Round Ireland – 2000
In the last 2 weeks of June and the first week of July of the year 2000 I was crew on the yacht Anquette as she sailed around Ireland. The only other person on the boat was the owner Dave Le Geyt who was both navigator and skipper. This was my third cruise with Anquette where the trip has lasted longer than a couple of weeks, and the second time that we sailed around Ireland. The objective of the cruise was to sail around Ireland and return the boat safely to the Isle of Man before or on the 15th July. This was achieved successfully but there was always the doubt that, like on the first trip around Ireland in 1997, the boat would have to be left somewhere in Ireland and returned to the Isle of Man at a later stage if gales sprang up in the last few days. The time limit was imposed by leave from work and I was only able to be part of the first 3 weeks of the cruise for this reason. It is possible to complete the trip in a shorter time but there are always unfavourable weather conditions and unpredictable circumstances that you cannot foresee. If there were bad conditions that prevented us completing this objective then additional costs and more time off would be needed to return the boat safe and sound. Dave had worked on all the logistical and practical preparations needed before the trip and everything was prepared when I arrived. During the trip he calculated all the navigational routes and basically made all the decisions about when and where. My part in the cruise was helmsman and helping out whenever I could during the anchoring of the boat, setting sails and watching out for dangers and hazards in the water.
The trip started for me on Thursday the 15th June when I made my way to the Isle of Man. Flights to the Isle of Man are limited and I had to co-ordinate this in order to be ready for when the boat left on the Friday night. We set off from Ramsey on the 16th June and sailed north in an anti-clockwise direction around Ireland. The first sail was a little tiring as we sailed though Friday night and arrived at our first anchorage on Saturday evening. Your body is suddenly in a new environment that is quite different to your normal routine and there are new conditions that you have to get used to. It is how you adjust to these conditions that can make the difference between feeling strong & focused to feeling queasy, maybe extremely uncomfortable, and seasick. There is the motion of the sea and the way in which you find a balance for your mind and body. Horizons continually change as the boat moves across the water and you can feel as though you are on a sea-saw as objects come in and out of view. You might find your balance by looking at the land but this can be confusing as the sight moves up and down as you move from side to side with the motion of the boat. Another condition to adjust to is the temperature. You spend the whole day on the boat, which means that the temperature fluctuates between the cold mornings and the warmth and sometimes burning heat of the day. Although the idea of spending summer on a yacht can conjure some wonderful images these are cold waters and cool climates. The temperatures on the sea drops remarkably compared to the land and sometimes I was dressed up warmer than I would be during a cold winter’s day. Your body routine is something that also has to adjust as eating and sleeping patterns are now different. Fortunately for me the first couple of days were mild and this adjustment was easy. The trip was quite different to previous trips, which have been cold and wet. This trip was quite sunny and in the beginning there were warm southerly winds that felt quite alien in the Northern Irish waters. It was during this first couple of days that we stopped at Port Rush and experienced our first taste of Irish culture. The Northern Irish coasts are picturesque, with some large estate houses looking out over the sea. The tide that came through between Fair head and Rathlin Island was stronger than that of the speed that we could do - the water flowing in the opposite direction to which we heading and cancelling out our forward progress. We might have been travelling 4 knots over the water but the water was moving 4 knots underneath us and we sat in the same place until we decided we were loosing this battle against the tide. Tides and tidal streams have to be considered when planning the route and the tides in the Northern Irish coasts can be quite strong and can work against you.
