Thursday, 26 May 2016

Threading through the gems of Donegal

We needed to move from our berth near the ferry dock by 1030, but ended up leaving earlier at 0915 since we were ready. Grey overcast replaced yesterday's bright sunshine but visibility was good so we could see where to aim to clear Bloody Foreland.

There was very little wind so we had to motor across the swell, but since it was mostly behind us we hardly noticed it except for the occasional lift in speed as it rose under us. Julian wanted to take the inshore route past Inishsirrer, Inishmeane, Gola, and Inishfree, so he put it into the chart plotter, but we mostly used the site lines from the pilot book. It made for an interesting, and challenging passage. Julian helmed while I kept an eye on the plotter, pilot, swell, landforms.... Oh, and the islands and coast which were wonderful to see.

Once we were clear of Inishfree we raised sail since the wind had become usable, and headed seawards. Within 15 minutes of the main and no 1 jib Julian on the helm decided he was overpowered and we dropped the stay sail, then almost immediately reefed the main down to the first hoop, furled away the jib and raised the staysail again. We were butting into the swell to pass outside Owey, and it was not especially comfortable. The thought of doing this for another four hours while we reached our chosen anchorage did not appeal, so we turned back inshore, and sailed on a very broad reach through the Owey Sound, then into the north channel inshore of Arranmore.

We were hoping to pass all the way though Arranmore Sound, but knew we were unlikely to succeed. (which was why we had planned to go outside Aranmore) We were virtually at low water, and south Arranmore Sound only has .3m at chart datum, plus 1m of tide at low water today. Robinetta draws 1.4, so were were bound to touch unless we were very lucky. Half way to the really shallow bit I knew that the water was not going to be enough, (chart showed 4m, but we only had 2 beneath the keel) so we turned back with the idea of anchoring to wait for more water.

As soon as we were off the near run and heading into the wind we realised how cold it was, and anchoring felt a lot less appealing. We got the main down and followed a ferry into Burtonport Harbour. Having a guide for the entry to the passage was very useful, but after that the way was well marked.

The port looked full and a little unfriendly when we first got in. The advice was to moor against other boats as the pier was too rough without fenderboards, and after motoring round to look we spotted someone aboard one of the larger fishing boats. He was very happy to have us moored up against him, and set our lines perfectly, then admired Robinetta. They would not be heading out before Saturday, which gave us total freedom of when to leave tomorrow. He even pointed to where the showers were; suddenly Burtonport looked like the perfect choice.

I had called the coastguard when we left Tory, and now I called them again with our revised plan. They were happy to hear us, and ended with "talk to you tomorrow". This is an area where the advice given on radio courses (call the coastguard with your plan and let them know when you arrive safely) should be followed. In the Solent there are just too many boats, but we seem to be the only yacht on the move in this area at the moment. It feels good that they want to keep track of us.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Tory Island

Alison always sleeps lightly when we are at anchor. Around 4am she heard Worm making a noise and went up to look. She found us inches away from a moored yacht. We tend to rely on boats swinging in a roughly compatible way. This one was now facing 180 degrees from us and we were about to touch. It was dead low water and we're seeing very different currents in different parts of the bay.

Alison pushed it away, turned the engine on and motored forwards. Then she called me and I pulled some clothes on and joined her in the cockpit.

The other yacht was now starting to swing to match us. Alison went down to put clothes on too and I put some reverse on to get us back to swirling on the anchor. We clearly hadn't dragged but we had anchored a little too close.

The incoming tide and steady wind should mean we would be ok now until it was time to get up. We went back to sleep.

Groggy from the broken night we rose too late to catch the 7am Irish Coast Guard weather forecast. I put my phone on and enabled roaming and picked up XC. No change from yesterday. Another fine day. 

We breakfasted and I took a look at the NMEA wiring. The Lat/Lng to the DSC radio has stopped working. I found the wires into the back of radio loose - I need to do a better job there. I pushed them in but it didn't seem to help. However later that morning it started working on its own.

Alison bent on the no 2 jib but couldn't get it to set right. I took a look and found the Wickham-Martin furler wrongly shackled to the traveller. It must have been wrong since Ardglass. How on earth it worked on Monday and Tuesday is a mystery. I fixed it and we got the anchor up. Black mud. It took me a while to clean up the foredeck and stow the anchor. In the mean time Alison motored through the narrows. We got the main up and sailed out of the bay. 

Our destination was Tory Island, 19 nm from Fanny's Bay. A quick journey might mean a short stop and then on towards Gweedore; a slower trip might mean staying the night.

