Article posted on: 2024-01-14 21:53
Last edited on: 2024-01-14 21:53
Written by: Sylvain Gauthier

Sailing from Akuna Bay to Sydney Harbour

Back in June 2023, I bought a 26 foot sail boat for a relatively modest price. When I got it, it was berthed in Akuna Bay marina, in Broken Bay north of Sydney.


And it stayed there for a few months while I was getting a hand of it and doing small repairs (I learnt how to deal with epoxy and fiberglass in the process).

But the marina being fairly pricey, I was pressured to bring it back to a cheaper place. After dealing with the installation process for a new mooring in Meadowbank close to where I live, it was time to undertake the 70km journey back to Sydney, the longest I had done so far.


First evening

Last Saturday the 6th of January, my partner dropped me off at the marina late afternoon. My initial plan was to set off in the evening, find an available mooring spot somewhere in Broken Bay and thus save 1 or 2 hours of motoring for the next day.

saturday departure

Unfortunately and predictably, Broken Bay happens to be the place where all Sydney boaties go during the summer (we’re in the south hemisphere, right) to spend time with family and friends.

The number of boats moored or anchored across the bay, from the small fishing dinghy to the massive billionaire’s ultra modern yacht was simply obscene. Not only were all the moorings taken, but the good anchorage spots too!

I had no choice but to race against the dusk back to the marina and to spend the night there.


After a poor night of sleep trying every single one of the 4 berths available in the small cabin, I set off from the marina at about 7am. The water was incredibly still, and the various sloops and ketches anchored around the creek in the fresh morning mist offered a delightful sight.

morning mist

The wind was forecast to blow from the north east from almost nothing in the morning up to 12-15 knots in the afternoon. This was ideal and no coincidence: I had of course set the date based on the forecast.


But before I could use the wind to my advantage, I had to motor against it for the first two hours until I reached Pittwater and the open ocean. I would normally have no problem tacking my way into the wind but it can easily double the time it takes to reach the destination, and since I wasn’t sure how long the whole trip would take and definitely didn’t want to navigate Sydney harbour at night, I didn’t take any risk and used the engine.

I set up the sails as soon as I turned around the West Head lookout before Pittwater entrance.

sails up

Open ocean

Sailing almost completely downwind in a broad reach along the north shore was very pleasant albeit very hot and exhausting: I was solo and did not have an auto pilot or self steering vane so I had to essentially spend the whole 8 hours and a half sitting in the cockpit steering, barely any time to drink a sip of water or eat some snack. And there is no canopy or umbrella in this tiny cockpit (first item on my boat TODO list!) so I was exposed to the hot summer sun the whole time.

ocean 1

The open ocean leg of the trip was definitely the fastest one, covering 30km in barely more than three hours. To estimate my rough position I was simply counting the numerous beaches and looking carefully until I would recognize the famous Manly beach, the last one before turning into the harbour.

ocean 2

And nice little surprise, right before turning into the harbour, I ran into one of the old wooden boat from the MuSeaUm in Darling Harbour, I believe a clipper from the second half of the XIXth century that was restored and refloated. Too bad it was just motoring and not flexing its sails…

old boat

Sydney harbour

Things suddenly got a lot more stressful and complicated in the harbour, where I arrived at around 1pm.

First of all, there are many rules and regulated areas were drifting is not permitted because lots of commercial vessels and ferries pass through very fast. There are also exposed reefs, buoys and historic wrecks to avoid.

Secondly, the area between the harbour bridge and open ocean is very, very busy, especially on a beautiful windy day like this one. And there happened to be a sailing race with dozens of sail boats tacking against the wind in the other direction than I was going (which mean they have priority and I’m supposed to give way).

boat race

And finally, while I was sailing downwind I had virtually no apparent wind so didn’t realise quite how much the wind had picked up during the morning, but as soon as I turned into the harbour the boat developed a strong weather helm (it was steering towards the wind by itself) and started heeling, all of which is fine and to be expected when sailing but complicates things.

The wind also became much more unpredictable because of the obstructed landscape, which meant I was sometimes moving too fast to steer properly, sometimes not moving at all. To avoid being caught drifting in a restricted area, I turned on the engine but left the clutch disengaged just to be able to move out of the way quickly if necessary.

Despite all those annoyances, reaching the Harbour Bridge and sailing in front of the opera house on my own boat felt very gratifying.

opera bridge opera

West of the bridge

As soon as I passed the bridge, things got a lot easier. It was much less crowded, the swell was gone and the wind, despite still being gusty, was more manageable because I had somehow managed to bring the head sail down before passing the bridge (I was the only retard sailing with all sails out, everyone else had at least one reef in the main or were even sailing with just the head sail, with gusts sometimes in the mid 20 knots).

Sailing under just the main, especially in a broad reach like I was doing, did mean that the centre of forces was off-balance and the boat was strongly steering towards the wind, but it was much less stressful and still plenty fast.

The last leg all the way to Meadowbank was uneventful and quite nice although the lack of sleep and dehydration were starting to seriously take its toll (hence the lack of pictures for this part of the trip…).

Trying to grab the mooring buoy in strong gusty winds proved harder than I expected, and so was inflating my rubber dinghy directly on deck (first time I tried it, #yolo). But I eventually managed to reach the shore where my partner was waiting for me. I took a last picture of the boat moored in its new muddy home, where it will have the company of old rusty boats and the occasional ferry, and with a scary 10-15cm of water between the keel and the bottom at low tide but the boat safety officer told me “no worries mate she’ll be alright” so whatever.

boat moored