It was during the fourth day of the trip that we passed Northern Ireland and arrived at an island off the Republic of Ireland call Arranmore Island. One of things that Dave had mentioned he would like to do as we sailed around Ireland was to visit as many of the islands off Ireland as possible. This was the first island that we visited and as we arrived so did the strong winds and gale warnings. These winds were too strong for us to sail in and resulted in us having to sit them out at Arranmore Island for 4 days. It was during these days that we visited another small island around that area called Inishkeeragh. The island was at the most a square mile in size and the only inhabitants were birds that were looking after their chicks, and sheep. This was the first time I have seen anything like this in my life. It reminded me of a nature programme where you are shown the remote areas that some birds find to hatch and raise their chicks. The birds where not happy to see us at all and as soon as they saw us approaching they started to become very excited. We had anchored a safe distance away and rowed ashore in the inflatable dinghy. As soon as we started to walk along the stone beach the birds who where already flying around and squawking started to dive-bomb us. Another unusual characteristic of this island was the number of abandoned stone houses. The only remaining part of the houses was their stonewalls and I imagine they could have been built a hundred years ago. I found it very strange that anybody would have chosen this remote place to live when there is land available in Ireland. It was not just one family but a row of possibly 10 or more houses. It was a fantastic experience for me because it was a combination of the natural world and history, and at the same time, it was one of the most beautiful places I have seen. Afterwards we returned to the boat and motored to a safe anchorage to sit out another 2 days of strong winds. While we were waiting we had to find ways to pass the time. I found it quite easy to sleep and start enjoying the holiday. It was at this time that I started to read guidebooks that Dave had bought and read about the history of Ireland as well as the information that they had about the places that we would pass. It was also at this time that we started playing Chess. I have never been a great chess player but I now think I would carry on playing and I have already found an opponent in Brussels.
On Saturday 24th June we sailed across Donegal Bay. This was another highlight for me because the winds were strong enough for us to sail most of the day. The wind strength determines if we motor or sail. If the winds were too light then our speed would not be suitable for us to reach the destination that day. A good speed for Anquette is 4 knots and a moderate breeze would enable us to maintain this under sail. If the wind dropped and our speed was less than 4 knots we would usually start the motor until sure that we would reach the place where Dave had decided we would stop for the night. If the winds freshened enough for us to sail the motor would be switched off and the sails raised. During the sail across Donegal Bay the winds were strong enough to keep the speed up to between 4 to 6 knots the whole day. I especially enjoyed this type of day because this is what sailing is all about. Moving through the water by the force of the wind and using the tiller to direct the boat is great fun. I suppose this novelty will ware off as I become a more experienced sailor but it has not worn off this trip. I especially enjoy the fact that the only sounds are natural sounds. You have the sounds of the water, the sounds of the winds, the sounds of the boat and the sounds of the sails. It is even possible to hear birdcalls from quite a distance when the motor is off. Seabirds were constantly flying around or sitting on the water. It was also on this day that we started to sail over the swell of the Atlantic Ocean. Up until this point unless it is breezy the seas can be quite flat. If the winds pick up then the sea becomes quite choppy, and if the winds are strong the sea can become quite dangerous. Whilst in the Irish Sea, Ireland and the UK limit the size of the sea - but once out in the Atlantic Ocean the swell can run all the way from North America. When the wind picked up as we sailed across the swell, we sometimes managed to surf a little as we went down the wave. This is very slight and you can hardly notice it but just the slightest surf added to the enjoyment of the day. It was also on this day that 2 dolphins came and swam alongside the boat. I saw them from a distance, swimming in the opposite direction as they passed us, then they turned around and swam with us for a short time. Dave tried to take some photographs of them from the front of the boat but they shied away and as soon as we were both in the cockpit they returned and splashed around again. The next day on Sunday the 25th June we visited another small abandoned island called Inishkea. This was a unique place where the beaches were not stone and pebbles - but white sand. The island was very small and there were stonewalls remaining of houses abandoned a long time ago. The bay had clear blue water and this place looked like paradise with fantastic views of mountains in the background. It took my breath away. We were not the only visitors and it looked like fishing boats were running a ferry system for people who wanted to visit that Sunday afternoon. We stayed long enough to walk around a bit and take some photographs. I saw the perfect skull of a seagull on the beach and collected a few pebbles from the sand.