Tory island is Ireland's most remote inhabited island but it has a new harbour and a regular foot ferry.

The trip was fine sailing.  The wind was dead behind so we sailed long broad reach boards to be more comfortable. The wind was quite weak so we shook out most of the reefs and changed up to the no 1 jib.
Tory Island East End

Tory Island in the distance

As we got near the harbour the wind freshened. If we had been going further we would have reefed but instead Alison trimmed the main to dump some power but it kept building. We put the helm around and dropped the main and motored in.

The late-ish start and jagged course got us to Tory at 16:00 just as the last ferry to the mainland was leaving.

We moored up against the wall as we had learned to in Frazerburgh and I went to check on the fishing boats - they were tied up just the same. 

First stop was the shop for milk and apples and then we went for a walk to the east. The view across to Donegal is wonderful.

Then Alison spotted the ferry coming back and we turned back to the harbour in case we needed to move. We were too late. The Sailing Directions are out of date - the ferry now stays in Tory overnight. It had managed anyway but we won't be very popular. 

We ate in the Hotel and has a nice chat with Sean, the owner. He was a lighthouse keeper for 50 years and took over the hotel when it was about to close. Business is OK at the moment. After that is was another walk, along to the lighthouse before heading back to Robinetta.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Getting round Malin Head

Our aim for the day was rounding Malin Head, which meant an early(ish) start. There are instructions in the pilot book for when to leave Portrush to make for Malin Head relative to the tide, but they all assume a boat capable of cruising at 6 knots, while we plan on 3-4, so they are not much help to us!

We raised the main and staysail on the pontoon, and left Portrush at 08:15 in sunshine with no wind and a long low swell. The tide was against us, so we were doing just three knots under motor as we crossed the entrance to Lough Foyle. We saw saw the sail training vessel Maybe coming out from Lough Foyle. The harbour master at Portrush had told us that she was due in there, but that the entrance has silted up so much that she was restricted to entering at high tide sop had decided to go to Derry instead. Like us she was under motor with the sails up.

Sail training vessel "Maybe"
After we passed Inishowen Head to the west of Lough Foyle we closed with the coast to stay out of the tide as much as possible, but it was still slow going. Julian strayed out a little to try and keep some wind in the sails and suddenly we were in a nasty sea; overfalls where none were charted. We headed in closer to the shore and were immediately in calmer water (but there was still swell.)

Then the visibility closed down. We were hugging the coast, but could not see it, and the chartplotter was invaluable for knowing where to go. The tide turned in our favour and we were motor sailing along at over 5 knots, with our arrival time at Malin Head crashing down. Julian had put in a course to take us well out from the headland to avoid the overfalls that would develop, but suddenly that diversion looked unnecessary. I put in a new course, and we threaded through the Garvan Sound on chartplotter bearings, unable to see any of the pilot book guiding lines to check our position. I deliberately laid the course over a deep area, to use the depth gauge to check our position, and it was fine. By this time we could see Carnadreelagh Island outside us, but I never even glimpsed the one that lay between us and the coast. There was also a hidden danger called Blind Rock to avoid... 

Going inside Blind Rock would have let us avoid all the overfalls, but with no bearings to take I opted for safety, and took us between Carnadreelagh (which I could see) and Blind Rock. There was a line of overfalls here, but they were not very bad and we got through them without problems.

Once clear of Blind Rock we closed with the coast, hoping to creep inside the overfalls that could be off the invisible Malin Head. Wonderfully they were not there. We had timed the whole trip well enough, and as we came past Malin Head the sky ahead of us was blue. The wind which had been light but on the nose all the way from Portrush was suddenly on the beam, and we could see for miles. We looked back at the dirty cloud hanging low over Malin Head and points East, then turned the engine off and broad reached across the entrance to Lough Swilly and on to Fanad Head.
Low cloud on Malin Head

The wind came round and we went on to a run. Not such a good point of sail, but we set the preventor and I relaxed a little too much. I was sailing by the lee when a swell added that little extra push to the boom and it tried to gybe to the other side. Unfortunately the preventer rope snapped and it succeeded, sending the boom and sail crashing over to starboard. The boom bounced off the backstay, then I got it under control and back on the port side.

I felt overpowered, so we reefed down, and by the time we were approaching Riaboy Point we needed two. Finally we gybed round and headed in to Mulroy Bay, intending to go through the first narrows and anchor in Fanny's Bay.

