11 February 2013

Port Hacking

I have always wanted to check out Port Hacking, so I did that last weekend.  I'm glad I did, it's a very pretty place but I won't be going back.

The entrance to Port Hacking is about 18nm south of Sydney.  That makes it an easy day sail, in fact with about 15 knots of northerly behind us we made it about an hour ahead of schedule.  Unfortunately that meant an hour ahead of the tide that I would have liked to use to get through the channel, more on that later.

Once you pass the heads you need to immediately check the depth of tide.  Although the channel is well marked, having a working depth sounder and a recent set of charts is vital.  Also, once you enter the channel, if you decide that the depth ahead is insufficient for you to proceed, there isn't anywhere to hover, anchor or otherwise get away from the fairly consistent traffic going through the channel.

We entered the channel with 0.4m of tide, and according to my reading of the chart that should have been sufficient.  However the lowest depth that I measured in the channel (both with the sounder and getting my keel stuck on it) was 1.3m above MLWS, and there were a few areas in the channel that we managed to avoid by eye that were clearly lower depth than that.  In fact, one of the channel markers was sitting high and dry at that depth of tide, clearly any keeled vessel attempting to pass close to that marker even at mid-tide would have difficulty.  So in retrospect we probably needed 0.6m of tide to be safe.  Fortunately we were only halted where we touched bottom briefly for 15 minutes or so waiting for the tide to rise a bit further, and the bottom is all sand so there was no damage done other than a bit of abrasive cleaning.

The north side of Port Hacking is what could loosely be described as "civilisation", and that's where most of the local vessels are moored, berthed, or are trailed.  Most of the local vessels appear to be either trailer sailors, shoal draft vessels or power boats.  I saw probably only 2-3 cruising (sailing) yachts of any reasonable size in the time I was there, compared to many hundreds of small power boats and a dozen or more smaller sailboats.  Gunnamatta Bay, which is the first inlet on the north of Port Hacking after you enter the heads, has a marina, the RMYC Port Hacking which has a useful amount of information on their web site (http://www.rmycph.com.au/cruising/) and also the Cronulla town centre.

The south side of Port Hacking is national park, and there are several inlets going into that park.  Most are quite shoal, but the one we chose to explore was South West Arm which has good depths throughout (after we passed the channel).

The anchorages in South West Arm are quite pleasant and we had no problems finding good depth for anchoring.  There are visitors moorings at the far end of South West Arm but we found them all to be in use, some having up to 6 large power boats rafted up on each one.  The anchorage there was also quite crowded with little swing room, although a number of yachts were anchored with stern lines going to shore to allow them to fit more snugly.

Not wanting to spend the entire night listening to on-board parties, we found a quiet anchoring spot a bit further away from the shore than the rest of the boats.

The bottom end of South West Arm is a 4 knot, no-wash zone however there appears to be no enforcement of this and little attention paid to it by the hordes of power boaters, water-skiers and jetboats that speed through the area.  Their activity ceased at sunset but started again pretty much on the dot at 6am, and there were several ski boats that passed very close by Chiara Stella at anchor shortly after daybreak.  Jetboats are banned in Sydney Harbour, this is clearly where they all congregate.

9am the next day saw a high tide so we high-tailed it out of there.  Dodging ski boats, jetboats and fishing boats (several moored or drifting in the middle of the quite narrow channel) aplenty, we headed back out to sea to catch the southerly back to Sydney -- we were quickly picked up by the forecast 25 knots somewhat ahead of schedule and made Sydney Harbour in fairly rapid time.

Overall, Port Hacking is a very pretty piece of water with some nice countryside nearby.  We spotted a few beaches and grassy areas on the southern side where it would be possible to dinghy ashore for a picnic, however it's quite noisy once the power boats start their engines.