I had done a similar trip up the Hawkesbury River, with my parents and sister on their 24′ yacht, when I was a child and had fond memories of it, so I was keen to replicate it with my family. We had been thinking of doing our own Hawkesbury River trip for a while now, however the timing was never right. Surprisingly The Admiral and I were able to take a weeks leave from work, coincident with Cabin Boy’s winter school holidays. We decided to make the most of having a trailerable yacht, and planned to launch the boat at Windsor, which is the most inland (western) and last navigable part of the Hawkesbury, and then meander our way down the river until we reached the sea, where we would find an appropriate place to retrieve the boat and return to Canberra.
Windsor is located about 60 km north west of Sydney, and is the largest of the Macquarie towns. Governor Lachlan Macquarie established the five Macquarie towns in the Hawkesbury Valley – Windsor, Richmond, Castlereagh, Wilberforce and Pitt Town in 1810. The town is set on a high bank of the Hawkesbury River, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The Hawkesbury Valley was discovered by Europeans in July 1789 by Governor Arthur Phillip while searching for fertile farmland to grow food for the struggling Sydney settlement. He further explored the area by land in April 1791. In 1794 Lieutenant Governor Francis Grose made land grants of 30 acres each to 22 settlers. In 1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie established the township of Windsor. Windsor as a river port became the lifeline of the early Sydney settlement as the colony’s granary. It was also the colony’s third permanent settlement, after Parramatta.
DAY 1 – MON 2 JUL 2018
We left Canberra mid morning and had an easy 3 ½ hour drive to Windsor. We decided not to stop for lunch, but to drive straight through – a mistake as it turned out. Two “hangry” (hungry and angry) parents while rigging and launching the boat did not make for an auspicious start to the holiday 😦
The boat ramp, which looked good on Google Earth, was a little different in reality – it was very steep and low power lines over the entry and exit lanes prevented us from rigging the boat and raising the mast in the flat parking area. Being the only boat at the ramp, and there being no evidence of other boats or trailers, we chocked the trailer wheels to hold the boat on the steep slope and rigged there.
After launching we then assembled the borrowed Zodiac inflatable dinghy (bloody cursed French design). This took us almost as long as rigging the yacht! Once this was done, and after confirming that we were still married, I then left the Admiral and Cabin Boy alongside the jetty while I drove the short distance to RAAF Base Richmond where I had arranged to leave the car and trailer for the duration of our trip.
A quick taxi ride back to the boat ramp, and in the twilight, rain and 4 degrees centigrade, we motored up to the Windsor bridge and hooked onto a public mooring, just east of the bridge, for the evening. Cabin Boy was hoping for a run ashore for a restaurant meal, however neither of us felt inclined to venture out at night, in the rain, in the cursed dinghy. We ended up having a great beef curry and roti on board before crawling into our sleeping bags for an early night.
DAY 2 – TUE 3 JUL 2018
A very very cold night and cold morning! Thankfully we all had excellent sleeping bags, however Cabin Boy was a little perturbed about the condensation that was icing up on the inside of his cabin roof and the hatch above his berth! We decided to do breakfast ashore and so motored across to the town jetty.
As we pulled up to the Jetty we found ourselves in the middle of a flotilla of canoes/kayaks and a protest on shore that were drawing attention to the demolishment and rebuilding of the Windsor Bridge. They were seeking a “bypass” around the town, rather than the destruction of a number of historical buildings to create two lanes each way through the town and across the river. Interesting people – they would have been very much at home in Blackheath as the Matriarch’s clients. . . also the same age as Pater and Mater.
The protesters were at the end of a five year campaign, and demolition of a number of historic buildings was due to commence shortly.
After an excellent breakfast at a Vietnamese patisserie and cafe we went for a walk through the town, bought some last minutes supplies (sour dough baguettes and pastries) and returned to the boat to start the trip.
There was a slow moving high pressure system over Sydney – so no wind. We started motoring, hoping that we would be able to put the sails up later in the day. By the end of the trip the sails were still in their bags – there was either no wind or towards the end, way too much!
We spent a lot of time contrasting the development of the river. The architecture ranged from traditional sand stone through to ultra modern residences. We had a good look out for CAPT Carver’s former home – The Parsonage, and think that we found it.
