The Pilot Book gave dire warnings about how difficult the seas could be on leaving Strangford Lough, but in the event it was very straightforward, and the overfalls only lasted for about 100 meters. We managed to sail virtually all the way to Bangor (about 35 miles) with only a small blip where we were temporarily caught by the tide between Copeland Island and the mainland.
With Rod and Dorrie Wade-Thomas
Bangor Marina turned out to be very sheltered and well equipped – and busy – because there had been a rally of the Irish Cruising Clubs and the Clyde Cruising Clubs. This didn’t really affect us except in the very positive sense that it was great to see so many boats and people actually enjoying cruising. Also Rod and Dorrie Wade-Thomas were there in their Rustler 36 Siosarnoir. Apparently Graham Rabbitts had already warned them that we were in the area, so they weren’t that surprised to see us.
Richard had some business to do and needed to find a “notary” to witness his signature on a document. We decided that it would be best to try to organise it in Bangor or Belfast, as some of the places we were going to next might be too small to have such “facilities”. It turned out that Bangor had a very obliging notary, but he couldn’t give us an appointment until the next day,Tuesday – so we had to stay. Spent a very wet day in Bangor shopping and generally just “mulching”, but the highlight was drinks and nibbles on Siosarnoir in the evening.
Part of the interior of The Crown
After Richard had seen the notary we caught the train into Belfast to have a look around and went to the most amazing Victorian pub called The Crown. It is a working pub, owned by the National Trust, with many of its original features including gas lights and little cubicles, or snugs, built to accommodate the pubs more “reserved” clients
Had a happy afternoon following the history of shipbuilding on the river Lagan – obviously with an emphasis on the Titanic and the old Harland and Wolff shipyard where it was built, and then came back to Bangor for a drink in the Royal Ulster Yacht Club. It had just been celebrating its 150th anniversary and a very enthusiastic barman showed us around its treasures – a large and impressive trophy room, and “The Lipton Room” named after the “boating grocer”, Sir Thomas Lipton who, having been blackballed from the Royal Yacht Squadron, launched his America’s Cup bid from the RUYC in 1898.
The Royal Ulster Yacht Club
Strangford Lough Sailing Club
The weather was dreadful on Thursday, but we blew up dinghy to go ashore and talk to secretary/admin officer of the sailing club and check that they were happy for us to use the club moorings. He was really friendly, didn’t charge us anything and even offered to drive us to the shops. We felt that was taking advantage – although wished we had accepted when we realised just how far away the shops were. In fact in the end it was so wet that we didn’t go at all. Still, we had plenty of food on board and sat out the rain feeling fairly cosy. The forecast was for the wind gusting force 7 for the next few days, so downloaded a few books…
On Friday morning the weather was better than expected. We went back to the sailing club, in search of a shower and a bit of company, to find that an older members’ coffee morning was in full swing. They were very welcoming, chatty and interested in what we were doing and we had a happy morning, topped off with a nice lunch at a local cafe.
Hail collects in the cockpit!
Back on the boat we were beginning to think that we had been whimps for not sailing, when suddenly the skies darkened, there was thunder and lightning, very strong gusts of wind and big hail stones. We had made the right decision.
By Saturday it was really time to move on, but the forecast was still for strong winds so we didn’t want to leave the shelter of the Lough which is sheltered and relatively flat. We decided to go back towards the entrance, ready to leave tomorrow. We left in around 12 knots of wind and, as we only had a few miles to go, towed the dinghy rather than putting it away. Big mistake. Within 10 minutes of leaving the mooring the wind was gusting 25 knots and we were doing about 6 knots through the water with the genoa half furled and no mainsail. The wind continued to go up and down, but within half an hour it was up to 30 knots – and the dinghy broke free; the painter snapped. We had to put our man-overboard skills to the test – and it has to be said that I needed the practice… Hope it doesn’t happen for real – but at least I would do better the next time!
The dinghy was safely recovered and we anchored in Audleys Roads just next to Strangford with two other yachts and spent the afternoon listening to Wimbledon on the radio: Djokovic v Querrey, a really gripping match with a surprising result!
General view of Strangford Lough
The marina at Ardglass is very small and couldn’t accommodate yachts much larger than Harvard. It is also fairly shallow, so it’s hard to know how it keeps going financially. The 80 year old harbour master, Fred, was in hospital when I phoned to see if they could fit us in – but he happily told me that the marina building was open. He gave me the key code and said we should help ourselves to anything we needed and then leave the marina fee in their honesty box. There can’t be many places where people are so trusting!
A couple of days ago the Radio 4 weather forecast talked of “autumnal weather” coming. At the time I thought I had misheard. Unfortunately not! Woke up to pouring rain and a possible forecast of gales – although that depended on which forecast we listened to. We decided to go to Strangford Lough anyway. It is only 5 miles from Ardglass and, as an area of almost landlocked water, offers good shelter – so it wouldn’t matter what the weather did.
You have to get to the entrance at slack tide to catch the flood – which was not until about 4pm (BST). By then the rain had eased and the promised gale hadn’t materialised so we had to motor-sail the 5 miles. This was partly because there was little wind, but mainly because the swell was so big and uncomfortable
We were very lucky in that Alistair Bell had lent us a chart of the Lough. (In our ignorance we had mistakenly assumed that it would be possible to buy one in Ardglass). The chart gave us headings for the entrance, which is narrow, 5 miles long and with a fast tide, but it is more important for the Lough itself which is about 3 miles wide and 12 miles long. It is shallow in parts and full of islands, reefs and shoals, so a chart is essential and it is important to navigate carefully.
Visibility was very poor and it was difficult to use the transits suggested by the chart in the frequent showers that kept falling, so we were grateful to have the chart plotter as well, particularly at the entrance. Having emerged from the narrow entrance where the water is very turbulent, it was amazing to enter into the calm and almost flat waters of the Lough.
We motored up the main channel trying to enjoy the peaceful scenery and low hills in between the showers, and arrived at Strangford Lough Yacht Club around 6.00pm (BST). We were about the drop the anchor, but a friendly official from the club suggested that we picked up one of their moorings. There was some confusion about which moorings were free, but we finally settled down to dry out and warm up with a good supper.
The bridge was lifted for us to leave Douglas at 5.45 (BST) which was around high tide and after that it was a case of motoring in very little wind down to the south of the island and around Chicken Rock. At least the tide was with us so we made good time. Even though the forecast was for a SW wind, the wind went SE so Richard boomed out the genoa and after avoiding a cargo ship we spent a couple of peaceful hours running downwind before a rain squall came through and the wind went SW as predicted. Bowled along at over 6 knots on a reach until more rain came through and the wind died. By that time we were off Ardglass so it was on with the engine again and we were soon moored up in the very quiet marina. Not a lot to see in town, so after dinner onboard it was early to bed.