Shoreside stroll

Friday 12 May

Having enjoyed a free, dark and quiet night, we motored a short distance to the Killyleagh Sailing Club moorings nearer the top of the Narrows, and my crew took l’arrêt ashore for provisions, being met at the jetty by a friendly and informative Club member. They wandered around the small town, admiring the castle from the gated archway, and found a well-stocked delicatessen for some local treats. Skipper was concerned about a rash that had appeared, and was able to make a same-day appointment to see a local doctor, who confirmed the pharmacist’s diagnosis and prescribed appropriate antibiotics.
As always, the barometer was proved right, as warm, sunny and close deteriorated into windless, rain and mist, and questions were raised about whether there would be a suitable weather window to visit the Isle of Man on the way to North Wales. We’ll soon need to charge electronics to obtain current weather forecasts, and fill the water tanks again.

Lough potter

Thursday 11 May

Another beautiful sunny day, warmer this morning encouraging a salad lunch in the cockpit. My little sister, l’arrêt, was prepared on the foredeck, and I was guided out of this lovely sheltered spot around a grey seal who obviously thought I should not be in his way – I guess he lives here. We enjoyed a brief motor cruise, put to shame by a local yacht sailing these ‘narrow’ passages between drumlins and pladdies, and found a new mooring on a visitor’s buoy in the lee of Salt Island, on the approach to the Quoile river. The barometer dropped another five points, and cloud filled in, but it remained warm enough for supper in the cockpit – easy thanks to yesterday’s preparations. The crew enjoyed exchanging news with a number of friends and family.

Galley blitz

Wednesday 10 May

A day that began full of good intentions that evaporated with the breeze, overtaken by a galley session including griddled halloumi and Mediterranean vegetables, steak casserole and two loaves of bread. Supper ran to clearing a few more items from the store cupboard, to conjure up vegetarian sausages with gluten free gnocchi and ratatouille – probably more tasty than it sounds. Beautiful sunshine was followed by a full moon, but the barometer was noted to be dropping slightly, perhaps a portent of coming change in the weather.

Into Strangford Lough

Tuesday 9 May

My crew was up at 0630 to set off for Strangford Lough, needing to be entering the Narrows at 0800. They struggled to spring my stern off the pontoon against the wind on my bow, and the incoming tide, and eventually I swung my bow out on my own and Skipper steered my stern into the corner. Outside the harbour the seas were a bit lumpy, but the scenery was a pleasant distraction, and the water calmed as we came abreast of St Patrick’s Rock, effectively a marker of the beginning of the entrance to the Lough. Even at the beginning of the flood tide, and with no wind, I could feel eddies, mini whirlpools, swirls and calms around my hull, but Mate took it in her stride, remembering similar waters in her nursery sailing days on the Menai Straits in North Wales. Apparently pilotage is easy: just follow the pink line on the chart plotter. The haze lifted to reveal very attractive scenery below a beautiful blue sky, while two harbour porpoises and a few seals were spotted.
Skipper dropped my anchor into Kircubbin Bay, in the Northeast corner, for breakfast and an opportunity for Mate to catch up with her journal. After lunch and a brief siesta, the wind began to freshen from the West, putting me on a lee shore in more bouncy conditions, even though the water was now reflecting the blue skies. My crew decided to brave the “interesting” pilotage to Ballydorn, on the Northwest shore – the final approach to a pool deep enough to anchor is narrow and shallow at low water…but at least they could see where the rocks were. It was a pretty. sheltered spot, near Down Cruising Club’s red ex-lighthouse clubhouse, an old lady from 1917, known as Petrel. Once the gardeners had finished mowing the lawns of a modern house on the shore, we enjoyed a peaceful evening, observing cyclists, walkers, a friendly seal and local bird life, under a nearly full moon in a clear sky. It was warm enough for supper at the cockpit table, and dessert inside the porch.

…and another

Monday 8 May

Still feeling less than 100%, typical after a prolonged bout of ‘mal-de-mer’, Mate persuaded Skipper to stay another night, ostensibly to turn me into a Chinese laundry by hanging all the washing on my lines to dry in the sun and breeze. Skipper later got chatting with the crew of Sestrel, who had crossed the Irish Sea from Peel in a lumpy Force 6, so vindicating the Mate’s decision to spend another night here. She passed a quiet day doing some admin, needlework and organising of photos of our journey so far, and they both enjoyed another evening stroll around the quay to a post box, watching more seals near the fish quay.

