There are many fine places and activities for boaties in the chilly months, says David Lockwood.
I f you can believe the inexact science that is weather forecasting, we're in for a wetter and colder winter than usual. That's the latest unwelcome forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology. The good news? You don't need to abandon your boating plans.
Here are our 10 best boating ideas to keep you inspired and afloat this winter. Maintain a weather eye, stay safe and practise prudent seamanship - the risks of boating are heightened in winter - but with commonsense you can still enjoy the not-so-off season.
The predominant winter wind is the southwesterly, blowing from the high country and arriving with a cheek-blushing bite in Sydney. But find the right place in the sun and out of the wind, and it can be balmy. Coincidentally, the nudist hang-outs are often bathed in warm winter light. Cobblers Beach, on the western side of Middle Head, is one such place where it's safe to anchor.
Collins Beach, the pick in Spring Cove, and Reef Beach, a decent morning option, both have extensive walking trails. Go for a run to warm up and work off the winter pud. Or book a table at Ripples, overlooking Chowder Bay, and set down guests at Clifton Gardens Wharf before you anchor the boat and walk to breakfast.
Middle Harbour is a magnet for winter boaters. Sugarloaf Bay offers stunning sunsets over Castle Cove. While exposed to southerly winds, Bantry Bay is special when the fog lifts at dawn. Upstream, Roseville has good grub at Echoes on the marina, with casual berthing by arrangement.
Pittwater's winter pick is The Basin for a barbecue and hike up the fire-trail. The national parks fronting the Hawkesbury River are full of fantastic bushwalks. The old orange orchard and campground at the back of Marramarra Creek in Berowra are good in winter. Down south, it's hard to go past South West Arm in the middle of the Royal National Park.
The city is a novelty when you arrive by boat. Darling Harbour Marina is the hub, with affordable three-hour berthing providing enough time to walk to Chinatown for yum cha. Or try Nick's marina menu with delivery to your boat. The kids will find plenty of diversions at the National Maritime Museum, the water-play area in Tumbalong Park, the weekend fireworks, the aquarium, bowling, IMAX and more. In Blackwattle Bay, the fish markets has casual berthing for two hours on its marina. Do yum cha or buy a half-lobster mornay to go and a bottle of bubbles, and enjoy some romancing back aboard.
The namesake winter series of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia is hotly contested each year. Sundays start with a big breakfast on deck and end at the bar after some spectacular spinnaker racing. Balmain Sailing Club is hosting the inaugural West Harbour Winter Series this year. If you can swing it midweek, Middle Harbour Yacht Club's Wednesday race is an institution. Then come the Royal Motor Yacht Club and Prince Alfred Yacht Club on Pittwater. The winter exodus starts with the Sydney to Gold Coast race on July 27 and ends with some sore heads at Hamilton Island in August. Veteran coastal cruiser John Boyce is looking for crew mid-October to help deliver his charter yacht back home. Cost is about $65 a day plus share expenses. See whitsunday luxurysailing.com.au.
Offshore fishing can be wonderful in winter. Drift over the sand behind the beaches for flathead or try the gravel for snapper and morwong. Use a paternoster rig: sinker on the bottom and two droppers with 2/0 hooks and mullet-strip baits above. Add a squid-jigging session in the harbour for the calamari entree.
Peculiar to winter and largely nocturnal, the hairtail inhabits the deep holes in Cowan Creek off the Hawkesbury River. Look for the boat lights in Jerusalem, Waratah and Akuna bays. Anchor, berley and suspend whole pilchards on ganged hooks from the bottom to mid-water. Measuring up to two metres, the silver serpent-like hairtail makes up for its ferocious looks by being pretty good on the tooth.
With predictions of a bumper whale-watching season, Sydney boaters are in for a treat. The pods are shadowed by commercial boats seven days a week. Anywhere from Coogee to Manly is a popular hunting ground. Abide by the terms of (non) engagement at maritime.nsw.gov.au/campaigns /whale.html. Dolphins, seals, gannets and albatross add to the mix.
With the right gear you can paddle all year long. Don wetsuit booties for the stand-up paddleboard and pull on a Sharkskin, a new line of chillproof attire, for the kayaking. Set out in the heat of the day and keep your eyes peeled for whales, dolphins and seals.
Among our favourites are Dangar Island, anchored out from the ferry wharf and caf, but there's also Bar Island at the mouth of Berowra with a new landing wharf for the tender. Shark takes some beating in the harbour, but the rotunda on Rodd Island is perfect for a DIY high tea, and Cockatoo Island is accessible by private boats less than seven metres long for a barbie and pre-order meal pack via the website.
The progressive dinner party is a hoot. Start with drinks and canapes, jump ship for the entree and main meal, and end up doing desserts on a different boat. The concept works equally well with a decent barbecue and BYO dishes aboard or ashore.
There's nothing worse for your boat than leaving it idle over winter. Pumps will last longer with regular use, so run them every week or two; keep the fridge turned on at all times if possible; and have your engine(s) serviced every 12 months or 100 hours, starting them every few weeks or as regularly as possible to keep them lubricated. Make a to-do list, reprovision the larder, turn over the water and flush the toilets. Once you're aboard, you'll realise winter boating isn't so bad.