Left Schull as the rain closed in and the southerly wind built up, aiming for the inside passage to Baltimore, which John said was called the Postman’s Entrance.
There are two ways to reach it, one outside the islands in the bay and the other more tortuous rote on the inside. I miscalculated the speed with which the waves would build in the bay so we ended up slamming through a short choppy sea for an hour until we got back in the lee of Cape Clear, where it settled down, and we looked for the narrow and circuitous route into Baltimore’s big and very sheltered bay. Wish I had taken the rocky inside route.
Picked up a buoy, lunched, moved to the pontoon, ashore for drinks with Johanna and John.
Baltimore harbourmaster found us an overnight mooring – boat was heaving a bit on the pontoon, which has shrunk compared with the one shown in the pilot book. They did not seem to have added the usual summer extension to it.
Passage notes: 10 miles, max wind S 6, min S 4, heavy almost breaking swells when exposed to ocean, calm once on inside passage, visibility less than half a mile, rain. Should have taken the time to plan a passage west of the inner islands, which is much more sheltered, though more complicated.
As we left Dingle, its celebrated Dolphin came out to play, not with us but with some canoeists near the channel out. But we had a good look as Fungie surged past – a Dolphin on the large side, like a small whale, who has been living at Dingle since 1983.
The picture is from the web!
We originally planned to spend some time in the great bays of the south west, but when we looked at the logistics it needed a week to explore them all properly. They are also in relatively easy reach of the English Channel, unlike the far west, so we decided it would be more sensible to skip the Kenmare River and Bantry Bay and think of coming back one day for a separate cruise. So we headed for Schull.
We sailed in sight of the Skelligs, the pinnacles of rock where monks lived as hermits one and a half millennia ago. The Skelligs are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like Dun Aengus. It is very hard to believe that anyone could live on these steep sided islands, but their chapels and cells are still there, and so are the paths up to them. They are perched at 160metres and the summit is at 230 metres. It is not usually feasible to land from a yacht, but in good weather there are excursions from the mainland, for what sounds like a rather daunting outing.
Here we all are, posing in front of the Skelligs.
Saw the Fastnet Rock in the distance as we approached Schull. Three times I got to the Fastnet and wished I could go into Schull or Baltimore rather than all the way back to Plymouth. By the time we fought up to the rock on the race, we were all beginning to wonder what on earth we were doing out there, cold, wet and exhausted. Of course, it always seemed much better once the parties started in Plymouth, which must be one of the reasons why many people do it again, and sometimes again.
After a fine but sometimes blustery day, the weather closed in and it was cold and wet when we arrived in Schull.
But everything cheered up when Christine, part owner of Spring Fever, joined us as fourth crew member. She flew to Dublin and came by train to Cork and bus to Skibbereen, where she was picked up by her friend Johanna from Schull and Johanna’s friend John, who turned out to be a sailor of great experience, with a yacht moored at the bottom of his garden. He was preparing for a week of racing on a variety of boats in Schull’s Calves Week, a tongue in cheek references to Cowes Week. Chris visited John’s house on a nearby river on the way, and they were all waiting for us on the quay at Schull as we arrived.
John suggested we go alongside a fishing boat and come ashore for supper in a restaurant, where we had a splendid dinner of mussels followed by lobster with Muscadet to drink. John later pointed out the visitors’ buoys, and when we left our temporary berth alongside the fishing boat we picked one up for the night. But the weather was turning worse, and from the south, and John warned that Schull harbour became very uncomfortable in those conditions, and Baltimore would make a better alternative tomorrow.
Passage notes: log 72 miles, 12 hours, max wind WSW 4, min W 2, rain then bright then rain, swell 2-3 m. Alongside a fishing boat on the pier then to a heavy-duty visitor mooring on east side of harbour.
Chores, various adjustments and repairs, shopping, laundry, fuel – one of those days. Welcomed our third crew member, Jean-Jacques Botteron, who flew from Switzerland to Dublin and got a bus to Tralee and another one to Dingle. Took him to a very superior fish and chip shop, which had fresh mussel chowder as a starter and then lightly battered fish.
Dingle is very pretty, full of tourists, a suprising proportion of them American, probably on the famous Ring of Kerry tour. Looks like a nice place for a family holiday. More than 50 pubs for desperate parents! Lovely warm day.
We decided to leave Inishmore at midnight to make sure of getting through the inside channel at the Blaskett Islands before the tide turned, and also to beat a forecast veer in the wind from south east to south west, which would be almost ahead. It meant running the gauntlet of the lobster pot buoys and ropes, because we could not see them in the swell, even with the bright moonlight. But none of them caught us, though we spent the hours of darkness in fear of the shudder, swish and gurgle that meant we had caught one. The wind was light, so we motorsailed to make sure we did not miss that tide.
We dropped the idea of spending a day or two getting to the Blasketts,and skipped the Shannon and a couple of anchorages south of it, because we had rendezvous with two new crew at different times. With the wind turning against us after today and likely to rise, it becomes much easier to manage the logistics if we first get round to Dingle.
We passed inside the stunning Blasketts at noon, in quiet conditions. Excursion boats from Dingle had landed lots of people on Great Blasket, who we could see exploring the island, now uninhabited except for an artist who lives there part of the year. A former Irish Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, used to have a house on one of the even smaller islands.
Into Dingle, which is am amazingly well hidden harbour with a narrow entrance that broadens out into a wide shallow lagoon that – coming from the west – can only be seen as you are about to enter. There is a narrow dredged channel, which it is important to keep to, because there is very little water outside it.
