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Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 12

The morning I left Raithlin Island, I did my neck in which made life for the next few days pretty miserable, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. The weather was looking decent for the next few days so that was a plus. I timed my departure from Rathlin Island to coincide with the period of slack low water in the channel between the island and the mainland, as the sea pours through here with some enthusiasm. When the tide started flowing, it would be pushing me the right way, southwards down the coast of Northern Ireland.

Leaving Raithlin Island.

The coastline along these parts is pretty spectacular, and the weather seems to match it, with constant shifts between clear skies, cloudy skies, rain and I’ve never seen more rainbows before. I had left Rathlin pretty late in the day so I only made it as far as Carnlough before dropping the anchor for the night.

Pulling into Carnlough Bay.

I caught the early tide the next morning and it turned out to be a fantastic day, the sun was shining and the wind was favourable so it was a great speedy sail down the coast. I wasn’t sure where I was going to stop, but heard that Donaghdee was a nice place, I needed some supplies, and the tide was soon going to turn against me so I stopped into the harbour here. The neck was causing me some grief, so I just popped down the shops and then just lay down and waited for the tide. The young un’s were tombstoning off the pier however, which stopped me getting my shut-eye so I motored off to Copeland Island and dropped the anchor so I could at least get 40 winks before the tide.

Donaghdee sporting the classic coastal colour scheme.

It was the same procedure in the afternoon riding the tide southwards, again unsure how far I’d get. I had considered sailing until late in the day and trying to get into Strangford Lough but in the end thought it unwise to try going in here for the first time during the dark, so I anchored off Ballyhalbert and had a brief and rolly night.

Entering the narrows of Strangford Lough.

In the morning, the weather was quite a bit worse than expected, with a heavy sky, even heavier rain and fairly big seas, but I had a tidal gate to meet so I headed off southwards again. After suffering a few hours in the cockpit, I was pleased to see the first of navigation buoys appearing out of the gloom marking the entrance to Strangford Lough. The tide runs through the Narrows here at a ferocious pace and once you’ve started in, there’s no going back. So it was that I went through here at about 10 knots with the wind helping to flatten the water at the entrance. I dropped anchor just on the other side of the Narrows at Audley’s Roads and was quite relieved, I’d had a bumpy morning and was soaking wet. I got some dry clothes on rustled up some breakfast, and went back to sleep. That day was spent inside the boat watching the rain. The next day was much better and I went for a nice sail about the lough. I can see why there are so many sailing clubs in here, the place is fantastic for flying the canvas. It’s sheltered, with flat water, plenty of little interesting islands which are pretty flat which allows for a good steady wind to blow through.

It was a good day sailing amongst the islands.

Some more foul weather blew through the next couple of days so I had to stay put in Lough. The first day my choice of anchorage was ok, but the next day the wind shifted and it got pretty bouncy so I motored about in the rain for a while trying to find somewhere to stay. Eventually I found a nice little spot to leeward of a forested island and the trees were a great windbreak, it was quite a relief getting in behind them. The weather was going to blow through the night and ease up the following day so I just had to wait until the right moment to leave, which seemed to be how I spent most of the week.

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