After 24 nautical miles of motoring slowly, we anchored in a wide bend on the river, just east of Lower Portland (adjacent to Paradise Point) and settled in for the night. On the outer bends of the river, especially where there was cliff, the water was very deep – 16-22 metres. It took some time to find something shallower where there was no risk of us blocking the channel. We made sure that the all round mast head white anchor light was on, and also hung a high intensity all round white LED light from the boom, at eye level.
DAY 3 – WED 4 JUL 18
Cabin Boy, before going to bed on Tuesday night, made a point of reminding us (again) that when he woke up on the 4th of July he would be a teenager! So at 0500 the Admiral and I were up, and quietly blowing up balloons and decorating the inside of the boat, while Cabin Boy snored peacefully in the V berth. There was a moment of parental hilarity when we opened up his birthday card to write in it, to discover that it played the Avengers theme song (loudly!). We attempted writing one word at a time, then quickly closing it, or writing the card under a sleeping back, before giving up and waiting until he was awake.
At 0515 Cabin Boy was up and proudly informing us that he was now a teenager and therefore the “man of the house”. Very aspirational! He did not appreciate being called the “mouse of the house” for the remainder of the day. The Admiral prepared him breakfast underway as we kept motoring down the river.
There was light mist and no wind again as we crossed Webb’s Creek Ferry and then we picked up a public mooring at Wiseman’s Ferry at 0930, and dinghied ashore for a walk and to look for a good coffee.
We had lunch underway as we continued down the River. We picked up a knot of tidal assist and decided that while we were making good time we would take a detour, south, down Berowra Creek and return back to Berowra Waters where we had been with the previous boat in March 2010.
We picked up a mooring in Deep Bay at 1630 and then dinghied the 1.3 nautical miles down to Berowra Waters Marina (Dusthole Bay) where we went for a walk and a look around. We arrived just in time to watch the marina coffee shop and both shop close!
I had considered the Berowa Waters Inn for dinner, however at $165 per person for a six course degustation menu (not including drinks), and with no children’s menu, we decided to return back to the boat at last light for dinner and cake! We covered almost 35 nautical miles (~65km) today.
DAY 4 – THU 5 JUL 18
Day 4 saw us wake up to thick fog – at one stage we couldn’t see the bow of the boat from the cockpit. As there was no real need for us to push on, we had a leisurely breakfast on board and then jumped back in the dinghy and slowly, carefully followed the river bank back around to the Marina. We were thankful for the orange flashing light on the ferry at Berowra Water’s which showed us where to stop!
We got out on the western shore and had an absolutely undrinkable coffee and hot chocolate. With the fog slowly burning off we motored around Berowra Waters looking at some of the river front properties, only accessible by boat.
Cabin Boy was keen, very very keen 🙂 to continue to drive the dinghy so we found our way across to the eastern bank of the Creek, next to the ferry and found a wonderful gourmet cafe restaurant, called A Chef Secrets. This cafe had an amazing breakfast and lunch menu, great coffee (finally!) and opens by appointment of an evening for private cooking classes. We will be definitely going back here for a spring or summer lunch when the weather is warmer.
Cabin Boy, after looking at the lunch menu and seeing Creme Brûlée, informed the waiter that it was his 13th birthday and asked if it would be possible to have some for breakfast! No problems!
With the fog slowly burning off we returned dinghied back to the boat to continue on our way.
We motored onwards, this time against the tide, passing Milson’s Island, and some very low power lines, until we came to the dual bridges of the Pacific Motorway (M1) and Pacific Highway at Mooney Mooney Point.
We estimated that our mast was 10.5 metres tall plus a bit for the Windex and wind sensor. We had passed safely under some power lines marked as 10 metres at their lowest point, by coming close to the shore where they were highest, without problems. The dual bridges were marked as 11 metres maximum. No worries!
While I am never stressed on the boat, I did become a little perturbed when Cabin Boy, on approach to the bridges, dropped the tiller, grabbed the phone and took photo’s of a low passing RAAF C-130!
Having had Cabin Boy take us safely under the bridges, we continued to motor past Brooklyn, into the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, past Lion Island and towards Refuge Bay. We did entertain putting the sails up but the small wind quickly passed us, leaving the entrance as calm as glass.
We crossed the entrance to Cowan Creek and motored into Refuge Bay. There was a Bureau of Meteorology, Sydney Closed Waters Forecast, that predicted winds to 30 knots from the north / northwest that evening so we picked up another mooring on the north most side of America’s Bay, in the shadow of the ridge line.
