Entering the Wild West

The west coast of Ireland is particularly rugged and exposed to the atlantic swells. At the south western extremity is the Mizen Head, generally a rather inhospitable place with cliffs, few places to land, strong tides and often rough water. The other side of Mizen Head is a succession of long bays, each of which would add several days to the trip to paddle around. I needed to round the head and cross the bays to Dursey and beyond. I was going to need to time this right and for a good weather forecast. Part of the reason for hurrying to Baltimore against the wind was that I could see the good weather coming and I wanted to be in position to take advantage of it.

Departing Baltimore in the murk

On Tuesday the wind had dropped enough to allow me to get to Galley Cove, the nearest reliable landing before Mizen Head. It was still a headwind, but not too bad. I took a northern route through the islands of Roaring Water Bay using the shelter of the land, where there was some, to speed progress. It was only a 30km paddle, so there was no rush and time to explore a little. The north side of Goat Island was unexpectedly attractive with a nice sea arch and easy conditions to paddle close to the rocks.

Goat Island, Roaring Water Bay
Navigation mark near Schull (Long Island, east end)

Galley Cove is an out-of-the way hamlet with a handful of houses, a lovely sandy beach and only a mile to walk to the mini-metropolis of Crookhaven. I did no such thing. After chicken curry for dinner, I went to bed.

Chicken curry at Galley Cove

I got up at 3.15am, in the dark and got on with the morning ritual. Eventually I left at 5.30am, just after dawn. It was a short paddle to Mizen Head and I wanted to be there right at the start of the ebb tide, when the water should be calmest and the tide taking me to Dursey Sound. That would give me plenty of time to get to Dursey and through the sound there, before the tide turned. Wind was forecast at F2-4 SE, a tailwind. There was none at all to start with!

Rounding Mizen Head in the mist

The crossing to Dursey Sound was about 30km, but all was straightforward in practice. Mizen Head was a bit up and down, but relatively good. It was misty, but headlands were visible from time to time and visibility improved over the day. At Dursey I got out for my first lunch, then continued north to Deenish Island, on the edge of Ballinskelligs Bay. All done for the day and 50km paddled by the time of my second lunch, about 2pm.

A puffin en-route to Dursey Sound

Thursday was a different day entirely, bright and sunny but with a fresh easterly creating choppy conditions. I crossed Balinskelligs Bay, rounded Bolus Head, which was quite lively, and headed up to the Portmagee Channel inside Valencia Island. Glenn Pier, in St Finans Bay, was a welcome break from the wind and chop. It was actually a warm and pleasant spot with a lovely view straight out to the Skelligs, around 15km offshore. Not going there today.

Calm at Glen Pier, Skelligs just visible (centre)

Portmagee was warm and windy, a welcome pit-stop to dry out my now damp-suit, to have an ice-cream and fill the water bag, whilst waiting for the tide to turn. Only another 10km or so of easy paddling up the channel to get to an island, Beginish, opposite Knightstown, for the night.

Drying in warm and windy sunshine at Portmagee

Next morning I was off early again, on another crossing, this time Dingle Bay. I had a tail wind so I made very quick progress for the first couple of hours. On the way I was met by a pod of dolphins, perhaps 15, all swimming alongside, underneath and across the front of my kayak,   within 10m and often closer! Today was the first day for a while that I didn’t have the video camera attached. I fished it out. The battery was flat! So I had a go with the still camera, but the result (below) wasn’t very impressive.

Dolphin fin, Great Blasket behind

By now, I was approaching the Blaskets Sound rather more closely than I’d intended and with the tide against me for most of another hour. I struggled across to get some shelter and eventually the tide turned. A pit-stop was called for on the beach at the Great Blasket, before continuing at top speed, 10km/h, with the tide, to Smerwick Harbour.

Landed! Great Blasket looking north to Beginish Island and Clogher Head

By the time I arrived at The Old Pier in Smerwick, I was worn out and soaked. Evidently my drysuit has a hole somewhere to be fixed.  It took me 15 minutes to haul the boat up the long steep slipway to the road and the Old Pier B&B. I was intending to take today off because the wind direction didn’t suit the following cliffs and I’m tired anyway. When I opened the back of the kayak I found a goldfish pond again. No disaster, but something else to fix. Looks like I’ll be busy.

The old pier, Smerwick Harbour, with the Three Sisters in the background
Home for a couple of nights, at the The Old Pier B&B, Smerwick Harbour
Excellent, fresh haddock and chips at The Old Pier B&B

2 Replies to “Entering the Wild West”

  1. Oh my god Julian you’re going great. I love the bit about not going the mile into Crookhaven, straight to bed!! I know that feeling😂 But you’re going great, zipping past those SW fingers. I hope you’ve got the aquaseal for the drysuit😟 More nice stuff coming your way. Use the doggy day for the rest/repairs. Safe onwards x

  2. Julian – really impressed with this, good luck with the trip and keeping going with the updates.

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