What's the Craic?
Well, the Craic is good! We’re well on route around the Wild West Coast of Ireland reaching the beautiful island of Inishbofin a couple of days ago on 27th July. Leaving Ardrossan, on the Clyde, on 11th July, Jo, Freddie & I spent our first night on anchorage in Campbelltown Loch at the south end of the Mull of Kintyre. It’s a perfect place to time the tide and weather to cross the North Channel over to Northern Ireland.
Conditions were good to go the following morning and after a relatively uneventful sail across to the southern point of Rathlin Island the tide really got a grip and we flew through Rathlin Sound with a speed over the ground of 11.5 knots and a boat speed of 5.7 knots. We now had light winds just off out starboard bow and the counter tide rips off Sheep Island created some large overfalls. These were pretty benign conditions so heaven knows what conditions would be like if on a mistimed passage in strong winds!
A late afternoon arrival at Portrush Harbour meant a delicate entry on a half, but rising, tide. Only 30cm under the keel thanks to the winter sandbank creeping across the entrance. Just enough to allow us to take the last available spot moored against the harbour wall. It was the ‘Glorious’ 12th July, or Orangeman’s Day, so the drum’s sounded and Ulster Protestant marchers filed through the streets. It’s our first experience of an historically secular culture which still prevails, but is thankfully less radicalised than in the not-too-distant past. However, the headlines were reporting that effigies of rival politicians from Alliance Party and Sinn Fein were being featured on one of the traditional bonfires in Carrickfergus! It was great to spend a few days exploring this seaside holiday spot and get ready for a push against the unremitting headwinds around Malin Head.
After leaving Portrush we went into the bay at Culdaff to anchor and wait for the tide to help us round Malin Head. The windlass motor slowed up and then stopped and faced with at least three nights on anchor (and a 44kg anchor with 12mm chain!) we decided to head back east and up 16 miles up the River Foyle to the city marina pontoons in Derry/Londonderry. Serendipidy indeed as the city was building up to the Foyle Maritime Festival the coming weekend and the round the world Clipper Yachts had just arrived from New York on their last ocean crossing leg and the penultimate leg of the race before the finish in London.
The Foyle Harbour Port staff were friendly and helpful and eventually put us on the city pontoon just forward of the Clipper Fleet. George Brewis’s daughter Hannah is the AQP (Additional Qualified Person), or 1st mate, on the Clipper ‘Seattle’. It was brilliant to meet and socialize a bit with Hannah, her Skipper Dave Hartshorn and some of the Clipper crew and team members over the next few days while we sorted out a new windlass motor. It also gave us a chance to delve deeper into the incredible history and culture of Derry/Londonderry, get fully restocked, pick up some gas and rebuild and lube a couple of our winches. Personally, it was the walk around the old city bastion walls and the Bogside district which drove home the power of emotion, continuing depth of feeling and travesties of social justice which these communities have endured, and many in my own lifetime.
These are place names which resonate from my youth in relative ignorance from across the Irish Sea and woefully understated as simply the ‘Troubles’. Passing wall after wall of Bogside Art and the Bloody Sunday Memorial makes the walk in and around Rossville Street one of the most emotive and upsetting experiences. Extraordinary. Injustices unresolved even now, lessons to be learned on many levels and a reminder of the abuses of state power by one of the worlds oldest and well respected democracies. An eye-opener indeed for Freddie. The Maritime Festival kicked off on the Wednesday and the Clipper Race presentations took place on the dock next to the mile long array of foodie, charity and craft stalls. A super evening before a dawn start with the ebbtide the following morning. Round Malin Head and to Gola Island deep along Donegals North West wilderness coastline.
After a quiet, sheltered night in the southern anchorage at Gola Island we made the shorter hop, passing Port Donegal and the spectacular 601m Slieve Liag cliffs, to Teelin. Teelin has a picturesque harbour setting with rolling green hills around the inlet. Gorgeous sunny weather meant we could use the SUP and spend time on the clean sandy beach before heading up to the Rusty Mackerel for slow pour Guinness or two.
