Saturday, 18 June 2016

Map Update

I've added the 2016 summer cruise so far. From Fairlie to Dingle.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Tucked up in Dingle Marina

Peter the marina manager at Dingle understands and loves wooden boats. He gave Robinetta a sheltered berth for her month long lay over, and told us to store Worm on board as she might get damaged in the dinghy park.

We've never tried putting Worm on top of Robinetta before, but it turns out it works better than expected, with Worm acting surprisingly well as a cover for the foredeck hatch!
The weather has turned for the worse, with rain and strong winds today as we catch the plane home. It feels as though we timed our cruise perfectly. Lets hope the next leg works a well!

In the last three weeks we have travelled 531 nautical miles, in 145 hours under way. We had engine assist for 101 hours, but a lot of that was motor sailing to keep up the speed in light winds, rather than just being under motor all day (although we did do that too). In that time we dropped anchor or moored in 20 different places. This feels like an impressive total for a boat like Robinetta, where we calculate cruising speed at 4 knots and tow a dinghy the whole time. We even had time for days ashore.

The weather has been truly kind for this most ambitious leg of our Circumnavigation of Ireland!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Smerwick Harbour to Dingle via the Blaskets

There was a little water in Worm this morning so it must have rained but we had a really calm and undisturbed night at anchor off the beach west of Carrigveen.

The wind forecast was a little stronger for today than it had been but still only a F3 or F4 at most. The Met Eirean sea area forecast was variable light winds. Friday looks calmer but with rain. We debated having a day ashore and walking around the cluster of antiquities nearby but the main one is the Galarus Oratory which we had clear memories of from our car tour in 1987 so we decided to go round to Dingle today.

I wanted to visit as many of the Blasket Islands as possible - they all look wonderful in the Sailing Directions so I planned a route between Great Blasket and Inishtooskert out to Tearaght and then between Inishnabro and Inishvickillane, back along the south side of Great Blasket and into Dingle Bay. If we could get to Tearaght at low water we should have the tide with us all the time.

Departing around 9:30 seemed to work and off we went.

Three Sisters headlands
Another yacht left the Dun an Oir anchorage as we passed and they headed into Blasket Sound. Outside Smerwick Bay there was more wind than I expected and with a close reach we could sail. We kept the motor on to keep the speed up and we had a little tide assist. The weather was fine but not ideal for photography but we got some shots of the Three Sisters and Sybil Point.
We passed Inishtooskert with its spectacular rock formations at the eastern end and skirted the rocks off Great Blasket and into the gap. We could see Great Blasket without going nearer so I adjusted the course to be more directly towards Tearaght. There are tide rips marked on the charts here but we hoped that with the tide with us they would not be a problem.

North East tip of Inishnabro
In fact, the swell was much worse than we have been used to and the wind was very variable. It wasn't much fun at all and on the helm Alison was getting tired and worried. I took over the helm and was quite enjoying it but it was hard work. We decided that with the conditions so variable and the amount of swell we should not try to make Tearaght. That would shorten the trip so we were in less of a rush. I throttled back and we furled the jib and reefed the main. It became a lot more comfortable. In the lulls we put the motor back on, more to keep the boat steady than for speed.

We got a good view of Tearaght but we didn't get round to the side of it to see the hole through the middle. From the south-east it looks rather like Skelling Michael.

Inishnabro with Tearaght beyond
We made it as far as the eastern tip of Inishnabro, which has stunning blades of limestone facing the sea. We turned sharply away before we got too close to the off-lying rocks and thought better of trying to round it into the anchorage. The sailing directions say that the stream always runs west to east between Inishnabro and Inishvickallane, regardless of the state of the tide.

Cloudscape over the Dingle peninsula
We headed back along Great Blasket with a fair amount of swell but we now had no time constraints so I could dispense with the engine and sailing got more enjoyable. Alison went down and rummaged through the cupboard and made a fine lunch of tinned mackerel on wholemeal soda bread.

The cloud based lifted a little and we got some nice cloudscapes as we reached into Dingle Bay.

Eask Tower
Eask Tower was built on Carhoo Hill in 1847 as a famine relief project. It guides ships into the mouth of the blind harbour of Dingle. The beacon told sailors when to let their sails down, enabling them to lose speed and to round the harbour mouth safely.