Recovery day

Sunday 7 May

The kindly harbour master didn’t charge us for last night, and showed Mate where to do some laundry at a reasonable charge. Feeling better today, she then washed me down and refilled my water tanks, before sticking on the first of my new bow transfers showing my name – very smart.
My crew enjoyed a wander around the village, finding some interesting history about its past as a popular centre for bathing in spa waters, and an ex-boathouse, now a local supermarket, where longships for the TV series ‘Vikings’ had been built. They watched seals in the channel, and spotted a heronry protected by a ring of rocks exposed at low water, when the harbour looks a very different place, and makes sense of the many markers that at high tide seem to be strewn randomly around.

Refuge in Ardglass

Saturday 6 May

Having checked the weather forecast, my crew decided to head for Strangford Lough, as the wind and resultant swell were supposed to ease by around 1000, while if we left it until the following day, there would be no wind and it would be a long passage under motor. Unfortunately, the weather gods hadn’t checked the forecast, and as usual did their own thing: the wind remained on my nose the whole way, and the seas were short and choppy – great as a hairstyle, but not on waves. It was a long cold stretch down Carlingford Lough, and at the entrance conditions were very unpleasant. Unfortunately, by this time the tide was against our turning round and going back in to seek shelter and try again another day. Skipper managed to hoist the mainsail with a second reef set, but sweating it up from my bucking coachroof meant he crawled back into the cockpit a distinctly pale shade of green – very unusual, and not a good colour on him. By now Mate was communing regularly with Jimmy, and this persisted throughout the day. We tried to sail long tacks to make progress into the wind, which meant our passage added up to 50M instead of the suggested 30, and resulted in us missing the recommended tidal window into Strangford Narrows, so instead we made landfall in Ardglass.

Eventually the wind died completely, and sunny patches began to appear, so the sea became calmer and Mate began to appreciate the scenery, Northern Ireland’s highest peak, Slieve Donald among the Mountains of Mourne to our West, and the hazy outline of the Isle of Man away to the East. Ardglass is small, friendly and very sheltered; we came alongside easily on the outermost pontoon, which was obviously a favourite perch of the local seabird population: wellies required to step off my side decks. Having recovered his sea legs much earlier, Skipper cooked omelettes for supper to soothe a cold, tired, washed-out Mate, who was soon afterwards bunked down for the night.

Fascinating tour

Friday 5 May

Today’s highlight for my crew was a private tour of the fishing vessel I’m tied up behind, including a detailed explanation of the mussel fishing industry. As enthusiastic consumers of the end product, my crew was delighted to become so well informed about the techniques, skills and bureaucracy surrounding this challenging way of earning a living.

Two wheels outing

Thursday 4 May

It seemed like a good idea to take the bikes out for some exercise, and ride a 12-mile round trip into Newry, at the top of Carlingford Lough. Unfortunately, in spite of mostly picturesque scenery, this turned out to be a bike lane on a busy main road, and mainly into a headwind. The dubious highlights of this visit were a good lunch in a local café, and an unexpected discovery of Sainsbury’s, allowing a grateful Mate to indulge in some much-needed provisioning.

‘Free’ phone coverage

Wednesday 3 May

Unfortunately there was some wind and tide during the night, so it turned out to be less restful than had been hoped, and needed, so my crew decided to trust the harbour office representative’s opinion that Warrenpoint, on the North shore, was “glassy calm”. They discovered only later that she was looking at CCTV pictures, as the office is the other side of the port from the leisure craft and visitors’ moorings. We found the suggested pontoon too short, and tied up port side to a dirty pontoon with neither water nor power, behind a majestic mussel-fishing vessel, Wings of the Morning.

A security guard was waiting to take our mooring fee almost before I was tied up, and generously agreed to leave the facilities open for my crew. They soon discovered these were as ramshackle as the pontoon, and opted to shower onboard in far more salubrious surroundings. Another imminent revelation was the unpleasant jiggy snatch caused by waves sweeping around the end of the breakwater into the harbour, especially at high water when there was any wind around.

Having been ‘off grid’ for a few days, my water tanks were in desperate need of refilling, and the incredibly generous skipper of Wings laid his water hose from the tap down the gangplank for Skipper to attach ours and take on water. In addition, he offered his wifi access code for our use. Mate rustled up a batch of chocolate brownie as a thank you.

My crew stretched their legs in a brief wander around town in breezy sunshine.