Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 6-7 July 2013 Arranmore, Donegal, Ireland

Fog in Donegal and PRMMMC* 

*(personal remote maritime mobile mechanical consultation)

Glen Head just as fog rolled in and the engine alarm went off.
Today was to be the day of diminishing winds. We got up early and motored out of Killala, set our sails and sailed across Donegal Bay keeping a watch out for fishing vessels out of Killybegs. We now have an aversion for fishing trawlers, as could be expected. Unfortunately, none of those we saw had AIS.  Just as we rounded the northwesternmost tip of Ireland where weather always seems to make headlines, the wind died. Big swell was still crashing on the rocky headland.  So we fired up the engine and started motor sailing toward Arranmore about 6 miles away.  Within minutes, the overheating alarm came on the engine.  We had seen that a couple of days ago, so Alex had then topped up the antifreeze and it had stopped.  Now, it was on again and alarming.  We had to shut down the engine. With the wind dying, our only choices were to head out to sea, crabbing our way out away from the rocky shoreline or head back toward Killybegs.  

Daria sails back toward Killybegs
I swung Aleria around on a reciprocal course and as soon as we rounded back around Glen Head, pointed her toward Killybegs on a reach.  It’s a major fishing port and might have parts and mechanics who might be able to help. It was the only place along this coast that had any prospects.  But it would mean the loss of at least two days as it was late on Friday and no hope for finding much open with the weekend approaching.

Meanwhile, we had mobile signal strength so Alex called our friend and local chandler and engine mechanic in Westport, Tommy Moran.  Tommy walked Alex through a series of diagnostics. Yes, we had checked the coolant level. No, it was not overheating. Yes, there was water flowing through the exhaust.  Then Tom suggested two possible issues. One was that the sensor might be faulty, especially since Alex had been working in the engine compartment and may have dislodged something – Tommy has just replaced a faulty sensor on a Yanmar similar to ours so it’s a known problem.  The other was that there might be an airlock in the coolant system, in which case the sensor was doing its job.

After Alex solved the engine problem,
Daria monitored radar and depth while
Alex steered through dense fog.
Alex promptly went and checked the sensor. Yes, it was slightly dislodged, but tightening it did not stop the problem. Then he checked the header tank. We actually have two – one for heating fresh water for our hot showers, the other for the fresh water cooling for the engine.  Well, what do you know, there was an air lock between the two. He added a litre of water, turned on the engine, and we motored for a while without an alarm. We turned Aleria back around toward Scotland and motorsailed around Glen Head, where the wind picked up again. Thank you, Tommy Moran, our personal mobile consulting buddy!

The cardinal mark at Arranmore finally visible

A new forecast called for mist and within the hour a dense fog settled in and the coast disappeared, not unlike in Maine. Fog is not so common around these parts so people tend to stay put in fog. We turned on the radar.  Soon Alex spotted a sailboat passing close to port which was invisible on radar without a radar reflector.  Alex stayed on the helm and I watched the radar as we entered Arranmore near Burtonport in Donegal. 

Fog lifts as we approach the anchorage!
The 'obelisk' 
It’s always rather exciting coming into a port that is foreign to you in challenging conditions. This is a tricky entrance with lots of unmarked rocks. You have to line up a set of range markers after passing a cardinal mark from due North. Nothing was visible in the fog and none of the markers that were supposedly lit actually had lights on, including the lighthouse.  So I stayed on radar watching the rocky coastline and kept an eye on the depth sounder corroborating what the other instruments said. The chartplotter can be off quite a bit as the most recent surveys of Ireland’s coastline were done in the 1800s and GPS anomalies exist more commonly than one might expect.  Alex calmly steered the specified 186°M course.

Finally the black and white striped cardinal mark on the rocks came into view with huge waves crashing over it. Shortly after, we could make out the RNLI boat, the ferry, and the miniscule obelisk on the shore which marks where to turn into the anchorage.  Piece of cake. We anchored, had a wee dram, dinner of beans and sausages, and collapsed.
Aleria at anchor in Arranmore

We knew we were still in Ireland
We decided to take our first lay day on Arranmore (or Aran Island) which is part of the Donegal Gaeltacht. Just about everyone speaks Gaelic Irish here and the signs are all in Irish, but people were very considerate and spoke English to us. Left our dinghy by the old pier and climbed the old stairs to the main road. It was Sunday and jammed with day trippers. The ferries shuttled families in their cars back and forth all day. We had lunch at the pub, which was jammed and great for people watching even though it took an hour and a half to get our lunch. We have never seen so very many tall beautiful thin girls in our lives.  There must be a modelling school here, as the Gaelic language school couldn’t be the draw. There were few boys in evidence.  Alex was drooling conspicuously but I couldn’t fault him.

Arranmore  (Irish: Árainn Mhór) is a lovely island. It's the largest populated island in Donegal and the second largest in Ireland after Achill. There are lots of holiday homes and perfectly groomed gardens, English style. Many of the holiday goers here are from the North as Derry is quite close by and Belfast not very far either. We walked up to the crest of the island by the lakes, which was one hour straight up the hill. 
Morning reveals what we didn't see in the fog

We enjoyed lovely warm sunshine, but at the top we saw that we were surrounded by fog and had found a little hole in it.  We learned from walkers coming the other way that it was another 3 hours around the loop and fog was sweeping over the hills so we turned back and tracked down the hill appreciating the magnificent views of the harbour from up there.  The people were very friendly but there were far too many cars.  The Siopa (shop) was closed so we missed our chance for fresh bread.

Village along the beach

Busy weekend with ferries going back and forth all day long
We returned to Aleria and I sat in the cockpit writing this, the fog set in in less than a minute and enveloped the world as it disappeared from our view.  I discovered that our first walk resulted in a huge blister on my ankle, which I didn’t know would take the entire trip to heal.

Fortunately, the following morning was full of sunshine and no fog. Time to lift the anchor and press on to Scotland.

The lakes at the very top
Lovely views 
Bog cotton 

Peat bog cut for turf
The fog descends as we get back to the boat

We pull up anchor as the fog clears and head north. 


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