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Here at North Sails Ireland, a large portion of our customer base is made up of a wide range of cruising sailors writes Maurice O'Connell.

They range from blue-water sailors who have circumnavigated the globe to coastal sailors who undertake short "hops" with friends and family.

Cruising sailors' requirements can be a little different from our "all-out" racing clients. Here at North Sails, we have an extensive range of cruising products that will deliver fast, reliable cruising for many many years.

Have you ever wondered about, "what should I be looking for in a cruising sail?". Well, here's the answer...North Sails invites all sailors to join our "10 Things To Look For In Cruising Sails" webinar.

This fun and informative webinar will be hosted by our colleagues Bob Meagher, Peter Grimm (North Sails Fort Lauderdale) and Austin Powers (North Sails Annapolis).

Read about them here:-

All are welcome to our webinar...........

With very best wishes from North Sails Ireland.

Please register here

Published in North Sails Ireland

“If you find a good crew, marry her”.

It may sound flippant. But when you think of all the challenges of keeping any ship’s company in a friendly and effectively-functioning form, and add to that all the challenges of a happy marriage in these increasingly long-lived times, then that piece of crisp advice is pure gold.

Yet in the case of Richard Kennedy of Birr in County Offaly – not exactly Ireland’s most nautical town – it was Rita Hopkins of Inishowen in Donegal who introduced him to sailing, and over the years they’ve become a devoted cruising couple in every sense.

There has been an element of compromise. When Rita became Mrs Kennedy, they settled far from the sea in Birr, where Richard is a solicitor and arbitrator. But they soon had boats which they kept on nearby Lough Derg – arguably a proper inland sea – and in time became the proud owners of the characterful steel-built 34ft Bruce Roberts-designed Slocum Spray-type cutter Seachran.

2 seachran connemara2Into the west….Seachran anchored off the silver strand on Dinish in Connemara as the local hookers race in the bay. Photo: Richard Kennedy
3 seachran accommodation3The homely comfort down below – over two seasons, Richard and Rita lived on Seachran for five months. Photo: Richard Kennedy

With their young sons Paul and David they had both inland and sea cruising with this boat, which had become a cherished member of the family. But with the boys growing up and making their own way in life while their parents saw retirement age approaching, the plan began to take place of Richard and Rita making a proper round Ireland cruise, with Richard maybe even writing a book about it

This will sound familiar to readers, for back on September 2nd we ran this preview of the book’s launching. Many readers responded to it, and the book went into a second printing. Yet in these very peculiar times, ‘Round Ireland by Slow Boat’ really does hit the spot, and more folk should know about it.

4 richard kennnedy4With some difficult navigation successfully completed, the skipper is in a good mood as Seacrhan approaches Inishbofin on passage from Connemara. Photo: Rita Kennedy

Cometh the hour, cometh the book…….This is just the kind of reading you need these days, for ultimately it’s all-absorbing escapist literature. For sure, in what became a five-month cruise spread over the two seasons of 2017 and 2018, Richard and Rita’s clockwise circuit of our extraordinary island saw them once or twice in potentially dangerous situations which Richard, with a self-deprecatory candour, admits they shouldn’t have been next or near in the first place.

Yet despite those occasional but very real hazards, you’re with them every mile of the way in a well-spiced read. For at other times when he comes upon a strange and maybe unpleasant aspect of life at some port or other, Richard is not at all backward in coming forth with an adverse opinion. Then too, their passionate interest in traditional music and other areas of Irish culture adds a dimension lacking in many cruising narratives, and through these interests, he introduces us to people well beyond the normal sailing circles.

5 seachran north mayo5Seachran making good progress reaching along the coast of North Mayo, bound for Sligo. Note the system for self-tacking the staysail, with the sheet led upwards to a sheave in the mast. Photo: Richard Kennedy
6 seachran new ross6With the help of family and friends, Seachran was given a fresh coat of anti-fouling in record time at mid-voyage in the boatyard at New Ross in County Wexford. Photo: Richard Kennedy
In time, this special two-season cruise takes on such a strong character of its own that neither the participants nor the reader want it to end. I was reading it at the same time as another longtime cruising shipmate, and as we both neared the ultimately successful conclusion with Seachran back in her home port of Kilgarvan on Lough Derg, we found ourselves exchanging emails about how we were reading it in ever-shorter segments, as it so perfectly removed us from the unimaginable realities of life today.

The core of it all is the clearly very special relationship between Richard and Rita. It’s not impertinent to suggest that in the final analysis, ‘Round Ireland by Slow Boat” is a love story and a refreshingly self-aware one at that. It will do you a world of good to read it in it entirety.

