Cruising Route: Killybegs to Carlingford

Donegal Harbour is well-marked between sandbanks, and has an amazing, quiet and remote anchorage at Green Island, with visitors’ moorings.

Killybegs is Ireland’s largest fishing port and is sheltered in all weathers, with a new 63-berth marina. Any maintenance issues on board can be dealt with here, and there are plenty of places to enjoy a night out.

Killybegs to Church Pool, 33 miles

The course leads past the cliffs of Slieve League, the second-highest in Ireland. Teelin offers an excellent temporary or overnight stop, with access by road to the mountain. To the west are White Strand and Malin Beg Bays, then the lighthouse island of Rathlin O’Birne offshore. The coast from here north-east is magnificent, with towering cliffs and stacks. Dawros Bay is a feasible anchorage but Church Pool, near the holiday village of  Portnoo, is more sheltered and has visitors’ moorings.

Church Pool to Burtonport, 25 miles

Arranmore island shelters a shallow sound with the fishing and ferry port of Burtonport on the mainland. The north entrance to the sound is simplest but in fair weather with some rise of tide, the south is straightforward.  Arranmore has visitors’ moorings, restaurants and pubs, and an alongside berth is available in Burtonport, which has a good seafood restaurant, and diesel by hose on the pier.

Erris Head to Tory IslandBurtonport to Tory Island, 20 miles

Heading north you will pass an archipelago of islands and either Gola or Inishmeane makes an interesting stop for lunch, walk or swim. This coast is the wild west and indeed one of the last unspoilt sailing destinations. Tory is the most remote island of the Irish coast and no doubt you will receive a real Tory welcome from Patsy Dan, the island’s King. There is an active group of artists on Tory whose work has been displayed world wide, formally established by the late Derek Hill.

Tory to Mulroy Bay, 19 miles 

The north coast continues cliffbound, with the broad inlet of Sheep Haven to the east of Horn Head. The holiday village of Downings has visitors’ moorings, but for better shelter continue round Melmore head and into Mulroy Bay, where Fanny’s Bay is a beautiful anchorage only a mile’s walk from Downings over the hill.

The inner reaches of Mulroy Bay offer some intricate pilotage and call for tidal planning, but are quiet and beautiful.

Mulroy Bay to Fahan or Rathmullan in Lough Swilly, 23 miles

A short trip round Fanad Head leads to Lough Swilly, the north coast’s best sailing water.  The Lough is a historic place and was a strategic harbour from the earliest times.

There is a marina at Fahan, and on the opposite side Rathmullan offers pontoon facilities or anchorage. Both have excellent eateries and pubs. Fahan is just six miles by road from Derry/Londonderry. The ancient round fort Grianan of Aileach is well worth a visit.

Portsalon, near the mouth of the Lough, has visitors’ moorings.

Fahan/Rathmullan to Greencastle 42 miles, Derry 59 miles

Malin Head has fast tides and is the windiest corner of Ireland, so this passage calls for careful planning. Passing through Inishtrahull Sound the scenery of Inishowen is dramatic.

The passage can be shortened by a stopover at Malin Pier, Inishtrahull or Culdaff Bay.

Greencastle is a fishing and ferry harbour and offers good shelter; it’s a handy place to wait for the tide up to Derry, or you may decide to head on to Portrush or Coleraine.

The vibrant city of Derry/Londonderry is City of Culture 2013 and a huge range of events is scheduled – consult the web for details. There is a marina in the city centre.

Lough Foyle to Carlingford Lough

The north coast east of Lough Foyle is splendidly scenic, with cliffs and wide sandy bays. While exposed to the north and north-west, it is not subject to the almost constant ocean swell that prevails further west. Harbours at Coleraine in the Bann, Portrush, Ballycastle and Rathlin Island offer complete shelter. The North Channel coast from Fair Head southwards continues cliffbound, with sheltered bays, a marina at Glenarm, and the ferry port of Larne. Belfast Lough is an important sailing area and in addition to the marinas at Bangor and Carrickfergus, new facilities in the city centre offer a welcome.