The bay looks wide, but there are rocks across much of it, and a shifting sand bar coming out from the other side. There is supposed to be a beacon at the east end of the rocks, but it had gone, leaving nothing but a concrete block with the swell breaking on it to mark its position. Luckily I noticed this and turned away, slightly later than ideal! The manoeuvre brought us head to wind, so we dropped the main and headed past under stay sail and engine.
Mulroy Bay
 The tide sluiced us through the narrows at 7 knots, and we arrived in Fanny's Bay to find the disused boatyard of the pilot book obviously in use and the bay full of moorings and a wreck. We managed to find a space and dropped the anchor at eight, after a very long day on the water.
Fanny's Bay

Monday, 23 May 2016

First taste of the swell

We had a few things to do to the boat this morning so an early start wasn't an option. Alison got the bowsprit out while I was paying but we decided to get off and bend a jib on whilst underway.

As soon as we were out of the harbour we felt quite a strong swell. It wasn't slowing us down but it made me wear my life jacket and clip on to work on the fore deck. I got quite wet. The bowsprit was spearing the waves regularly.

We had meant to hug the coast but Alison was fixing things in the cockpit and let the boat wander a bit out to sea. We soon found ourselves in uncomfortable overfalls and turned back to get closer to the shore. It was more comfortable in the shallows.

The wind was forecast NW but there was a lot of west in it and there was no point trying to sail. In any case it was taking all our concentration to steer among the roller. Trying to keep the main filled on a dead beat would have been difficult and unproductive.

It was alternately sunny and dull. In the sunny spells the coast line was stunning. In the dull spells it was a little cold.

Every headland and bay was different. Inside the bays we got some shelter from the swell but getting round the headlands was a challenge. Deliberately getting as close as possible to dangerous rocks in order to avoid the overfalls just beyond is hair raising.

Carrickarede rope bridge
One interesting bay has Carrickarede island in it. This used to be a salmon fishing station and there is a rope bridge from the mainland. Now it is a tourist destination and was quite busy. Apparently it makes a nice anchorage on calm weather, proving that today was not a calm day!

Benbane head astern
Another has the famous Giant's Causeway. From the sea, the headland before it, Benbane Head is much more impressive. From the east the cliffs are fluted like some gigantic church organ. As you come round, a huge spire comes in to view. An enormous column of basalt standing higher than the broken stumps around it.

Once past the Causeway, really only identifiable by the people walking on it, the swell fell away. Not long after that the sun came out properly and what had been somewhat unpleasant but visually rewarding really hard work started feeling like a holiday.

Here the cliffs change suddenly from basalt to chalk. Instead of geometric columns there are glistening sea stacks and arches. We were now inside The Skerries and hugging the coast for the view, rather than to avoid swell and overfalls.

Inside the Skerries the cliffs are skirted by gorgeous golden sands.

Even better, a wind shift took the breeze to the north. We raised the main and set the jib and turned the motor off. We were sailing!

We had a gentle beat through the narrow gap between the Skerries and the end of the Portrush headland. People were fishing very close to the waves!

We debated. Should we go on to Greencastle, another 11 miles or stop at Portrush?  We were tired. Portrush it was.
Moored up in Portrush

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Bangor to Ballycastle

Getting the tides right to go from Bangor to Ballycastle is an interesting exercise in a boat that reliably does 4 knots under motor in calm conditions. I worked out that leaving Bangor two and a half hours before high water would get Robinetta round Fair Head at low water and let us pick up a back eddy on the other side to help us in to Ballycastle. That was the theory anyhow. The back up plan was stopping in Glenarm, or anchoring in one of the bays to wait for the tide to turn.

Black Head Lighthouse
I put the route into our chart plotter before leaving Bangor at 0700, and it forecast our arrival time in Ballycastle at 1645. That meant we would be going round Fair Head at the end of low tide slack water, so there was very little room for error.

The day was grey and overcast, and stayed that way except for one beautiful hour as we motored past the Gubbins and the Isle of Muck, very close in as advised by Peter, so we had a great view of the cliffs and the birds.

Isle of Muck

By the time we were passing the entrance to Larne we were back to a day of grey, with what wind there was behind us. The stay sail just about filled, but the main would not have contributed anything so I was not tempted to put it up.

Past Larne the swell got up, and the visibility closed down. As I passed each headland the amount of swell increased, and only the line on the chartplotter told me where to steer next. The last major headland before Fair Head is Garron Point, about 6 miles south of Cushendun. Just beyond Cushenden is Tornamoney Point. I could not see Tornamoney Point from Garron Point, so ended up hugging the coast a bit longer than I intended to; following a chart plotter course can be difficult with nothing to aim at.

