Monday morning (26th June) was calm, bright and with a little mist. The wind and swell of the preceding two days had abated and now all was looking good for a quick scoot down the east coast, back to Dublin. Fair Head and shortly afterwards Torr Head mark the north-east corner and the start of the east coast.
There are phenominal tide races, whirlpools and rips hereabouts as the tide squeezes between the nearby Scottish coast, Rathlin Island and the Irish mainland. I was taking no chances, so I timed my departure from Ballycastle to be at Fair Head at slack, when there would be little or no movement. With little wind too, all should be calm.
Fair Head was easily reached and all was calm as expected, but there was some tide flowing south already and a clear eddy line visible a little way off shore. By the time I reached Torr Head, perhaps half an hour later, the tide was rushing past at easily 3kn creating some turbulence. In practice it was no big deal, just a point squeeze easily passed, but I wouldn’t like to be here later in the cycle or with adverse conditions!
So that was it. Now I was heading south, back to Dublin, protected from the Atlantic swells and the prevailing westerly winds. I found a rocky beach for a quick pitstop just south of Torr Head.
The coastline here is dominated by green mountains rolling down to a low rocky foreshore with small towns and villages set into the backs of relatively small bays. Carnlough is one such place which made a very pleasant lunch stop in a small harbour with shop, cafe and toilets all just there!
With tide behind me and little wind, I wanted to make the most of it. I continued on past the industrial port of Larne, minding the ferry (in port) before eventually arriving at Portmuck, a tiny harbour with a sandy beach and grassy headland, 65km after departing Ballycastle that morning. There were a few houses, but it looked perfect for camping. I found out later that it wasn’t actually allowed but. since I had a small tent and would be gone by morning, nobody seemed to mind. I hadn’t been there long when Peter Edgar, another sea kayaker, walked up. Another happy coincidence! He brought me up to his parents nearby where I was plied with tea and cakes in front of the fire as my wet gear was rinsed and dried ready for the morning. Thanks very much!
The next morning wasn’t so attractive with a south-easterly headwind, drizzle and fog. It was a slow day in every sense if the word. I crawled across the 12km entrance to Belfast Lough on a compass bearing, unable to see land for most of the crossing, the monotony broken only briefly by the abrupt emergence from the murk of a Stena ferry, a few kilometres in front of me.
After about an hour and a half, I was pleased to see land of about the right shape! I headed around the corner through the sound to Donaghadee. Nothing much happened in the sound – it was flat for a wide margin at the edge even though the tide hammers through here, squashed between the Copeland Islands and the mainland.
I was now on the Ards peninsular, fairly flat with low rocky shoreline, sandy beaches and rock reefs extending well out to sea. There were some static caravan parks. After a while I got shouted at by a bloke with a white van standing some distance away on the shore. Strange ’round here. I gave him a wave and paddled on to Portavogie, passing some more beaches and caravans, aware that this might be the last good landing for a while. Easterly wind was forecast for the next day, so I wasn’t keen to risk getting stuck on a beach. At Portavogie I was delighted to be met by Brian Redpath, the bloke in the white van, also a sea kayaker, who’d contacted me a few months earlier and whose details I’d lost!
Portavogie is a fishing port on industrial scale, with deep harbour walls and a film of oil / diesel over the water. The entrance is narrow with blind corners and little space to avoiding fishing boats on their way in or out. Whilst it’s an all-weather landing, it’s not a good spot for a kayak, indeed pleasure craft are not permitted in the harbour, so I was told the next morning! The departure at low water from the only usable slip was squalid with soft, thick, black greasy mud for several metres to get in and then an obstruction just under the water.
The paddle south was a bumpy affair with the easterly wind. I’d barely got going when it slowly became clear that the “tall birds” ahead were in fact standing on a causeway stretching as far as I could see both left and right! I didn’t feel like paddling out to find the end of it, so I paddled up to it and found a short portage of only 10m. Thereafter, it was fairly easy going until Strangford.
The entrance to Strangford Lough is another notoriously rough spot, largely because of the huge tidal flow into and out of the narrow channel connecting the lough to the sea. I timed my arrival for slack to make it as easy as possible, but it was still pretty lumpy with the east wind and that continued all the way along the cliffs to Ardglass.
I was cold, tired and sore. I found a cafe by the marina in which to drip over a bowl of chowder. I had intended to continue to Newcastle, but quickly found out that what I had thought would be a good landing wasn’t actually so with easterly wind. Not having a better plan and seeing a nearby B&B, I decided it would be good to stop for the day.
Well, now the weather’s deteriorated further with gale force winds forecast today. They’re northerly, the right direction, but I can’t paddle in that! With luck I might get out tomorrow or Sunday. I have about 130km left to do, which ought to be 3 paddling days. But which days?