So, what’s it like living aboard an unfinished boat on Sydney Harbour during the late 1980s to early 1990s?
Bittersweet. Hard. Challenging. Tremendous achievement.
How did we arrive in Sydney?
After launching the boat in 1987, taking her down the Hawkesbury River and in to Pittwater, we set out on the 5-hour maiden voyage to Sydney. This is where we finish building the boat, which takes another 4.5 years whilst working and saving hard.
Oyster Cove, Ball’s Head Bay
This cosy pocket in Ball’s Head Bay is known as Oyster Cove and is in beautiful Sydney Harbour.
The only way from the harbour below is up. And, two sets of steep stairs on almost opposing sides of the cove is the only way. Around 230 steep stairs lead up to the street, parking, and public transport.
Think about this for a minute, if you forget something on the boat after dragging yourself to the top of the stairs, it’s 230 steps down, then back up again – I don’t go back often.
Getting to and from the boat is by rowing as we don’t yet own an outboard.
Occasionally, visitors arrive for a peek.
A duck befriends us and becomes a regular visitor…
Doing these stairs at least twice each day and regardless of age, it’s the fittest I’ve been in my life. But, also join a gym for the convenience of showers, ironing, and getting ready for work. Especially whilst the unfinished boat (home) is in a disarrayed mess – need to be presentable for work.
As this is a small community of several boats, it’s easy to become good friends with everyone, so we all look out for each other.
We take the boat grocery shopping across Sydney Harbour to Birkenhead Point for major supplies. Initially, this is with the mast firmly strapped to the side of the boat, which does attract incredulous side-glances, especially from crews on flashy vessels.
It’s tricky motoring with a much longer stick than the boat’s length and requires some quick manoeuvring when berthing or trying to miss other craft. Although this adventure becomes a part of life, it’s still a nervous time as the appendage can break loose from the turbulent waters of continual water traffic ploughing up and down. Seeing everything sink to the bottom of in Sydney Harbour. Luckily, the appendage manages to stay strapped in place during the shopping exercise.
A rule of thumb is never to bring a cardboard box on a boat as cockroaches lay eggs between the folded flaps. Once hatched, your boat becomes infested and extremely difficult to get rid of cockroaches from a boat. In the old days, skippers used to sink boats to rid the boat from vermin.
Before carting the groceries back to the boat, cardboard is stripped before packing everything away – time-consuming.
Of course, our small boat doesn’t include a washing machine – which home-built boat does?
As there isn’t a laundromat in Waverton, each week it’s a mission to do the laundry. Lugging washing up 230-plus-steps before walking 5 minutes to the Waverton train station and taking the train to the next stop where the laundromat lives is a weekly mission. Finishing the laundry, we return the same way so this takes a couple of hours or more, depending on train schedules.
This part of living in Sydney initially makes me feel a little like a hobo, but after several years, this is the norm.
Bureaucracy and resentment
Launching in 1987 and living in Sydney for months undisturbed, all is well with the world until…
Australia’s 1988 Bi-centenary rolls around with much festivity and expensive showtime of maritime splendour in Sydney Harbour just minutes from our boat.
Australia is on the global stage and no expense is spared.
Although, when the Bi-centenary fanfare is over, the friendly Maritime Services Board (MSB) start making it a priority to clean up freeloaders.
What does this actually mean?
All boats on anchor and not in a marina or on a paid buoy are deemed as “not paying their way in society” – exact words during a conversation with the MSB.
What does this involve?
Whilst boat owners are at work, the MSB sneakily tows away boats that are anchored to Goat Island in Sydney Harbour. Once the unattended boat is moored at Goat Island, it’s open season. Too many tales of boats stripped of everything are feverishly passed on as a warning to boat owners that are still anchored around Sydney Harbour.
Luckily, we’re aboard when the MSB approaches our boat and starts to flex its muscle. Enquiring about a mooring next to us that’s been vacant throughout our time here, the MSB confirms we can take this mooring. But, we must pay for and sink another new substantial mooring as the MSB can’t confirm the existing mooring is safe. The southerly winds blow hard across the harbour and into this bay. And, we also need to pay a yearly fee of a couple of hundred dollars for the privilege of renting the mooring’s spot of water. Of course, when we leave, we can’t physically take this mooring with us so the MSB gains a good mooring for free. Fair, isn’t it? Back then, the wait for a mooring in this anchorage was around 7 years. This is the reason for anchoring.
For me, the MSB’s mentality really hits home.
The resentment experienced and callousness exercised by authorities are the impetus to leave NSW. The other nasty and ridiculous law in this State is that you’re only legally allowed to live on a boat for 3 consecutive days in one spot before the MSB can legally move you on or tow you away.
Much of the time the MSB turns a blind eye as long as you keep a low profile not giving residents on land any ammunition for complaints. Let’s face it, they paid for multi-million-dollar harbour-side apartments and homes, whilst some “grotty yachtie” is living for free down below murking their harbour views. Time to leave to a friendlier state.
Good-bye Sydney, it’s been real swell…
With only a 6-week overseas break on Honeymoon to Malaysia, Thailand, and Laos, the building state of flux and disarray in Sydney last 4 long years before finally finishing the build. Some 9.5 years from start to finish for the boat-building project, we now own our own boat and can finally go sailing.
Time to shed unwanted stuff and make the boat lighter.
If you want to read more about what it’s like finishing the boat over the 4.5 years in Sydney, then check out my Sailing Journey: Completing the Boat in Sydney. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 for what to expect if you’re thinking of building a boat.
Ready to tackle the first real sail to enjoy a well-earned rest, finally venture on some coastal cruising along Australia’s very long coastline from Sydney to Brisbane.
More boat-building chapters
Check out more of my chapters in this boat-building series!