Northern Island

Passing through Northern Ireland by boat, we stopped at two cruiser-friendly towns – Portrush and Belfast. Both have very good facilities and easy access.

At Portrush Harbour, the cost to berth is £21.50 per boat per day. The harbour staff are friendly, there are excellent ablution facilities (50p for shower), the laundry is free to use and the nearby Portrush Yacht Club welcomes visitors to pop in for a Guinness and tap feet to local live music.  The town has all the amenities for a cruiser – Spar supermarket, hardware, post office, etc. Unfortunately at this time of year the town was overrun with tourists and sticky-face kids! Barry’s Amusements is a popular place for families to spend their hard-earned money and for the kids to burn off some energy. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in a place like this and after so long away from this culture I wasn’t too enamored!

Sailing south to Belfast

Leaving Portrush we had to time it right so that we could catch the south flowing flood tide through Rathlin Sound, expected to be around 4-5kn. At 10am we motor-sailed from Portrush around Ramore Head, passing by the Skerries to enjoy unusually calm seas on a bright sunny day.

Coastline near Giants Causeway

The rugged coastline dominates the view and it isn’t long before we sail by the natural wonder known as the Giants Causeway on the coast of County Antrim. Our view from the boat is spectacular and the tall hexagonal columns of basalt dwarf the people walking around the tourist trails.

We planned to leave Portrush at HW Dover -7. That gave us two hours to reach the Rathlin sound and catch the tide. With a slight current against us for two hours, just as we reached Rathlin Sound the tide changed in our favour. Our timing was spot-on and our speed increased immediately. First our SOG showed 8.5kn, then 9.5kn, then 10.5kn. We cracked 11kn at one point and with calm conditions we flew along! To our north the Mull of Kintyre in Southwest Scotland could be seen. In a good mood on this sunny day we broke out in song “Mull of Kintyre oh mist rolling in from the sea...”

First view of the Harland and Wolff yard at Belfast. Wind generation towers are huge

Our destination was Glenarm, about 36nm from Portrush, but by 2pm we’d made better progress than expected so decided to continue on to Belfast Lough – 68nm away from Portrush. We were still travelling at 7kn, but this eased as we approached Belfast Lough with the tide against us. We wanted to arrive to avoid a 35-40kn southwest blow the following day.

We arrived at Belfast Lough at around 8pm and anchored near to a yacht club at Cultra, about 5nm from Belfast Harbour and the marina. Up early with the high tide and with the threat of an approaching storm we raised the anchor and made our way up the Belfast channel. We had to wait for a Stena ferry to depart before we could enter the channel and continue up passed the Titanic Quarter and docks.

A famous landmark in Belfast are the large yellow “H & W” gantry cranes “Samson” and “Goliath”. Harland and Wolff, ship-builders built three Royal Mail Steamer ships: Titanic, Olympic and Brittania for the White Star Line of Liverpool. We all know what happened to Titanic. Nowadays H&W’s main construction is wind-generators, which explains those tall towers we saw upon arrival at Belfast. Only when we saw the large blades laid down did we realise how big these wind generators are.

Rod, Ally, Kim, Wayne – Belfast

By 8.30am we had docked at the small marina in the historic Abercorn Basin. As luck would have it, a friend of mine I hadn’t seen for maybe 12 years and worked with over 20 years ago was visiting Ireland and visited us at the dock just after we arrived.

So nice to see you again Kim and Rod!

Belfast marina is nicely set up for passing cruisers. There is a pay machine where you pay with credit card a reasonable fee of £16.50 per night per vessel. This includes electricity, water, wifi, showers, toilets, and laundry facilities! The marina is conveniently located at the Titanic quarter and about a 10 minute walk to the city centre over the River Lagan. Right next door is the W5 Odyssey centre with cinemas, Pizza Hut, a pub and more sticky-faced kids!

Belfast Harbour, Abercorn Basin

Impressive architecture of Titanic Exhibition Centre.

With the Titanic exhibition centre so close, that was our first visit the following day (we re-watched the movie Titanic the night before to get in the zone!). Half the day was spent walking around, enjoying the stories, the information about ship-building, and the visit to the smaller “Little Sister” of Titanic, the Nomadic. The Nomadic was faithfully renovated in 2013 after one hundred years of service. Nomadic was used as tender to Titanic to transport first class and second class passengers to the larger ships which couldn’t dock at Cherbourg in France. On the site where Titanic and Olympic were built side-by-side is a footprint of Titanic which you can walk along. It’s about 270m in length – still long by today’s standards, but not as high as modern cruise ships which often come to Belfast.

