The stars aligned and we finally got family, boat, weather and leave all synchronised for a great week away on Cowan Creek / Pittwater from 16-21 Dec. No expert on the area by any means but I thought I would write up our experiences that may be of use to others! Perfect weather – 26-30 degree days, cool nights, and winds mostly NE usually 10-15 knots for the first three days, strengthening NE 20 + towards the end of the trip ahead of a strong southerly change.
We launched and retrieved at Appletree Bay, Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, Bobbin Head. A very easy run from Canberra – 320 km, four hours driving time (including fuel stop) excellent highway/freeway trip following signs to Newcastle from Hume – M7 – M2 – Pennant Hills Road – F3 – then Ku-Ring-Gai Chase Rd to the National Park and Appletree Bay Ramp. This route skirts around most of Sydney with the only moderately difficult part being just the 12 km of Pennant Hills Rd – narrow lanes and traffic (can’t believe they call this the Cumberland Hwy).
Appletree Bay has a good ramp, however the pontoon is about 15 metres away from the ramp, on the northern side. Its not a big issue – we use two long lines tied fore and aft, and the boat can easily be walked around to the pontoon by someone walking along the top of the retaining wall on the northern side. All good so long as there is no southerly wind blowing you on, however the ramp is very protected and easy. Water, toilets (no showers), kiosk in summer.
Day 1 – Mon 16 Dec
Last minute work issues meant we left Canberra late (4.15 pm) and arrived at the boat ramp at 8.15 pm. Cabin Boy went to sleep in the v-berth on arrival while we rigged the boat in the carpark – full moon so no issues, it just took 50% longer than usual as we mounted the bimini, rigged sails, and put the dinghy in at the ramp. The National Park closes after last light so apart from one fisherman there was no one using the ramp. Great time to rig and on future trips we will aim for an hour earlier next time. We had thought of spending the night in the car park but elected to launch and we then motored the 800 metres to House Boat Bay (NE) where we were surprised to pick up a vacant public mooring. On the mooring at 10.30 pm and asleep 5 minutes later! Cabin Boy slept through rigging, launching, motoring and work up quite surprised at being on the water the next morning. Road 320 km / 0.5 nm.
Day 2 – Tue 17 Dec
Early morning start after rowing lessons for Cabin Boy. I had promised first mate a coffee shop breakfast for our first morning on the water. We could have gone 1 nm back to the south to Empire Marina for breakfast at the coffee shop but elected to go past Cottage Point, and up to d’Albora Marina, Akuna Bay. This allowed us to see a friend who lives on board in the Marina and also have an eat out breakfast. About 5.5 nm leisurely motoring, with great scenery. We found our friend and his wife living on their pristine Bavaria 36 and had a good catch up. It’s an incredibly peaceful, quiet and picturesque setting. In fact so peaceful that the coffee shop is closed on Tuesdays! So back to Cottage Point to the Kiosk for an excellent breakfast brunch and coffee! The Cottage Point Kiosk has a courtesy mooring which was free, but there was space at the jetty so we went alongside. Great coffee, big breakfast and we then grabbed a paper and motored up to Yeomans Bay where were anchored in the shallows for an afternoon of swimming off the back of the boat, rowing the dinghy, and a walk ashore. 9 nm.
Day 3: Wed 18 Dec
Can’t believe how few people there are on the water. The weather is perfect. Kiosk was telling us that the best week of the year is the one prior to the start of the NSW school holidays! Good luck for us! After a previous experience with wind against tide opposite the mouth of the Hawkesbury, we left early for the trip around to Pittwater to coincide with slack tide. Magic trip, initially under motor then sail once we got past Refuge Bay. Great run around to Pittwater with a close look at Lion Island, then off to Barrenjoey where we stopped to have a look, and then anchored in the shallows off the Seaplane Jetty at Palm Beach. We rowed ashore for a walk on the beach and brunch at the coffee shop.
