North to Donegal

Summer arrived about a week before we were due to leave for the round Ireland trip. The June bank holiday weekend was one of light winds, sunshine and Anne decorating the hammock. We did a lazy sail up to Skerries where we anchored off and chilled out after a busy week for both of us at work. By monday we were chilled out, Anne ready for another busy week ahead at work and I ready to set sail. We collected Patrick and his friend Izaac from the airport and had an afternoon to prepare for the trip ahead. Winds were forecast to be light and easterly or north easterly for the first leg of 60 miles to Strangford.

We set off at 5am in light airs but once out we found some breeze and were soon sailing close hauled with 12 knots over the deck. The lads coped well. Izaac had never sailed before and was trying to learn what to do and get used to the motion. He never seemed fazed by it and did really well. After 3 hours or so the wind chop was starting to produce waves which started to slow the boat at times so we left full sail up and motored slowly to punch through the chop. We were also conscious of time as we needed to be into Strangford by 6pm before the strong tides turned against us. We progressed well but found the wind shifted a bit more into the north and for the last 4 hours we had to motor through the chop. Getting closer to St John's point the overcast skies lifted a little allowing us a glimpse of the Mournes and the coastline. We made good time in the end and entered the Narrows at 5pm where the calm waters were welcome after a long day.

We motored up in a dying breeze heading for dinner with Sam, a fellow Rival owner, who lives on an island in Strangford Lough. Izaac took the helm for the tricky passage between the islands and rock pladdies into Ringhaddy before bringing us to anchor in front of Sam's house. We felt we deserved a beer after 13 hours on the move. We celebrated the trip as we sat on Sam's new decking overlooking the anchorage with the islands of Strangford in the background. We had a barbecue dinner and then slept the sleep of the just. Usually, the first trip for a new crew is a short one of 3-4 hours ideally to allow them to acclimatise and get used to the boat. On this occasion the lads and a real challenge and coped really well.

The next morning we had breakfast in strong sunshine with Sam before saying our goodbyes and motoring down the Lough to Portaferry. I had a list of jobs to do as problems arose on the trip up. In particular, we found the vhf radio was on a circuit which failed so that had to be sorted. The lads went walkabout and I got to work. I found the problem and managed to fix it so we had radio and more importantly, the cd player which is on the same circuit. I also managed to unblock the water inlet on the front toilet. I found the seacock had become blocked with growth on the hull, something whick had never happened before. Anyway, all jobs were sorted by the time the lads got back so we all had showers after the heat of the day and went for a wander before stopping into Dumigan's, Irelands smallest pub, for a pint. Indeed the Guiness was so good we had another !!!! before dinner watching the sunset in the cockpit.

Thursday morning we left at 730 taking the start of the ebb tide through the Narrows heading north again. We found light breeze on the nose so motored on gentle seas north to Bangor. We left an hour late as the skipper forgot to set an alarm so we had the tide against us from the Copeland Islands but we were only going to Bangor so that wasn't a big deal. Another hot day motoring around Ireland..... We spent a quiet afternoon in Bangor, did some shopping and looking at plans. The weather looked stable for the next number of days so we decided to head to the Scottish island of Islay to visit distilleries. We had little wind forecast but the lads were coping really well with being on board and relished the opportunities to "go foreign"......

We left Bangor at 5am to make the most of the strong tides in the north channel where the gap between Ireland and Scotland is only 15 miles. We had no wind again so we motored on glassy seas but with a gentle swell from the east which I couldn't understand. Morning haze eased and we had views of the dramatic scenery of Fair Head as we rounded on to the north coast. We were heading to Rathlin island and found fog lying around the island as we approached. It gave Patrick the chance to use the radar to pick out vessels being displayed on AIS. But 15 mins later it was gone and we entered Church Bay Marina around noon. After lunch the lads went off on the bikes to explore the island and visit the bird sanctuary while I pottered on board. Rathlin is a special place and an island which is doing really well. New houses have been built and families are moving on the island. Everyone seems to have employment which is different to the Social Welfare communities you see on some islands.

An evening pint sitting in the sun outside McCuaig's Bar was followed by dinner and dominoes on board. The skipper lost abismally to the young whippersnappers but he will get his revege when he reports to Patrick's parents on his failure to catch any fish for dinner so far. We all slept well after having 2 early morning starts. The shorter trip north to Islay meant we could leave at the more reasonable time of 10 am. There was a little breeze in the harbour and we were hopeful of not having to motor again. But on leaving we found the breeze died so we were back to 6 knots of breeze for the 20 mile hop to Islay. Sunshine gave way to haze as we crossed the Traffic Separation Scheme where the lads had to plan if they needed to alter course to deal with big ships. We arrived into Port Ellen in enough time for the lads to cycle to the last whisky tour in Laphroaig Distillery. Port Ellen itself was busier than I had ever seen it. There was a beach rugby tournament going on and the village was packed with beer drinking lads. We went for a stroll but the pubs were too packed to go in for a quiet pint so we chilled on board and watched Wales Australia rugby on the tv instead.

The following morning was windless as we left to motor around the Mull of Oa into Loch Indall to visit the Bruchladich Distillery. We found a good anchorage off it and went ashore. Sadly the distillery was closed to tours due to maintenance but they were happy for us to have some free tastings. I had never been to the distillery before and was surprised at the number of different whiskys they made. There were 15 on show with prices up to £700 a bottle. We relaxed over 3 different ones and bought the one we liked most. Then we went for a walk along the road to Port Charlotte to strech our legs. It is a lovely spot with small two storey whitewashed fisherman's cottages and a hotel overlooking a small harhour pier. On the way back we were given a life by a chatty guy called Alistair who turned out to be a local councilor. He was big on the links between Ireland and Islay and interesting to chat to. We went back to chill for a bit before returning ashore for a pint while we left our dinner of boiled backon and cabbage cooking on board. Before going back I checked out the pub with my binoculars only to find out it was a shop not a pub. We couldn't see a pub so we made a sensible decision. We upped anchor and sailed the short distance to Port Charlotte for a pint in the pub. It was a lovely sunny evening and overlooking the anchored boat was a great way to end our time on Islay.

We were off at 8am for the hoop back to the mainland. Initially there was breeze but it died so we motorsailed at 4 knots. The seas were a little lumpy due to the tides running hard off Islay but they soon smoothed out and we were able to cut the engine evantually and had a relaxing smooth sail to the entrance of Lough Foyle. The trip for the lads was nearing an end and they decided a trip to Derry was appealing. Entering the Foyle we had strong gusts off the hills behind Greencastle so we horsed along in the strong tides doing over 9 knots over the ground a times. We anchored at 4pm off Moville where we had planned to meet Patrick's father for dinner and pints. He would love to have been able to do the trip but he was working so he sent his son instead. I am not sure just how jealous he was....

A good feed with Kevin and some pints and we were ready for the dinghy trip back to the boat. We ended up chatting until 1am that night so weren't in the mood for an early start. We had plans for a good walk around Moville but the crew were late waking up so after a leisurely breakfast, we decided to sail against the last of the outgoing tide up into Derry. We ended up going slowly with only the cruising chute and had a pleasant spin up into the city. This was to be the end of the trip for Zaac and Patrick. I think they enjoyed themselves. They certainly have the makings of good sailors. I know the trip didn't give them lots of wind but they covered 250 miles and coped well with operating the boat.