An easy half-hour drive north from the frantic heart of Sydney's business district will take you to a secluded and peaceful boating wonderland. The contrast from rat-race to restful serenity in such a short distance is remarkable. Surrounded by the soaring, tree-covered sandstone cliffs of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, the deep waters of Cowan Creek offer easy and safe navigation for everything from kayaks to large cruisers.
At the head of these waters is the quaintly-named Bobbin Head, where there is plentiful parking, large grassy areas, picnic tables and shelters, a kids playground and other attractions. But the highlight of the area is the Empire Marina, which has achieved a remarkable sequence of awards and successes - as exemplified by its Marina Hall of Fame Award in this issue's Nautical Notes. That is a fitting climax following a long history for the location as a pinnacle of recreational boating.
The name Cowan Creek is misleading; this 'creek' is a wide and deep waterway. It connects with all of the Hawkesbury River and Berowra Waters as well as Broken Bay, Pittwater and Brisbane Waters. The run out to sea is past the famous headland of Barrenjoey on the Palm Beach isthmus at the extremity of Sydney's glorious northern beaches, and then it's a short cruise south to Sydney Harbour or north to Newcastle. This whole area is literally one of the world's greatest 'Elysian Fields' for boating.
As long ago as the 1890s, even when the only access was by walking or on horseback, there were boats for hire at Bobbin Head. Ferry services were established as the scenic waterway grew in popularity and the Sainty family established a boatshed and food stall there in 1905.
By the 1930s, there was a road down from Turramurra and, during the Great Depression, government grants were used to build the Bobbin Head Boatshed and the Bobbin Inn. The boatshed site is now where the Empire Marina thrives, and the Bobbin Inn still serves as an Information Centre and cafe.
In 1945, the world-renowned Halvorsen boatbuilding family acquired the lease for the boatshed and improved the facilities along with growing the hire boat fleet to be one of the largest on the planet. Safe exploration of sheltered waters amongst countless bays and tributaries made holidays on a Halvorsen day-boat or cruiser an annual highlight for thousands of boating and angling aficionados.
Halvorsens re-developed the site from jetties and moorings to a modern marina before the lease was purchased by Empire Marina in 2006, at which time began a multi-million-dollar expansion and improvement program to produce the superb facility that graces Bobbin Head today.
With a top-level Five Gold Anchor rating, Empire Marina has continually sought to offer the best in services and customer satisfaction. Two consecutive Marina of the Year Awards (they each last for two years) is indicative of the success that has been achieved and that led to the Hall of Fame recognition. Onsite pollution prevention, energy efficiency and recycling of waste assisted in winning a Clean Marinas status, and more recently a Fish Friendly recognition has been added to the trophy cabinet.
Heading the team at the Marina is Director Darren Vaux, who explained: "When someone drives down to the marina we want them to feel that any stress peels away so when they get here they're truly relaxed. Quite often they will come down on a Friday night and just stay on their boat in the marina because it's already a fantastic location, so quiet and pristine with such good protection from prevailing winds. To then be able to cruise up the river or to different parts of Broken Bay on Saturday morning, stay overnight and come back late Sunday afternoon - they feel like they've had a week's holiday."
The marina has a full range of services, including berths, moorings, fuel, food, mechanical and marine electrical, trimming and detailing, painting and shipwright, a sales brokerage and hardstand plus good car parking.
Empire Marina Director, John Lawler commented: "Winning our various awards is a result of a large effort not only on customer service, but with management systems, our environmental systems, our workplace health and safety systems, and even the way we answer the telephone. Although we've won Marina of the Year a number of times and now the Hall of Fame, we're still going through a process of continual improvement."
Colin Bransgrove, Executive Officer of the Marina Industries Association, presented the Hall of Fame Award. He noted: "This is the first Hall of Fame Award as Empire Marina is the first to win two consecutive Marina of the Year Awards, which is fantastic. Marinas are in high-profile locations and are a public asset. Empire Marina attracts over 50,000 visitors a year to enjoy the waterside amenities."
"These award processes are really about a discipline that keeps us striving to achieve more," added Vaux. "There are a whole lot of measures that we monitor to make sure that we constantly exceed expectations. We look to a process of continuing improvement; at the moment we are adding free Wi-Fi through the marina and working on further environmental initiatives. It's about trying to create that atmosphere where people just feel relaxed. To us that's the real measure.
"Most of our clients are on their fourth or fifth boat, so they are very successful and experienced," he said. "We need to match that maturity with the right level of skills and expertise among our staff. For example, marina director Captain John Lawler is a shipwright by trade and an incredibly experienced superyacht captain with 300,000 nautical miles of sea time. He's done seven or more Sydney Hobart races, has represented Australia in the Admiral's Cup and was the build-captain on Mirrabella V, which was the biggest sloop ever built, at 264 feet. We are very fortunate to have someone of that expertise heading our marina. That's been very much part of our team-building process - to put the right people in place who can deliver outcomes commensurate with our client expectations."
For more information, go to: empiremarinas.com.au.