Outrageously expensive but nice view! After breakfast we had a great sail to The Basin (Coasters Retreat) with 15 knots from the NE but strengthening. We picked up a CYC mooring (I am sure it means Canberra Yacht Club!) before going ashore for a walk and long swim behind the shark net. Great showers, bathrooms at the camping ground and again very few people – not sure I am in Sydney! Lunch on board and then a sailing exploration of the western side of Pittwater, and circumnavigation of Scotland Island. Highlight was timing our sail down Pittwater watching the Wednesday afternoon racing with Wild Oats XI and other Sydney Hobart competitors preparing for the race. The wind started to pickup so on the off chance we rang the Royal Motor Yacht Club at 4pm and asked if they had a berth available – “the only free berth is close in and has a very shallow draft of 1.4m at low tide” – no problems! The RMYC staff were excellent. Friendly and welcoming and couldn’t do enough to assist us. Water, toilet, electricity all sorted. Great meal in the bistro, showers, laundry and Cabin Boy spent a great evening in the freshwater pool and playground while we had sundowners and watched. Very child friendly. Best $55 we have spent in a long time, food well priced and excellent. 18 nm.
Day 4 – Thu 19 Dec
Swim at RMYC pool then leisurely motor (winds on the nose) up the eastern side of Pittwater checking out the houses and boats. Winds were forecast to build in the early afternoon to 20 knots + from NE so made very sure to get around to Refuge Bay before the tide ran out of the Hawkesbury / Cowan and created wind against tide conditions. We has a great spinnaker run (with the bimini up!) from adjacent Barrenjoey then around the corner and down to Refuge Bay. A great sail with strong wind building up behind us. Only 6 boats in Refuge Bay so we picked up another CYC mooring! We went for a swim and climbed the waterfall and looked for Z Force artefacts.
From up high we could see the whitecaps from the entrance to the Hawkesbury running to the east as the tide and wind met – what a difference a few hours makes! We saw a number of boats having a hard time of it until they got past the entrance. After a late afternoon swim at the beach we then motored around to eastern extremity of America Bay as bullets raced down Refuge Bay. The wind really picked up, but America Bay was incredibly well protected and calm. Forecast was for building NE winds ahead of a strong southerly change in the next day or so. 11 nm.
Day 5 – Fri 20 Dec.
Strong southerly change forecast to arrive before dawn on Saturday morning. We were planning to retrieve on the Saturday morning and head back to Canberra but decided to bring it forward to avoid any hassles at the ramp and we all wanted to end on a high note! Last swim at beach at Refugee Bay and we then sailed around to Cottage Point. The Kiosk mooring and jetty were full so we anchored in the shallows a few hundred metres south. The tide was out so we had a great swim in the small bay behind the moorings. Brunch again at Cottage Point Kiosk, another swim off the back and then a sail down Cowan Creek and back to House Boat Bay. Again we picked up a public mooring and we did most of the derig on the water. Almost everything was packed away – sails, boom, ropes, bimini etc all taken down and packed away with only mast, anchor, rudder and outboard hanging off the boat. It was a hot day 30 + so it was great to pack a little away, jump over for a swim, then pack the next part away, jump over to cool off etc! I worked the outside of the boat while my wife packed the things we wanted in the car (food/fridge etc). We retrieved without issue at 3 pm, were on the road by 4.15 pm and home in Canberra four hours later! 320 km and 8 nm.
What a great trip – we will certainly do it again. Had it not been for a need to retrieve on the Saturday morning (and the southerly did come through strongly as predicted) we would have happily stayed another night as there are ample protected anchorages. All in all it was a great low stress strip with wonderful scenery, great wind and weather. Will definitely be back. The highlight were the scenery; weather; sailing up to Lion Island on our way to Pittwater and having my wife suggest that instead of taking the ‘first right, we take the second right, and head to Sydney’. The winds were perfect for it – but thats for the next trip!