Sunday, September 15, 2013

Off to the Inishkeas

Heading out to the Inishkeas, or so we thought.

A typical cruiser's change of plans

Fog in Clew Bay
We were heading to the Inishkeas, a group of deserted islands off the Mullet peninsula in County Mayo, Ireland. The weather was supposed to be settled, with light northwesterly winds and patchy fog clearing by late morning. The anchorage is completely exposed to any easterly winds, so the forecast was perfect for a simple overnight stay. Our destination is only about 45 miles away and high tide was at 0820. Perfect. We could leave at 8 am and be there by late afternoon. Then we could return on the evening tide the next day.

I was really looking forward to exploring the deserted Inishkea homes, the ancient monastic settlement with beehive huts, and the remains of a whaling station. We hadn't done enough of that kind of thing this summer. And I was sure we'd be the only ones there on a Monday. The best thing about working for yourself is that
you can determine when weekends fall. We'd worked Saturday and Sunday, so this weekend fell on Monday and Tuesday - the better weather days.
Irish version of northern lights

We got our stuff together early the next morning, fed the cats, and told them we'd see them the next day. We boarded Aleria and cast off as planned shortly after 8 am. As we got into Clew Bay, the wind whipped up from the west, not northwest.  Then it went north, then just east of north. We thought it was an anomaly in this part of the bay because of the island. But it wasn't.

Big swell from the west
The fog was all around us and our visibility was good on the water except we couldn't see any land. Combine that with a gps anomaly again - this time there was fluctuating GPS signal (on off) and no differential - and you've got disorientation. I could at least make out Clough Cormac, a cardinal mark in the middle of the Bay. I just headed due west while Alex fiddled with the GPS to no avail. Suddenly, it turned back on. with only 5 satellites acquired. We had heard this would be a bad year for GPS because of satellites falling out of the sky.

As we neared the cut between Achillbeg and Clare Island, the fog lifted and a large swell out of the west and the usually cross seas from every direction took over.  The wind went a bit west of north and we thought it was returning to forecast. So we let out the Yankee and took off like a shot in the now 15-20 knot breeze. It's much more comfortable on board when sailing than when motoring. Motoring flat caused the boat to pound whereas sailing heeled over by the wind increases waterline and lets her slice through the water. Rather amazing difference.

Fishing boat metronoming near The Bills
There were angry clouds over Achill though, and rain showers creating rainbows along the shore, which did not bode well for a "settled" afternoon.  A fishing boat near the Bills rocks was rolling desperately from side to side. We couldn't imagine how the guys on board could stand it. Suddenly the winds went east of north again and a squall hit us with winds in excess of 30 knots. That was it. We couldn't risk being in that anchorage with easterlies, even it they were only in squalls. Our choice was to head into Black Sod Bay or turn back for Inishbofin or Clare Island or even Inishoo inside Clew Bay, depending on what we found when we got there. So we turned back and decided to make for Clare Island. We had not been there yet this year and there were changes afoot.

More Irish lights
The anchorage at Clare Island was out of the swell. We were the only yacht but the harbour was chock full of fishing boats and ferries, as well as vessels tending the fish farms nearby. We dropped anchor outside the empty mooring field, but on first try we caught something, perhaps a rock, and it wouldn't hold. The second try was successful, so we tidied up.  I had a conference call scheduled which I would manage on my mobile phone on the aft deck where the reception was not too bad.  Alex prepared the dinghy for shore leave, but we decided to stay on board for dinner and relax instead. It was Monday and chances are things would be very quiet on the island.
The harbour at Clare Island

The weather was spectacular. Bright hot sunshine, light winds, puffy clouds, blue sky in between and rainbows all around. In fact you could see the dark clouds all around us and we sat under a hole in the sky. We spent the remainder of the day reading, talking and just plain relaxing. It's a long time since we did just that. There was plenty of action in the harbour to keep us amused in between.

Tidying up the sails
The night was fine with a gentle rocking of the boat in the anchorage. We got up in the morning to a fine southwesterly breeze. There's a new unmanned tourist information centre on the new pier with details about everything available and happening on the island, which isn't much this time of year. We'd heard there was a new hostel with a bar so we made finding it our quest. We tied the dinghy to the old pier and walked up the hill along a road we had never taken before, but although it was beautiful with great views of the harbour, we came across just one B&B. Then we walked on past the old hotel and realized that the Sailor's Bar, much expanded with large restaurant and outdoor seating, was now a hostel. So it's not that there's a new place, it's just that the old place was spruced up and re-opened. Their menu was uninspired and they were out of clam chowder, so it was back to Aleria for lunch.
The mooring field 

After a lovely lunch of homemade chicken vegetable soup and cod fish cakes, we hung out onboard doing small projects then hoisted our sails and set a course for home at a speed at which we could fish. Alex fished and I sailed.

Shipwreck on the point
When we got to Inishoo we were early, so we reduced sail to almost nothing. The tide was coming in fast and propelling us. By Inishturkbeg we were still too early, so we drifted in under bare poles. If we grounded, all we had to do was wait until the tide lifted us again. Miraculously, although the depth gauge read 5.6 feet and we have a draft of 8.5 feet, we made it over the shellfish beds and into our mooring at 4 hours before high tide (4.2M MHW that day). Now we know what the offset is for the depth gauge.

The Sailor's Bar and hostel
The sky was turning black behind us while I packed and Alex cleaned out the fridge - something had spilled in it. When it defrosted after our trip to Scotland, it made an awful mess.

At home we were greeted by a bevy of hungry kitties all chiding us for leaving them behind. They did their best to tangle up our feet in retribution. It was good to be home. Tomorrow, we'd be working hard, but for now the evening was still young and we had more relaxing to do. Despite the change of plans, the trip was a really nice break.

For more about Clare Island, read on here.

Rainbow left
Rainbow right

Sunset over Clare Island. Bye bye, sun. 

Clouds light up over Clew Bay

God reaching out to touch Croagh Patrick

Clare Island Harbour

The old pier

Community centre, with public toilets, showers, bar, and restaurant

Croach Patrick, the Holy mountain flanking Clew Bay

Frenchman living on Clare Island taking his son for sail 

Racing currachs on the beach

Restaurant and hostel at the old hotel

Aleria anchored

Sailor's Bar and restaurant

Pretty light, moody background

The shipwreck

The harbour from above

Alex  taking in the beauty of the land

The hill

Leaving Clare Island in our wake

Alex reading Game of Thrones. 

Daria at the helm

Passing by Croagh Patrick

Fishing on the incoming tide

Negotiating the channel between the mussel farm

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