A short cruise in the northern Irish Sea – Holyhead to Troon
This cruise was undertaken in late June 2019 when the conditions were fair and the wind was mostly from the east and south
Holyhead to Douglas IoM (55nm)
Holyhead marina was virtually destroyed by the strong winds of Storm Emma in March 2018. Plans are in place to extend the breakwater to provide greater protection from storms from all points of the compass. By summer 2019 these were still only plans and the marina was a shadow of its former glory. Boats can be moored on the single pontoon and on one of the mooring buoys, if vacant. Boats cannot be left unattended overnight on the pontoon.
I put in using the harbour tractor on the slipway in the boatyard (£20). The ramp at the front of the marina can be used but requires permission of the local sailing club.
There is a café and bar on the waterfront by the harbour office. The small supermarket and other pubs and restaurants are a 10 minute walk away, behind the promenade, in the town centre.
Departed Holyhead 6 hours after HW Dover to catch the north flowing tide. The wind was favourable from the SW and good time was made past the Langdon W cardinal and west of The Skerries toward Douglas. The wind disappeared after a good run of 25 miles. This left another 25 miles to do in calm conditions using the outboard.
Arriving late evening at Douglas, too late for the gates giving access to the pontoons of the inner harbour. These are open HW +/- 2hrs. I opted for mooring on the pontoon below the gas tanks on Battery Pier, ahead to port as you round into the harbour. This pontoon proved adequate for a stay of a couple of nights. The toilets above the pontoon can be accessed 24/7 by phoning the harbour control office who open them remotely! The shower block is by the marina office which is a 10 minute walk to the inner harbour. The charge for using the pontoon was £15 per night.
The quay by the marina has a number of expensive restaurants, reflecting IoMs tax haven status. Little Fishes provides good quality fish and chips and The British is an adequate pub along the quay. Behind the North Quay are the full range of shops you can expect in a medium sized town including a supermarket and M&S Foodhall.
Douglas is investing heavily in updating its sea front and presenting itself as a place to do business. It is a centre for computer game development. More interesting are the vintage electric trams at the north end of the promenade which wind their way along the coast to Laxey, site of the world-famous Laxey Waterwheel. This is a pleasant and interesting half day trip.
Douglas to Ramsey (14nm)
The north going tide along the coast begins around HW Dover -4. With a brisk southerly it was a fine sail along the coast toward Maughold Head. Rounding the headland brings you into Ramsey Bay. Access to the harbour is HW -2hrs 30 minutes to HW +2hrs. The bay dries to sand almost as far as the end of the Queens Pier which is a prominent feature 600m south of the 2 harbour walls that make a channel into the town harbour. If you have enjoyed a following wind along the coast it could be a surprisingly lively beat to make the harbour entrance once you have rounded into Ramsey Bay.
The harbourmaster (VHF Channel 12) squeezed Fraoch into a mooring on the town wall just before the road bridge which cuts across the harbour. The harbour dries completely and on a Spring tide it is essential to have sufficient scope on mooring lines to accommodate the fall in levels.
Ramsey has a large Coop back from the harbour, a hardware store in the square along the quay and an excellent Italian restaurant in the Riva. There is a decent café in the local Leisure Centre over the bridge from the town, showers and a swimming pool are also available there. Best of all in Ramsey is the welcome at the local sailing club whose club house is on the promenade just past the Harbourmasters Office. The club provided the access codes to be able to shower at any time, useful information about the exit from Ramsey Bay past Point of Ayre and a very enjoyable social evening.
Ramsey to Mull of Galloway (29nm)
The key to leaving Ramsey Bay to the north is to be in position to round the Point of Ayre at the top of the bay as the tide turns west.
The tide turns westward at HW Dover +15 mins. Arriving early I waited for the tide to turn by sailing between the Point of Ayre and the Whitestone Cardinal buoy. The surf line was visible as a line of turbulent water running west to east beyond Point of Ayre. As the tide began to turn the surf line marched into Ramsey Bay. A strange sensation to see the line of surf approaching. As the waves approach the best place to pass through the changing tide is very close to the shingle beach of the Point of Ayre. The advice at the local sailing club is to be very close in to the shore sailing parallel to it. In this way you will avoid the worst of the confused seas caused by the change of tide.
Following the point round until the lighthouse is due south I then headed north until clear of the Strunakil Bank which was visible as broken water to the west.
