Thursday 13th June
Having arrived at the Abercorn Basin in Belfast this evening, we discover that the fitting in the mast that allows the main sail sliders to be inserted into/removed from the mast has broken. A telephone call to co-owner Nigel confirms that this is not a known problem and he kindly offers to contact Barry Hollis the rigger in Dartmouth who looks after Sundart’s rigging in the morning to see if a replacement can be obtained.
We decide to go into Belfast to eat so, after sorting out the fracas of the gate code and payment described in our last blog, we set off, following directions given to us by another yachting couple. Abercorn Basin is on the south side of the River Lagan, in what is known as Queen’s Island whereas the city of Belfast is on the north side. We walk past the Odyssey Centre, a new shopping and entertainment complex next to where we are moored and across the white lattice pedestrian bridge over the new weir and into the city. Beside us are new concrete bridges carrying a 6 lane motorway and a railway line. Along the city embankment we can see many new buildings with landscaped areas, trees and sculptures. As we reach the city are immediately struck by the amount of new building and refurbishment that has been done. We discover that over the past 15 years or so, since the Troubles ended, Belfast has made very significant efforts to regenerate the river front, the city and the decayed industrial areas. Progress is impressive, although there is clearly a lot still to be done. The River Lagan has had a new weir and aeration system to improve and control water quality and the riverside on both sides has been cleaned up with new works of art, buildings etc. so that it is now a very attractive area to visit.
We walk into the city centre, past the Albert Clock and the fine Custom House. This latter building was Belfast’s equivalent of Speakers Corner in London, with many fine orators attracting crowds of townsfolk. A general strike in the docks and police mutiny over poor working conditions and wages started here in 1907, uniting protestant and catholic workers in a rare display of unity at that time. Custom House was engulfed in traffic until recently but now there is a pedestrianised public area in front where all sorts of public functions can be held.
Although Belfast was blitzed, many old buildings have survived and are now an important part of the city centre with modern buildings woven into the mix. One part of the old city landscape that has survived are the bars, often located down small side streets and alleys. These are often ornate Victorian buildings with fine wooden interiors. We decide to eat at one of these – the Morning Star. Inside, the bar there is good food being served alongside drinkers and big screens showing today’s horse races. The woodwork and plaster-work is a fine example of Victorian craftsmanship. We order Irish Stew and wheaten bread. Both are delicious but the helpings are scant: the waiter agrees that we have been on short commons and seconds are served on the house! We are happy to recommend this bar! The problem is dealt with good humour and courtesy, a trait that typifies the people we meet in Northern Ireland and Belfast.
Returning to the boat, we pass several heavily armoured police land rovers driving through the streets with the back doors open and heavily police in evidence – the G8 Summit is due in town this weekend!
Friday 14th June
The weather forecast confirms that a gale is expected today so it is clearly the day for museums and exhibitions. Nigel phones as he has arranged for the spare part for the mast and passes on Barry the rigger’s details for us to make final arrangements. We arrange for the new part to be sent to us via Janet Wragg, who is joining us next Friday in Scotland. John fabricates a temporary arrangement using Araldite so we can hopefully continue to use the main sail until then.
That done, we head off to the Titanic Centre, which is a few hundred yards from our mooring. This whole area is known as Queens Island, and was essentially formed from the dredgings when the deep water channel was opened up in the 1840’s, augmented by other dredgings to improve the river for large ships. These works were undertaken over a period of time by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, who also created new docks, graving (fitting out) docks and dry docks to encourage the growth of the ship building industry. They were hugely successful in this, with the world’s largest ship building concern (Harland and Woolf) building an impressive array of ever larger ships, including the Titanic and her sister ships Olympic and Britannic.
On our way to the Titanic Centre we pass the Nomadic, built by Harland and Woolf for the owners of the Titanic (White Star Line) to carry passengers from Cherbourg out to the super liners such as Titanic.
The Titanic Centre is extremely eye-catching, being a very large building inspired by the bow of the eponymous ship. Inside it is busy, with many foreign visitors and school parties. The Titanic is probably the most famous product of Belfast and is a marketing dream for the city: who can blame them for exploiting the story so thoroughly? The Centre is well done in our view.
We pay our £6 to go into the exhibition, expecting to be out within an hour and are still engrossed three hours later when we realise we are hungry and have missed lunch! The exhibition covers the whole story of Belfast, describing the industries that made Belfast the city that it is including becoming the leading producer of Irish linen and whiskey and the many leading engineering firms that grew there. It then moved onto the development of the ship building industry which lead into the story of the inception and building of the Titanic and her sister ships. All through the exhibition the human aspect is covered as well as the technology they used and the men who drove these enterprises forward.
