Sunday 9th June – To Northern Ireland!
Sunday dawns bright and sunny with a pleasant easterly breeze and a flat, blue sea – just right for going to Northern Ireland. We consult the tidal atlas for the area and Reid’s Almanac and decide to leave at around 1130 to avoid the worst of the adverse tides coming down that part of the Irish Sea. (Reids is the yachtsman’s bible, listing every major and most minor ports for Atlantic Europe from the tip of Denmark to Gibraltar plus a whole host of other information. It is a tremendous publication). Our plan is to go to Strangford Lough, one of the largest inland sea loughs in the UK and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty renowned for its wildlife. There are very strong tides in and out of the Strangford Narrows connecting the Lough to the sea so we plan to take the evening tide into the Loch and anchor up in a nearby bay if we arrive early before taking the flood tide up the Narrows. John rows ashore for the Sunday paper and we have a lazy morning enjoying the sun and breakfasting in the cockpit.
Just before midday we sail off the mooring and set full working sails so we can goose wing, running before the wind. We set the auto helm and settle back for a lovely sail. After a while the wind reduces so the spinnaker is set and we continue with only the occasional ferry to see. The weather is fine but a bit misty and after about three hours the wind dies down so we decide to motor. However, the engine does not want to play, coughing and spluttering and dying. Eventually we coax it into action and after about half an hour it settles down. There is no obvious cause but our suspicions are a blockage in the fuel system. We are within mobile phone range so we have a telephone conflab with co-owner Dave Jones as he has had more experience than John on fuel matters on Sundart. (It is surprising how we can pick up the mobile phone signal off-shore but not when on land!).
Dave’s brains duly picked, we decide to make for Ardglass, a small port just south of Strangford with all tides entry, a small marina, quite a few facilities and (most importantly) no strong tides to contend with. Our decision is re-enforced when we hear a Mayday call from a yacht that has been swept by the tide into the water turbine in the middle of the Strangford Narrows.
We chug along, the Mountains of Mourne gradually appear over the haze and we duly make it to Ardglass, mooring up by 6:30. We celebrate by cooking a good lamb curry and have a glass of wine. We could have limped in under sail if the engine completely failed but it would have taken ages and negotiating the relatively small entrance into the Ardglass marina would have been tricky.
Distance sailed today: 32.5 nautical miles
Total distance sailed to date: 693.9 nm
Engine hours today: 3.1
Total engine hours to date: 87.0
Hours sailed today: 6.5
Total hours sailed to date: 153.1
Monday 10th June – Fix that engine then try to find why Ardglass featured in a van Morrison song!
After breakfast John rolls his sleeves up to fix the engine. We soon find that the primary fuel filter is almost completely blocked with black sediment. We only did full engine checks two days ago but the lesson we learn is to use a torch to inspect the clear bowl below the filter for crud, not rely on the light coming down the companionway. We are thankful to our fellow co-owners for Sundart being packed with spares and a new filter is soon fitted. Priming the fuel system is more of a challenge: one of the tricks that John had to glean from David.
The “dinghy pump” theory did not work on our part full tank of fuel so we decide to buy some more diesel. In Ardglass there is no convenient pump by the marina or harbour as the fuelling arrangements are set up to deliver tankerfulls of diesel to the fishing fleet; rather its is a matter of getting plastic cans filled from the local red diesel merchant, borrowing the marina trolley and manhandling it to the boat and into the tank. We suspect that as we venture further north this method of refuelling will become more commonplace. However, all is done. We have the bright idea of reading the engine manual (!) and discover that priming the fuel system is simply achieved if we have a couple of cup-full’s of diesel to pre-fill the filler and bowl so a measuring jug is sacrificed, the filler is filled and screwed back in place, the lift pump primed and voila! The engine purrs back into life and continues to do so under various tests so problem solved. The local fisherman’s chandlery does not stock our type of filter – they are fine for hawsers, huge shackles and garden compost (!) but not our size of stuff. We do replace the 20 liter water container for Sundart in case we cannot get water in more remote parts (the old one having sprung a leak) and buy some heavy-duty hand cleaner. After a further telephone conflab with co-owner Phil new filters are ordered for delivery via the next person to crew for us. (We still have some further spares on board).
All this has taken the morning and we have missed the tidal gate to get to Strangford today so we decide to make the best of Ardglass. Once upon a time the musician van Morrison wrote a song about travelling through this part of Northern Ireland, including stopping at Ardglass for pickled herrings “and the craic was good”. Ardglass is a fishing port. In the past 400 – 500 fishing vessels were based here, fishing the (then) abundant herring shoals. In the season scores of girls, mainly Scots, would pack the herrings into salt tubs for export. These days, all that is gone and there is a much more modest (but active) fishing fleet left here. We go in search of herring for supper and find some in a shop on the quay, where we also lunch out on filled baked potato. The prices around here are good.
