Grand Tour Day 59: Bangor to Rathlin Island

Missing Link log 14 June 1999

Crew: Kim Hollamby and Alex McMullen.
From: Bangor Marina, Belfast Lough, NI.
To: Rathlin Island, NI.

Port engine start hours: 381.9. Finish hours: 384.8. Hours run: 2.9.
Stbd engine start hours: 382.0. Finish hours: 384.9. Hours run: 2.9.
Log start: 4322.2nm. Log finish: 4378.5nm. Distance run: 56.3nm.

Navigation log†
Berthing fee £16.50. Diesel 294.88lt £73.72.
1725: cast off from fuel berth.
1730: outside entrance.
1733: TR report and thanks to Belfast CG for help during visit earlier in day. Up to 24kn. Sea: slight. Wind: SW F3-4. Vis: 30nm.
wpt 1063 1nm off Black Head Lighthouse. 54 46.20N 005 39.80W.
1802: wpt 1064 0.75nm off The Gobbins. 54 49.00N 005 40.20W.
1816: wpt 1065 0.3nm NE N Hunter Rk NCM. 54 53.40N 005 44.60W.
1900: 55 06.26N 005 56.37W.
1903: lost fix alarm, then no track on autopilot. Revert to manually guiding autopilot.
1910: wind against tide conditions, waves short and slightly uncomfortable but okay for speed.
1923: 2nm off Torr Hd (steering wide of original wpt 1066 1nm NE Torr Hd. 55 12.40N 006 02.00W to avoid overfalls).
1942: wpt 1067 0.75 N Fair or Benmore Hd. 55 14.40N 006 09.00W. Punching 6.5kn-7.0kn tide. Disturbed water with some swell most mostly flat.
1955: off plane outside Rathlin Hbr.
2010: alongside in Rathlin Inner Hbr.


Bangor, Northern Ireland
Bangor, Northern Ireland

The Victorian seaside resort of Bangor offers a useful mix of smaller shops worth exploring and more familiar stores, all without taking on the tacky appearance that the 20th Century has often bestowed on similar towns. And its marina of 10 years offers every convenience, including excellent security and a 24hr manned reception area that makes you feel you are entering a hotel, rather than a place to keep your boat.

Because of the way things are arranged you don’t need to keep punching a PIN into a keyboard, or swipe a card to get through to the facilities. Thus encouraged I bravely went where I hadn’t ventured before on this trip and entered the laundry. As one berth-holder I spoke to succinctly put it, it is strange how you can judge a whole marina on the capabilities of its washing machine. At Bangor I could have even judged it on the abilities of its ironing board, but there’s such a thing as overdoing it and Missing Link’s next guests will have to put up with slightly rumpled duvet covers, pressed only by the squeeze that exists in every locker.

Here, as has been our universal experience on the side of the Irish Sea, everyone was incredibly friendly. Alex and I were hijacked late last night by the cheerful folk on a nearby Humber 35 Hiboux IV and a bunch of their friends. We were invited onboard for some ‘Crack’, an expression that worried my crew somewhat until it was explained the substance on offer was nothing more serious than cheerful chat, helped along by whatever we wanted to lubricate it with. Suffice to say you won’t find a better Irish coffee anywhere.

Even more incredible was the re-appearance of Philip Averell this morning, his glistening face and wet weather kit dripping bits of Belfast Lough on Missing Link’s transom as he boarded.

Sprint 148
Philip in the Sprint 148

We’d met Philip and his family in Carrickfergus on Saturday, but plans to have a little look at the prototype of a self-designed and produced 14ft runabout he is in the process of certifying for the Recreational Craft Directive were curtailed when the heavens opened on Sunday. It had not escaped Philip’s notice that we were running without any specific Grand Tour ’99 logos. He said nothing to us at the time, but had gone into his Catchy Signs business, scanned the necessary bits out of the magazine and produced plastic lettering for Missing Link‘s superstructure and a banner to fly in harbour. He had then taken on a stiff westerly in his Suzuki-powered Sprint 148 to catch up with us again, armed with the material that was presented with his compliments. Quite stunned, it seemed inadequate to only be able to offer a coffee and some Grand Tour hats in return.

Later in the afternoon I took a walk up Bangor High Street in search of the Post Office and found myself entering Down Diving Services’ shop. I was looking for a diving knife to replace one I had lost when cutting net off a boat prop last year, but soon found myself bowing to the counter suggestion that I buy a pair of divers shears instead. So smitted was I with the capabilities of the scissors, made by Mares, that I bought a set for £22 and also purchased a small Ramara serrated knife for £25.

One of the reasons I lost the knife last year, and cut myself quite badly in the process, was that the sheer size of the blade made it awkward to use under a moving boat. Whilst I hope not to have to get either of the replacements out of their sheaths on the Grand Tour, it is a comfort having something other than the galley bread knife and a hacksaw onboard again.

We’d stayed in Bangor until quite late for a number of reasons. Alex had visited Belfast Coastguard, who occupy the upper levels of the marina building. And we’d been waiting for the wind to drop and the tide to turn with it in the turbulent approach waters of our destination, Rathlin Sound.

Our schedule had originally suggested a call at Ballycastle, on the grounds that a new marina there was due to be in operation by now. But a touch of Irish logic seems to be at play here and although the marina is now officially opening on 26 June, the first pontoons aren’t due until 1 July. Rumour has it they thought it was as well to have the party anyway.

We could have taken a wall berth in Ballycastle, but had received a counter-suggestion to go to Rathlin Island on the opposite side to the Sound, whose tiny harbour is now protected by new breakwaters. And so to Rathlin we went, admiring the dramatic coastline along the way, even though it was washed out with the evening sun.

The sea, calm at first, started to pick up a bit of a wind against tide lop, the trade-off against getting smoother waters as we rounded the Head alternatively known as Fair or Benmore. Then for some reason our previously very well behaved electronics caught the mood and got in a strop about half way up, giving a NMEA alarm, refusing to automatically track to the next waypoint but still giving perfect position and other data. It wasn’t exactly a big problem, but at time of writing I haven’t found the reason for the problem, largely because I haven’t looked.

And if you were sat in the peaceful isle of Rathlin, perhaps you wouldn’t have looked yet either. Shaped like a capital ‘L’ inverted through 180 degrees, the harbour is to be found tucked into the crook of the two arms.

Missing Link in Rathlin Island's harbour
Missing Link in Rathlin Island’s harbour

Missing Link had to punch her way through a playful current to gain Rue Point before turning north for the shape of the breakwaters, armed only with the Macmillan Almanac for detailed information. Fortunately, all was simple enough and we were soon squeezing through the gap between the Ballycastle car ferry and the pier before securing alongside the concrete quay in the inner harbour, marvelling at the completely deserted vista around us.

We had half decided that a quick look was in order and if we didn’t think Missing Link would be secure, we’d run for Ballycastle before the night was out. But upon checking the modest tidal range (from Imray chart C64), sounding the area around Missing Link’s props and ensuring we weren’t occupying a space required by a fishing boat, there was no reason for moving on and every reason to stay.

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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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