Of course in Belfast, there is no way to overlook the recent history of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

A popular day trip for tourists are to visit the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of murals dotted around Belfast.  Painted on sides of buildings, Peace Lines and other flat surfaces, the images communicate messages from the various groups – loyalists, republicans, catholics, and protestants. Nowadays though contemporary topics are being painted to bring some optimism for the younger generations.

There are a number of ways to visit the murals. Most tourists pay for a taxi tour to drive around the areas between the notorious Falls and Shankill Roads.

Contemporary messages give optimism to new generation

We chose to hire a Belfast Bike and ride around. This was a good idea until the rain bucketed down on us. But it disappeared soon enough and we continued our trip along Falls Road, passing the office of Sinn Fein and stopping to view the many murals along the way. At one point along Whiterock Road I chatted to a local who was surprised to see a couple of tourist bikes in this area. Seems they don’t get many! There is still a sense of disquiet in West Belfast, but it doesn’t stop the groups of tourists that visit the murals. The following day, I went for a stroll through Belfast and into the Cathedral quarter. Before long I headed west along Clifton Street then Crumlin Road. There were murals in this area so to see them I turned left and headed towards the infamous Shankill Road.

The time was around 12 noon on a Sunday and nobody was around. Covering the terrace homes with small front gardens, bunting, flags of both the Union Jack and the Red Hand of Ulster were everywhere, strung from rooftops, flagpoles and lightposts. I felt a little uneasy in this neck of the woods, made even more daunting as I could see the high ‘Peace Walls’ which divide the communities. Out on Shankill Road I breathed out and walked back into the city.

It’s almost twenty years since the Good Friday Agreement and the rumblings of the past aren’t so distant. Only a couple of weeks ago a group of youths caused riots in West Belfast, while in central Belfast, police officers were pelted with petrol bombs, stones and other missiles.

But in downtown Belfast, things are normal enough. It’s easy to get around, has a good selection of shops (I finally bought a new camera!!), the St Georges Market fills in a Sunday morning, there’s plenty to see and do including some great architecture, such as City Hall, and of course plenty of pubs and eateries. The waterfront area is developing and makes for a nice stroll along the River Lagan.

Staying longer in Belfast than expected is not a bad thing. But this weekend we expect the winds to ease and we can make our way down to Dublin, 100nm to the south. We must remember to change courtesy flags!

Until then, here’s an extract of a C.S.Lewis poem from the square at the Cathedral Quarter:

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Wild Atlantic Coast – Northwest Ireland

Sailing the west coast of Ireland takes a lot of patience as well as time. Every few days a blow will come in from the west, or south, or northwest making even planning short passages difficult.

Sailing deep within bays only means that at some point you have to come back out the same way, usually with the wind against you. From Galway to Northern Ireland we enjoyed a variety of sailing, ducking in and out of harbours to avoid blows. Here’s where we sailed:


Galway to Inishmore, Aran Islands, County Galway

At some point you just have to take the best weather forecast to escape. The lock at Galway opens two hours before high tide and closes promptly at high tide, so we had little option but to leave no earlier than 11.30am on 2nd August. Our destination: Aran Islands, 25nm to the west. We knew we would have a headwind, but at least it was less than 10-15kn (F4). Making the best of the conditions, we tacked, tacked again, and as the ebb tide flowed against the westerly breeze, the seas chopped up making headway slow and lumpy. This was the best day to leave, as the following day promised 20-30kn (F7) winds from the east, before backing to the south west for the rest of the week.

After six hours we reached the mooring field at Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. There were a few free visitors moorings and usually as we’ve found, most are empty. Not many yachts travel this coast.

You might wonder how we know where the moorings are. We have a couple of resources – Reed’s Nautical Almanac is really the only guide we have. ActiveCaptain reviews along this coast are few due to the lack of cruiser activity, so I’ve added a few of my own reviews for sailors contemplating sailing this coast.

Wayne living on the edge, Inishmore, Aran Islands

Wednesday’s blow from the east did eventuate, so we stayed aboard as Blue Heeler splashed around in the seas coming in from the east. On Thursday with a soft 10-15kn wind from the SW we went ashore. There is some room at a floating dock for smaller yachts and here is where we tied our dinghy. At the harbour are two bike rental places, so we each grabbed a bike for the day and went for a ride around the island.

