Thorough preparation ensures a safe boating holiday
They say a change is as good as a holiday, so we pack the gear, cast the lines and head for a new waterway during the boating high season. For all its glory, Sydney Harbour can turn prosaic when summer arrives. Once you've had your fill of splashing about Spring Cove, done Darling Harbour to death and slept in the dormitory of upper Middle Harbour, new horizons call.
With two kids under seven, there's a lot to consider on our home away from home. A decent library of DVDs, activity books and craft items are essential in the event of inclement weather. Then come the water toys for when the sun shines, after which, on a gently rocking boat, sleeping kids are assured. Sabring champagne at sundown might be the next move.
Naturally, fishing is one of the most popular ways to pass your time. If you can land a couple of fat flatheads and a bucket of blue-swimmer crabs, you've got dinner in the making. After packing a virtual tackle shop, we add a stack of crab traps, the big aluminium crab-cooking pot and a free-standing gas stove. Cooking crustaceans ashore in seawater ensures your boat doesn't smell like a trawler.
Then comes the dive gear, with masks, snorkels and fins for all the family. I include two spearguns, just in case the relatives lob during the holidays. Swimming apparel, including wetsuits, is next. This goes into a couple of big plastic tubs in which our budding crew enjoy frequent baths on deck. With a watermaker, they can let rip with the hose without us having to run to a marina for a refill.
A deck-mounted stainless-steel barbecue and big bait-cutting board enhance the functionality of the cockpit. We also check that the extended awning is at hand. Shade from the midday sun is coveted in summer. We tend to play at other parts of the day. For this, we have a three-man kayak that can carry the whole clan, a smaller one for mum and a kid, and a small Weenie Wave for our minnow. The stand-up paddleboard (SUP) is coveted by his sister, nearly seven. We pack a second inflatable SUP too.
The tender on the bow has been serviced, but we include a floating tow rope so we can pull the kids on the two tubes, And we throw in more lifejackets in case friends lob. By which stage, I can see poor old dad will be busy baiting, casting, inflating, launching, paddling, retrieving, scaling, filleting, barbecuing, cleaning and so on.
As I write this, the twin Cummins diesel engines and generator are having their annual service and the boat is being slipped and antifouled at Royal Motor Yacht Club Broken Bay. Importantly, the anodes are being replaced to ward off corrosion, but the checklist from Newport Marine Services is more complete than that. As anyone with a boat will attest, the very acronym is short for broken or about to. So we make sure we have some basic spares and filters too.
The eventual pots of gold add to the impetus for our passage to Pittwater, the Hawkesbury, Cowan Creek and Brisbane Water. At holiday time, the ocean between Sydney Heads and Barrenjoey may as well be renamed the Pacific Highway. You need to keep watch for other boats on the "rhumb" or "layline", and give Long Reef a wide berth. The German banks can break well out to sea, while the reef itself extends much further than the obvious headland. Some unsuspecting boats have driven straight up onto the bricks here.
Narrabeen bight can be the roughest part of the voyage, especially when the current and wind are opposing, as they might in summer. From here, you may as well make a beeline for Bangalley Head, where the water runs deep right up to the rocks. En route, you cruise past Newport Reef where 1000 muttonbirds take flight.
Whale Beach is great for a troll if you want fresh fish for dinner but, within an hour, we have rounded Barrenjoey Headland. Sydney Harbour seems like a long way away. Fresh vistas span the width of Broken Bay, where Lion Island sits ready to pounce.
Up the tributaries, a summer of possibilities ignites the memory. Our on-water weekender has arrived. Now the fun begins.