We were hoping to catch up with an old BASI skiing friend, Roland Purcell, in Donegal but he was abroad while we were passing through so unfortunately the opportunity passed. With the wind picking up and limited anchorages on the county’s south coast we contacted the Harbourmaster at Killybegs and he told us that the only suitable pontoon berth in the small craft harbour was occupied but he kindly let us raft up against a steel crabber, Mary Ellen, moored up on the Town Quay for maintenance. What a super town. Lots going on, interesting shops, foodie shacks, a huge commercial chandlery and pubs in the side streets of this busy fishing port. Some huge vessels confirming its status as the largest fishing port in Ireland, hosting boats from far and wide. The deep natural harbour has a straightforward entry in all weather and provides good shelter from all directions. Freddie managed to get through a good chunk of the ‘charts’ sections his RYA Day Skipper Theory course and we had a brilliant meal listening to a guitarist at The Fleet pub, before heading over to The Bay Hotel to catch the ‘Rusty Strings’ in full flow accompanied by some seriously drunken Sunday night dancing from the locals.
Conditions had now settled down a bit and we were ready for the 70nm SW passage across Donegal Bay, round Erris Head and on to Inishkea North. Pod after pod of Atlantic Common Dolphins joined us on route, something we’ve got used to since arriving on the west coast. Rafts of Puffins covered the sea as we passed south of The Stags off Benwee Head and there were Manx Shearwaters everywhere, probably on their way to the feeding grounds in the North Atlantic/Rockall area, or on the way back to their breeding grounds in the Blasket Islands.
A few miles before reaching Inishkea North we pass the mythical Inishglora, leaving it to starboard just as we entered the inner passage west of the Mullet Peninsula. This is where the legendary Children of Lir were supposedly released from the cursed spell of their stepmother before being baptized, dying and being buried on the island. Monastic remains litter these remote islands and aside from the megalithic evidence of very early settlement from 3500-2000 BC most of them still have clear remnants of monastic buildings and standing stone crosses. Inishkea North is no different, with several cross stones with spiral markings still clearly visible and even evidence of a monastic dye house used for producing revered purple dye from dog whelks.
In more recent times it was home to a surviving fishing and potato farming subsistence community until 1939 when the last inhabitants finally left after a disastrous storm 12 years earlier which took the lives of 10 young boatmen. Prior to that the islands population had dabbled with Pagan religion (The Godstone), Whaling – after a Norwegian Whaling station was set up on Rusheen, a small islet linked at low tide with Inishkea South and even a bit of piracy. There’s no doubt, it is a remote and wonderful place, interesting flora and fauna and a privilege for us to visit. Just after we arrived a little 10ft Tory Island Curragh with an old Seagull engine chugged into the east bay. It was Terence, who had come at least 4nm over from Achill Sound and he was fully laden with tent, food, water and cooking equipment to stay on the island alone for a few days. He was over from his home in Bermuda and due to start a further degree MA course at Queens, Belfast in September. Before that he’s spending time, as he has during visits for several years now, travelling the west coast. Since last year he’s had his authentically built Tory Island Curragh on the roof of his car and is hopping out to the islands to enjoy the wild beauty and solitude of the West Coast.
Now, back to Inishbofin. We arrived at Bofin Harbour, a lovely little natural harbour, but unfortunately the anchorage is a little too tight and shallow for Moana. There was a mooring bouy free, but we’re never convinced that they can handle Moana’s 30 tonne displacement. So, we moved round to Rusheen Bay on the east side of the island. There’s a beautiful, crescent shaped, white sandy beach at the head of the bay and the anchorage is relatively shallow with a sand and kelp bottom. Rocks inshore protect a sandy lagoon that looks tropical in the sunshine and a row of houses and a café restaurant line the small road behind the beach.
The island is small and has a simple road system with the odd car, walkers and lots of hired bikes. The atmosphere is relaxed and laid back and after a bit of beach time we leave the RIB anchored near the shore and make the 3 mile walk, with fabulous views southwards, into Bofin Harbour and on to the Doonmore Hotel and Murray’s Bar. The seafood and service is outstanding and we hung around for the music to start at 9.30pm with intentions of heading off at around 10pm to make it back to the RIB before it grounded on the dropping tide. It was about midnight when we left feeling that we were still leaving the party prematurely. By now there were 15 musicians in the room, with some still hovering around the core players waiting to get a seat. Some ‘voices’ were also due to join soon according to the lady sat next to us. The music was fantastic and even our waitress, a delightful young Agricultural Science teacher (with a hobby of Aquaponics!) joined in after her shift. She played the accordion and treated us to a fantastic display of Irish dancing in the centre of the crowded pub on 75cm diameter wooden dance board.
The RIB was high and dry on our return in the early hours. We managed to get it afloat and struggled through several shallow sand and kelp channels before finding deeper water and our beds. Happy in our slumber. This is a special place.