The island is only 10kms long, and within an hour or so of gentle cycling passing a seal colony along the way, we reached the famous primitive circular ruins of Dun Aengus at the edge of a 100m high cliff. Archaeologists are uncertain as to the purpose of the site, and believe it may have been constructed for religious purposes perhaps around 1000BC.

The island is divided by miles of rock walls; small parcels of green paddocks some with a horse, or a couple of cows, or a donkey or two. After a couple of hours looking at more ruins, we returned to the village, had lunch at Joe Watty’s bar, and bought a few things at the Spar supermarket. The islands are also famous for the Aran jumper made from thick off-white wool knitted in cable patterns.


Aran Islands to Inishbofin, County Mayo

Again with light wind from the NNW, we had no option but to beat north. After a few hours we could veer east and sail. The entrance to Inishbofin is extremely narrow so following the lead light and the charts was critical. Too far to port the light shines red; too far to starboard the light shines green; white light – straight ahead! Gun Rock to the east gets very close, but at half tide we had 10m under the keel at this point. Once through we turned to starboard and motored the short distance anchoring in 4m south of the new pier and north of Port Island. Checking the tides in this shallow anchorage is also very important.

Ruins at Inishbofin

Inishbofin to Ballyglass, Broadhaven Bay

Up early just after high tide we motored out again following the white lead light. Heading west then around the shoals we had a better angle to sail north towards Broadhaven. By 8.30am the sails were full and by 8.45am I’d whipped up a batch of bacon and eggs and hot steaming coffee and we settled in for a long 60nm day. The wind was light so we had to motor for a couple of hours. Eventually our course veered north so at this point we could motor sail, but only when the wind increased upwards of 10kn. The final few hours we had a great sail.

Turning east for the final leg of the trip the wind was up at 15-18kn so we sailed up to the Broadhaven lighthouse before pulling in the genoa, then a little further in we furled the main. To the north of the fishing dock at the small beach are three free visitors moorings.

Once again we remained aboard while a 20/30km SW blow passed over.

Ballyglass, Broadhaven Bay to Killybegs, County Donegal

The distance to Killybegs from Ballyglass is 60nm so to make sure we reached Killybegs at a reasonable time, we motor-sailed with 15kn winds behind us. The swell around 1.5m carried us into the wide mouth of Killybegs Harbour, home to a fleet of huge fishing vessels. Superbly maintained and worth millions of dollars, these vessels only work three months of the year as they meet their quota of fish for the region.

Killybegs has a floating dock for cruisers to tie up to, all very new and computerised.  As Monday was a bank holiday we tied to the floating dock (again plenty of room as not many yachts up this way), and the next morning the Marina Manager, Gerard, came to see us. Cost was 2.00€ per metre per night plus electricity and water. Seems this is the going rate for many small marinas along this coast.

Killybegs is a small town and despite the marina having no facilities, you can get laundry done at “Ship Shape” laundry services, buy groceries at Spar, have a haircut and one of many hairdressers/barbers, or go out for dinner at one of the many pubs.

Killybegs, Ireland

Killybegs to Arranmore, County Donegal

After two nights at Killybegs we left to motor 6nm to Teelin Bay and grabbed one of the three free visitors moorings. This would give us a head start on the next day’s trip to Arranmore.

The trip to Arranmore from Teelin Bay is only 36nm but the forecast was for strong SW winds that same evening and we wanted to be out of the weather by lunchtime. From Teelin Bay this stretch of coast is known as Slieve League, apparently one of the highest sea-cliffs in Europe.

As we rounded the north of Arranmore, the wind had already increased to 27kn and the seas grew bigger by the hour. Arranmore also has three free visitors moorings and we grabbed one and again holed up for a couple of days waiting out a 25-30kn SW blow.

Arranmore to Ballymastocker Bay, Lough Swilly

The next leg of our journey in County Donegal took us from the island of Arranmore some 42nm to Lough Swilly. Passing around Fanad lighthouse, we sailed a further 5nm into Lough Swilly to grab one the few visitor moorings at Ballymastocker Bay on the west coast of Lough Swilly.

That afternoon the VHF was abuzz with activity; the news that a diver was missing from 2.30pm that afternoon about 16nm north of us. This area is well known for wrecks of steamers and minesweepers torpedoed in WWI and WWII. That afternoon the Lifeboat vessel from Lough Swilly, fishing vessels and a helicopter searched for the missing diver. The next day we learned that the diver didn’t make it to the top and was found at the wreck at the bottom some 65m below the surface.

The beach at Ballymastocker Bay is quite beautiful. Unusual to see such a nice beach in these parts. The views from the anchorage are fine, but very exposed to the east and south.

