Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Northern Ireland

Jaime writes:

The fresh westerly winds continued to blow and we set sail from Gigha mid morning. We quickly put a reef in the main in the lee of Cara Island as the wind built and headed south towards the Mull of Kintyre. There are apparently many songs about this sticky-out-bit, although I can’t recall any of them just now. We tried to stay a few miles west of the Mull to avoid the rough sea state typically found close in and started to track across the Traffic Separation Zone used by large ships transiting the North Channel. As the channel is relatively narrow ships must follow the zones north or south. They are quite useful for small ships crossing such areas, as providing you know where you are you can expect the ships to come from one particular direction only. There is also a handy safe zone in the middle. The strong tides pushed us south easterly down the channel and we closed in on our destination of Red Bay on the Northeast coast of Northern Ireland. We arrived after dark and dropped the hook. We hardly slept a wink, as the anchorage turned out to be very squally and the boat was kept beam-on to the waves which made it very uncomfortable. Early the following morning we sailed the short distance around to Glenarm marina and fell asleep there. It was a lovely little sail; the tide whisked us past Garron Pt as the sun rose in the east, shining a fresh light on the lush Antrim coastline.

Glenarm Marina

The sturdy white limestone harbour wall of Glenarm gave it a Mediterranean feel and as the sun was shining it was quite beautiful. The friendly staff of the marina welcomed us and charged us a very reasonable £10 per night which included everything. As a bonus, we'd tied up next to the Harbourmaster's fishing boat, who kept us in supply of fresh (still flapping) fish while we were there. One night he gave us a 2lb Pollock which was gorgeous. Craig steamed it; Hong Kong style, yum, yum.

Fresh Mackerel


Lord Antrim's House

Steamed Pollock

This was also the first time we had met a man with a pet congor eel. He lives under the bridge in the harbour, the harbour master feeds him fresh mackerel.

Glenarm is a very pretty town at the foot of the last of the 9 glens of Antrim. We went for a walk the beautiful forested valley, the trees were old and mixed, it had a proper forest feel about it, and such a nice change from the boggy landscape of Scotland. There is also a really fancy turreted castle there, where apparently Lord Antrim resides at weekends.

While we were there we took the time to give the boat a good clean inside and out, and Craig tracked down the tiny corroded wire that had stopped our radar from working. This was after I had hoisted him up the mast to took at the radome; where he had fun swinging around; and I had fun letting him down….

Mast Climbing

A Pint of Guinness at last

The next morning We left a note to the Harbourmaster... 'so long and thanks for all the fish". A fresh offshore wind and the tide carried us south, down the coast towards Belfast. As we passed within a few hundred meters of the Isle of Muck, Craig thought he could here singing. As we got closer it sounded like deep groaning and moaning, we thought it might be seals again, but we couldn’t see any. Then we noticed some Manx Shearwaters hanging around in groups. These supposedly have an eerie call when returning to feed their young, so maybe that was it.

We arrived in Bangor, on the south side of Belfast Lough a couple of hours later. This is a full-on commercial marina, with hundreds of yachts. Belfast port authority doesn’t allow yachts in to the port, so we had to use Bangor as a base to visit the town.

We had a couple of days over the weekend to explore Belfast. It felt a lot like London really. There are heaps of pubs and naturally we sampled a couple of them and had a pint or two of the black stuff. We also visited a gallery which exhibited photographs taken by the Irish Press Association on the theme of the euphemistically named "Troubles". Later that afternoon we went for walk in to west Belfast to the Shankill and Falls areas. Respectively these are the protestant and catholic areas of the city, you can tell where you are by the colours of the flags flying. We had gone there to look at the murals, which are really quite amazing. In particular are those found on the Shankill housing estate, a strange place to find yourself as a tourist. We found it hard to believe that some of the murals still existed, as I’m sure they remain provocative.
We gathered from the local radio and newspapers following recent tragic events that the main trouble in Belfast now is caused by gangs of young wayward kids attacking and terrorising people.

