Middle Harbour

Monday 15th January 2018

With Sydney’s record breaking temperatures hitting the World news last week, here on the ground, we are surprised not so much by the hight of the mercury but by just how changeable the weather is. One moment we are baking at over 30C the next day the thermometer is struggling to break 20C and winds go from nonexistence to blowing a gale within hours but we are beginning to see a pattern emerging.

As a high pressure system sets in, warm northerly winds that are enhanced by afternoon sea breezes lead to pleasant clear days. When the temperatures rise and a low trough threatens, thunder storms break out. These can be quite violent with high winds, hail and dramatic lightening. As the low passes through it drags in southerlies which having come up from the Antarctic are cool and can often be very strong. Then it’s back to high pressure and the cycle starts over.

This week we have been anchored in a Cove in Middle Harbour. Middle Harbour is a branch of waterways to the north of the main harbour that is similar to those at Pittwater and Cowan Creek. Hidden away up a creek we had until yesterday been mostly protected from these vagaries of the weather.

To enter the inner part of the harbour you have to pass through a lifting bridge. The Spit bridge carries one of Sydney’s busy routes north and opens briefly at four or five set times each day. Promptly at 1.15pm last Monday afternoon we squeezed through the surprisingly narrow gap and motored upstream to find a quiet anchorage.

Passing through Spit Bridge

A couple of miles on we found a great spot off Sugarloaf Bay in Castle Cove and settled in. After two days anchored off the busy Manly beaches and a few rather rocky nights at the marina, it was bliss to be absolutely still. The scent of eucalyptus trees that covered the banks wafted in the air and the drone of cicadas filled our ears. We planned to spend a few days here, carrying on with maintenance jobs, catching up with some admin and just enjoying the calm.

On our first evening however we discovered we had some noisy neighbours living in the hills. Just before dusk and around dawn each day, we’d be deafened by an cocophony of squawking. Large white birds were fighting and flapping in the trees above us, we took out the binoculars, they had lemon coloured crests and markings on their wings. A few taps later and a Google search revealed them to be Sulphur Crested Cockatoos and all the fuss was as they jostled for the best roosting spots in the hollows that form in the older eucalyptus trees.

Unfortunately the cockatoos were too far away, especially in the fading light to get a photo, unlike this Pied Cormorant, who not wanting to give up his place in the sun, let us very slowly approach within a few metres.

Pied Cormorant sunning himself

With such flat water we could break out the kayak and in the dingy go quite a way to explore. About two and a half miles further on we discovered tiny Echo Point Marina and decided to stop for lunch. In a perfect location surrounded by parkland with views over the water, the food was excellent and the service friendly. However as seems to be becoming a theme in Australia, getting ashore was not as straight forward as it first appeared. A dingy dock sat right outside the restaurant but as soon as we arrived, an agitated waiter appeared to warn us that the marina would charge us $30 to tie up the dingy and it would be better to go across to the beach and walk around. No big deal but just another small signal that even at a marina, with money to spend, visiting yachties aren’t particularly welcome.

Castle cove has just a few houses that overlook it high in the hills. But the harbour itself is more crowded and a popular city suburb. The houses are all built on the almost vertical banks on three or sometimes four levels. Running up to the road above or the shore below they have very steep steps, some have installed small lifts. As in Pittwater each shoreside property has its own jetty and pretty boathouse, in fact the boathouses are often nicer than the large properties above them.

Pretty boat house in Powder Hulk Bay

Back onboard Raya we slowly ticked off more jobs. Flags, charts and generator spares ordered; tick, tax returns filed; big tick, hot water tank coil replaced; hooray and raw water filters cleaned; urgh! The engine raw water filter was full of jellyfish!

Jelly fish swimming in the engine raw water filter!

After a pleasant week hiding from the worst of the winds and watching the thunders storms in the distance, the weather cycles finally caught up with us. A band of strong chilly southerly winds has been passing over New South Wales and Sunday blustery gusts started to blast into the cove, as our anchor chain stretched out, our picturesque spot began to feel rather small and the rocky edges rather close. We moved out into the bay only to have our anchor chain wrap around something on the bottom. This drastically reduced our swing and bought us far too close to a large motor yacht. Accompanied by horrible shudderers and graunching we slowly and as carefully as possible lifted the anchor back in. We returned to the centre of Castle Cove and spent a unsettled night with a close eye on the anchor alarm.

This morning we decided to stick to our plan of returning to the city and motored back through a very rough Sydney Harbour to Blackwattle Bay. It is still blowing a gale but one of the good things about cycles is that you can rely on them to keep turning, calmer conditions and warmer northerlies are forecast to return Wednesday or Thursday.

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