Now, picking up a mooring can be a little tricky as many of the free moorings have no line attached. We have two methods; as Wayne drives close to the mooring I lay on the deck, reach down and thread our mooring line through the shackle on top of the mooring, then Wayne drags the mooring line to attach at the bow. Not easy to do in rough weather!

If there is a line attached to a mooring it’s usually fairly light. Another trick we use is to grab the thin line, tie it up short on the bow cleat, then with the aid of a heavy lead fishing weight on the end of our mooring line, I dangle it and thread it through the shackle so we can hook it and drag it through and tie-up, then repeat on the other side. Seems to work but if there’s an easier way, do tell!

Lough Swilly to Portrush, Northern Ireland

From Lough Swilly we passed through Inishtrahull Sound between the island of Inishtrahull and Malin Head the most northerly point of Ireland. Once we’d sailed by the entrance to Lough Foyle, we were officially in Northern Ireland, leaving the Republic of Ireland and the Wild Atlantic Coast behind us.  From this stretch of coast the large Atlantic swells ease as they roll towards the Sea of Moyle, the narrow gap between northeastern Northern Ireland the southwest Scotland.

About one mile out of the touristy Northern Ireland town of Portrush was a strong smell of fish and chips! The entrance to the harbour is easy in fair weather. Wouldn’t like to try it with a NW swell. Once tied up Wayne got the lowdown on the facilities then asked the harbour-master if there was anything else we needed to know. He leaned over and quietly advised “You might want to take down that Republic of Ireland flag”. Oh, yes, oops!  Quickly Wayne removed the Republic of Ireland courtesy flag and hoisted the British red ensign.

Welcome to Northern Ireland!



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Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Coast: Road trip

One of the reasons I enjoy writing this blog is to offer readers a glimpse of life from the unique perspective of a cruiser. Sailing northwards along Ireland’s western coast is slow going as there’s plenty of bays to explore, miles of coastline dotted with small villages with warm pubs. The weather plays a big part in the pace of our travel, as we are often holed up waiting for a blow to pass over or must bypass some areas to take advantage of good sailing conditions. Sailing this rugged coast offered us magnificent views that most tourists don’t see. The downside is that we don’t always have the opportunity to go ashore and see further inland beyond the small ports.

Whereas regular tourists generally have a couple of intense weeks to explore, eat out every night and join tour groups to see local places of interest, the cruising lifestyle is quite different. Although to some we seem to be on a permanent holiday, rarely do we get the chance to explore inland and even rarer, have to budget to blow on frivolous activities! But with the weather nasty for a few days, from Galway we took the opportunity to get off the boat to enjoy travel like regular tourists. So we hired a car for a few days to explore the region that we’d just sailed along. We had a little holiday!

With Blue Heeler safely berthed at Galway harbour, we arranged a small car from Enterprise Car Rentals and loaded it up with our tent and sleeping bags. Despite the fact that we don’t drive often nowadays we had no problem getting around as Ireland’s roads and road laws are so similar to Australia. Camper vans are popular in Ireland and in particular many park next to the Galway marina despite there being no facilities. Our plan was to take the back roads and pass through smaller villages and also visit some key landmarks. The trip took us through the counties of Galway, Clare, Kerry, Cork, Tipperary and Limerick.

Much of this trip was spent travelling along the Wild Atlantic Way -Allegedly the longest signed coastal road in the world (as stated on their website). Ireland is small but it would be easy to spend weeks exploring, but we only had a short number of days with a car and Blue Heeler would be moving up the coast with the next few days of fine weather.

With the promise of 5-6m seas (the same seas keeping Blue Heeler in the harbour) our first stop was to the Cliffs of Moher, which we’d sailed by in fine weather only a few days previously. The drive took us through The Burren; a 1500 hectare expanse of limestone covered with a smattering of flora. The Aran Islands a few miles off the coast are an extension of this barren geography. Hundreds of tourists all vied for position to peer over the edge as the view from the top of the cliffs is quite spectacular. The big swell caused the cancellation of all ferry traffic from the main ferry terminal at Doolin to the Aran Islands and there were definitely no yachts sailing out there that day!

Cliffs of Moher on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

View looking north – Cliffs of Moher

Wild flowers on a small patch at The Burren

Continuing our journey, we headed south passing through Shannon, Bunratty and on to Limerick for a hearty Irish breakfast of sausages, black pudding, white pudding, eggs and proper thick streaks of bacon. Yum!