Falls Road Mural 1

Falls Road Mural 2

Mural on Falls Road Sinn Fein office wall

Shankill Road Mural

Shankill Estate Mural 1

Shankill Estate Mural 2

Shankill Estate Mural 3

Bangor is also a vibrant town. On the day before we left there was a chav/hoon- mobile show in the car park. I don’t actually know what the proper name for these cars is, but I mean the type that have massive booming speakers in the boot and drive around very fast, skidding their apparently expendable tyres, and congregating in ASDA carpark. These cars were "top of the range" for this style, and were frankly amazing. Instead of having their bonnets open to show off their engines, the boot was open to show off their zigadecibel speakers, One special car, about the size of a VW golf had only room for a racing drivers seat, the rest of the car was literally full of pumping speakers, TV screens, and flashing dials & buttons, it was so loud you couldn’t stand near it for long. We could feel the base from all this music through the hull of the boat.
The following morning we left and it was the passage between Bangor and Strangford Lough that would prove one of our toughest so far. Strong winds had been forecast which is nothing new but we got a little something extra. We were only 15 miles from our destination mid morning when the wind started to kick in. The south westerly wind forced us offshore in to more exposed waters and we started to get large waves that were building in the deeper waters with the larger fetch. What followed was a mini F8 gale. The wind was in the high 30’s and I saw 43kts (80km/h) on a number of occasions. It wasn’t long before we were negotiating waves about 5m high. Until then we had kept our foresail up to give us more speed to sail up the waves and keep steerage, but it got too much with the winds and Craig gallantly volunteered to crawl to the front of the boat and pull the sail down. In the past when we have encountered strong winds, luckily we have been sailing with the wind behind us, but this time we were sailing up wind which makes things altogether more annoying, mostly because the apparent wind is felt so much more. With the foresail down the boat became more manageable, but we had lost a lot of speed. Its best to try and sail up and down the waves in a weaving manner so you don’t send yourself head down a wave and dig your nose in the trough or fall down the back of a wave because you don’t make it to the top. I have to say though, that the boat handled so well, that we weren’t particularly worried and we after all didn’t have far to go. It is during such weather that one experiences the "Mermaid Facial". First of all dry and dead skin cells are exfoliated from your face by sharp rain which is targeted at right angles. All micro-debris are dispersed by a refreshing bathtub quantity of cold water infused with mother natures blend of inorganic (the new organic) minerals which lands on your head. This blend also has antibacterial properties which penetrate and clean your pores. Your face is then blown dry so that you can start from the beginning again. This cleansing routine is repeated on a number of occasions depending on how lucky you are. Facial muscles are also exercised as successive expressions of shock and horror followed by relief sweep across your face periodically. Happily, I had timed my facial with the passing of a cold front, this meant that in addition to the above I was subsequently dowsed in soft rain, blown dry and then the sun came out, to rouge my cheeks. Giving that "just been slapped by a wet mermaids tail look".

So anyway, enough sillyness. Over a 15min period the wind veered 90 degrees to the north west and dropped back to a gentle breeze just as quickly. This was great, except we how had no wind to sail over the large waves, which don’t die down so easily. We put the engine on, which then overheated as it wasn’t getting enough cooling water in to the water inlet, and was instead taking large gulps of air, causing airlocks because of all the lolloping about. This led to Craig checking the inlet filters, messing around with water pump impellors and making a new gasket out of a Kellogg’s packet- tricky when you are being thrown around. Thankfully the wind picked up again to give us a sensible amount wind to get to the entrance to Strangford Lough. The entrance to the lough is very tidal, and we were cutting it fine with our arrival time, what with the engine playing up as well we sadly decided to go elsewhere. So Craig set the course for Ardglass. As we closed the shore the waves became much more manageable and we tacked our way to the harbour entrance and glided into an empty berth in the sheltered harbour as the sun went down over the hills behind the little town. Having liberally applied aloe vera and some St. John’s Wort oil prepared by my mum, my face has stopped tingling.

We learnt an awful lot from this experience, which was thankfully short and sweet. The bookcase index (how many books fall off the shelf in the forepeak) indicates that this was the roughest weather we have encountered, as all the books fell off the shelf.
We stayed in Arglass for a couple of days to rest. There isn’t much going on in the town. The local bartender told us there aren’t any festivals in the town as people just end up getting drunk and fighting. Umm.

Our next destination was Carlingford Lough in Ireland. We were still a little nervous of the weather and so we motored close inshore all the way. The wind was on the nose and we didn’t want to tack further off shore again, and the weather was miserable anyway so beating (zigzagging 45 degrees across the wind) down the coast wasn’t a very attractive option.