South of Bangor the low and rocky coast of the Ards peninsula stretches to Strangford Lough. The Lough is a magnificent area of completely sheltered water, studded with islands and rich in wildlife. The strong tides of its entrance are easily dealt with, by careful passage timing.

The 3000-foot Mountains of Mourne form the backdrop to Dundrum Bay and the coast from there to Carlingford Lough.

Greencastle to Rathlin and Ballycastle, 28 miles

The long sweep of Benone, Castlerock and Portstewart strands is backed by the cliffs of Binevenagh, and pierced by the mouth of the Bann. There are three marinas at Coleraine, and to the east, the resort town of Portrush has pontoon berthing in its harbour. Here the coastwise tide becomes significant, and increases to a spring rate of six or seven knots in Rathlin Sound. The Giant’s Causeway is inconspicuous from seaward, but the cliffs behind it are spectacular. East of the little harbour at Ballintoy is the islet of Carrickarede, with its famous rope bridge. About 130 people live on Rathlin Island, which has secure pontoon berthing in its sheltered harbour, and is a magnet for birdwatchers. Ballycastle has a sheltered marina. This part of the coast is only 12 miles from the Mull of Kintyre and 25 miles from Port Ellen in Islay.

Ballycastle to Bangor, 42 miles

Strong tides continue to govern passage planning on the east Antrim coast. The marina at Glenarm is a handy point of arrival from the Firth of Clyde, and Larne Lough, south of the commercial port, is pleasantly rural. The cliffs of Islandmagee and Black Head mark the entrance to Belfast Lough. Here, large marinas at Carrickfergus and Bangor provide all services. The busy port of Belfast has recently extended a welcome to yachts, with marina facilities on the River Lagan in the city, next to the spectacular new Titanic Centre.

Bangor to Strangford and Portaferry, 32 miles

The old harbour at Donaghadee, close south of Belfast Lough, offers an alongside berth and there are attractive anchorages around the Copeland Islands offshore. The low and rock-bound coast of the Ards, with offshore reefs, demands a wide berth, and the fishing port of Portavogie  offers shelter in emergency. The entrance to Strangford Lough is a channel four miles long by half a mile wide, through which the tide runs at eight knots, but entry is straightforward. Facing each other at the north end of the Narrows are the villages of Strangford and Portaferry, the former with pontoon berthing and the latter with a marina.

Strangford Lough

This is Northern Ireland’s sailing nursery, a wonderful maze of low drumlin islands. Pleasant rural scenery, fine old houses and eleven sailing clubs surround the Lough, and though there are hundreds of local sailing craft there are no large marinas. The clubs at Quoile, Killyleagh, Ringhaddy, Whiterock and Ballydorn have pontoons, visitors’ moorings are readily available, and there are many anchorages in idyllic surroundings. Down Cruising Club’s clubhouse at Ballydorn is a former lightship dating from 1917.

Strangford to Carlingford, 37 miles

The strong ebb tide from Strangford Lough can cause turbulent seas off the entrance, although in offshore winds conditions are less troublesome. The safest option is to leave the Lough on the last of the ebb. Detailed advice is contained in the ICC Directions.  Four miles south of the entrance is the little fishing port of Ardglass, with a strategically-located marina. Thirty miles from Peel, Ardglass is often the most convenient arrival port for a boat coming from the Isle of Man.  The resort town of Newcastle, at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, has a drying harbour, and further south, Kilkeel is Northern Ireland’s largest fishing port. The coast immediately north-east of Carlingford Lough is shallow and rocky, with the Hellyhunter buoy marking the southern end of the reefs. Entry to the Lough is best done on a rising tide, but the deep channel is well marked.

Next: Carlingford to Wexford

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Thanks to Norman Kean of ICC Publications

Thanks goes to Norman Kean of ICC Publications for contributions, editing and charts adapted from their publication “Cruising Ireland”.