After about 3nm on a northerly track I set a course of about 310 to enter Luce Bay well to the east of the Mull of Galloway. With the timing right there is a good tide to push you westward. Be wary of setting a direct course for the Mull of Galloway. There is a strong tide pushing out of Luce Bay. If you try to sail directly to the mull you risk being pushed below the point by the outgoing tide. Better to sail into Luce Bay clear of the point by a couple of miles and then set a course for East Tarbert Bay behind the Mull.
Once in Luce Bay and well clear of the Mull set a south westerly course into the corner of East Tarbert Bay. There is a fine sheltered anchorage by a ruined building and pier in the corner of the bay. Close to is a beach where you can row ashore and climb the hill to Scotland’s most southerly lighthouse.
East Tarbert Bay to Girvan (46nm)
This was not the day planned. The intention was to round Mull of Galloway and then put in at Portpatrick half way up the coast and prepare to sail across the North Channel to Donnaghdee in Northern Ireland. However, with a strong tide pushing northward, a good wind from the south and a forecast for easterly winds in the following days, which would have made a crossing back to the mainland difficult, I opted to continue heading north and into the Firth of Clyde.
The time to round Mull of Galloway is HW Dover +20mins. This is the start of the west flowing ebb.
NOTE: the wrong time is given in Imray ‘Irish Sea Pilot’ second edition. The correct times are given in Clyde Cruising Club ‘Firth of Clyde’.
Leaving the anchorage in East Tarbert Bay shortly before the tide turned I was at the Mull of Galloway in time for the start of the ebb. With tide flowing out of East Tarbert Bay into Luce Bay and the currents around the Mull of Galloway there was an area of confused seas leaving East Tarbert Bay. The calmer waters around the Mull were visible some 50 metres away and it was possible to use the power of the engine to punch through the broken seas. Once under the cliffs of the Mull it is an interesting passage with the cliffs of The Mull rising sheer close to starboard and the turbulent waters of the quickening tide race to port.
Continuing along the coast of the Rhins of Galloway, staying out of the bays between Crannag Head and Portpatrick I had the advantage of tide and a southerly wind all the way. I arrived off Corsewall Point at the northern tip of the Rhins as the ebb tide was slackening. Turning into The Firth of Clyde then provided the small advantage of the tide beginning to flood into the Firth. I stayed off Corsewall Point until I could set a straight course on 37 degrees to Girvan. This was to avoid any turbulent waters off the point and to give the mouth of Loch Ryan a wide berth. Fast ferries to Northern Ireland sail continuously from Cairn Ryan.
From 2 cables west of the entrance it is possible to identify the North Breakwater and South Pier which form the entrance to Girvan harbour. On entering the harbour there are a series of finger pontoons on the south side of the harbour past the South Pier Quay. Arriving on the weekend there were no other visiting boats in the harbour and the harbour office was closed. A local provided the the access codes to the pontoon and to the shower block, this was very clean, very new and little used.
Girvan is trying to reinvigorate its shopping street but many of the shops appear to be in decline. There is an Asda supermarket at the far end of the street and a useful hardware stores. The most pleasant thing in Girvan is a walk along the sea front, ice cream in hand, looking out toward Ailsa Craig as the sun sets.
Girvan to Troon (21nm)
For the passage along the coast to Troon I left Girvan one hour after LW to take the rising tide along the Clyde coast. From the harbour entrance I continued NW for ½ mile before turning N to pass Turnberry Point and its famous golf club ½ mile off shore. This course clears any of the shoals and isolated rocks which lie N of Girvan harbour entrance.
From Turnberry point I set a course to pass east of the collection of hazards around Lady Ise and Half Tide Rock to arrive west of the peninsula which is home to Troon Marina. It is necessary to give the extremity of the peninsula a wide berth and approach the harbour entrance from the NW having passed outside the Troon Harbour green buoy. As you enter the harbour with the light of the West Pier to starboard you should turn to port and pass along the inside of the East Pier wall. The entrance to the marina is at the far end of the East Pier. The marina can be accessed at all states of tide.
The marina has a full range of facilities including a good slipway, well maintained showers and an excellent restaurant in Scott’s. The 2 pubs close to the marina, The Anchorage and The Harbour Bar between them offer good food, a warm welcome and frequent live music sessions. There is a Spar shop by the traffic lights in the town centre and a selection of cafes but only Gregg’s was open before 9am! Further round the promenade from the marina going north is a large Morrison’s supermarket. There is a train station in the town with links to Glasgow, handy if pulling out here and needing to collect cars and trailers from elsewhere.
Paul Roper (CC19 #111 Fraoch)