The Titanic story is particularly well done. The workings of the shipyard is excellently portrayed: at one point the visitor is taken up the full height of the building inside a re-construction of the Arrol gantry, an enormous steel lattice crane structure that spanned the berths where the ships were built. The technology they used to construct the ships, the working conditions and the key people who inspired and drove these enterprises forward are graphically described in a “fly through” of the shipyard. There are re-constructions of the fit out of the ship from sumptuous first class to basic third and of how the crew lived and worked. The trail leads on through the launch of the ship and its maiden voyage, using a mix of film from the time, advertising publications and re-constructions. Thence to the sinking, rescue and the aftermath and the myths and legends that have arisen from this most well-known of shipping disasters. Finally, the exhibition ends on a wonderful and poignant series of films projected onto a huge screen and under the glass floor of the recent discovery and exploration of Titanic two miles down on the sea bed, with the dramatic first sighting of the prow, the travel down the ship until the middle is reached (the ship broke in two as it sank) and the debris trail across the ocean floor. If you ever get the chance – go to this exhibition.
We emerge and decide that the one thing that is not good about the centre is the cost of the food, so we return to Sundart for a very late lunch.
Later, we decide to go to the dry dock, where Titanic was bought for final fitting out including fitting the propellers and final below water checks before her maiden voyage. Like everything else associated with ship building it is huge. It apparently took 3 years to construct, digging it out from the mud and sand by the river.
On the way back we pass HMS Caroline, the last remaining World War 1 warship and about to undergo a £12 million refit to return her to her former glory.
The storm that has been threatening for some time shows signs of starting in earnest so we return to Sundart, batten down the hatches and retire for the night to a good supper and a glass of wine.
Saturday 15th June
We decide to go north today to the little port of Glenarm as the weather forecast is for fresh west or south-westerly winds today but going into the north over the next couple of days which will not suit where we want to go. The tides are quite strong round the headlands so we will need to go in the middle of the afternoon to take the afternoon tide up the coast..
We go into Belfast one more time to visit the market which we have heard is good. There is now considerable evidence of the G8 Summit with helicopters flying continuously over the city, many police vehicles and various official boats patrolling up and down the river. We find the market without problem. It is housed in a Victorian market hall, the last of several that existed in the city and recently restored with Lottery Heritage Funding. It is a delight and busy. Today there is food and clothing on sale. We buy fresh sea bass and wheaten bread loaves. Wheaten bread is a speciality of Northern Ireland with a coarse texture and tastes superb. We wander round the market, enjoying the variety of foods on offer. Somewhere in the middle there is live music being played. We decide to lunch and choose wild boar sausage with “champ” and onion gravy.
Recipe for champ and wild boar sausages.
Champ: Boil potatoes, soften chopped spring onions in a milk, add to potatoes with seasoning & butter & mash.
Wild boar sausages: Either Catch wild boar in the hills of Antrim, hang, butcher, add sausage skins & herb.s Or Purchase from a good butcher.
Back on the boat the weather forecast confirms winds force 3 to 4, occasionally 5, south-west going west with showers so we obtain permission from Port Control and leave port. We pass three vessels loading up the enormous parts for off-shore wind turbines that have been made at Harland & Woolf. The UK has only installed about ¼ to 1/3rd of the total planned offshore wind farm capacity so there should be this sort of work around for a time. Only when one gets close is the sheer scale of the undertaking realised.
We have been impressed by Belfast, both because of its history and because of the way it seems to have grasped pulling itself up in the modern era. The city was built on entrepreneurship and perhaps there is no more fitting reflection on the city and its attitude than that by Lord Thompson, one time chairman of Harland and Woolf and the Belfast Harbour Board who said “You will achieve more by a pound of pluck than a ton of good luck”. Here, here.
Once clear of the harbour we set one reef in the main and sail down wind, keeping clear of the Stena ferry and a coaster in the narrow dredged channel. Showers were forecasted but for Northern Ireland read that as more or less incessant rain. We plough on, making good time as the tide catches us as we emerge from Belfast Lough and progress up the Antrim coast. As we turn the corner to go north we come on the wind and we are glad we reefed. Progress is good if a bit of a wave ride. We pass Larne, another ferry port with yet another Stena Ferry passing in front of us. On past the ?? lighthouse and finally tack off into Glenarm. We pass fish farms on our way into this little harbour and are moored up by abnout 8:30. The harbour master has long gone home but a phoine call to him on his mobile regveals the hiding place of the key to get out of the harbour and to the amenities block. Little harbours are lovely – trust and friendliness seem the norm and we respond to that.
We cook the sea bass in a little olive oil and garlic and enjoy it with new potatoes, green beans and the wheaten bread cut into thick slices and buttered well. Sometimes the simplest things are the best!
Tomorrow we plan to stay and explore Glenarm and see a bit of the Antrim Coast from the land.
Miles today: 30 nautical miles
Total miles to date: 781.5 nm
Engine today: 2.6 hours
Total engine: 101.7 hours
Hours sailed today: 6.0 hours
Total hours sailed to date: 171.8 hours
Fair winds to you all
Yvonne & John