We are out on the waters of what could easily have been Sting Ray Bay, but by a quirk of fate and the stroke of a pen, we know it as Botany Bay. Botany Bay was labelled “Sting Ray’s Harbour” by Lieutenant James Cook for about five minutes in May 1770 (he was Captain Cook only for his third and last trip in 1776, until his death in 1779). You can read all about this if you ever get a chance to have a look at Cook’s original log, which is wrapping up its tour of Australian capitals shortly as part of the National Treasures Exhibition. This log belongs to Australia; the one held by the British Admiralty is only a fair version copied from the original. Interesting, eh?
In my copy of The Journals of Captain Cook (Penguin), the entry for Sunday May 6, 1770, says: “In the evening the yawl return’d from fishing having caught two Sting rays weighing near 600 pounds. The great quantity of New Plants Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander collected in this place occasioned my giving it the name of Botany Bay.” The footnote says: “It had earlier been given the name Stingray Harbour, and then Botanist Harbour, and then Botanist Bay.” A good thing Cook made that final change, if only for generations of folk singers who would have chanted the lyrics, “We’re bound for Botanist Bay.” Wouldn’t have sounded right, would it?
Forgive the history lesson. We are out on Botany Bay because I have fond memories of days spent on the beach inside Towra Point, and I want to see how it is faring. Towra Point is the tip of a peninsula that is also a nature reserve – a part of Botany Bay which remains more or less as Cook, Banks and Solander saw it while they were hunting their personal quests of treasure and glory.
Visiting beaches like this is the sort of thing you do with a Sea Ray 215 Weekender. It’s small enough to nose up onto the sand while you barbecue, sit, fish, or wander the nature reserve, and large enough and well enough equipped to act as a, well… a Weekender.
The cuddy cabin forward is a bit of a sanctuary; a cosy retreat from the weather or from the night. There’s a vee berth, a toilet (in its own curtained compartment), a small icebox moulded into the structure and a lift-out rubbish bin. All you need is fresh water. Cooking is taken care of on the optional barbecue, which drops into a slot in the transom. On our outing, one of the gang suggests we set it up on the beach and cook there.
The options list also provides for drop curtains to enclose fully the cockpit area. The optional seats on the portside slide apart to form a sunlounge or bed, and a body can sleep on the sun lounge across the stern. So there you have it – a weekender. And, if you live in NSW, with no bills for Land Tax either…
This weekender is pushed around by MerCruiser’s 5-lt MPI V8 sterndrive; good for 260hp or 194kW, and it does a nice job. Sea Ray’s options list also includes a 160hp Volvo diesel. The Merc is quiet and refined and pushes the Sea Ray to a top speed of around 35 knots and an easy cruise of, say, 23.
The editor of this fine magazine has sent me a note saying he likes detailed performance figures, and he is right to do so because I’ve become a bit lazy and I must lift my game. But these modern production hulls with reasonable power (no one under-powers them anymore) perform so well that performance numbers seem superfluous. The 215 launches straight onto the plane and then cruises at whatever speed the water conditions (and the passengers’ nerves) allow. I wonder how the 215 would go with the 160hp diesel?
There is quite a lot to this boat. It is 6.70m or 22ft long; the 215 must refer to its hull length. It is 2.59m wide, so you will need a towing certificate. It weighs 2163kg dry. The hull has a deadrise of 19 degrees, which qualifies it as a moderate vee.
There are clever design touches. The base of the helmsman’s seat lifts up so you can steer standing up, resting your bum on the bolstered edge. The steering wheel is adjustable for rake. The cabin door slides horizontally and is a massive one-piece structure with steps moulded into its face; to go forward, you slide the door shut, march up the steps and through the screen’s opening centre panel.
The infill for the vee bunk down below slides out from under the cushions and has a second role as the table top in the cabin. The whole womb-like cabin is trimmed in fabric – on the floor, walls and ceiling. It is a soft and welcoming place to be. Even the toilet recess is carpeted.
The cockpit on our boat was fitted with the optional carpets that are held in place by press-studs; a hatch in the floor has room for water toys, a wakeboard perhaps – certainly this is where you put the bait and the fishing gear. The cockpit side pockets are too nicely trimmed for smelly prawn heads.
That 19-degree vee does its job well. The Sea Ray has a nicely-damped ride and wake jumps produce no rattles – the boat feels all of a piece. At 2.59m, it is quite wide and seemed laterally stable. That 5-lt V8 provides all the performance I would ever want, but I am no longer a teenager. Then again, this is not a teenager’s boat.
It is easy to like the 215 Weekender because it has quite a wide range of abilities. The only thing I don’t like is that fake wood panel on the dashboard. American boat builders have used it for decades; they must have bought a shipload of the stuff cheap in 1972.
There were plenty of options on our test boat, including a bimini camper package, hatch cover, the aforementioned snap-in cockpit carpet, portside back-to-back seat, pump-out head with macerator, hydraulic trim tabs, dual battery switch, bow roller and FM200 fire suppression system.
I like the idea that I can stay overnight on the Sea Ray in some comfort. It doesn’t matter whether I actually do it; I just like the idea that I could. You could stay on the beach until bedtime (keeping one eye on the tide), then push out the boat and drop the hook. The fabric and carpet trim keeps you cosy and your clammy, salt-covered skin doesn’t touch any fibreglass, which also goes cold and clammy as night falls after a day of wet nor’easters.
If you are a city-dweller, a boat of this style lets you exploit the fact that the easiest way to escape many Australian cities is by water. Today is a good example; we are sitting in a wilderness area only a few kilometres from the skyscrapers of Sydney’s CBD, which are in plain view to the north. The northern side of Botany Bay, home to Sydney’s airport and the container terminal, we choose not to focus on, and it is far enough away to ignore. As for the oil refineries at Kurnell, not far from where you can find the plaque commemorating Cook’s landing, they are around the point, so we avoid looking over in that direction, too.
It is one of the great ironies of Australian history that, after leaving Sting Ray/Botanist/Botany Bay, the great explorer James Cook sailed past a far superior harbour: “…at Noon we were two or three Miles from the land and abreast of a Bay or Harbour wherein there appeared to be a safe anchorage which I call’d Port Jackson,” he wrote, adding: “It lies three League to the northward of Botany Bay.”
But Sting Ray/Botanist/Botany Bay is different; a shallow sandy bay, which has attractions all its own. I can’t help feeling that Cook and Co would have liked one of these Sea Rays. It would have saved them an awful lot of rowing, at the very least…
SPECIFICATIONS: SEA RAY 215 WEEKENDER
Overall length: 6.70m
Dry weight: 2163.6kg
Draught (leg down): 0.94m
Price (as tested): $73,157 (without trailer)
More information from Andrew Short Marine, Taren Point, Sydney, tel (02) 9524 2699, or visit: www.andrewshortmarine.com.au.