15th October

All at sea

 Tom Lawlor

At the age of 56, Bill Tilman took up sailing to the Arctic and Antartic searching for new mountains to climb. Trying to manage the dreded mal de mer as I watched the Atlantic climb the rock faces on Cork’s west coast, I felt it was time for me to give up sailing and take up mountaineering...

Leaving Courtmacsherry the crew face into heavy weather, bound for Dingle. Photo Paul Calvert

Leaving Courtmacsherry we face into heavy weather, bound for Dingle. Photo Paul Calvert

We had set sail from Monkstown, Co Cork. Our plan was to spend many idle hours cruising west with no particular destination in mind, just to enjoy visiting the many harbours sprinkled along the southwest coast.

Passing Cobh, Spike and Crosshaven we meet some boats arriving into the shelter of Cork harbour. Their crews looking tired and their rigging a little tattered.

Westerly storm

At Roaches Point we admire a group of fishermen who are choosing to spend a stormy day sport fishing. We ignored the omens and sailed into the tailend of a westerly storm on course for Courtmacsharry.

The approaches to Courtmacsherry is a slalom course between many sandbanks. Donal O’Boyle on the helm guides us to the town pontoon. Secured alongside with extra lines we still feel the effects of the storm. We’re rocking and rolling but ashore. Later, togged in full oil skins we brave the horizontal rain and trudge to the Lifeboat bar for dinner and the best Gaelic coffee ever.

The weather deteriorates and we become stormbound. Ships and sailors rot in port, is an old adage but  we are made of sterner stuff. Monitoring the weather forecast, coupled with a small maintenance programme and regular inspection visits to the friendly bars makes time past.

Stags on the horizon

The storm abates and we make ready for sea. We get a visit from Coxwain Sean O’Farrell and Engineer Stuart Russell of the RNLI. We tell them our plan is to make for Baltimore and they advise us on weather and sea state. Wishing us the best they loosen our lines and we zig zag through the sandbanks and back to sea. 

Mikey and Tommy Dwyer have great experience and local knowledge of these waters. He steers a course past the Stags and between the shore and a rock outcrop. Sailing close to rocky headlands gives us a priviliged aspect of nature’s sculpture.

As the shapes open and close against the sky, their outline reminds us of the countance of famous statesmen. One shows a rounded forehead with hooded eyebrows over a Roman nose and a soft chin sinking into the surf. We all agree it was the spit of Geronimo.

Baltimore deserves better facilities for visiting boats. The cement-filled barge that forms a pontoon needs to be replaced and the power supply was undependable. Visitors from Brittany found it difficult to tie up astern of us until we repositioned. We slept with one eye open.

The approach to Glengarriff was deliciously slow, allowing the landscape to present itself in all its magic. The Paul Henry sky as backdrop to a wooded landscape that touches the waterline.

Passing Garinish  Island we pick up a visitor’s mooring and drop the dinghy for the shore visit. We choose to land at the old pier and take a stroll to the town through Blue Pool. The pathway is heavy with growth and winds above a waterway that leads out to the sea. We enjoyed a fine dinner in McCarthys Bar and nightcaps in the cockpit. Perfect cruising.

Past reminders

It’s sunny with good winds as we depart and sail down Bantry Bay. Passing Whiddy Island I remember the night of the dreadful disaster that cost the lives of 50 people...

I was alerted by The Irish Times newsdesk that a tanker had exploded near Bantry. I rang my regular pilot Ray Di Masico of Iona Airways and we departed Dublin airport for the scene. On arival we circled the scene and made some pictures. Ray was on the radio reporting to air traffic control the weather state and visability. His reports were a great help to rescue helicopters who were en route from  an RAF base in Wales. The oil tanks on Whiddy are now used as fish farms.

Broad reaching past the approaches to Courtmacsherry we sail westward enjoying a lively sea and a fresh breeze. The weather is easy when we pass through Dursey sound. Above us the cable car moves at a snail’s pace. It’s no wonder the cows stopped using it.

The weather changes as we set course for Cahersiveen. Sloppy seas and poor visability as we pass Puffin Island, around Valencia and into a navagational test. The channel is well marked with bouys with every top mark available and a leading and clearing mark that makes me wish Ihad gone to Specsavers.

Dingle bound

The marina is welcoming and well run by Thomas Fenton who was a fund of local knowledge and made our visit a pleasure. His recommended QC’s seafood restaurant earned him the skipper’s special award.

As we depart we pass three men in a boat. Sailing Against Cancer Ireland is printer on their hull. We salute these heros and set sail for Dingle. The seas and wind are building and we are making 10 knots.

Our goal is to make Murphy’s Bar to see the Lions rugby game.  In the bar we meet Ted Dwyer:

“I have plenty of people to do things with. But no one to do nothing with.”  I think he should give up the golf and try cruising.


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