From the Cork National Monument

The troubled history of Ireland is well documented and most people are familiar with its past, particularly regarding the Great Hunger, also known as the Potato Famine. It’s almost beyond belief that between 1845 to 1854, the population of over eight million dropped by 25%. Many Irish left due to harsh conditions brought about through hunger and eviction by landlords, while over one million died from disease, often a result of starvation. They were already in a bad way, and the famine just made survival so much harder. Many of the towns we passed through were the worst areas affected with thousands of starved people buried in mass graves. After reading about this period in history it really is quite shocking how these poor people were treated.

Old stone cottage

Mass emigration during that period meant that many current Aussies, Canadians and Americans have Irish ancestry. During our road trip we did notice a huge percentage of American tourists, many I expect researching their heritage. There were plenty of Aussies too, but you’ll find them in most places! Wayne’s research has led him to believe his Great-great-grandmother (Johanna Murphy) on his mum’s side was from County Cork and left Ireland in 1847 at the time of the famine.

Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle for a good reason. It is probably the greenest land I’ve ever seen. Acres of bright green fields divided up into small parcels of land divided by metre high rock walls covered in prickly blackberry bushes. In the past these small tenements offered poor tenants the chance to grow small crops, usually potato as this vegetable provided a good yield for a small plot and could keep a family fed. Along our journey through towns and villages such as Limerick, Tralee, Dingle, Killarney, Bantry and Skibbereen are ruins of stone cottages and miles of rock walls – reminders of the tragic past.

Our trip took us through Ireland’s first national park – the scenic Killarney National Park which includes McGillycuddy’s Reeks, at 1,000m the highest mountain range in Ireland. A popular place for hundreds of tourists and tour buses.

From Killarney we drove through the quiet side roads, leaving the motorway to the buses and tourists. For the evening we ended up at a small village of Glengarriff where we pitched our tent at the caravan and camping park. The weather wasn’t so cold but we were the only ones in a tent! I think it’s been five years since we last used our small two-man tent, and it wasn’t long before we had it erected, inflated our Thermarests and fluffed up our down-filled North Face sleeping bags which we bought in San Francisco 26 years ago (still going strong!). The village of Glengarriff is 2kms from the camping ground and there are a couple of pubs and eateries. A big feed, a pint of stout and a red wine for afters, then we were back to our little tent and snuggled in for the night.

Next morning after shaking off the raindrops from the tent, and sitting in the warmth of our car while the tent dried in the morning sunshine, we packed up camp then drove through the village of Ballylickey at the western end of Bantry Bay, then through Skibbereen, along to Clonakilty then Timoleague where we stopped to take more photos (I had learned at this point not to take photos of every castle, every abbey and every green paddock!). From Timoleague we drove through to the port of Kinsale then on to Cork for lunch and a wander around.

From Cork we took the back roads through Ballyhooly until we reached the town of Tipperary. Wayne had a pint at the pub while I had a coffee before grabbing some goodies from nearby Aldi. We decided to return to the boat that night as it was only two hours drive away, and the next day we wanted to travel through the Connemara area to the northwest of Galway. So much to see!

Peat bog

Connemara lowlands

The Connemara National Park is almost 3000 hectares of mountains, bogs, forests and lowlands. Taking a slow trip along the coast road we detoured at one point to view the expanse of peat bogs – wetlands made up of dead plant material. Large patches of the bog are dug and the blocks stacked to the side to dry out. Once the moisture has gone, the peat is compressed and turned into briquettes which are then used for domestic fuel.

Killary Harbour

About 20kms from Galway is Rossaveel, where punters can catch ferries out to the famous Aran Islands. There’s also a small harbour here for yachts, but not much else it seemed. From here we passed through Roundstone, Ballyconneely, passed by the island of Inishnee (Hi Jim and Kathy!) and had a look at the anchorage at Killary Harbour.

O’Malleys Bar…

To the west the touristy town of Clifden is 70kms away from Galway and we (plus a hundred other tourists) stopped at the very popular Walsh’s Bakery for a steak and stout pie then took a stroll through the drizzle. A pub named ‘O’Malleys’ had us singing the bawdy O’Malleys Bar lyrics by Nick Cave!

Kylemore Abbey, Letterrack, Connemara area

Onto Letterfrack stopping for views of Kylemore Abbey (another tourist hotspot), then circling the beautiful Connemara National Park in the rain before following the eastern coast of Lough Corrib, the largest lake in Ireland.

