So near yet so far

Pittwater is perfect for getting away from it all, no matter what boat you have, writes David Lockwood.

Pittwater has a holiday vibe, a feeling of escapism and solitude that transcends what you will find on other big-city waterways. The gold sand beaches, quiet bays, broad channels kissed by steady sea breezes and the bushland settings make for a boating mecca.

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park to the west, rugged Barrenjoey headland, Lion Island and unspoilt Bouddi National Park beyond Broken Bay keep development in check. The only blight is a gaudy new high rise sprouting skywards near Umina. Of course, you can choose not to look.
You don't need to search high and low for amenities on Pittwater, either. Some of Sydney's biggest yacht clubs line the shores and there are many marinas. Nautical nosheries can also be found: club brasseries, the Newport Arms pub within walking distance, quaint coffee shops at Church Point, and urbane establishments at Palm Beach. Leave your tender by the jetty.

But I've come to feast on Pittwater's visual treats. My 24-hour boating binge takes me aboard four new conveyances collectively valued at almost $2.85 million. The diverse watercraft underscore the fact that Pittwater is a venue for everyone.

I start with some unrestrained behaviour on the new Maritimo 60 ($2.3 million) built by Bill Barry-Cotter, the founder of Riviera boats. Clearly the motoryacht is pitched at over-55s with the time and wherewithal to undertake some serious coastal cruising.

Fuel capacity of 5800 litres would make for an interesting
half day at the fuel bowser alone, especially at current prices. Similarly, the 1500-litre water tanks means you can go places with self-sufficiency. With modest 700hp Caterpillar engines, the comparatively light 29,000-kilogram ship is easily driven.

Clear of the no-wash zone and beyond Broken Bay I gallop to a top speed of 23.9 knots. The engine's computer-monitoring panel says I'm burning 262 litres of fuel an hour. I think that might be a personal best. But at 10 knots or displacement cruising mode, it drops to 36 litres. At such stately speeds I have a safe cruising range of more than 1500 nautical miles.

Indoors I find three cabins, test the beds for six, try on the two bathrooms for size and stumble across a Miele washing machine and dryer, Gaggenau appliances, Sony plasma television with Bose sound system and two generators for the air-conditioning. A Maritimo 60 is expected to sail to New Zealand via Lord Howe Island soon.

I am brought back to earth with the American Seaswirl 21ft bowrider ($61,900). While bowriders are meant for enclosed waters, this one has the seaworthiness to venture a way offshore. The 270hp Volvo inboard petrol motor is good for 45 knots during a whirlwind tour of Palm Beach. Nice surf, no surfers - such is midweek on the peninsula.

Back at the Basin I jump aboard the 21ft Seaswirl Walk Around ($79,500) fishing boat powered by a 150hp Yamaha four-stroke outboard motor. But do you think I can find some fish for the frying? Despite throwing everything at them, no luck. A plump local fairy penguin bobs past. Grinning.

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Last but not least is the new Sydney 39CR yacht ($395,000) called Hassy. The contemporary cruiser-racer has just returned from winning the Airlie Beach regatta and landing a fifth at Hamilton Island race week. By 2.30pm I am fending off a fleet of 33 competitors in the Prince Alfred Yacht Club's Wednesday afternoon race. Fuel not required.

The forecast gale doesn't eventuate, but a 20-knot change delivers plenty of thrills.

Our spiffing Sydney 39CR finishes midway through the
fleet on handicap. More impressively, I find a designer interior with stainless-steel galley cupboards, honey-coloured sassafras timber joinery, suave Italian mocha fabrics. Oh, and what have we here? A lolly jar.
I bid Pittwater farewell at 5pm, sun-kissed, salt-splattered and satiated on chocolate bars.

Nowhere this close to Sydney is, well, quite so remote. You can take the scenic voyage past 15 beaches from Sydney Heads or drive to the playground of the rich and the not-so-famous. And it's virtually yours alone midweek.

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