Moored in our first marina since Port Ellen on Islay, the first time we have had to pay since then. Showers, omelettes, The Killing episode 96 or thereabouts – it is gripping but it does go on a bit.
Passage notes: 83 miles, 15 hours, max wind SW 4, min SSW2, main hazard inshore at night – lobster pots
Ashore for breakfast, left dinghy on beach, and rented bikes from the shop a few yards away. Cycled to the extraordinary pre-Christian fort of Dun Aengus through delightful lanes and by tiny fields with a few cows in each, quite unlike the rocky view of the island from a distance. Ponies and traps trotted by carrying tourists.
Away from the road we chose there were hundreds of acres of karst, a rare and protected environment for plants composed of a flat limestone pavement full of fissures, from a few centimetres to a metre or two.
A wide variety of apparently rare plants thrives in the cracks, though it was beyond me to identify most of them. From a distance the view is of bare grey rock, which becomes more and more interesting as you get closer.
None of my photos does justice to Dun Aengus, though I have included some of them (all at the bottom of this post). Only an aerial view shows what it is really like – an iron age fort dating to 700 BC, developed progressively through to about 1000 AD, perched on the edge of a sheer cliff, with defensive walls on one side but no wall at all on the cliff side. There is a good visitor centre.
Teenagers were sidling up to the edge when we arrived, making me – a vertigo sufferer – feel queasy watching. I got to within a couple of metres of the edge to take photos, gritting my teeth, but that was more than close enough. The view was stunning.
We cycled back to the village for a bite to eat and then back up hill to the centre of the island to see the view from the old lighthouse, freewheeling several miles back rather fast, because black rain clouds were building and swimmers were leaving the beach.
Fish and chips in a hotel by the ferry jetty.
Talking to an islander, we heard a Dutch square rigger had gone down a couple of days before, and for a while we were convinced it was the one we saw at Killybegs. It turned out that there were two Dutch square riggers on the Irish coast, and the one that went down was Astrid, a training ship, which went ashore outside Kinsale after its engine broke down in a southerly force 6, which pushed it onto the rocks. Everyone was rescued. Irish Times video of the Astrid sinking
First, a detour to Clifden to see the Connemara mainland at least briefly, though we had a long view of the hills all day at sea. Quite a swell running as we followed a complicated course through a series of reefs and small islands, with waves crashing unnervingly near.
Clifden has a peaceful little estuary and river, not the wild Connemara of legend, and could almost be on the south Cornish coast. Up past a castle to a pleasant mooring, near the sailing club, but we could not reach the town because of the tide – indeed our stay was only for a brief lunch to avoid being locked in by the shallow bar as the tide fell.
Then rounded Slyne Head, with more rock dodging using the chartplotter, but only where we could be sure of a margin of at least 200 metres either side of us (see earlier post). On to Inishmore, the biggest of the Aran Islands, with the swell dropping as we reached its lee. Lucky again with a mooring (free again), because the anchor is hard work and noisy at night. Hot and sweaty with little wind all day, with the rolling swell probably coming from a long way away. Motorsailed.
Passage notes:52 miles, variable 2 to calm, 3 metre swell in exposed area, 2.5 hours to Clifden, 6 hours Clifden to Inishmore. Shortest passage is fairly close to large reefs so would go further out in bad visibility and strong onshore winds. Care with tide timings – bar on the way in to Clifden.
A lovely sunny day, though you wouldn’t know it from the forecast. The bad weather seemed to hang over the Mayo and Connemara mainland, where there were great storm clouds. Motorsailed in light winds past the 2000 foot cliffs of Achill Island, with Clare Island in the distance, to Inishboffin.
Sadly, we didn’t think we had time to explore the lovely Clew Bay – or rather we feared from the longer range forecasts that the weather was turning away from the summer heatwaves and that if we stayed north too long we would be fighting our way against the return of the more usual strong summer winds from the south west.
There is a very tight entrance between rocks to Inishboffin Harbour, with leading marks and daytime leading lights, but once in, past the ruined Cromwell Barracks on the point, it is well sheltered from all directions. You turn in sharply when the barracks are abeam.
Found a buoy and motored the dinghy ashore, took a 3 euro shower in the community centre (much investment has gone into the centre, which advertised lots of activities) and dinner in a pub, with mussels nearly as good as the ones I got off the buoy at Ardbeg. No charge for the mooring.
Very much a holiday island, with several hotels. No sense of remoteness at this time of year, unlike Tory, which retained a feeling of distance. Several 5 to 8 km walks available round the island but for once we resisted the temptation. Got very annoyed at the behaviour of people driving Ribs at high speed near swimmers in the harbour. But otherwise a pleasant, friendly place.
Passage notes:37 miles, 7.5 hours, max SW3, min SE 2, visibility good.
Heavy rain – no mood to get soaked unnecessarily – so rested at anchor until 1600, when it cleared. Headed for the little bay of Frenchport but then heard coastguard saying wind might go westerly, in which case it would be very exposed, so continued to Blacksod Bay, past a series of once inhabited islands (and also past the Eagle Rock, where the lighthouse used to be damaged regularly by storms).
Magnificent evening views of the cliffs of Achill Island, the highest in Europe, though a bit disappointed as we rounded up into the bay that, when seen from the side, they were not at all steep. You could almost scramble up and down them.
Picked up buoy in bay just north of Blacksod Point, and found that a local fishermen had strung several cages of live lobsters below them. Ignored the lobsters, because it was labelled as a visitors buoy. Pretty village and a lively pub, judging by the singing coming over the water.
The contrast between the raw wildness of Achill Island just to the south and the long vistas of the low lagoon-like Blacksod Bay is extraordinary.