Before returning to Galway, we made use of the car and stocked up on groceries. Here is where the holiday ended. As Galway marina has no laundry facilities (in fact no facilities), nearby at the Texaco service station is an outdoor laundromat – a couple of washers and a drier. While it rained outside, I sat and waited in the car as 8kgs of clothes washed, spun and dried within an hour.

And just like that our short holiday was over. Within a day or two the wind had eased and the tide was high – it was time to leave Galway and head to the Aran Islands then continue our voyage along the north-west coast of Ireland.

Timoleague Abbey


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Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Coast: Baltimore to Galway

Some people say we are bold (or crazy) to sail across oceans. However, coastal sailing is a different challenge. There are strong currents and tides to consider, weather from the wrong direction, deadlines to reach anchorages before nightfall, and most of all – land to avoid! After sailing over 3,500nm from the warm Caribbean to the chilly south coast of Ireland we knew that we would have to pull out all our tricks to successfully sail the rough west coast of Ireland. This exposed and rugged coast is regularly smashed by the cold ocean and the coastal drive is known as Ireland’s ‘Wild Atlantic Way”.



After nine nights at sea, we arrived in the wee hours of Monday 10th at Baltimore at the southern end of Ireland in County Cork. As it was still night we couldn’t see the Fastnet Rock, except for the light from the lighthouse. Also known as the “tear-drop of Ireland”, the Fastnet Rock was so-named as this was the last thing impoverished Irish in the 1800s would see this on their way to a better life across the Atlantic.

During our few days at Baltimore a variety of weather from cold to warm, overcast to blue sky, plus a couple of days of stiff north-westerly winds kept us either holed up from the rain or enjoying a sunny walk along the bay greeting cows along the way.

Baltimore’s harbour master is friendly and after we interrupted his morning tea of scones and jam, he gave us the run-down on the village. He can also arrange for Customs to clear us in. There is no laundry in town (service in Skibbereen) but there are showers at the back of the harbour masters building. A small supermarket is in the village for essential items. Before we left Baltimore we fuelled up from a truck at the dock, arranged through the village supermarket.

Welcome to Ireland!

There are a few pubs in the village – Bushes Bar was the first place we stopped in Ireland for a pint of Guinness and a roast beef and hot mustard sandwich. Waterfront restaurants serve huge pizzas and fish and chips, and on a sunny day the place is packed with tourists. A walk to the Baltimore Beacon aka “Lot’s Wife” takes around 20 minutes and offers stunning views of the craggy and ocean smashed coastline and the open entrance to the bay across to Sherkin Island.

Baltimore harbour has an active sailing/rowing community. As we’d arrived during school holidays the village was filled with energetic young people waiting for their turn to sail their dinghies or row their boats. Each day we would hear a ‘thump’ against the hull only to find one of them had tacked directly into us sometimes snagging their tiny mast to our shrouds!

Coruisk and Blue Heeler, Baltimore

Coruisk arrived at Baltimore the same day as we did, so over the subsequent days so both crews enjoyed a few meals, a few pints and a day trip to Skibbereen to celebrate Emma’s birthday. Bus Éireann, Ireland’s popular bus network, has buses to Skibbereen throughout the day; the stop is just outside the harbour-master’s office. From Skibbereen there are buses to Cork and beyond. Skibbereen is famous for the wrong reasons. During the famine in the mid 1800s, thousands of poor souls perished in this southern town. But nowadays, Skibbereen has plenty of food to offer passing tourists with many restaurants and bars and pokey shops to browse through. Most importantly there’s a Vodaphone store to buy your pay-as-you-go internet SIM cards!

From top to bottom, Ireland is merely 260nm in length. But with all the bays, islands and peninsulas to explore, the coastline is over 1500nm (around 3000kms). It was time to go exploring!

Bere (Bear) Island

Sleepy village of Rerrin, Bere Island

North Atlantic weather rolls in fast so it pays to be aware of the forecasts. The Irish Coast Guard reports regularly on VHF referring to wind speed using the Beaufort Scale, which is not generally used in Australia. Usually only one day’s forecast is announced probably because the weather can rapidly change. Tides in this part of the world are a relatively small 2-3m and again we are reminded to keep vigilant. Sailing here is similar to sailing on the west coast of Tasmania, but it is less remote that Tassie. We still rely on our weather grib files for this region. Another good source of information is the Reeds Nautical Almanac which we bought online before arriving here.

Bere or Bear Island

From Baltimore we motored through the northern channel known as The Sound, using the ebb tide to flush us out into Long Island Bay. Leaving Crookhaven to north we rounded the most south-westerly point of Ireland with great views of the suspension bridge at Mizen head. Six hours and 33nm later we entered from the east the northern side of Bear Island where we picked up a free visitors mooring (one of two available), just outside the channel markers at Lawrence Cove.