Every now and then it would rain and for a mercifully brief time the drops were bouncing off the sea. It was not much fun, and the sea state was too challenging for a novice helmsman like Alex. He was good at providing food and drink though, which made an invaluable contribution! We were making good time, a steady 5 knots with the tide under us and the engine not quite on full revs.

As we neared the final bay before Fair Head I thought we had lost the battle to make the tide gate. We were suddenly only doing 2 knots, and our arrival time at Ballycastle crashed to after 6pm. That would put us in the middle of the tide flooding out of Rathlin Sound at Fair Head and Robinetta might well be stuck going nowhere. Then the speed picked up to 3.5 knots. We must have been in a back eddy before, but the tide had definitely stopped helping us.

Close in to Fair Head
I looked at anchoring to wait out the tide, but we were so close to Fair Head that I decided to press on. Following Peter's advice we went right up to the cliffs, passing about a hundred metres off them. Two hundred meters to starboard I could see obvious overfalls, but we were in calm water, with only a little swell.

On the far side of Fair Head the overfalls came within a hundred metres of the cliff, and we went through the edge of them, which was not actually as bad as the swells we met on the beam around lunchtime when a dollop of water landed in the cockpit for the first time since we've owned Robinetta. Within three minutes we were clear of the over falls, but we crept clear of Fair Head at under 2 knots against the tide.

We never found the back eddy that should have helped us towards Ballycastle, but the wind came round to the port quarter, at at least force 4, so the jib came out to help the staysail and engine and we were soon making 3.5 knots, in calm seas.

I called up the marina at 1645 (the pilot book said they worked office hours) and when we got in at 1710 they had someone waiting on the pontoon to show us where to go and take our lines. Very helpful at the end of a long day!

Monday, 16 May 2016

Ardglass to Bangor

When we left Robinetta in Ardglass we put things away carefully, wrapped in plastic to stop them doing mouldy. The first thing I did was unwrap everything! I think it was a useful exercise, but by the time I had finished that, collected Worm from the yard, put the cabin back together, and got the bowsprit out I was ready for bed.

This morning, with a planned start of 8am there was still a lot to do. Getting the whickham martin gear to work seemed to take a long time, and it was half eight before we came off the pontoon. Alex made bacon sandwiches for breakfast, and I finished mine as we left Ardglass behind in bright sunshine.

There seemed to be enough wind to sail, so I got the main up. We had left the reefs in, and I could not pull them out. Somehow, when I put the topping lifts/lazy jacks back on the boom they had fouled the main sheet, so the boom would not roll properly. I ended up having to leave the reef in. Julian has been doing all the sail hauling in the last two years and I have lost the knack. The sun went behind the clouds at this point, and did not come out again, making it a cold grey day.

Once I sorted out the problem with the lazy jacks I had another go at taking the reef out, but the sail still did not want to budge. Luckily I had decided on the no 2 jib, so the sail plan was balanced.  We took the inshore course, leaving South Rock to starboard. The only other yacht we saw on the same Ardglass to Belfast route went outside South Rock, and showed how must longer it was very clearly. She was about 2 nm behind us as we passed Butter Pladdy, and did not catch up until we were past Portavogie, at which point she quickly disappeared ahead.

The tiller pilot did not want to behave. It reacted very slowly, with the result that our course varied by up to 60 degrees for no real reason. In the end I helmed most of the day, with Alex taking over for short periods. I only turned the engine off for ten minutes, early in the day as we passed the entrance to Strangford Lough, but we really weren't going fast enough, so we motor sailed until the wind went very light after we passed Portavogie. I furled the jib, but we still got a bit of lift from the main until we reached Dronaghadee and what there was was heading us. At that point I got the main down and we motored through Dronaghadee Sound.

After that it was passage under motor all the way to Bangor Marina, were we were tied up by 1645. This was when the sun came back!

Very little birdlife today, and no seals once we left the Ardglass locals behind. A decent passage making day all in all.

Peter from the Northern Ireland OGA came by and gave me some advice on getting to Ballycastle tomorrow, then I had a long chat with Julian to sort out the details.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Return to Ardglass

I finally found a break in the weather, but Julian has to work this week, so I flew out to Belfast with Alex, who will crew for me. On arrival at Ardglass I found Robinetta and Worm just as we left them. I expected seagulls to have left their mark, but Robinetta's covers and decks are nice and clean which was a pleasant surprise.

Tomorrow we will head north, (unless there is a sudden change in the weather) and hopefully make Bangor. Glenarm would be nice, but probably a bit far with a reluctant sailor like Alex aboard!