Stormy weather on way to Broad Haven

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Stag Rocks, on passage to Broad Haven

We refuelled from a road tanker and left mid-morning from Killybegs for Broad Haven, 60 miles away,  relieved to get away from the noisy, smelly diesel generator charging the batteries of the trawler beside us. The light winds built gradually to about Force 4, then a great black cloud came over, and with it heavy rain and a squall that registered 35 knots on the wind gauge (gale force). Double reefed main and rolled up the genoa.

Looking back, just before Broad Haven
Looking back, just before Broad Haven

An hour later, it settled down, and it was calm by the time we were inside Broad Haven, a lonely place near Belmullet in Mayo (scene of a big Irish controversy in which the locals are fighting Shell and the government over a gas pipeline). Lonely, except for the reassuring sight of an RNLI lifeboat moored quarter of a mile further into the bay, by a small village. Night at anchor. Saw Paul for the third time – he was also at Aranmore and Tory Island.

Passage notes: 62 miles, 11.5 hours, max SSW 8 (squall for less than half an hour), min S 2, visibility good except in heavy showers.

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Broad Haven, Paul anchored behind us.

Rathlyn O’Byrne and Killybegs

Rathlyn O’Byrne is an island and lighthouse just off a headland, and to get there in good weather you can go quite close to some spectacular cliffs.

The coast approaching Malin Mor and Malin Beg
The coast approaching Malin Mor and Malin Beg
Looking back from near Rathlyn O'Byrne
Looking back from near Rathlyn O’Byrne

We rounded Malin Mor and Malin Beg headlands, going through the sound inside the island in sun and light winds. As soon as we rounded the point into Donegal Bay the wind went easterly 5 and the sea became choppy, to remind us of what sailing is usually like. Double reefed main and hard on the wind for several hours.

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Heading for our berth between trawler and square rigger

Into the very well sheltered fishing harbour of Killybegs, the biggest lander of fish in Ireland, where we were directed to a trawler dock, and moored on piles using our new fender board, between a trawler and a Dutch square rigger. Long nylon lines for the 4.5 metre tide.

Sprinmg Fever alongside the dock in Killybegs
Spring Fever alongside the dock in Killybegs

There were huge trawlers in Killybegs, some with suspiciously Spanish sounding names and Irish flags, maybe with foreign owners manipulating the EU fisheries rules. They work September to April, and not in the summer, because of restrictions on their North Atlantic fishing grounds, and so are now laid up, with painting the biggest activity.

Only one other visiting yacht,  which left as we arrived. Passers by stopped for a chat, including the commodore of the local sailing club who offered us a mooring (which we turned down because we needed to be on the dock for diesel.) Shopping and take-away pizza. Fuel truck booked for 0900.

Passage notes: 29 miles, 8 hours, max wind E5, min S 2, visibility good then moderate when wind went east.

Bloody Foreland, Aranmore, Church Pool

Brilliant, fast beam reach from Tory past Bloody Foreland, which is as undramatic as the name is gory (though it in fact refers to the colour of the rocks, not some great battle). Took inside passage round the islands, including Gola, which is being recolonised with holiday homes, by descendants of the original inhabitants.

Restored cottages on Gola
Restored cottages on Gola

So interested in the scenery that we snagged a lobster pot line, luckily on the keel, from which it pulled off without catching rudder or propellor.

Saw beautiful entrance to Gweedore Harbour, with its drying bar, pale yellow sands, lots of holidaymakers and holiday homes. Picked up a buoy to rest and have lunch off the island of Aranmore (or Arran or Aran, depending which map or book you consult – nothing to do with the famous Aran islands off Galway Bay). We were waiting for the tide to go up to the tiny harbour of Burtonport, which is through a tortuous channel. Checked with the harbourmaster – they lost their contract with a diesel supplier a few days ago, and it is 5 miles by taxi to the nearest garage, which is not much help when you need a hundred litres.

Anchorage at Aranmore
Anchorage at Aranmore

Decided we could get to Killybegs, so piloted across the near-drying flats on the south of Aranmore, with great care, using plotter and pilot book bearings, 10 miles to Church Pool, which was billed as a quiet anchorage. A couple of houses were shown on the chart. However, in the meantime, someone has built a holiday village there, but a nice one. As we came in, divers were playing with dolphins by the moorings, trying to ride one, it seems.

Quiet supper aboard, and then continued to catch up with The Killing, series I and II.