The swell was breaking fiercely on Crow Rock.

Crow Rock
Dingle Harbour really
is invisible from outside but as we turned into it we saw more and more tourist boats, all out looking for Fungie the dolphin, resident outside the harbour for over 30 years. Some of them seemed more interested in us. One rib kept moving in front of me.

Kayaks off Reenbeg Point
Further in people were out in Kayaks.

We threaded the curving channel into the inner harbour, waving back at trippers on the boats. As we got into the harbour we were called towards a hammer head and our lines were taken. It was Peter O'Regan, the marina super-intendant, who had got my email and was ready to welcome us. He found us a quiet spot on the inside where we can leave Robinetta for a month and we moved around into it.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Kilrush to Smerwick Bay

Kilrish Marina from the lock
We spent a very pleasant evening in Kilrush, having managed to find a pub, The Haven Bar, whose chef was happy to cook an order put in at 20:50. Thank you!
After a good night's sleep we headed to the fuel dock and filled both both tanks and both cans, which took 41.5 litres. That meant Robinetta had had about 23 litres left in the tank, much more than I calculated! I shall continue to use 1 hour motoring = 1 litre used though, as it gives a decent safety margin.

We locked out at 09:30, together with the ferry to Scattery Island, and headed back along our previous track out of the Shannon. It was this necessary retracing of our steps that had made me think Fenit a better choice of stop over, but I am glad we went to Kilrush. The marina staff are friendly and helpful, and the town is a very short walk away. Having a schedule for the lock is useful (although they will also open on request) as it allows planning, and the lock is well set out with a pontoon for mooring to on entering the lock. They even have a fuel dock you can operate yourself with a credit card, like a modern garage forecourt, while simplifies fuelling tremendously.
Scattery Island

We did not bother to raise the main sail as the morning was totally calm, with a grey overcast that hid most of the details of the coast line. Not a great start to a 43 mile passage. Then we noticed how fast we were going. The tidal gate off Kilcredaun Head is also a tidal express. We touched 8.2 knots over the ground as we passed it under engine, and the strong tide continued to take us at well over 7 knots for about four miles down the estuary, a very useful speed boost. We kept the tide under us until Kerry Head, when it turned against us, but by then we were well away from the coast, where the tide had less effect.

By noon the sun had burnt through the haze and there was enough wind to be worth raising the sails, but the engine stayed on and the main was sheeted right in, with the jib only just drawing. It was almost a perfect South Westerly, the prevailing wind on this coast line, and one we had been very happy not to see before on our trip! It was only force 2 though, so did not raise enough waves on top of the swell to be a problem.

Julian decided to head closer to the cliffs west of Brandon Point so we could admire them, but the clouds came back to cover the sun and the waves got a little larger. It was nearly 3pm, just about the time the wind had been getting up on previous days, so we changed from the no1 jib to the number 2, just in case the same happened again. As it turned out the wind stayed light, and the engine only went off for quarter of an hour while we tacked away from the cliffs.

We closed with the cliffs as we neared the entrance to Smerwick Harbour, which is a wide bay with a rocky outcrop called Duncapple Island in the entrance. The wind died totally, leaving nothing but a very gentle Atlantic swell which rolled beneath us imperceptibly, so we got the main sail down  then headed in past the island.
Approaching Smerwick Bay

We motored half way round the bay, admiring the scenery, before anchoring just off the beach in 4m of water so clear I could see down to the sand  beneath. I love these clear water bays! The pilot book warns that Smerwick Harbour is subject to swell, but it feels very gentle at the moment.
Ballydavid, Smerwick Harbour

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Into the Shannon

We dragged ourselves out of bed after a cup of tea, and did the least possible getting Robinetta and Worm ready before casting off. This was easy. It was high tide so Julian could just step ashore from Robinetta's cabin top and undo the stern and bow lines, then step back on boards. The first time we mooring against harbour walls on long lines, back in Fraserburgh, it felt like cheating compared to setting bow, stern, and spring lines on a pontoon, but it works really well, so long as you have enough fenders!

Once we were under way at 0620 Julian got the fenders put away and the bowsprit out, while I helmed, and stowed the lines. We had a flat calm across the bay, so it was easy to keep us on course while using both hands to hank the ropes.