During the next couple of days were finished off the day by anchoring off islands on the western coast, first Inishturk and then the largest of the Aran Islands, Inishmore. I prefer Inishmore, which is very hospitable. We enjoyed a couple of pints of Guinness in a tiny local pub which appeared half built. I was fascinated by the people and had to stop myself from staring. There was an Irish girl who had returned from Arizona and she was commenting on Americans while playing darts with other young people. It was one of those places where not much happens and the only connection to the outside world is a ferry that stops at a certain time of the day. The accents of the people are so strong that I had to concentrate to hear what they were saying - even if they were speaking English. I also had the pleasure of rowing the dinghy back to the boat in the dark - we arrived dry and without too much of a detour! By this stage we were more than halfway down the western coast. The coastlines are rugged and rocky with cliffs sloping into the sea. In the cliffs there are sometimes the most impressive caves and openings in the rock but too dangerous to get too close to. On some rocks and on almost all the headlands are lighthouses. It is remarkable how they were built because of their remoteness and exposure to the rough seas. Some of these islets were the home to monks who built their Monasteries many centuries ago. Today it is just the birds that live there. On top of the dark rocks and on all the land is the greenest of green I have ever seen. Green is Ireland’s national colour and there is a lot of green in Ireland - I suppose it has something to do with all the rain! The grass in Ireland is so green compared to the dry Veld in a South African winter that if you had a scale of dryness to lushness these might be the 2 extremes. Inland there were some huge mountains, which become more detailed as you approached them. The next day when we crossed Galway Bay and the Shannon River all you could see of the land were these blue mountains, far off in the distance. There was just an outline and as we approached the picture become more detailed. I compare this to a screen gradually being built up when you download a web site on a slow modem connection. We saw dolphins often along this coast, but only once more did another couple come and swim alongside the boat.
On the 28th June we sailed across Dingle Bay to Valentia Island which is near Knightstown. This was a short sailing distance, as we needed to go ashore and buy diesel, fresh food and top up the boat with water. On the way to Valentia we sailed past the Blasket Islands. We were hoping that we could anchor off one of the sandy beaches and row ashore to investigate. When we arrived at the anchorage it was obvious that the conditions were not suitable and we would have to carry on. The wind was blowing quite strong and the water was choppy. There were a couple of tourist boats anchored there who were helping customers back onto their boats to return to where ever they had come from and their boats were rocking in the waves. I read in the tourist guides that these islands have inspired famous Irish poets and they are beautiful. Nearby are the Skellig Rocks. On one of the islets there is a rocky stairway of hundreds of steps that winds up the rock to the Monastery at the top. They are most impressive and I think that they were chosen for their remoteness as a protection from invaders. We did not see them close up on this trip - but on the last trip (Round Ireland 1997) I remember seeing them close to and being amazed. We arrived in the late afternoon at Valentia, bought diesel, went into the town and ate at a restaurant. This was a taste sensation and although the food we had been eating on the boat was tasty there is no comparison when you have fresh prawns cooked in garlic, Hake cooked in garlic and Spanish Rioja wine. Before that we walked through the small town and I bought postcards, wrote and stamped them while we sat in a pub, and drank more of the creamy Guinness. Afterwards we passed an Internet café and I sent an e-mail to my family to say that all was well. After visiting this town I realised that most people thought I was Australian from my accent - they are not familiar with South Africans. One of my project leaders at work used to say “you can always tell a South African from their bad Australian accent”. The next couple of days we saw some new sights. Since crossing Dingle Bay there were many more yachts on the water. There were even some boats from as far as Germany and Holland. Up until this time we had been quite alone on the sea as most of the visiting yachts from Ireland, England and Europe usually sail up around the Southwest corner of Ireland but not much further north than Dingle. We also started seeing large mussel farms in some of the bays. These consist of barrels floating in the water joined by ropes supporting whatever the mussels are growing on. During our trip we had to keep a constant eye on the water for other boats and fishing apparatus. All around the Irish coast are fishing boats, as fishing is a major industry. A fishing boat can lay fishing pots on the seabed and they mark this with a marker buoy that is tied to the pot with a line. It could be quite inconvenient to sail over this line and getting it wrapped itself around the propeller. June is also the start of the Salmon season in Ireland and fishermen lay out large salmon nets across the rivers. These are difficult to spot and are also marked with a marker buoy. We had to keep a lookout and avoid sailing over the nets as they could get snagged on the keels or propeller. We avoided at least five nets during the whole trip. Often it was us who spotted nets, as the fishermen were not bothered to warn us - even though we were on a collision course with their nets. I have been on the boat when we have accidentally sailed over a salmon net and a fishing pot line - both times we had to make our way carefully into suitable port and get a diver to cut off whatever was wrapped around the propeller.