Published by Throughthechair Publishing, it’s on sale for €15 including post and package, details at, or contact Richard Kennedy direct at [email protected]

As for what Richard and Rita might do next? The cruise has been successfully completed. The book has been written and well received. So now they might get together with their seisiun friends in those special little pubs close under the Slieve Blooms, and compose some music of the voyage.

7 seachran kilgarvan7Home again. Her mast having been lowered to negotiate the bridges of Limerick, Seachran has gently made her way under auxiliary engine (a marinised Volkswagen Golf diesel) back to her hidden home port of Kilgarvan on Lough Derg. Photo: Richard Kennedy

Published in Cruising
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The worldwide spread of the Irish Cruising Club membership was in evidence at the AGM in Dun Laoghaire at the end of February when Daragh Nagle was awarded the supreme trophy, the Faulkner Cup.

Originally of Portmarnock but now cruising from Victoria in British Columbia with his wife Cathy O’Neill in their 1987-vintage Moody 376 Chantey V, Daragh’s 2019 venture was a properly-logged 2,500 miles-plus 90 day venture with more than 70 ports and anchorages visited, competently dealing with a mixture of extreme tides and open sea passages in exemplary style.

Published in Sailor of the Month
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The further west you go in Ireland, the warmer is the hospitality. So despite the current ferocious weather and the fact that Clifden in Connemara is well out into Ireland’s Atlantic frontier, the mood will be friendly and warm in Clifden Boat Club this Saturday night as Commodore Donal O Scannell welcomes members and guests for American skipper Nick Kats’s profusely-illustrated unveiling of his recent Arctic voyaging with his hefty Danish steel-built Bermuda-rigged 39ft ketch Teddy.

It is quite a few years since Nick and Teddy arrived into Clifden for a visit of undefined length, and during that time he has built up a reputation in Connemara for his skills as an acupuncturist and naturopathic doctor. But a return to his home in Oregon by way of the Northwest Passage was always on the horizon. However, it slipped down the agenda as he made exploratory visits to Greenland waters, and became bewitched by the place.

Thus last year’s cruise to the north was clearly made with no intention of trying for the Northwest Passage at all, as it took him to Eastern Greenland and included a circuit of Iceland before returning to Clifden. Just like that. It’s all very remarkable, and if you’re looking for something truly different in Connemara this Saturday night, we strongly recommend a visit to Clifden Boat Club for a unique experience.

Published in Cruising

The annual Irish Sailing Cruising Conference attracted a capacity attendance of a hundred enthusiasts to the hospitable National Yacht Club on Saturday, with an excellent and sustaining club lunch at mid-conference to provide further energy for a very busy programme, and also offset any thoughts of Storm Dennis starting to manifest himself outside.

For in the warmth of the clubhouse and the camaraderie of sailing the sea, organiser Gail McAllister and her team had provided a lengthy yet absorbing schedule of presentations which covered a huge variety of topics, going beyond the basic theme of Exploration and Discovery.

Thus while everyone knew that contacts with Damian Foxall, Lucy Hunt and Niall McAllister in Antarctica with the expedition yacht Ocean Tramp were coming down the line, as were links with Vera Quinlan and her family cruising the Caribbean, while voyager/explorer Jamie Young of Galway was there to tell his story and outline several interesting news ideas, the reality is that cruises long and short involve dealing with the behaviour of waves at sea, and that was the opening topic.

foxall hunt mcallister2Irish Sailing Sustainability Ambassador Damian Foxall with shipmates Lucy Hunt and Niall McAllister
It sounds like a technically specialist area, yet Met Eireann’s Sarah Gallagher not only made it very accessible, but gave everyone her direct email contact for further information on a topic which every helmsman knows as having almost infinite permutations.

Next up was Jim Wilson of Ballinacurra in East Cork, birthplace in 1785 of seafarer Edward Bransfield, the discoverer of the Antarctic landmass in 1820. With the Bicentenary of his great breakthrough upon us, we find that it has taken 200 years for Bransfield to become an overnight success, but the awareness of what he achieved is gathering pace, largely thanks to the infectious enthusiasm of Jim Wilson and his group, and he made a fine job of making it an entertaining topic.

antarctic image3Antarctica in all its magic and mystery – the discovery of the Antarctic landmass 200 years ago by Edward Bransfield of Ballinacurra, East Cork, was one of the many topics covered at Saturday’s conference.
With an admittedly northern part of the Antarctic landmass very briefly achieving a temperature of 20 degrees recently to provide a new record high for the region, the ice melt is a global problem. But there’s still an awful lot of it about, and the distant word from the crew of Damian Foxall (Irish Sailing’s Sustainability Ambassador) from Ocean Tramp is that while Climate Change is one of their major interests, an Antarctic storm is still way beyond most people’s cruising experience, and the access voyage southward across the Drake Passage from Cape Horn can be epic.