With leaving at high water we could go the drying side of Straw Island and save a mile. A fishing boat left harbour not long after us, and did the same thing so we just followed their line and never had less than 5m under the keel. This felt strange as there was a 5m rise of tide, we draw 1.4m, and the spit is supposed to dry 2m....

Once clear of the spit and in the Gregory Channel between Innis Mor and the next island inshore we got some swell and cross swell, but as soon as we were clear of the channel it soon eased into a regular long roll that was easy to cope with. We put “George” our tiller pilot to work, and relaxed for a 35 mile passage under motor as the wind was too light be be useful (which was just as well since it was on the bow, and tacking against it would have been very slow!).

As the Aran Islands faded behind us we may as well have been in the middle of the Atlantic rather than the edge! We could see nothing of the Cliffs of Mohar, as taking the most direct route to Loop Head meant keeping ten miles offshore, and the mainland was lost in the haze.
The trip would have been very dull except for the dolphins, which visited Robinetta and Worm three times through the morning. I got movie footage, and stills, helped by the wonderfully clear water. There were plenty of birds too, gannets, and guillemots mostly, but some terns close to Aran.
We had planned to go straight to Fenit, but when I checked my diesel calculations this seemed a little tight for our available fuel... We would have had plenty, but spent more time under engine than planned going to Galway and back. Rather then risk running out Julian found an alternative source of diesel at Kilbaha Bay, 3 miles inside Loop Head. The pilot said it had fuel, a pier, a shop and pubs, but it lacked shelter, and had poor holding. With the low swell and no wind conditions today the weather would not be a problem, and our fisherman's anchor works ridiculously well. We decided to go for it.
Loop Head

We dropped the anchor in Kilbaha Bay at 16:30, after motoring all the way from Aran. We could see two pubs, but no petrol station and were still waiting to check the anchor was holding when a local fisherman came past in his boat. We asked about diesel, and he said that it came from the farmer's co-op, which had already closed for the day. He offered to take us to a petrol station if we needed it, but I checked the fuel in the tanks and we had enough to go on the Kilrush Marina, as we thanked him, then upped the anchor and headed up the Shannon.

I phoned Kilrush Marina, to check that their lock would be operating. It is supposed to open every hour at half past the hour from 0930 to 2130 in June to August, but we were only just in June and I wanted to be sure we would not be “locked out” of the marina. The operator assured me would be able to get in, so Kilrush it would be.

The wind had finally risen to usable levels as we approached Kilbaha, so on leaving we tried to get the main up. We have been flying an Irish courtesy flag on the flag halyard, and it got caught on the peak halyard block when we tried to raise sail. It took Julian ten minutes to free it, but it was worth the trouble as we had a lovely sail past Kilcredoun Head, with the tide under us, touching 7 knots.

When the speed fell below 5 knots we put the engine back on so we would make the 1930 lock. Our timing was perfect, the lock operator had been warned we were on our way, and we went through without delay.

We were told to pick any berth that did not have a name plate, and there was one nice and handy to the entrance, so we went in towards it, to be met by the marina attendant who took our lines and helped us moor up at 1940, after a long day on the water.

After that it was straight to the showers, blissful after 11 days. It is possible to have a wash on Robinetta, but nothing beats a hot shower!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Currach and Galway Hooker racing

The lock gates in Galway harbour only open for the two hours before high water. That had been perfect for going in mid afternoon, but unless we wanted to stay there all day we needed to be out EARLY. Julian set the alarm for 05:30, half an hour before the lock gates closed, but we were woken by the loud engine of a cargo boat at half four. Since we were awake anyway we put Worm back in the water, let go the lines, and headed out to pick up one of the mooring buoys in the bay. Once there we went back to bed.

The two Hookers that had been in the harbour yesterday afternoon were on mooring buoys near us, and by 09:30 I was wondering if they were going to be racing or not. We had been told that the Hookers were due to arrive at Spiddle at 1400, and although it was only 10 miles away the wind was light, and they have no engines. Julian was itching to be away, so we cast off from the buoy and headed west.

