A few hours sailing north of Sydney Harbour is the Hawkesbury River.
If you are traveling from Sydney just hang a left at the Barrenjoey lighthouse and you are there.
The river mouth is very wide and guarded by tall sandstone cliffs with many very nice spots to anchor or moor.
Just-Jammins mast limited how far we could sail upriver but luckily there is a marina at Brooklyn where the river is traversed by a low bridge.
Brooklyn is a very small township and a pleasant walk from the public berth.
The general store is small but has a reasonable range of stuff and the marina has a bottleshop.
Around the corner from Brooklyn is America Bay.
This is mostly national park with heavily wooded cliffs running into surprisingly deep water and plenty of private but empty moorings and a few public ones, also empty, mostly.
During the week there are few if any boats moored in America Bay with the weekends being quite busy but still pleasant.
The fishing is a lot better than you might think, especially if you arrive on a weekend.
There are lots of deep channels running right up to the cliffs in places, with many large mulloway cruising around and hordes of baby pink snapper.
Tailor sometimes to.
The bays bottom like most of the area has a carpet of sea grass with patches of rock and sand.
This is very nice for attracting squid and there are arrow squid in the bay.
During the day we would fish and catch many small snapper, too small to keep but fun to catch and release.
Delousing them was interesting.
At night the transom light would attract baitfish and either squid or tailor to feed on them.
Either squid or tailor because the squid would vanish as soon as the tailor turned up.
Lurking just outside the light were mulloway happy to pounce on any squid or tailor silly enough to separated from the school.
We were both fishing using live and dead squid however Scott was the one that kept getting the mulloway, nabbing some very nice eating fish.
Mulloway is delicious fresh and freezes very well.
Fishing for squid in the bay is like shooting fish in a barrel.
The schools of arrow squid with hoods ranging from four to nearly nine inches are everywhere and would take jigs nearly all night.
On most nights you would see groups of squid, maybe nine or ten, cruising in formation doing circles around the light.
Once you had caught them or most of them it was just a matter of waiting a short while for the next group.
We found berleying them with bread to work and it didn’t attract the tailor like other baits seemed to.
It was quite by chance that when throwing a few pieces of bread into the light to attract the baitfish, they didn’t get any, the squid came out of the dark and started to fight over it.
On one particular night a school of close to one hundred took up station under the transom light.
It was amazing to see so many squid all swimming in formation and staying all night.
We caught many, ate many and used many for bait, all the rest we released.
Once we had caught and released a whole heap of squid Scott started to get creative.
He lowered the landing net as deep as he could just outside the light and then waited for the school to swim past.
Upon lifting the net there were sixteen squid in the bottom, I’ve never seen that before.
Sure made catching them one at a time redundant.
America Bay is such a peaceful place and the scenery didn’t get old.
The fishing is productive and fun and there are public moorings with provisions at Brooklyn.
Why would you go anywhere else.
The trip from the ocean is very twisted as the channel wends its way across a wide shallow bay.
Just-Jammin draws 1100mm and even at high tide we had less than a foot of water under the keels as we made our way inland.
We had planned to cross the shallowest part of the bay at high tide then anchor up and wait for low tide so we could squeeze under the bridge.
Scott had the helm as we approached the bridge and we were inching toward it, not a small bit concerned.
As we hit the nearside of the bridge we could hear a very clear sound of fingernail on blackboard.
It turns out that the bridge underside was 16.8m above the water and the top of the mast mounted aerial was 16.9m above the water.
The houses that line the head of the river are very pretty and I would happily live in any one of them however as we made our way up the river the houses got more and more ordinary the closer we got to Gosford.
Having said that I wasn’t very impressed by Bundaberg either and I was totally wrong about that.
The town center is a few miles inland and sprawls down to the river banks.
All of Sydney seems to be uphill and Gosford is no different.
There were several public moorings outside the marina and it was an area with little watery traffic so taking the tender across the river to the public jetty was no problem.
It was a mildly taxing walk, all uphill, to get to the shopping hub.
Walking back to the boat was much more pleasant even with arms full of provisions.
Probably the nicest spot was a park bench under the morton bay figs that overlooked the river.
First impressions of Sydney Harbour are of a very busy waterway.
The sandstone cliffs that line the harbour are very pretty and still have a rough native feel even with the thousands of houses that line the cliff face and tops.
The open water that greets you as you enter the heads is covered with boats of all types and can make for some nervous moments as one navigates a path thru them.
This mass of floating chaos is comprised partly of ferry cats that travel at close to 30 knots, in straight lines that do not waver and threaten to run down any craft silly enough to get in their way.
There are countless numbers of big and small power boats traveling in all directions with a healthy number of sail boats commuting or racing to and from every point of the compass.
An impossible number of private and commercial craft fill the waterway and they all take crazy pills.
Sydney Harbour on a summer weekend is something special but even then the crowds go home and for a few brief moments the waters clear before it all starts again.
Dotted all round the shore are signs warning not to eat the fish caught in the harbour.
Inland of the Harbour bridge the warning is to not eat any fish or shellfish at all, whereas on the ocean side it’s not to eat more than a couple of hundred grams once a month.
We considered this advice, briefly.
