April 2007– Milford Haven and the East Coast of Ireland
April was a month of unseasonally sunny weather, not much wind at the start but rather too much at the end and only a couple of overcast days in the middle. We had a long list of maintenance jobs to work through which took us several full days at the beginning of April. One of these was to go up the mast which Tim volunteered to do, so Judith did all the scurrying around supplying him with tools, replacement blocks etc - while trying not to rock the boat. Our mast is relatively short, but a small movement at water level still equates to uncomfortable swaying at the top of the mast.
To get our sea legs we spent a couple of days exploring Milford Haven (and listening to the cricket world cup on our wind-up LW radio). We finally set off at lunchtime on April 17 for Ireland. There was an excellent sailing wind for us to clear Skokholm and Skomer, but it was then right on the nose for the rest of our trip! However, at sunset the wind died and we had a long motor across the Irish Sea arriving at Howth (just north of Dublin Bay) by mid afternoon the following day. We spent a few days exploring the area before moving on to Carlingford Lough.
One thing we did find amusing at Howth was some of the moorings which were on the quay side for winter maintenance. We thought we were cheeky using an old track fishplate for an anchor chum - but using old wheels for moorings anchor was in another league.
Carlingford Lough is a very picturesque with the upper stretch lying between the Mountains of Mourne to the north and the mountains of the Cooley Peninsula to the south. It is also the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, and so time to put the Euros away, and get out the Sterling again.
It was here, at Carlingford, that we had a few days of bad weather, but we were tucked up safely in the marina while the wind whipped up the waters of the lough. With the cricket to entertain us in the afternoons, we spent the mornings doing several low level walks which were shown on the OS map. Even these were above the cloud level at times, but were still enjoyable due to the number and variety of spring flowers along the way. At one point the verges of the path were carpeted in flowering shamrock with droplets of mist on their leaves and petals.
Typically the weather went from gales to calm, so we motored on up to Ardglass, with a calm sea, sun, autopilot and a good book to pass the time. After a couple of days we moved on again and into Strangford Lough. Weatherwise, it was a different story in Strangford Lough, we spent a night at anchor off Kircubbin in a gusty easterly wind and very uncomfortable it was to. This is the first time we have considered the need for a riding sail, the wind was so strong that we spent the night tacking about the anchor which was not very restful! We had nothing suitable to improvise as a riding sail, we tried the storm jib mounted on one of the back stays, this stopped the tacking but the sail was really too big and it put too much strain on the back stay. Instead we put out lots more anchor chain, and added a riding sail to our list of wants.
Strangford Lough is very different from Carlingford Lough, it being in the lowlands and much more pastoral. We spent a week just cruising around the various yacht clubs and anchorages. During our stay, our bicycles got their first outings with rides around the country lanes, and we walked in the woodlands of Castle Ward and Mount Stewart (National Trust) with their spectacular displays of blue bells and azaleas, all with stunning views over the Lough.
Next stop was at Bangor on the south coast of Belfast Lough where we arrived at the start of the May Day bank holiday. The real treat of the weekend was the medieval festival at Holywood (a couple of stops on the train along the coast). This town boasts the only Maypole in Northern Ireland, which stands at a cross roads in the centre. The whole of the main shopping areas were pedestrianised for the day and the streets lined with a great variety stalls. Some bric-a-brac charity stalls, some with gourmet foods, and then a series of stalls with a medieval theme, with an apothecary, scribe, candle maker and others. At midday the children performed several dances around the Maypole. It was very sweet, the girls having flowers in their hair, and pretty pastel coloured skirts, with the boys in bright waist coats and jeans! This was followed by a jousting demonstration, though not hitting each other, just aiming at practice shields, and slashing at a melon for sword practice.
By mid May, Innisfree was staying in Bangor for a week or two while we returned to England for Tim's sister's wedding. The journey was uneventful, though it was notable for it taking longer to travel the 3 miles by bus from Bath railway station to Batheaston than it took to fly from Belfast to Bristol, (it was raining otherwise we would have walked). The wedding went off without a hitch with everyone thoroughly enjoying themselves. The rain even stopped just in time for the photos - that is some planning!
The aim after Bangor is to continue on around the North of Ireland before crossing to the Scottish Islands.