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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you to Norman Keane and ICC Publications for use of their regional map images from their publications.
Chartlets by ICC Publications