While Jamie Young is best-known in sailing circles for his remarkable Greenland voyages with the alloy-built Frers 49 Killary Flyer (we’d put good money on him to be the first yacht skipper from Ireland to get round Greenland), he is no stranger to the Southern Hemisphere, indeed he once went round Cape Horn in a kayak, as one does….

However, while Greenland voyaging is his shtick these days, he is determined to see Climate Change being combatted by much-increased use of sail power, and has developed some advanced ideas – some of which he revealed at the conference - about how best to do that in special smaller cargo vessels where developments in sail handling techniques for racing machines and superyachts can be usefully adapted to be of real commercial value to mankind.

killary flyer in ice4Melting icebergs in the Arctic can be dangerous for near approach, but one of them does provide a very special frame for a portrait of Jamie Young’s Frers 49 exploration yacht Killary Flyer from Ireland's west coast

jamie young5 Jamie Young outlined his plans for developing viable sail-driven commercial freight and trading vessels

After lunch, the re-introduction to seafaring was provided by Dun Laoghaire voyager Christine Heath, whose extended cruises with her Limerick-built Shipman 28 Gusto were summed up in the title of the presentation: “From Dun Laoghaire to Kilrush via the Baltic”. Her boat is now “nesting” in Kilrush Marina, and this summer she plans cruising on Ireland’s western seaboard in detail.

shipman28 gusto6 Christine Heath’s much-travelled and immaculately-maintained Shipman 28 Gusto

It was a cruising family from that same Atlantic seaboard who were next on the agenda, but their current focus is on the other side of the ocean. For, as recounted in detail on recently, Vera Quinlan of Kinvara and her family with the 13m ketch Danu are on a 15-month Atlantic circuit cruise, and as she is a hydrographer by profession, her insights into voyaging and the state of our seas carry real weight.

Carrying weights of a small but significant size was the busy agenda’s next subject, with Toni O’Leary of Union Chandlery providing her expert information and advice on galvanic corrosion and its countering by anodes - definitely a specialist subject, yet one about which every sailor and particularly every cruising person needs to be well aware.

fish catch13 1The family ocean cruising dream fulfilled - Vera Quinlan and son Ruari aboard Danu in mid-Atlantic
After the underwater detail of cruising boat maintenance, it was time for a breath of fresh air and visions of sunlit cruising grounds and favourite anchorages. A new angle was provided on this by Norman Kean of Courtmacsherry, Honorary Editor of the Irish Cruising Club Sailing Directions. With his wife Geraldine Hennigan, Norman has recently seen through the publication of the latest edition – the 15th – of the ICC’s book for the South & West Coasts, and much use is made of his untiring enthusiasm for using drone photography, which meant that at the Conference he was able to run an informal competition, showing new aerial photos of choice anchorages and asking people to tell him where it was.

Norman Kean Sailing Two heads are better than one……coastal drone photography ace Norman Kean at the Old Head of Kinsale

Inevitably the usual discussions of varying intensity broke out about the best cruising anchorage of all (everyone has a favourite), but Norman then reintroduced a more businesslike mood with an outline of another of his specialities, the realities of the marine diesel situation and accessing fuel on the Irish coast, which can be problematic, to say the least.

However, cruising goes on even with such hassles to be overcome, and there was close interest in Vincent Lundy’s outlining of the Cruising Association of Ireland’s plans for 2020, which will include a Cruise-in-Company to Scotland.

As for the major happening in Ireland this year, the Tricentenary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, Mike Rider - Rear Admiral (Cruising) of the RCYC - was on hand to tell this focused group of total cruising folk of how best they could avail of the various events on offer in order to join the party, while at the same time staying within the cherished preferences of the true cruising spirit.

mike rider9Mike Rider, Rear Admiral (Cruising) Royal Cork Yacht Club

This special and successful gathering concluded with the news that 2021’s Conference will be staged in Cork in February on a “non-Rugby weekend”, with venue still to be finalised. But while using the National Yacht Club for this memorable 2020 get-together inevitably limited participating numbers to a hundred, it has set a standard of quality, interest, information and enjoyment which will be quite something to match.