The Lawrence Cove Marina is tiny, but there were big yachts like ours too so it must be deep enough. A short walk into the village of Rerrin we found O’Sullivan’s pub where we had a pint of Murphy’s and watched the locals as they watched Gaelic Football on the telly. It was just like watching an Aussie Rules game back home! Back on board we loaded the dinghy on deck and settled in for the night.

Valentia Harbour and Knightstown

We departed Bear Island through the narrow western entrance on the ebb tide with a couple of local fishing vessels taking the lead. As the weather was mild and calm, Wayne thought it was a good idea to motor through the Dursey Sound, between Crow Head and Dursey Island (the most south-westerly island in Ireland). Across the Dursey Sound a cable car 21m above shuttles punters across to Dursey Island. Our mast is around 18m so our mast had plenty of leeway. We arrived at slack tide with hardly any wind and a light swell. Despite all this, the incoming swell still made me nervous as it crashed on the rocks to each side of us.

Situated between Dursey Island to the south and Valentia Island to the north are the famous Skellig Islands. Famous due to the monastery perched on the top of Great Skellig. Built hundreds of years ago, this is a popular visit for tourists, but we were happy enough to sail by this day as we can’t anchor there.

Knightstown, Valentia Island

Eight hours, 45nm, a dozen dolphins and plenty of puffins later, after rounding Valentia Island, we arrived at Valentia Harbour at Knightstown. Apparently whoever had planned to build the marina ran out of money sometime after the GFC. So it’s a cheap place to stop with plenty of free dockage inside or outside. Depths are fine and we had no trouble docked on the western side of the inner harbour. The small village here is known as Knightstown and a regular ferry service runs across to the mainland or across to the Skellig Islands and across to the mainland. There is a small shop, a cafe, and other touristy places to see and the Royal Valentia Hotel has pints of Guinness and good food for tourists. We could have stayed longer here and caught the ferry across to the mainland and a bus to Cahersiveen, however a strong blow was expected soon and we decided to head to Dingle Marina to ride it out. I don’t think this harbour would be ideal in a strong NW blow.


Dingle Marina

From the harbour at Knightstown we had a good 15nm sail across Dingle Bay to the dredged channel into the Dingle Marina. I’d phoned ahead to book a berth and we were welcomed by marina manager Peter who took our lines and gave us the run-down on facilities.

One of Fungie’s friends!

Dingle is one of the main tourist centres in Ireland with plenty of things for tourists to spend their money on. There is the famous resident dolphin “Fungie” and plenty of boats to take punters out to see him. I think there were a million people there during our stay! We are not used to being surrounded by so many bustling people so we diverted into the nearest pub to avoid the crowds! Speaking of pubs, there are over 50 pubs in Dingle, each with their own charm, nightly live music, and copious amounts of Guinness, Murphy, or the local brew. One pub in particular, O’Flaherty’s Bar on Bridge Street, is not only famous for its photos, newspaper clips and republican paraphernalia, but also its traditional Irish music and a small beer garden. Publican Fergus Ó Flaithbheartaigh pours a good beer!

Plenty of pubs in Dingle

Recommended to us by at least two locals is the small restaurant Anchor Down. Not far from the marina, this cosy restaurant serves delicious fresh fish meals.

Back at the marina, we took the opportunity to clean up and replenish, since we hadn’t had the opportunity since leaving the Azores. There are showers (token), a nearby Supervalue supermarket to stock up with fresh meat (and yummy cakes!), and a laundry service nearby the Texaco (near to Supervalue).

As expected, the weather turned nasty, blowing 40kn into the marina (and apparently up to 50kn outside – brrr). With our Webasto heater on inside it wasn’t long before condensation dripped from each window. As soon as the weather cleared we left the marina and motored the short 6nm distance to Ventry Harbour where we grabbed a free yellow visitor mooring. The moorings don’t always have lines attached so it’s always a little tricky to grab the metal shackle with the boat-hook and thread it. Wayne managed to reach down from amidships and hook a line.