Over the course of a week we tried several squidding spots just inside the heads on both the north and south sides.
Two spots we tried on the south side provided a feed of squid, half a dozen or so in an hour of jigging.
Some time before Scott had seen a TV fishing show featuring ET’s favourite secret Sydney Harbour fishing spots and despite the cryptic camera angles recognised the spot.
So we tried this secret spot and over a short couple of hours nabbed both a feed and a few for bait.
Fresh squid is an excellent live and dead bait as well as being very, very tasty.
The following day in the late afternoon we headed back to ET’s secret spot and moored up in slightly deeper water very nearby.
In barely an hour we had 30 squid on the boat and were ready to cook up then head home.
Finding a public mooring in Sydney Harbour is quite the challenge.
If you don’t live there or frequent the area often you have Buckley’s chance of finding somewhere to tie up, legally.
This was our problem, where to spend each night.
After spending much time testing the mud bottom anchorage and suffering much anchor drag we opted for a public mooring a fair way inland.
At this spot there are two public moorings that you may tie up to for 24hrs.
The first mooring, the better of the two, was taken with a very pretty forty foot twin masted sloop, so we took the second.
Being so far inland it wasn’t worth fishing for a feed, Dioxins and all that, so we just tested the waters.
A quick bit of fishing brought up a few very small snapper and a flathead.
While these fish were no good to eat it would seem the Dioxins in the river bottom mud are not preventing the harbour being a productive breeding ground for the snapper, bream and flathead inhabiting the area.
The future looks good.
The following day the sloop took off so we nabbed his mooring for the night.
This mooring was a fair way inland but the water was very calm and there is a marina nearby to tie the tender so we could walk to the shops at the top of the hill.
There seems to be a lot of hills in Sydney.
By now we had explored all likely and better spots to spend the night and had decided to just try our luck at a jetty within sight of the harbour bridge.
The signage on the jetty forbade tieing up over night but we thought we would roll the dice and see what might happen if we “accidentally” moored overnight.
We were not bothered by officialdom at all during the four nights we spent tied there.
At first the ferries were taking the corner of the harbour we were in quite wide and didn’t cause too much trouble as by the time the wash hit us it wasn’t too bad.
By the third day the ferries were only missing us by a few metres and as they were doing twenty knots or more the wash was threatening to rip the mooring cleats and a large portion of hull clean off the boat.
If this only happened occasionally it might be tolerable.
Over the nights we were moored there we tried different mooring positions and methods but it made minimal difference, we were getting slammed by ferries several times an hour from dawn till midnight.
In the end the risk of not inconsequential damage to the boat inspired us to leave the harbour and head to calmer waters.
It was a shame to leave such a central Sydney spot as it was very pretty and walking distance to anything you might need.
A couple of lazy hours sailing south of Sydney harbour is Port Hacking.
It is a waterway that has several arms to small bays, a couple of quite steep launch ramps and lots of moorings, most of which are occupied. There is a marina where you can refuel and plenty of places to fish.
Just inside the heads are some great fishing spots if the tides and winds comply, with a large series of sand banks that are exposed at low tide and good for getting bait.
The bait we were chasing were nippers also called yabbies, but they are nothing like the yabbies we get in the west.
A method that worked very well was to wait until low tide and find the banks that had the cleanest sand.
Nippers seem to prefer clean sand with no trace of mud which limited us to just two of the banks.
Collecting nippers is as simple as using a “yabbbie pump”, a yard long hand pump that you push into the sand up to the handle and then pump several times.
Lift the sand filled pump, then empty and pick up your nippers which will be wriggling on the sand waiting to be collected.
In less than an hour you can collect as many as you need, selecting the biggest ones for bait and letting the rest return unharmed to their holes.
Using them for live or dead bait whiting adore them, mostly.
Scott did alright using them for bait but I couldn’t give them away, luckily we also had another freshly collected bait.
Most of the Port Hacking waterway has a bed of sea grass that covers everywhere the sand banks aren’t.
This sea grass is home to tons of squid.
There is a jetty next to a launch ramp that has such clean water that water trucks fill up at the ramp several times a day to supply the salt water aquarium trade. Almost every day it isn’t raining there will be one or two people fishing for squid and just before dusk a cluster of squid fisherman for a couple of hours.
These fisherman are targeting arrow squid that school over the sea grass and vary in hood size from the size of your palm up to maybe nine inches.
These critters are very tasty and also make good live or dead baits.
Possibly the most fun fish to catch in Port Hacking is yellowtail kingfish and a close second is mulloway (also called silver kingfish or jewfish).
Scott has caught and eaten many kingfish but I only had one crack at them.
A floating live squid was monstered by a very large beast that I managed to maneuver around the moorings to get right to the side of the boat before it lunged under the keel.
The second my braid touched the underside of the boat it parted and the fish was gone.
Scotts favourite part of the Port Hacking waterway is the couple of bays that are part of the national park.
Like most everywhere around Sydney the water laps up against sandstone cliffs that in every place that isn’t national park is covered with houses.
There are several public moorings in the national park that are quite quiet and relaxed during the week.
On the weekends the water is covered with yachts, powerboats and jet skis.
Lots of them.
Stick to the week days.
Port Hacking is a lovely place to spend time on a boat.