Published in Cruising
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Royal St George Yacht Club's Frank O'Beirne won the Irish Cruising Club's (ICC) Perry Greer Bowl for the 'Best First ICC Log' that describes a cruise from Dun Laoghaire to the Hebrides last Summer, a voyage that has provided the impetus for a proposed cruise to Rockall via Reykjavik this season

In 2017, our third year of ownership we took Samphire around Ireland and on passing through the North Channel, looked wistfully at Scotland and vowed to come back next year and cruise the Hebrides. And so it came to pass. It was to be Scotland this year.

Winter planning and noodling about on Navionics resulted in a ludicrously ambitious plan to get as far as Stornoway, perhaps taking in Rockall on the way home via Reykjavik. Sense finally prevailed and with families and jobs to keep going, Skye was set as the target. A pleasant stay in Ballycastle during the previous year's circumnavigation gave us an excuse to return on a short cruise in early June so that we were positioned there as a jump-off point to make the most of our time. The trip up to Ballycastle for Kieron, his brother Declan and I, via Ardglass and Glenarm, was eventful if only for the characters we met in both locations, being guided to the 'right' pubs and mixing it with the local marching band…but that's another story.

"bouncing around in a 1964 36-footer in variable Scottish weather was a hard sell"

The end of the Leaving Cert for our two girls Helen and Grace was the perfect excuse to press-gang them and their mum, Judy, into accompanying me on the first leg of the cruise. I'll admit, potentially bouncing around in a 1964 36-footer in variable Scottish weather was a hard sell, but a promise to tone down the parental warnings regarding an upcoming Magaluf trip eased the path, and we walked from home to the Dart station and onto the boat in Ballycastle a few hours later via bus, train and taxi.

Samphire Hebrides TrackjpgSamphire's Hebrides route

A following southwest breeze, 8-12 kts, zero cloud cover and flat seas are the best way to sail to Gigha – it has a lot going for it. The skipper did not allow enough time to catch the last of the east-going flood between Fair Head and Ratlin, and we lost some time punching a west-going current which turns early inshore. A half-hour late departure made all the difference. Lesson learned; missing tides up thereabouts guarantees a long day.

Gigha's new breakwater and pontoon, along with the attractions of the Boathouse restaurant its own sub-tropical micro-climate and Achamore Gardens make this a destination in itself. As the islanders have bought out the landlord through a vehicle called the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust, the improvement is evident everywhere. We bumped into ICC members Peter and Rosemary Bullick on their way back from an extended cruise to the Outer Hebrides. Two days later we set out up the Sound of Jura with spinnaker set and chilled out. One of the great things about cruising with teenagers is you get to hear all the new hit tunes…ALL of them. I developed temporary tinnitus.

Next stop Crinan, for supplies a shower and the 6.5km walk which is the Crinan Trail. All this stunning scenery, rounded off with coffee and carrot cake at the key-side café while watching the antics of just-in-control crews pass through the lock gates. We think of 'cool' as the exclusive domain of the young. However having watched the older couple let the bustlers go ahead of them, ease into the lock, slip warps onto the bollards with minimum fuss while conversing pleasantly with the lock keeper, I'd beg to differ. This pair were the epitome of cool….in an off-beat sort of way.

Passage through the Sound of Luing was a sleigh-ride with a north going tide. We were shocked to see what appeared to be a periscope approaching at speed. Sure enough, the chart said 'submarine exercise area' so we took evasive action and gybed onto starboard. As we sped past, the periscope turned out to be a semi-submerged lobster pot set in 5kts of tide complete with rooster tail. Another lesson learned; use the darned binoculars. Past the impressive Fladda rocks, up the Sound of Nish, through Kerrera Sound and onto the pontoon in Oban. A big day out but great sailing.

"Another lesson learned; use the darned binoculars"

As a new member to ICC, I am impressed with all the fine dining that appears to go on. Oban, by Rick Stein's assessment, boasts 'the best fish and chips I've ever tasted' at the Oban Fish and Chip Shop. Not a fancy joint, décor includes white tiled walls and floor, condiments are mainly of the ketchup, salt and vinegar type…..but the cod and chips! Michelin stars are not generally handed out to chippies, but if they are, this is the place.

Off to Tobermory next in company with ferries, superyachts and trawlers. Arrival here was the highlight of Helen's trip who remembers the BBC children's programme starring Katie Morag. We played 'what's the story in Ballimory' on the speakers for her arrival. Nostalgia is alive and well. Robert Hemming is a welcoming Harbour Master and the facilities at Taigh Solais, the harbour building, are as good as you can get.

