There have been day trips and twilight sails, working bees and winter sanding but finally we left the dock this Good Friday for our inaugural two nighter up beautiful South West Arm on the Port Hacking River.
Casting the lines off and putting out into the channel we cruised down to this convivial Easter anchorage, passing skiers and day trippers and soaking up the weekend holiday vibe.
Anchor down, we crack open the cheese and olives and sup a crisp verdelho for happy hour. The worries and stresses of our daily working lives can be seen washing away in the ebbing tide and out to sea, the change of scenery and a new experience replacing them for as long as we are here.
Toys be gone. A colouring book and some binoculars will suffice, the usual sibling bicker that erupts intermittently on a tiring school day has no place here.
Dinner from a flask. Slow cooked lamb casserole from last week, nuked to an inch of its life and poured into a heated flask is tipped into bowls and mopped up with sour dough and another glass of wine, a satisfying start to the weekend’s menu on a boat with no stove or powered refrigeration.
The night descends and with tired little ones tucked in we sit on deck and chat and sip to a symphony of splashes as mullet and tailer launch themselves out of the water.
Morning dawns and the rowdy squawk of cockatoos can be heard up in the park. The boats around us come to life. The guttural splutter of the diesel engine on a motor cruiser charging the batteries to chill the beer and keep the bait cool. Ski boats can be heard zipping up and down in the distance as the waterway assumes its weekend playground persona. Bacon and eggs sizzle on deck barbeques, awakening our taste buds so we hop into the tinny with our camp stove and chug up the river for billy tea and a buttered hot cross bun, counting sting rays on the way.
Refreshed with a swim and the tea we make our way up river, spying swallows nests tucked into sandstone overhangs and marvelling at the angophoras clinging defiantly to the rocks. Grass trees sought after in urban gardens are two a penny. Water falls trickle from rocks, evidence of flowing damns and watercourses, so long absent from the Sydney basin in recent years.
As the river shallows and becomes a rocky creek we leave the tinny behind and after another swim we wander up the trickling creek and wash the salt off before heading back down river for lunch. As we leave, a gaggle of scouts arrive, ten in a tinny and ten more towed behind on a doughnut.
Boys in boats with oversized outboards whump past. Kyackers hug the river bends and the odd camper defies the park signs, the tinge of campfire smoke in the air giving them away.
Back on the boat. A sandwich, a book and a lazy hour or two on deck and soon the afternoon sun is well past the yard arm. Thoughts turn to happy hour and I jump in the tender with the kids and a cool bag. Whilst Reg takes a nap we row up a nearby inlet onto sand flats. The kids strip off and play in the shallows and the sand and the mud for a good hour, munching chips and cheese despite sandy fingers until the camp stove arrives and we cook up our lamp chops and crack a beer.
The light is changing and we are now in the shadow of the hill but the trees on the other side glow amber and the little red boat bobs on its anchor line, bathed in the warm evening light. Cockatoos resume their squawking as they return to their roost and the sea eagle soars tantalising out of my zoom range.
We pack up and the tinny tows us back in the tender, the girls cradling an enamel pudding basin with a paper towel blankets and an imaginary baby (you know what they say about necessity). We pass a raft of big motor boats. Retired types and seasoned cruisers give a friendly wave as we pass, scrubbed up and shaved, gin in hand ready for a jolly evening aboard.
Back on board salty bodies are rinsed on the deck in the twilight before being dropped into pyjamas and tucked up in the forepeak, lulled to sleep to the gentle rocking of the boat at anchor and soft Cornish shanty voices emanating from the stereo. We sip wine in the red hue of the dual switch cabin light before heading up on deck again. Tide and wind are opposed but wind wins and our flotilla of yacht, tinny and tender slowly spin and make closer neighbours with the MV Carribean. We chat and aquaint ourselves until the tide turns and we spin back to where we were.
At 2am I’m rudely awakened by a sand fly in my sleeping bag. I zap it with “Rid” and wriggle back in my bag. An owl hoots in the bush beyond. Thankyou sand fly. With morning comes the Easter Bunny but not before I steal a quiet morning row in the tender before the anchorage awakes. I return to the boat and the hunt is in full swing and chocolate fuels the day to come.
We breakfast on the beach again and head out in the tinny to meet friends. On the way home I snap the eagle. Edging ever closer I get the shot but he refuses to fly away sticking to his perch, denying me the chance to capture his impressive wingspan.
A surprise visit from friends on board is the perfect way to punctuate the weekend. Drinks come out, some olives and the rest of the cheese. Happy snaps and boat banter and finally goodbye.
As we put up the river and approach the quay I feel an impending sense of disappointment and the anticlimax of a holiday that felt too short. But we’ll be back.