Grand Tour Day 55: Ardglass to Strangford Lough

Missing Link log 10 June 1999

Crew: Kim Hollamby and Malcolm Threadgould.
From: Ardglass, Co Down, Northern Ireland.
To: Down Cruising Club, Ballydown Bay, Strangford Lough, NI.

Port engine start hours: 374.9. Finish hours: 377.8. Hours run: 2.9.
Stbd engine start hours: 375.0. Finish hours: 378.0. Hours run: 3.0.
Log start: 4227.2nm. Log finish: 4259.5nm. Distance run: 32.3.

Navigation log
Paid berthing fee 14. Diesel 512lt 73.65.
1050: underway.
1055: off Guns Island. Sp 26kn. Wind: NW F4. Sea slight: Vis: 30nm.
1105: Angus Rock. Sp 30kn indicated, 23kn over ground!
1138: Standing off Strangford Lough YC moorings in White Rock Bay to pick up Frank Robertson. Head down inside islands at slow speed as far as just south of Brownrock pladdy, then back through the inside of the islands again.
1320: alongside Down Cruising Club pontoon in Ballydown Bay.

To my mind Frank Robertson does his boating in two of the better parts of the world. A waterfront resident of White Rock Bay on Strangford Lough for the past 30 years, Frank has never had a Prout or Catalac catamaran far from his doorstep, except that is when sailing it. To ice the cake neatly, he also bought a second Catalac two years back in Marmaris on the Turkish Lycean coast, to where he travels at the balmy times either end of the season.

Strangely enough it was in Marmaris that we met Frank through his son David, a friend of mine who is head of the local unofficial Eddie Irvine fan club on a Sunday afternoon and yacht broker at various other times. Both had related tale after tale of boating in home waters and soon after Frank’s return he sent me all sorts of information, along with an invitation to visit Stranford Lough Yacht Club, of which he is secretary, and the neighbouring Down Cruising Club, for which he serves on the committee. The brochures waited in a file for two years until this day.

Our day started with a very pleasant surprise in the form of the cheapest diesel yet. Ardglass Marina doesn’t have a fuel pontoon, but you can order diesel Milligan Oil’s road tanker fleet. At a guess 14.4p/lt is as good as we are going to get anywhere and the fill speed is about as fast as it is going to get too!

Another noticeable asset is the local Spar shop. Malcolm arrived back from a visit flushed with enthusiasm about the number of items they had on the shelves, exclaiming “there’s nothing they haven’t got!” For one so worldly wise, that was praise indeed.

Clearing out through the entrance again, we briefly held to see a solitary seal loitering just out of the channel. But Missing Link obviously didn’t smell fishy enough and he didn’t want to play, so I cracked open the throttles and headed for the entrance to Strangford Lough on a disappointingly overcast morning.

Ballydown Bay, Strangford Lough
Ballydown Bay, Strangford Lough, the home of the Down Cruising Club
Soon Malcolm and I could make out the St Patrick’s Rock beacon, the cardinal marking the bar and the lighthouse atop Angus Rock, all of which gave us an easy lead in. Frank had warned not to leave it too far into the ebb to make an entrance, as a standing wave builds up when the current is at its greatest, even in fair conditions. We were after high water by 30min or so, but already the tide was ebbing fast, although the only disturbances we saw were large whirlpools on the surface into which Missing Link occasionally wobbled a little as she flew over them.

Passing between the gatepost towns of Strangford to port and Portaferry to starboard, we could easily see the small marina that has been built at the latter in recent times. The whole setting looked good enough, we might try and call there on the way out tomorrow.

Once into the wider lough beyond, compass courses cross-referenced with a GPS latitude and longitude and a careful eye on the depth sounder kept us clear of the pladdies: loose boulders that were scattered about when the ice that sculpted this region started to melt, move and drop its load of rubble. It was a happy accident, forming a lagoon of 120 islands, numerous natural breakwaters and 150 miles of coastline, almost Scandinavian archipelago in its nature except for the tide that rushes in and out.

Given the unrestricted nature of the waters except in the bays, where a 5kn limit sensibly prevails, we were soon stood off Strangford Lough Yacht Club’s brand new clubhouse, not many weeks off being completed, and meeting up with Frank who hitched a ride on the rescue launch.

With the benefit of local knowledge and the assistance of a still fairly full tide, we were now able to take time out to explore the inner channels of the lough with ease. But photographs were never going to be very good in the grey light and the expected colony of seals on one island became a distant sighting of just one baby seal on another. So we finally gave in to the chilly nor’westerly and turned back for a typically warm welcome at the Down Cruising Club’s distinctive lighthouse Petrel, of which more tomorrow.

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1999 Grand Tour circumnavigation of Britain by motorboat index.

This article originally appeared on the Motor Boats Monthly website.

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