We splutter off into the pre-dawn darkness, jaws chattering in time to the cantankerous 9.9hp outboard engine billowing a trail of blue smoke astern. Occasional lashings of spray and thumps to the rumps hasten our awakening. Yet it's this slap in the face and jolt back to reality that makes our tinnie such a treasure.
We have owned her for more than 15 years, used her often, then forgotten her, only to dust off the spider webs and reignite the passion.
Our tinnie has more than paid its way. Surely these quintessentially Australian boats are among the very best investments in your waterborne wellbeing? My grandparents taught me this with their De Havilland Sea Topper that lasted decades at their preferred NSW South Coast fishing village. They also taught me the benefit of casting the lines early.
Fishing is, of course, the raison d'etre for more than 70 per cent of all boat purchases in Australia. Tinnies are far and away the boats of choice. So we are not alone in Sydney Harbour in the pre-dawn glow.
Ours is a dory or open tinnie 3.6 metres long, but the 420 Dory (pictured), also from the Quintrex stable, is actually Australia's best-selling boat. You can get a complete rig for around $8000.
In some ways, though, nothing much has changed. The ubiquitous dory is not much more than two pressed-metal sides welded together. Foam-filled thwarts provide seating, but our aftermarket rubber cushions help soften the blows.
There's a small cowl below which we keep the lifejackets and anchor, but it's best if you wear an inflatable yoke-style lifejacket from the outset, plus a decent hat and polarised sunglasses. Needless to say, in a small boat, you need to be prepared, weather-wise and to respect the forces of Mother Nature and other boats, especially on a weekend like this on Sydney Harbour.
Don't forget a good pair of oars and rowlocks just in case. A plastic tub full of tackle, an arsenal of rods rigged the night before, a bucket and a bailer, hessian bag and fish net complete our kit. Oh, and there's a bung that you should screw in place before setting out.
Not that any of this is a revelation. Record numbers of small-boat fishers are taking to Sydney Harbour in tinnies these days.
Since the sewage outfalls were moved offshore, after improving water quality and a ban on commercial fishing, catches have steadily improved. Now the fishing's so reliably good that trailerboat anglers travel from Pittwater to Port Hacking to wet a line on the harbour.
In respect of fishing techniques, it's hard to go past trolling. Send astern a pair of diving minnow lures, which wiggle like real sprats,putter about, and trace the rocky shores. Look for wheeling birds shadowing schools of feeding fish. We do this often, bagging feisty tailor, bonito, kingfish, even sub-tropical spotted mackerel on occasion from the harbour. First light is the hot bite.
Beware breaking Gowland Bombora and Sow and Pigs reef, which are clearly marked by cardinals, and give the ferries a wide berth and right of way when crossing the stream.
If anchoring appeals, a hot spot is off Cannae Point. But as the day wears on, a stream of pleasure boats invariable charges for nearby Store Beach. Of course, with a small boat you can explore the shallow bays, creeks and foreshores that are off-limits to deep-draft yachts and lofty cruisers. So consider the upper reaches, especially in adverse weather.
Balmoral is a great pit-stop for coffees. We keep the catch fresh in a wet hessian bag and zip to the sandy patches that dot the foreshores around Castle Rock. The sandstone boulders are perfect for fish cleaning. Then, after a swim and boat retrieval at Clontarf, we're home.
It's not yet midday. The tinnie is in the driveway, hosed and clean. The outboard has been given a freshwater flush. We have fillets in the fridge. And all for just a few litres of fuel. Yep, there will always be a place in the backyard for the humble tinnie.