Robinetta in Spiddle bay
We managed to sail for nearly an hour, then the wind died away and the engine went on. It looked as though it would be another scorchingly hot day. On arriving at Spiddle we anchored Robinetta off the breakwater and rowed ashore in Worm, who was much admired.
Spiddle Harbour

We met Seamus Keaney, the main organiser of the regatta and after he had laid the course it turned out we were on the finish line so Seamus told us the best spot to move to. We went back on board and headed very slowly and carefully over to where we would be out of the way. There was an unmarked rock over there somewhere.....

The first Hookers hove into view at 1330, a little flotilla in the distance. Another four appeared from various directions, but the racing did not start until 1545.

Meanwhile there were currach rowing races to watch, and the sun to soak up...

Once the Hooker races started we hauled up our anchor and followed the fleet for over half an hour, dodging out of the way of the racers, safety and camera boats, and other yachts who were also following the (very slow) action. Julian got some great pictures.

We left the fleet at 1630, and headed for Kilronan harbour on Aran. It was only 15 miles away, but what wind there was was on the nose, so it was engine all the way until we arrived at 2030 and rafted up on another yacht on the harbour wall.

The race results were: 

**Torthaí Féile an Spidéal***
Báid Mhóra
1. An Tonaí
2. American Mór
3. An Capall
Leath Bháid
1. Croí an Chladaigh 
2. Volunteer

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Alarms and diversions

Julian woke at 6, and put the kettle on. We were away from the anchorage by 0705, under motor, and we stayed under motor nearly all day although the sails went up and down as we tried to use the light breeze that came and went, but mostly went.

Our destination was Spiddle, where the Hookers would be racing on Sunday. We motored gently into the mouth of the drying harbour, but there was only one Hooker in there, lying against the wall at the outside end. The rest of the wall was full, with two yachts lying against it and a few small fishing boats filling the rest of the space. Even at high tide when there would be enough water for us to get in there would not have been enough space for us against the wall.

We turned away to make for deeper water and suddenly stopped with a jolt. We had hit an unmarked rock, shrouded in kelp. We were doing less than 3 knots, and backed off easily with no ill effects (visible yet at any rate), but it was a reminder that we need to be careful on these coasts, even when we can see clean sand through the water. Robinetta's pump ran about 15 minutes later, but only a little water came out before it stopped.

I laid in a course for the Galway Sailing Club, and got the sails down. Of course, five minutes later the wind came back. Julian hoisted the sail this time, and we had a slow run towards Galway. With the engine off it was possible to hear that the pump was still running. Julian opened up the bilges to investigate and discovered that the float switch had stuck in the “on” position and would not turn off. It looked as though a new float switch was needed.

There is a chandlers in Galway, called Galway Maritime, so Julian phoned them and Gavin sold him a new pump, to be picked up from the House Hotel near Galway Harbour since the chandlers would be closed by the time we arrived. Sorted.

We tried to call the Harbour Master on the VHS and phone, but there was no reply on either channel, so we crossed our fingers that there would be room. We sailed as long as we could, while two yachts motored ahead of us, then got Robinetta's sails down in a bay full of moorings. There were plenty of boats heading out of the harbour, so we reasoned that there should be space inside. and headed through the lock gates and into the marina.

There were moorings just before the lock, with Galway Hookers rafted up to hang off them, but there were another two inside, but not in the marina area.

There was an empty visitor pontoon just as we went into the marina, so we moored on it, with Robinetta's bows pointing the way we would need to leave tomorrow. It was wide enough to haul Worm out without worries too. Just about perfect.

On a walk around the marina to find someone to ask about re-entry codes I spotted someone on a wooden yacht. Just the right person to talk to! It turns out that the yacht is a Laurent Giles “Peter Duck” design, owned by Ben McDonagh, a long standing member of the Dublin Bay OGA. Much swapping of stories and a drink later Julian and I finally headed for the House Hotel to pick up the float switch.

Julian went to fit the new switch and discovered two things; although nominally exactly the same switch as the old one it was slightly larger, so he had to drill a new screw hole to fix it in place, and since it did not work either he traced the real cause of the problem to the electrical connections in the fuse box. He was not a happy man.