Everyday we saw seabirds. As they dived and swam away from the boat, as they flew across the sky, or just sitting on water during calmer spells. I was especially interested in the Fulmars. They sit on the water and wait for the winds to pick up, and once the breeze comes they seem to play in the wind and narrowly pass the sails with skilled precision. Another favourite is the puffin with its colourful beak, and I actually saw one with a fish in its beak. The southern part of the coast was starting to change from the rugged and rocky views of the western coasts. There were more trees on the shore and the area was more populated. The sea was rich in marine life and we could see where large schools of fish were swimming from the birds circling and diving into the water in a feeding frenzy. We spotted dolphins often - but just a fin and nothing close to the boat. On the 30th June after we had sailed through Dursey Sound we passed a Basking Shark. That night we spoke about this as we sat in a hotel in Glengariff where we had our first pint of Murphy’s. These sharks move slowly through the water and are not dangerous - as they are plankton eaters. We were right alongside the shark and I had a good view of its whole body. We saw one other shark a couple of days later as we were sailing towards Osterhaven Bay. This shark was quite active and tried to get away from us by diving deeper into the water and as it disappeared displayed its tail fin. Another interesting fish we spotted was a sunfish, which is a disk shaped fish that swims sideways through the water with one of the fins showing out the water, looking like a shark. Dave says these are rare fish to see in these waters and we were lucky to have seen it. We had some time to investigate the South West coasts and sailed up the Kenmare River, Bantry Bay and Roaringwater Bay. On a short stop at Derrynane Bay we had a swim in the clear cool water. The place was fantastic and I could imagine spending a beach holiday there. There were many different sandy beaches around the area, and often a short walk from one beach over a dune and you arrived at another isolated beach. Climbing over one dune, revealed a rocky outcrop containing a tiny graveyard outside the remains of a small chapel - this added to the adventure of exploring around. There were quite a few people enjoying the area. I could not resist a swim in the water, which was so refreshing. I had not showered or washed in a bathroom for more than two than weeks (having relied on basins of hot water) and the seawater was a good way to get rid of the grubby feeling. The sun was shining when we arrived and the temperature was warm but we had to leave as a mist came in from the sea. This could have made our departure more difficult as there were some rocks under the water at the entrance of the bay. On this south west coast we started tasting more of the Irish cooking and drinking more of the Irish pints. My choice was always seafood. Fish Chowder starter and a pot of mussels for main course in a Crookhaven pub, a fillet of Cod at Baltimore, and at Kilmore a seafood platter starter followed by Plaice. I sampled my first ‘Irish breakfast’ at Crookhaven. During one of evenings ashore we watched the European football final. Before, we had watched a couple of games on a tiny battery operated portable onboard the boat. Otherwise we had a car radio on which we listened to tapes, or local radio stations, whilst motoring.
On Saturday 8th July I sadly had to make my way back to Brussels as I had been only able to take three weeks of holiday - leaving Dave to sail the boat single-handed back to the Isle of Man.
I enjoyed this trip so much, being on the water where everything comes together: nature, history, science, technology and faith – inspiring and encouraging. I am very fortunate to have been able to be part of this, and I hope that in the future I will be able to be part of another cruise.