Davis Marina, a family-owned business in North Harbour on the Balgowlah shoreline, was constructed just after the Second World War as a boatbuilding and repairs operation by Steve Davis, father of the current owner Bruce.
However, Bruce and Pam Davis, who, in addition to running the marina, have been active and much-loved in the Manly sailing community for decades, are retiring. They’re sailing off into the sunset, to use a maritime expression, and saying goodbye to their * hahum* piers..
The Davis’ friend Brad informed Manly Observer of their impending retirement. He told us, “Bruce and Pam have been ‘hands on’ operators their entire lives. Pam grew up on an orchard farm near Melbourne and Bruce grew up on the Northern Beaches. They actually service all their moorings together as a couple for their many clients – even now, into their 70s. They would have been doing this for over 50 years now.”
He continued, “Bruce and Pam Davis are legends in the Manly community, volunteering and teaching sailing to generations of kids every weekend at the local sailing club.
“Seeing them servicing their moorings with pride and precision, the old-fashioned way, is quite rare these days and it’s something many coastal communities can appreciate. It is both sad and heart-warming at the same time to see their era come to an end.”
Last but naut least
Manly Observer caught up with Bruce at the Davis Marina, where he took time out from his busy schedule to share his life story.
So Bruce’s father Steve built the original boathouse and a jetty, and founded the marina that occupies the waterfront mid-way between Forty Baskets Beach and North Harbour Reserve?
“Yes he did,” Bruce confirmed. “He was a pilot during the war, and he came back and started this boat business.”
In a 9 April 2001 interview with Bruce’s father, archived on the Northern Beaches Council History Hub webpage, Steve Davis revealed he secretly enlisted in the Air Force, primarily to escape a dull job in the Correspondence section of the NSW Police office in Phillip St in the city!
“He started in 1946 when there weren’t that many houses here in North Harbour,” Bruce continued. “He built the boat shed, which was completed in 1947. In 1966 he built the first marina and then he died in 2003. Then in 2011 we pulled down the old marina and put in the new floating one. I guess that’s an abridged history!”
He continued, “I worked at the marina a lot when I was a kid. I went to Uni for a bit, then I came back and took over in June 1982 as manager. I’ve run it now for 41 years!”
The old boatshed and marina are in a bushland setting dominated by ancient angophora trees that spill right down to the water.
“Davis Marina is both old and new; while it was established in 1946 the old wharfs and pontoons were replaced with a state of the art floating marina in 2012 but the old boatshed still stands.”
Bruce explained the set-up: “The marina has 28 berths plus 51 moorings – the anchorage buoys around the bay. There’s big concrete blocks below them, with chain and rope to hold the buoys and boats in place.
“They need regular servicing, which is what I’m doing now for the very last time… It’s a ritual I’ve done for forty-one years, although it’s gone on here for 70 years, considering my dad started it.”
“The slipway is pretty big. We use to see quite big boats repaired and serviced on that, but we’ve downgraded the business after our sub-tenants that leased it moved to the Central Coast.”
A Manly Library Local Studies factsheet dated 2006, states: “The marina consists of two fixed jetties with a total of 33 berths extending off either side. There are two slipways. 51 swing moorings are licensed to Davis Marina by NSW Maritime. Fuel bowsers are located at the western jetty. 27 angled parking bays are provided at the end of Gourlay Avenue, and an access ramp of steep gradient extends down to the marina.”
The marina must have seen some interesting history.
“Yes,” Bruce recalled. “We had Kay Cottee leave from here to go on her around the world trip.”
According to her Wikipedia entry, “Kay was the first woman to perform a single-handed, non-stop and unassisted circumnavigation of the world. She performed this feat in 1988 in her 37 feet (11 m) yacht Blackmores First Lady, taking 189 days.”
Blackmores First Lady is on permanent display in the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour.
Bruce continued, “So did Don McIntyre, he left from here to go on his Antarctic trip.”
In 1993, on ‘Expedition Icebound’, Don McIntyre sailed his yacht Buttercup from Sydney to Antarctica with three crew and 200 teddy bears – a charity fundraiser for Camperdown Children’s Hospital. Whilst there he visited the South Magnetic Pole and also rediscovered Douglas Mawson’s hut from the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
“We’ve had lots of Sydney to Hobart race boats leave here,” Bruce added. “And sailors circumnavigating the world who have used us as a kicking-off point.”