We filled up the water tanks for the first time since Portrush, the headed for a well deserved meal.It was another very hot afternoon, and going into a town felt like a real shock to the system. All I can say about Galway on a Saturday night is that is is full of Hen parties and people who talk very loudly to be heard over the traditional music that is a feature of the Galway pubs. We did not stay late, since we wanted an early start in the morning.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Passing Slyne Head

After a short and disturbed night we got up rather slowly. The crew of Silver Bow had talked about getting away about 9am, but they got back to their boat after we did. We thought we should make an effort and were on deck then, but only two people were on deck and moving when we cast off at 10:30.

Julian and I were not at our best either. As we left Inishboffin there a was a gentle breeze, just enough to sail, and we were met by a pod of common dolphins who had a great time bow riding on Worm rather than Robinetta! In the crystal clear water we watched them swimming around the boats half a meter below the surface. We passed inside Friar Island but then the wind died and we motored the rest of the way past Slyne Head.
Once past the twin lighthouses we got a knot of tide against us. For a while we had a light wind on the beam and we motor sailed, but by 17:00 it had died again and we got the main down. Julian turned mobile data roaming on, and went searching for information about Galway Hookers since we were now in Galway Bay. He found a Galway Hooker Association site which said there was raching this weekend. We thought we should try watching this, so Julian went looking for an anchorage a bit closer to where the racing would be than our original choice. The Sailing Directions describe a pleasant anchorage of Finish Island a good few miles on from where we had planned to stop at Gorteen Bay, but not much further away in time.

We deviated from the shortest route to go through Macdara Sound, and got a good view of the church, dating from the 6th century. One of the oldest in Ireland.

The route into the anchorage from the west is windy and rock strewn but once there we found ourselves in a wide shallow sandy bay with crystal clear water, We dropped the anchor in 4 metres below the keel, with 2m left to fall before low water. I put Robinetta to bed while Julian cooked dinner, then sat peacefully in the cockpit with a glass of wine, writing this blog.

I could hear the surf on the nearby beach and rocks, but the swell could not have been much more than 10cm. In the calm weather it was a lovely spot.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

On to Inishboffin

After a day ashore it was time to move on. Our next destination was Inishboffin, but we both wanted to see the abbey at Clare Island, so we left the Mayo Yacht
Club moorings early. The forecast wind was northerly force 3-5 and we debated over the no1 or 2 jib. We decided on the no 2 and Julian went up to the foredeck, changed his mind, and asked for the no 1. We tried to sail off the mooring but there was not enough wind and once we were on course to Clare Island we had a flat calm, so got the sails down again.

Julian had a go at thinning the top main sail baton. This was something that Mark Butler of James Lawrence Sails had suggested. The baton was clearly too stiff and put a hard corner in the top of the sail. It is a messy job as the baton was made of fibreglass and the shavings get everywhere no matter how hard you try to control it. After that he made buttermilk pancakes which we ate for elevensies. George steered the whole way.
The moorings at Clare Harbour
Since the pilot was written at least 8 moorings have been installed at Clare Island Harbour. They are surrounded by warnings not to anchor due to electric cables.... We picked one up and rowed ashore. We hauled Worm well up on the sand and Julian refitted Worm's starboard bow quarter knee which had come off a few days earlier. We had a drink at the pub and then walked to Clare Abbey along a road. It was so hot that the tar was melting and sticking to our shoes.
We got ice-creams and the key to the Abbey from the post office. The Abbey has been re-roofed and some restoration work done on the world famous paintings, but they are really in a poor state and not very distinct, looking more like cave paintings than frescoes.

When we took the key back we had a really nice chat about Robinetta in the post office. Back at the harbour we met one oune of the local fishermen. He had been on one of the boats we saw on Tuesday evening when we met the dolphins. He had seen the dolphins and us, and agreed the wind was rather strong.
The predicted force 3-5 had finally come which made the row back to Robinetta much harder work than the row in had been, but it made it worth while getting the main up on the mooring and we sailed off without putting the engine on. It was strong enough to reef, and change down from the no1 to no2 jib, then (of course) the wind died. The motor went on and George took over the steering again. It managed well despite a shortish swell developing as we passed Caher Island.

As we passed Inishturk we got the wind back again, and I relieved George at the helm. The wind increased steadily, and we reefed down steadily. It was an exhilarating ride sailing across and down the Atlantic swell, but it was also hard work. By the time we were safe inside Boffin Harbour I was glad the trip was over.

