyptus. The area is mostly undeveloped and is ruggedly beautiful. During the week there was nary another boat to be seen. The moorings were mostly vacant, the water was what water skiers call “glass,” and except for the morning and evening choruses of the cockatoos, kookaburras and other native birds, it was an almost eerie quiet.

The weekend arrived and with it came the yachts, launches, houseboats, fizzboats, personal watercraft and associated “toys.” The quiet turned into a cacophony of straining internal combustion engines, and the “glass” into a myriad of criss-crossing wakes, slapping against our hull. Once the moorings were all taken, the leftovers had to anchor-and usually too close to us. The only thing to do is crank up the stereo and join in the fun.

We popped in and out of Smiths Creek for nearly a week to pick up and drop off visitors and to visit Newport for the yacht races. On our last night away, we picked up a mooring in Refuge Bay, a few miles downstream. Refuge Bay is a larger, but well protected anchorage with plenty of moorings. While not as pretty as Smiths Creek, it has a lovely waterfall that drops over a cliff right to the waters edge. There is nothing that can quite match a fresh water shower under a waterfall right after morning coffee. Now seasoned soap abusers, we indulged ourselves just a bit and lathered up with Dial.

The winds out in “the Tassie” continued to be fresh from the southern sector (ladies and gentlemen don’t sail to weather), and we were running out of time, so we flagged Jervis Bay, at least for now. Cate needed to return to work, we had guests arriving in a few days for Sydney’s Mardi Gras, and I needed to get things ready for a quick haulout, so we headed back to the dock Sydney on Monday. After a couple of weeks of operating in “cruise mode” we are once again acclimating to the noise, hustle and bustle of Sydney.

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