After a brief foray to stock up supplies at the local supermarket we take a walk round Ardglass. In common with much of the rest of Ireland, things were pretty lawless around here four to five hundred years ago and as Ardglass was the busiest port in Ulster the local merchants fortified their houses and establishments. The legacy is at least seven fortified houses in this little town, one of which is now the local golf club house and others are in various stages of ruin or are incorporated into houses.
Back at the marina, we are surprised to find different birds from those we have seen elsewhere. Quite a few birds are indigenous to Ireland and rare in England including black guillemots and hooded crows that are foraging around the shore line. A heron, common terns, various gulls and cormorants are working the water and shore line as well.
Yvonne fries the herrings in a little olive oil and garlic and they taste delicious with new potatoes and green beans helped down with a glass of rose.
We catch up on the weather forecast – it is going to be breezy with wind from the south-east tomorrow but not too strong so we plan to finally get to Strangford Loch on the morning tide before the rain comes in later.The only issue is that we don’t have a detailed chart for the Loch (although the Samsung does have it on the Navionics package) so as Ardglass is a chart free zone we phone the marina at Portaferry (at the top of the Strangford Narrows) to see if we can buy one. They don’t have one in stock but John Murray at the marina offers to lend us his up-to-date chart! We have been delighted by the friendly welcome we have had at so many places but this has to take the prize so far.
Tuesday 12th June – Strangford Lough at last
We awake early to a fresh south-easterly breeze and drizzle but as Strangford Lough is only 5 miles away we decide to go as the weather forecast is not good for the rest of the week and we don’t want to get stuck at Ardglass. We head out of harbour to a grey and choppy sea, setting just part of the foresail to motor sail round to the Strangford Narrows.
The journey is not very comfortable but we soon reach the entrance to the narrows and use the Samsung tablet to navigate up to Portaferry where we are to collect the chart.There is a very strong flood tide up the narrows and en route we pass the water turbine for generating electricity set right in the middle of the water. Two days ago we heard a mayday call and rescue of a yacht that got swept by the tide into the turbine; we subsequently learn that the rescuers cut away the mast and rigging of the yacht to free it. We give it a wide berth!
We soon reach Portaferry and true to his word John Murray comes down with his chart and some print outs giving us details of navigation and anchorages. We consult the chart and pilot book: Strangford Lough is so big that there are many choices on where to go but as the wind has died we decide to go to the Quoile River in the south-east as being the nearest.
We soon reach the Quoile and pick up a mooring. The weather by now is wet and grey so we shut the hatches and settle down to read, catch up on this blog and cook a lasagna for supper.
Distance today: 12.0 nautical miles
Total distance to date: 705.9 nm
Wednesday 12th June
We decide to carefully motor from the mooring round a bend in the
Loch towards the Quoile Yacht Club as we are not sure of the depth. However, all goes well and we come within hailing distance of a fine traditional ketch – the Young Larry – whose owner Andrew kindly sounds the depth by the pontoon to ensure we can safely moor there. Andrew and his wife Moira are sailing round Ireland, climbing the highest hill or mountain in each of the seaboard counties they pass.
Quoile Yacht Club turns out to be well run, with very friendly staff. The Club is well organised for visitors with a welcome pack, amenities and general assistance. We decide to visit the adjacent nature reserve, formed by a dam across the Quoile where the local conservation group have installed a hide. Although we are not bird experts we manage to spot quite a few birds, consulting our ancient pocket book, including widgeon, tufted and eider ducks, black guillemots, pied wagtails, heron, swans, common terns and mallard.
On returning to the Yacht Club we debate whether to stay at Strangford (which we would like to do) or go onto Bangor which is in Belfast Lough. The weather forecast for today is good but the rest of the week is poor due to “complex lows moving eastward” according to the inshore weather forecast and a very messy looking weather map so we reluctantly conclude that we should move on today. Andrew and Moira have reached the same decision and pass on the knowledge that we should go down the Narrows against the last of the flood tide to get the best tide up the coast. There is virtually no wind so we leave at 1300, motor sailing back to Portaferry to drop off the chart. Bucking the tide is hard work, so we chug down the edge of the narrows whilst Andrew and Moira motor down the middle in Happy Larry. At the end of the narrows we head up the coast, Young Larry passing us (being larger than Sundart their boat sails quicker).