We rafted up on a big Jeanneau called Silver Bow, which was moored on the outside of the outer pier. It felt sheltered at the time, but later swell came into the harbour and we rolled noticably overnight. Not that it was a long night. It was the first day of the Inish festival and after a trip to the pub we went to a concert of mixed classical and folk music in the community centre. This did not start until 22:45 and went on for two hours. Great music, but I was ready to drop!

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A day ashore in Mayo

The Mayo Sailing Club is a fair distance from Westport. Lying in bed I turned mobile data roaming on and did some investigating. There are plenty of taxis and some of them will do custom guided tours but I also found a car hire place. That sounded like a good idea and would let us buy diesel and stock up on food too. I also discovered there was an archaeology trail we could drive around.

Once we were up I called the car hire place and they had a VW golf we could have so I booked a taxi and we rowed ashore. It all worked brilliantly. We drove back into town and parked and went to the tourist office and stocked up with leaflets and headed to Westport Quay where the Heritage Centre is and one can buy the Archaeology Trail guide book. The Quay is delightful. It would have been nice to bring Robinetta here but the tides are all wrong - high around noon and midnight and the quay dries below 1/2 tide. 

The lady in the Heritage Centre gave us a potted history of Westport. The current town is a planned community, built by the local lord as the original village spoiled his view from his posh new house. He did a good job though and the villagers prospered from the move.

The harbour was a working port into the 20th century with large steamers and sailing hookers using the quay. They all had to dry out against the wall. There was a tragedy in the 1894 when a hooker carrying people from Achill to join a steamer to emigrate to America was lost in Clew Bay. With the flaky winds we had yesterday in fine weather I can imagine what bad weather would be like.

We lunched at The Towers because it had a garden and the weather was so fine. Alison had a crab sandwich and I had mussels. Really good. The chap behind the bar might have been German. He made sure I had the most local beer - "You can get Galway Hooker anywhere - you won't get this more than 5 miles away". The local brew was good. 

We headed up the R335 towards Murrisk with two archeology stops on the way. The first was a tiny ring fort while the second was an alignment of standing stones in the marsh - it covers at springs. Really the scenery was more wonderful than the archeology. The views are dominated by Croagh Patrick but the drumlins and marshes of the bay are stunning.

Murrisk is notable for it's abbey - a ruin but with fine stonework, for it's Famine Ship sculpture and for being the trail head car park for walking up Craogh Patrick. 

We also saw a really young foal in a field with its mother.

Further on along the R335 is Louisburgh. We stopped there to visit the Famine Museum and Grainne Uaile Centre. This is a small private museum with two good exhibits.

The Famine Museum is truly heartbreaking. The heartless exploitation of the famine by the landlords is a stain on British history. One exhibit stood out for me. The picture speaks for itself.

Grainne Uaile ('Bald Grace') or Grace O'Malley is a fascinating character who deserves a Hollywood movie - according to IMDB she did get a Discovery Channel documentary in 2003. The O'Malleys were the Irish 'rulers' of that part of Ireland in medieval times and were amongst other things either pirates or excise men, depending on your point of view. Grace's life provides a fascinating insight into Irish culture, political, economic and social. Beset by encroaching English domination she visited Queen Elisabeth I in London, presenting herself at court as an equal queen to argue her case. Her descendants married into the incoming English aristocracy (or the other way round), salvaging at least a thread of continuity. 

From Louisburgh we headed inland and visited a wedge tomb and a Victorian clapper bridge before heading to the beach near Killadoon to watch the breakers.

We took a different route back to Westport heading south of Craobh Patrick through the hills. Another lovely drive and the furthest inland we got all summer. Back in Westport we did a good shop and filled our diesel cans and drove back to the Mayo Sailing Club and left our shopping and diesel in their club house. We then went back to Westport and had dinner. We didn't want anything fancy and we saw several good looking pizza places but they were too noisy. Then we found a little wine bar which ordered pizza in for you. It was quiet and friendly and played really cool jazz on vinyl.

We dropped the car off and phoned for a taxi to take us back to the pier, picked up our shopping and rowed back to Robinetta. Our first day ashore had gone really well.