Passage notes: 31 miles, 4 hours by scenic inshore route to anchorage at Aranmore, south of Calf Island, 2.5 hours from anchorage to Church Pool, visibility good, weather fine. Passage over drying, rocky shoals southwards needs careful preparation and tide timing.  As strangers, we waited at the Aranmore anchorage until after half tide. Charts potentially inaccurate in area, so used compass bearings, but chartplotter track looked fine – with hindsight. Beware large numbers of pot buoys off Donegal coast.

The Rodgers of Tory Island

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Hard to believe, from a distance, that 170 people live on Tory Island.

25 miles to Tory, Ireland’s remotest inhabited island, which has an unaccountably large number of Rodgers living there. I read that in an on-line search for possible Rodgers ancestry in Ireland, though the family evidence is for connections to County Cork, not Donegal.

Left Port Salon at 0730 in bright sun and a southeasterly which backed north east. Brilliant blue sky, could have been in the Mediterranean apart from the sea temperature. Admired the wonderful coastline of north-east Donegal.

Slipped in behind the newish concrete breakwater at Tory Island, rafted against another yacht, bows to the quay. We could just reach the iron ladder from Paul, our neighbour’s, bow. He was a single-hander of a certain age in a 40 foot Westerly, and pretty skilled to get in there alone.

Rafted up in Tory's harbour, Spring Fever on the left.
Rafted up in Tory’s harbour, Spring Fever on the left.
Tony living dangerously, on the way back from lunch.
Tony living dangerously, on the way back from lunch.

Lunch with him in the pub – fresh chowder and soda bread – and then they let us use one of their hotel rooms for a shower (no charge – ‘just a little tip for the chambermaid.’) Bought a few groceries, an ice cream in a cafe, had a siesta in the heat.

The prosaically named West Town on Tory. The other settlement is East Town.
The prosaically named West Town on Tory. The other settlement is East Town.

The island lived off fishing, but has now developed its tourism, and can tell a long and complex history, at least for the size of the place. Here is another link, to the official island website, which uses the Irish version of the name, Oileanthorai.

The pilot book says there are three mail boats a fortnight, but that is out of date – there is a regular and frequent ferry service to and from the mainland bringing tourists several times a day. It hasn’t undermined the friendliness, because people seemed very happy to chat.

John and Mary Rodgers
John and Mary Rodgers

Checked out the Rodgers story. The modern graveyard by the church had three Rodgers memorials close together, including two generations of John & Mary, and several other stones around with the same name. There is another larger and older graveyard which we didn’t explore. We could see an elderly man tending a Rodgers grave, though.

The pub landlord, checking with another customer as well,  said the name had been on Tory for many hundreds of years, and he thought it was Irish in origin. This tallies with an article I found that said that some Irish Rodgers came from England, but others were given it by government clerks because Rodgers was the nearest English sound to their Irish language names. Since Tory is still Irish speaking, that sounds the most likely explanation. In fact, in a tourist guidebook they called their language Gaelic rather than Irish and said it was  understandable by Gaelic speakers from Islay in Scotland, 70 miles away.

The landlord slightly spoiled the simplicity of the story by speculating that Rodgers might also come from Rodrigues. The guidebook said that Tory islanders had made themselves unpopular by harbouring refugees from the Spanish Armada.

Patsy Dan Rodgers is the island’s best known inhabitant, and the islanders have given him the nickname King of Tory. He is well known locally as an artist, and works with Ruari Rodgers.

Later we walked to an Iron Age fort on a terrifying site on a narrow promontory that rose to the landward edge of a cliff. We walked past successive lines of earthworks and tumbled rocks that archaeologists had identified as buildings. The guidebook said there was disagreement whether the fort was 700 BC or first and second century BC.The last defence of these people was even more precarious, across a narrow ledge of rock with a huge drop either side. This led to a tiny area of land which tailed off into a long and impassable saw-toothed ridge. They must have been in a desperate situation if they had ever been driven into the final redoubt with only the ridge behind them.

The narrow neck of land between high cliffs which led to the final refuge of the fort and then on to...
The narrow neck of land between high cliffs which led to the final refuge of the fort and then on to…
The saw-tooth cliff leading out to sea from the last redoubt of the Iron age fortress.
… the saw-tooth ridge leading out to sea, enclosing a deep and inaccessible bay.

Some interesting plants on the fort, one of which (pictured below) seemed to be responsible for building up the soil on the bare rock, because quite large, round  clumps of its old roots seemed to be turning into a fine humus.

These plants seemed to make their own soil and perhaps they start the colonisation of bare rock.
These plants seemed to make their own soil and perhaps they start the colonisation of bare rock.