Did Bruce and Pam find much time to do sailing in between running the marina?
“Yes,” he confirmed. “I don’t know how many yachts we’ve owned over the years, but lots. We’ve got a 38 footer now that we have sailed to the Great Barrier Reef and back six times. We’ve been down to Tasmania twice. But I haven’t ever sailed a Sydney to Hobart yacht race, I’ve never had the inclination. I like racing but I prefer the short-sharp races around the buoys, which I do with Manly Yacht club, our local club, the only club where I’ve been a serious member.
“I’m the director in charge of kids sailing at Manly Yacht Club. I had my first boat when I was nine years old, a Manly Junior, just when Manly Juniors were starting at the yacht club.”
Manly Juniors, with their characteristic ‘snub’ (flat) bow, were designed in 1959 at Manly Yacht Club for younger sailors.
“We don’t have Manly Juniors anymore,” Bruce added, “we’ve got optimists, open skiffs, lasers and some flying elevens.
“I’m the chairman of the club fleet committee; we’ve got about 20 or 30 kids, aged eight to eighteen years, sailing little boats. We run races for them and that sort of stuff. The parents do 90% of the work and I do 10%!”
Did the Davis’ run sailing lessons from Davis Marina?
“No, but we used to build sailing skiffs in the boatshed. The last boats we built were our run-around workboats. One we use as a tender to take people to and from the moorings, and the other we use to fix the moorings. Before that we built fishing boats and fishing launches and for some reason a whole bunch of ski boats once!”
The location of the marina, at the end of the cove close to North Harbour Reserve, does it isolate them from powerful storms and large swells rolling into Manly Cove?
“It is and it isn’t,” he revealed. “The biggest blows Sydney Harbour gets come up from the south. Southerlies are very common and they can be very strong and do a lot of damage, but we’re really sheltered from the south, which is good.
“And the other big common storms are nor’westers, for which we’re not too badly impacted. But if we get a sou’easter, which are infrequent, then then we get hit. So, just occasionally, we find ourselves in tough conditions. We need to have everything battened down, our moorings have to be very good and very strong so that we can get through them. So far we’ve done pretty well.”
The infamous storm of 25 May 1974, which washed away the 1931-built 335 metre timber promenade in Manly Cove and caused major damage from Wollongong north to Sea Rocks, was a south-easterly. With winds gusting up to 165km/h and waves peaking at nine metres, the Bureau of Meteorology described it as “a major East Coast Low … equivalent in strength to a category 3 severe tropical cyclone, and phenomenal waves overtopped sand dunes 5-6 metres above sea level. Six people died.”
A Norwegian freighter, the Sygna, carrying 50,000 tonnes of coal, was driven ashore at Stockton Bight in Newcastle, the largest shipwreck in Australian history.
“Yeah, the 74 storm was a sou-easter,” Bruce confirmed, “It was pretty rough, but we got through pretty well unscathed, although there was a lot of minor damage. We had water through here that was 450 mils deep, the tide high, and it was angry too, there was a lot of movement, a lot of waves coming through – big surf! But hardly any damage to our clients’ boats, just an hour’s work to put things back together again. But our structures were a bit windblown and washed out.”
Saying goodbye to their piers
Will you be sad to let Davis Marina go?
“Yeah, I think so,” he considered, “but I’ve just come to the end of the runway… From now on I can expect to have minor medical problems, as what happens when you get older and begin to lose strength. It will get harder for me to do this work, so there’s no point in persisting, I’ll only get myself into trouble! So it’s best to retire now while I’ve still got a quality of life…”
MMJ Real Estate, which are overseeing the sale of the marina, describe it as “an extremely popular boating location at the Northern end of Sydney Harbour known as North Harbour. There is quick and direct access to the open sea from North Harbour via Sydney Heads.
“The marina was redesigned and completely replaced during 2011. The new marina has 29 wet berths and 51 swing moorings… The berths and moorings are 100% occupied and Davis Marina has 51 candidates on its waiting list as at April 2023.”
Davis Marina website: http://www.davismarina.com.au/
BONUS MATERIAL: interview with Steve Davis, Bruce’s father, founder of Davis Marina: https://northernbeaches.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/469