Dingle to Galway

Leaving Ventry Harbour we motored west passing through the swirling currents of the Blasket Sound. The best time to run this course is at slack tide. But we didn’t want to miss out on seeing the hundreds of seals on the beach of Great Blasket Island and the hillside ruins, so we detoured for a view before heading north towards Sybil Point. From here we sailed north-east using the most of the flood tide to cross the Ballybunnion Bank and enter the Shannon River estuary to the anchorage at Carrigaholt, 52nm from Dingle Marina. Initially we grabbed what appeared to be the only tourist mooring, but after re-checking the tides in the area (5m) we realised we wouldn’t have enough depth at midnight on the mooring. So we dropped the lines and anchored in deeper water on a sandy bottom.


After a calm night, we left very early the following crisp morning and motored 10nm around Loop Head then had a wonderful sail passing through the south sound between Doolin Point and Inisheer in the Aran Islands.

Along this stretch of coast are The Burren and the famous Cliffs of Moher, a UNESCO Geopark with the Aran Islands to the west. Rising to around 200m above sea level, these imposing cliffs offer stunning views from aboard. Speckled on the ridge of the cliffs are hundreds of people all looking down on our tiny vessel. The Burren is a 1500ha slab of limestone famous for its bleakness and despite its lack of topsoil, its flora. To ensure we caught the flood tide and reach the Galway Harbour tidal lock at top of the high tide we motor sailed the final 20nm, arriving at 5pm. There are visitors moorings outside of Mutton Island if your timing is out.

Cliffs of Moher

Galway Harbour isn’t fancy although with planning permission yet to be granted, Galway should have a magnificent new waterfront and marina in the coming years. There is a tidal lock which opens two hours before high tide then closes at high tide. This means there is only two chances to escape each day. We entered at 5pm with still an hour or so of flood tide. There are floating finger docks and we managed to find a vacant one. Despite each berth having plaques indicating each has a berth owner, the marina office told us to take whatever was available, so we did.

Galway Harbour and Marina

The Marina has no facilities, not even a toilet block. But they do have a pump-out station and the nearby Harbour Hotel offers showers for €5. Ten minutes walk away is a self-service washing machine and dryer, located outside and next to the Texaco, opposite the cemetery.

And so, the cooler climate has taken its first casualty. After five years our starter battery called it quits. In Galway, Battery World has what we need so we have a new one on its way.

Fortunately our visit coincides with the Galway International Arts Festival. Around town are plenty of buskers, fire-eaters, painters, and sculptors each with a cap out for a coin or two. Those million tourists from Dingle are also here and they’ve each brought a friend! This place is packed with tourists! Once more the crowds were too much for our simple life (why does everyone walk so fast?), so we ducked into the nearest pub we could find (didn’t take long) to enjoy a quiet brew and listen to the beat of a bodhrán teamed with the melody of an Irish flute. Sláinte a chara!

Once again the weather will turn sour along this Wild Atlantic Coast, so rather than beat into big seas and battle strong winds, we’ll keep the boat at Galway while we hire a car and have a look at Ireland from the inside.

Until then…

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Nth Atlantic – Azores to Ireland, Arrival 10 July 2017

The Baltimore Beacon “Lot’s Wife” at the entrance to Baltimore, Ireland

The last leg of any voyage is typically a race to reach harbour before dark, or to slow down to arrive in daylight hours. The latter was the case for us.

Sunday was almost perfect sailing conditions. The morning sky was blue for a change, as most of the days have been grey, heavy and drizzly. But by lunchtime the sky turned grey, heavy and drizzly. To slow us up we put two reefs in the sails and plodded along with 18/25kn westerly winds making the ocean quite lively.

Fastnet Rock and Lighthouse – the most southerly point of Ireland – photo credit

By 3am we passed Fastnet Rock to port and had another 10nm to reach Baltimore Bay. Still a little dark to enter, we hove-to, had a coffee and waited for the morning light. By 5.30am we entered the bay. To starboard overlooking the entrance is the tall white conspicuous tower, Lot’s Wife. I’ll have to learn more about the history of this landmark.

The anchorage at Baltimore is shallow, but we were fortunate to arrive at the top of a high spring tide which gave us plenty of depth to poke around looking for a suitable place to anchor.

End of voyage fair!

Now it’s 6am, the anchor is set, the heater is on, and I’m about to whip up the traditional end-of-voyage breakfast of bacon, eggs and hot coffee. Today we expect to see Brian, Dave and Emma from Coruisk arrive later today and I further expect we’ll all go out to celebrate and have a Guinness or two!

Our sail from Australia to Ireland took a while, but we eventually made it. And I’m glad our North Atlantic passages went well with some of the best sailing we’ve had for some time. We’ve so much to explore in Ireland and I cant wait to get ashore!

Our position is: 51*29N 009*22W at 0500UTC
Distance to go: 0nm

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