Galley Gourmetwith Captain Chaos 

A Christmas cruise from Clifton Gardens

We were sitting around talking about the good old days as we went through back issues of Afloat while in the cabin of Bill’s boat. Some of the stories were outrageous but one of them had us recalling the now long gone Clifton Gardens Hotel.

I remember in the ’50s and early ’60s walking up from Mosman Junction then down the steepest hill (where as a boy I delivered papers) to the Clifton Gardens Hotel which was at the top of a narrow road leading down to a park and picnic grounds below at Chowder Bay.

There was an unused two-story weather board guest house built over the water which had fallen into wrack and ruin. My uncle had his honeymoon there in its heyday which would have been in the 1930s-40s. He told about the great times that were had by all the dashing young northshore studs who swam, sun baked and showed off by diving from the upper story.

By the time I got there the only structure usable was the wooden-floored change room just above high tide. Christmas king tides saw us changing standing on the wooden benches while the water lapped around underfoot. The rest of the building was out of bounds.

The baths themselves were huge and covered the whole of the beach area. They started on the western end of the bay with a giant two-tiered half-circular diving and sun baking area with a board walk that ran to the eastern end of the bay. The whole thing was made from large hardwood timber planks and monster beams. A mob of us would use the baths for a night’s swim after the pub closed. It was quite a buzz to dive into the dark water from the top level.

After one busy night at the pub one of the blokes had brought his boss’s huge cabin cruiser with flying bridge into the public wharf just along from the baths on the western side of the bay.

He asked if some of us wanted to go out for a midnight cruise out on the harbour. Of course too many yelled that they wanted to go.

“I’ll meet you down at the boat. You choose.”

I picked about 20 people and we headed down to the wharf where we got everyone on board. With me at the wheel on the flying bridge we took off and headed out through the Heads. I was told to keep the boat at a bit over half power so the mob below didn’t get sick.

After going down past Bondi Beach we turned and with the following swell helping us along we made good time back towards Chowder Bay.

I had to go to the head so I left the wheel to one of the guys standing next to me.

“Don’t touch any of the controls just keep her pointed towards that light. I will be back in a minute, OK!”

I went below and made my way through the crowd to the head.


Suddenly the boat lurched forward nearly throwing everyone to the floor. He had opened the throttle to full.

I pushed my way through the fallen mob who were covered with food and drink, as I reached the door the boat stopped and the motors started to race. He’d knocked it out of gear.

By the time I got to the bridge the motors were screaming and the guy I had left was trying to get this other person away from the controls.

“Get out of the way! You’ll blow-up the motors if you don’t stop them,” I said hurling them both away from the controls and pulling the power off. I turned to them and gave the idiot a piece of my mind. While I was doing this I suddenly realised we were drifting towards the baths. I hit the power and ran us over to the wharf where with the help of some of the crowd we docked safely. It was the last time we got to use the boat because his boss found out later something had gone wrong with the motors.

I left the mob and went home for a meal of Spiced Whitebait. Enjoying the white bait I thanked my lucky stars. It could have been so much worse.


Spiced Whitebait

700 gms of whitebait
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin and coriander
1 cup of plain flour
Olive oil

Toss the whitebait in the flour mixture, shake off any excess. In hot olive oil deep fry the coated whitebait in batches until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately. Can be served cold.