Pollock and chips in the pub – always a special treat for those of us involved in the BCCI lawsuit …. no, it takes too long to explain – and a pudding of local seaweed, milk and sugar, which was delicious. A very quiet night in the shelter of the high harbour wall.

Passage notes: 28 miles, 5 hours, SE 3, clear and sunny. Little room in harbour, but space rafted up for several yachts. Some room on the inshore end of the jetty for shallower draft yachts and also alongside fishing boats. Watch out for ferry berth. No charge for yachts. Anchorage outside is very exposed.

Passage to Ireland

Approaching Loch Swilly, after Malin Head
Approaching Loch Swilly, after Malin Head

Left Port Ellen in brilliant sub, calm sea with mist, enough to use radar at the entrance/ exit from the North Channel traffic separation zone, where we detected only one ship at five or six miles, moving away. Motorsailed till mid-afternoon then sailed past Malin Head with a gradually rising north-easterly (max 17K) to Port Salon, a modern but attractive holiday village in a sandy bay on Loch Swilly in the republic. Kids were jumping from the jetty, having a lot of noisy holiday fun. Picked up free mooring. Calm night. The pub restaurant looked (and sounded) good from a distance but we decided to rest on board.

Passage notes: 61 miles, 10.5 hours, max NE 4, min calm, bright with fog patches down to1 mile visibility, radar on while crossing shipping lanes but little traffic.

Islay in the fog

Woke to thick fog, but having found the chartplotter pretty accurate around the rocks we trusted it to take us out of Tinker’s Hole again, though the leading lines were obscured.

A few hundred metres visibility most of the way across to Colonsay, so radar on and constant monitoring of the AIT, which shows other vessels’ positions, and ours to them. Nothing but the occasional fishing boat showed up. Fog cleared completely for a while close to Islay. 10.5 knots with the tide down the Sound if Islay.

A day of distilleries – passed Bunahabhan and Caol Islay in the sound and then used Bob Bradfield’s ultra large scale charts to explore close inshore on the east coast of Islay. Mirror water surface, complete reflections of the sky and the rocks.

McArthur's Head lighthouse, south end of Sound of Islay
McArthur’s Head lighthouse, south end of Sound of Islay

The Bradfield charts, the result of his passion for amateur surveying of difficult anchorages, are on the laptop, overlaid on Memory Map’s UK admiralty charts. A GPS is plugged into the laptop and turns it into a plotter.

CalMac ferry in the Sound
CalMac ferry in the Sound

Explored inside the little Ardmore Islands, creeping between rocks, then picked up a mooring off the Ardbeg distillery, for tea rather than Scotch. A very suspect mooring riser, encrusted in mussels; we picked some and steamed them open – strong, sweet taste, perfect. There was only this one mooring, though the now rather out of date pilot book says there are three. Then we briefly visited Lagavulin distillery’s bay, but thought better of it half way in.

Peter at Ardbeg
Peter at Ardbeg
Tony at Lagavulin
Tony at Lagavulin

The bay has almost no rise and fall of tide, but the weather was fine with exceptionally high pressure and so the water level must have been pushed down, as often happens in these conditions. We almost ran out of water before we turned. We were particularly cautious because we had grazed a rock at low speed just before going in, as a result of momentary distraction by the beauty of the place. It was exactly where Bob’s chart had shown it! At Lagavulin we could see two mooring buoys, one of them occupied by what may have been a local boat.

Leaving Lagavulin
Leaving Lagavulin
Fog again as we leave Lagavulin
Fog again as we leave Lagavulin

Leaving, we ran into another fog bank, which cleared as we went into Port Ellen, finding the last berth in the marina, right inshore by the fishing boats.

The view from the cockpit at Port Ellen
The view from the cockpit at Port Ellen

Showers in an outbuilding to a B&B, and dinner aboard. Disappointed to find no fuel available, but there were several shops. On a previous visit we toured four of the island’s distilleries, but this was not the time for a repeat.

Passage notes: 54 miles,10 hours, max S2, min calm, fog with sun when clear

Iona

Iona was founded by St Columba (or St Columcille as he is known in Ireland.) St Aidan then went from Iona to found the monastery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off Northumbria, which we visited on the way up the east coast (and on the way down in our 2007-8 round Britain cruise). So there was a sense of completeness in visiting Iona, after several attempts last year and one this year in May were thwarted by bad weather.