Before we had even tied off to the mooring, Cabin Boy was in the dinghy, with the engine started, offering to drive us to the beach/water fall in Refuge Bay. With a sea temperature of 17 degrees, and an air temperature of the same there was no way I was getting into the water, so well rugged up we headed for the waterfall.
Once Cabin Boy was dried off we headed back to the boat for another excellent, on board dinner, then cards and bed. A short day today, after a late start waiting for the fog to lift – only 15 nautical miles.
DAY 5 – FRI 6 JUL 18
After a great nights sleep, we were able to get download an updated Sydney Closed Waters Forecast.
Noting that the forecast predicted wind building to 25 knots in the late morning, and then 30 knots in the early afternoon, we decided to get underway early and head off to Bobbin Head.
Leaving Refuge Bay we were amazed that with the exception of three other vessels, we had the entire place to ourselves. We headed down Cowan Creek towards Cottage Point, where we picked up a courtesy mooring and dinghied ashore again in search of coffee.
It was great to be able to take the same photo of the two of them, almost 5 years apart! We then headed off again and motored around Cottage Point, looking at all the houses that we would love but can’t afford!
From Cottage Point we rang ahead to Empire Marina, Bobbin Head and booked a berth for the Friday evening. Of course, as we arrived at 1100 the forecast 25 knots came through which made for some low stress docking. We tied off at the Fuel Wharf, dwarfed by the surrounding vessels, and went and checked in. $70 for 24 hours gave us access to great showers (better than a 1st Class QANTAS Club), members lounge, laundry facilities and filtered water and electricity.
After we had all showered, Cabin Boy and the Admiral stayed behind and had lunch at the Cafe, while I took an Uber from the Marina back to Richmond to collect the car and the trailer. We had looked at using public transport, however it would have taken three hours, and I would still have needed a taxi at the start and end of the trip. I was also very keen to get the rig back to Bobbin Head, before the start of the Friday night traffic. especially when we worked out that today was the start of the NSW school holidays. One hour, ten minutes and $140 later I was back at RAAF Richmond, and then an 1 ¼ after that I was back at Bobbin Head with the car and trailer.
I parked the rig at Apple Tree Bay at 4pm just in time to meet The Admiral and Cabin Boy who had motored the dinghy the nautical mile up to boat ramp to collect me. We headed back to the Marina and motored through each of its arms looking at the boats that we liked. That evening we ordered pizza from North Turramurra and had it delivered to the marina – Cabin Boy thought it was very cool having pizza delivered to the boat!
DAY 6 – SAT 7 JUL 18
The Admiral and I woke just after 0600 on the Saturday morning. After checking the weather again, which predicted in excess of 30 knots in closed waters, we quickly got underway so that we could get the boat onto the trailer before the wind picked up. While Apple Tree Bay is quite protected, unfortunately the pontoon is not adjacent to the boat ramp, which requires the boat to be “walked” around the breakwater to the ramp using long lines. Sounds harder than it is – however it would be quite difficult in strong winds, and runs the risk of the boat dragging on the breakwater.
After a no fuss retrieval with the hand winch, and a promise to ourselves to sort out a new electric winch as soon as possible, we moved the boat into the car park to de-rig. The Admiral cooked up porridge while Cabin Boy and I started packing up the yacht and the dinghy. Of course any pack up wouldn’t be complete without someone stopping by for a 3/4 hour chat (the park ranger)!
By 1100 we were fed, checked out of the marina, the boat packed up and on our way back to Canberra.
We had a great run home, stopping for lunch on the highway, arriving back at 1430.
We all had a great time – the provisioning, ice, water, and fuel all lasted until the Saturday morning. The weather held for us with clear blue skies and no wind until the last day.
Apart from being cold outside, we were never really cold inside the boat, and the only rain we experienced was on the first night in Windsor. The dodger on the cabin top was invaluable!
The road trip to Windsor was easy, as was the trip home. We have previously used the northern entrance into Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, coming into the National Park from Mount Colah. The downside of this route is the section of Pennant Hills Road/Cumberland Highway. This time we entered/exited the Park via North Turramurra (M7, M2, Lane Cove Road, Mona Vale Road, Bobbin Head Road) which while longer in distance was much quicker and easier.
In the end we travelled 85 nautical miles (157 km) down the Hawkesbury and 700km in driving from Canberra – Windsor – Richmond – Bobbin Head – Canberra. I do aspire to a trip where the boat distance exceeds the road trip! 🙂