The wind remains light, so we motor sial up the coast but the tide gives us a push and we make a steady 7 knots over the ground. By 1800 we are passing inside the islands at Donaghadee into Belfast Lough and by 2015 we are moored at Bangor Marina.
Miles today: 37.6 nautical miles
Total miles to date: 743.5
Thursday 13th June – Bangor and beyond
We need a “pit stop” and find that Bangor Marina is well set up and run so we can catch up on showers, fill up with water and fuel (from a pump this time) and connect to the mains and charge everything up before heading into Bangor to raid the local Asda.
Bangor itself is extremely tidy and very clean. (The streets are apparently cleaned daily at 7 am). The water front round the bay is set with attractive Victorian buildings, all painted in typical Ulster fashion in an array of colours. There is clearly a long history of civic pride here. We learn that the local council have listed all the old buildings along the front to ensure preservation of the well built B & B’s. One terrace of buildings by the shopping centre have been boarded up pending a decision on how to develop and improve this area but the hoardings have been well fitted to the buildings and very cleverly painted to represent shops fronts, cafes etc that to begin with we are taken in and only on closer inspection realise what they really are. We see no graffiti, no litter and no empty bottles or cans. It is an object lesson on how to keep up standards in a town.
We treat ourselves to lunch in a cafe and plan our next part of the oddessy. We would like to visit Belfast but have heard mixed reports on whether we can stop there. Some leaflets at the marina describe a new marina in the middle of the city that was set up for the Tall Ships race last year and which has basic amenities so we decide to go for it rather than take the train from Bangor.
We fuel up on the way out and find that the fuel gauge is not functioning correctly but we now have a full tank and can estimate our fuel usage from the engine hours until we fix the gauge. We pick up more useful information from the very friendly marina attendant and head out to Belfast Lough.
Belfast Lough has a great setting with the Antrim Hills along the north side and some fine buildings (including Holyrood) on the south. Belfast stands at the western end of the Lough and is the main port for Northern Ireland with several large ferries each day plus quite a lot of commercial traffic. The port only really became prominent from around 1840 when the Victoria deep water channel was cut to provide access through the western end of the Lough and into the River Lagan. This development allowed the port to develop its trade and ship building into the significant commercial centre that it is today. A small sailing boat such as us has to keep out of the way of the shipping, which is generally constrained by its draft on where it can go (as well as being bigger than us!).
The weather swaps between bright sun and rain squalls coming off the hills but we have a beat up the Lough and enjoy the surroundings, picking out landmarks as we go. As the Lough narrows we join the channel, keeping well to one side. Being a constricted area, all vessels of any size have to get permission from Port Control to enter and travel up the river. No sailing is allowed in the port. We duly drop our sails and report in, just as the harbour launch is racing out to check us out. We are not sure if this is standard practice here or due to the pending G8 summit but we pass muster and continue into the port, just passing the Ro-Ro terminal at the entrance before two huge Stena Line ferries steam up to off-load there.
Coming into a major port such as Belfast by sea is a great entry to a city. As we travel up the river to where we are to moor at the Abercorn basin we pass many landmarks including the famous Harland & Woolf shipyard and the new Titanic Centre. We report again to Port Control when we reach our destination and moor up behind a classic boat belonging to the Prince’s Trust.
The basin was converted to a temporary marina for the Tall Ships Race in 2012 and is due to be developed and expanded in the future. This is in a great location, next to the new Titanic Centre. It is administered by the local council and currently has sparse facilities – just loos and showers in a portacabin. There is no attendant here: the council has elected to extend its automatic car park system to book boats in and issue the access code for the gate. If the system works then at least we won’t have to remember which level we left the boat in the car park.
Perhaps car park ticket machines are not suited to life by the sea but we cannot get the machine to work and we decline its demand for £72 for about 12 hours stay! The intercom only connects to the port police for 10 seconds at a time! Chaos! We consult a fellow boat owner who we met at Port Erin who gives us some phone numbers to call but as council workers only work to 4:59 so they are not there. They also give us a gate code. Whilst trying the code at the gate some youths off another boat get the gate to open – they have a universal code (as only youths can have!) so they give us the number and presto, all is solved.
After a brief visit to the rudimentary facilities we decide to visit the city centre over the river and get to know Belfast – but that is for the next blog….
Distance today: 13.9 nauticall miles
total distance to date: 757.4 nm
Engine hours: 1.4
Total engine hours to date: 99.1
Total hours sailed to date: 165.8 hours
Fair winds to you all
Yvonne & John
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