The restored cloister in the cathedral
The restored cloister in the cathedral

We went ashore by dinghy, spent an hour in the atmospheric little museum, which tells the story of Iona very well through artefacts and especially the carved crosses, and took a guided tour of the cathedral, where we were delayed by a singer and her piano accompanist, who were practising. It was one of the gentler songs from Jesus Christ Superstar rather than a monkish plainchant, but it was from a singer with a lovely husky voice, and nobody wanted her to stop.

Iona cross
Iona cross

The cathedral was restored so heavily that it was hard to find the old material, except inside. John Ruskin would have been appalled, because this was exactly the kind of excessive Victorian makeover of historic buildings which he campaigned against by founding the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

We admired the kitchen garden and the flowers, walked a little along a shore path, saw many members of the Iona Community at work in the grounds, in conversation or walking silently in contemplation.

The remains of a convent on Iona
The remains of a convent on Iona
Kitchen garden with Iona cathedral in the background
Kitchen garden with Iona cathedral in the background

Here is a link is to a short summary of the history of Iona and here is another to the website of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumberland.

We went back to the boat and motored to Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave, made famous by the composer Felix Mendelson in his overture The Hebrides. Landing wasn’t possible because there was a low swell running, just enough to make it very difficult with a dinghy as small as ours, and anyway the pilot advises leaving a watch on board, so it would have been a risky solo landing. We took plenty of photos. There were lots of visitors, landed on a small jetty by excursion boats from Iona.

Peter with Fingle's Cave in the background
Peter with Fingal’s Cave in the background
Fingles's Cave
Fingal’s Cave
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Excursion boat landing visitors
Tony with Staffa in the background
Tony with Staffa in the background

A busy day – went back south to Tinker’s Hole, a famous anchorage hidden inside the rocks near the entrance to the Sound of Iona. Felt pleased after piloting ourselves in but disappointed to find it was full of boats already. Given that the Iona anchorage is uncomfortable, it makes sense to overnight there and visit Iona by day, which is what the other boats must have been doing. We had wondered why we were the only ones anchored overnight at Iona.

Found a good empty space near the north entrance and anchored. Wonderful atmosphere, despite the crowd, hemmed in by rocks, with crystal clear water.

Passage notes: 17 miles Iona north to Staffa and back down to Tinker’s Hole, 4 hours, S 2-3, visibility moderate, no easy anchorage near Staffa, almost perfect shelter once into Tinker’s Hole

Anchored in Tinker's Hole
Anchored in Tinker’s Hole

Leaving Ardoran

Loading the boat At Ardoran
Loading the boat At Ardoran

Rain and mist till late afternoon. Leaving Ardoran at midday, regretfully, as such a lovely, friendly place, and Colin and Helen at the boatyard such nice people. We’ll also miss the world’s best seafood stall, by the ferry terminal in Oban, so tempting I could not pass it without having mussels for breakfast several times when we were last here. The scallops cooked in wine, eaten from a disposable plastic dish, were just about the best and biggest ever, and as for the oysters and the massively filled crab sandwiches…. must go back.

Leaving Ardoran
Leaving Ardoran
Exit from Loch Feochan
Exit from Loch Feochan
Cottage where Ring of Bright Water was filmed.
Cottage just outside Loch Feochan where Ring of Bright Water was filmed.

Motorsailed in damp weather and light wind (SW2) down the spectacular south coast of Mull. Huge cliffs, valleys, waterfall. Piloted with chartplotter through rock maze near Sound of Iona.

We’re taking the view that the chartplotter and its charts are reliable even quite close inshore round here as long as we assume a plus and minus 200 m margin of error – 100 m either way for the GPS maximum likely error and 100 m for chart errors. If anything requires more precision, we must go back to old methods the first time, and then check the track function to see whether the chartplotter would be acceptable to use next time at the same place. (See the technical pages on this site, on the top toolbar). We have checked regularly whenever we have been at a known charted object on this part of the coast and haven’t yet found an error of as much as 50 metres, but that is not the same as a systematic check, so we are sticking to the cautious approach.

Arriving at Iona
Arriving at Iona

Anchored near Iona ferry slip at 1900. Ashore by dinghy for fish and chips at the restaurant and a walk round the graveyard – John Smith, the Scots Kings, in the same place. Smith’s wonderful epitaph, carved in granite, is from Alexander Pope: “An honest man’s the noblest work of God.” If only he had stayed around….

Back to the boat for a noisy night at anchor as the chain ground itself around. This is not the most comfortable of places.

Passage notes: 35 miles, 5 hours, SW 2-3, drizzle, visibility moderate