Our primary mission in Kinsale was to acquire an Irish mobile SIM Card to enable us to work from the boat when required. This entailed a bus ride to Bandon that brought out the best of Ireland and the Irish. Two euros return for a trip through rolling countryside, woodland, along riverbanks and through small villages, picking up a steady stream of characters, most of whom seemed to be along for the ride as much as on a mission to the metropolis of Bandon. Tony, the driver, turned out to be an accomplished offshore yachtsman who has rounded Cape Horn and owns a Hallberg Rassy in Baltimore harbour. We discussed the merits of Chinese steel shackles on mooring buoys as he showed us videos of his adventures whilst avoiding the oncoming traffic… the chap in the seat next to us complained of seasickness on arrival in Bandon…where our mission to secure two different SIM Cards (from Three and Vodaphone) and acquire some essential supplies was completed effortlessly. The Kinsale Yacht Club had given us a temporary Irish address we could use – and the fact that we had accounts with the UK elements of the phone companies probably helped. The return bus journey was almost as diverse – same set of passengers, conversation shifted to the forthcoming Rugby World Cup and the huge legacy of our late Queen as a Force for Good in the world, the impact of BREXIT, the link to America… We put the SIM Cards in our new Glomex WeBBoat 5G antenna and found that we had better coverage on the boat than we do in our own home.
We have visited Ireland by boat before. I was lucky enough to grow up in West Cork in the 1960s and 70s, and in 1989 Julie and I had sailed our Robber III quarter tonner over to Glandore to visit my parents – just because we could. We returned in Escapade – our Oyster 485 – in 2016 as part of preparations to cross the Atlantic – we wanted to test out fuel, water and catering arrangements for a two-week Transatlantic crossing and used a short summer cruise as far as the Kenmare River to do this. But we had not sailed beyond Derrynane and we both wanted to explore the ‘edge of the world’ – the Irish coast from Kenmare northwards towards Donegal. It has a reputation for outstanding beauty, remoteness, friendliness – and the weather.
So, with roughly two and a half months available, we decided to push west and cover some new ground. We had an obligatory stop in Glandore – my family connections have faded but it’s undoubtedly one of the most beautiful harbours in Europe and we had a fine evening at anchor watching the local fleet of Dragons enjoying the summer winds. We headed into Roaringwater Bay through Gascanane Sound, the gap between Sherkin Island and Cape Clear, threading our way through the islands into the anchorage at Schull.
We used a combination of the Irish Cruising Club Directions, Lighthouse charts on our Raymarine Axiom displays and Navionics on an IPad – underpinned by a careful eye on our surroundings and how the tidal streams were affecting us. We were well prepared, having read Daria Blackwell’s guide to the West Coast of Ireland ‘Cruising the Wild Atlantic Way’, the ICC’s ‘Cruising Ireland’ Companion to the sailing directions and the useful website www.eoceanic.com/sailing/harbours/europe/ireland. We always run a paper plot of the tidal heights and found that the ephemerals from Reeds Small Craft Almanac tied in generally very well with the Navionics predictions and ‘actuals’ from the chart and echo sounder. Where they were different, the predictions seemed to err on the side of safety. In a couple of places, the electronic cartography was not good enough – but we were always alerted to this from the available research material.
Schull always used to be rather Bohemian and had a strong ‘yachty’ feel when I was growing up. This time, grey skies and a fairly fresh, damp breeze had settled in after an enjoyable sail round from Glandore – and the excursion ashore didn’t show the place off to best advantage. Undoubtedly a fine, sheltered harbour, but not as picturesque as I remembered it, so we returned onboard and sailed the following morning for Crookhaven.
Crookhaven is an excellent anchorage in all but a strong easterly and a great place to pause before venturing out to visit the Fastnet rock or push west around Mizen Head. It was an important bunkering port in the nineteenth century (technology cast it aside before it was established as a regular port of call) but today the focus is on local tourism and boating. There are a couple of excellent hostelries on the quayside and plenty of moorings for vessels up to 15 tonnes. These are available in many of the harbours around the Irish coast and appear to be well maintained. Payment is on a ‘trust’ basis. Escapade displaces well over 20 tonnes though, so we tend to anchor. There’s plenty of room for that in Crookhaven and we anchored in 4m with 25m of cable – safe as anything. We took the bikes ashore and cycled up to the lookout overlooking Barley Cove – a favourite beach when I was a child, now rather dominated by a resort development at one end of the glorious sandy beach. Still spectacular, though – and almost empty, even in mid-June.