Taking a few days to enjoy the setting included a memorable swim under the Aros Waterfall. This is not for the faint-hearted or cold-blooded but well worth it if only for the getting out afterwards. The 88m superyacht Infinity was anchored off but didn't invite us on board for a sundowner — their loss.

Cooling down in the Aros waterfalls TobermoryCooling down in the Aros waterfalls at Tobermory

Judy brought me across the harbour in the dinghy for a long swim back across what we thought was a very shallow bottom. On inspection, we were looking down into water clogged with jellyfish as far as the eye could see. Not sure what environmental phenomenon caused this but I could have nearly walked home on jellyfish and kept my feet dry. We beat a hasty retreat for a sunset G&T.

Sunset and GTJudy and Frank

The girls' time had come to an end, and Magaluf beckoned. I couldn't compete with this so sent them off on the bus where, through a combination of trains, planes and automobiles they arrived back later that day at our local Dart station for the short walk home. Tobermory & Oban are places to be recommended for a crew change.

A blissful two-day solo sailing period ensued which included a stop off at Loch Aline and then Puilladobhrain. The obligatory hike over the headland for (several) beers in Tigh An Truish opposite the Bridge Across the Atlantic had me in company with Kirsty and Donald (whom else when in Scotland?). Two locals with a severe sense of craic about them.

A very sluggish start the next day got me to Oban again to pick up the incoming crew in the guise of Kieron Guilfoyle my co-owner, Chris Arrowsmith and Adrian Eggers. A quick pitstop for supplies and we were away again for Tobermory in the company of sailors in the annual Round Mull Race. Although not entered, we managed to get a hooter as we crossed the line – a great days' racing'. This race is quite a thing here and goes on over three days with a shindig in a different port every evening.

Up and away the next day to see what Rum, Eigg and Muck had in store. We vowed to return to Rum at some stage when we saw the magnificent scenery and potential for walking as we dropped the hook in about five fathoms 100m off the slipway. We were intent on visiting Kinloch Castle, a late Victorian mansion built as a private residence for Sir George Bullough, a textile tycoon from Lancashire whose father bought Rum as his summer residence and shooting estate. It was the last word in opulence and one of the first to have electricity fed by its hydroelectric dam. Alas, the weather Gods turned against us, and we didn't fancy the egg-beater of an outboard on the dinghy, making it ashore and back. Hence, we spent a profitable evening on the hook inspecting a perfect bottle of gin, sorting out world politics and singing badly.

"we spent a profitable evening on the hook inspecting a perfect bottle of gin"

The heavy weather continued the next day, so we cleared out and had a decidedly lively broad reach in 25-30 kts to Malaig. The marina there is well run, and the town has one of everything. What we didn't anticipate was the arrival of the Hogwarts Express into Mallaig station. Passing through stunning scenery, it runs the 41kms to Fort William passing over the famous Glenfinnan viaduct which features in the Harry Potter movie. We just needed more time to do all the things we wanted to do….perhaps another time. We settled for a hike over hills behind the town to give some stunning views of the Highlands.

Next up was Skye across the Sound of Sleat. We had hoped to cruise the southwest coast of Skye taking in Scavaig and maybe Canna but some heavy weather had closed in and time was running out. We did, however, tick the Skye box by calling in at the delightful Ornsay harbour for a swim, lunch and a pint. We then beat back southwards, bypassing Lough Hourn and into Lough Nevis to The Old Forge gastro pub at the foot of Knoydart in Inverie. With no roads in or out, an 18-mile hike over Munros or a 7-mile sea crossing, the pub claims to be the remotest on mainland Britain (verified by the Guinness Book of Records). The seafood here is excellent and worth the bumpy ride to the complimentary mooring afterwards.

The Old Forge InnDrinks at The Old Forge Inn for (from left) Chris, Adrian, Frank and Kieran

It is hard to capture the essence of the scenery here, the ruggedness and raw beauty. The steep loch shores fall straight into the sea, the peaks are jagged and, gnarly and everywhere you look, you are overwhelmed by the beauty of the place.

It was time to start heading south again, and we set course for the 38nm leg to Coll. Anticipating an upwind slog, we settled down for the day in damp, blustery conditions. We got a break though as we pulled level with Arisaig sound and the wind veered 30 degrees giving us a fetch in relatively flat water – Samphire's favourite point of sailing. This was meant to be both a sailing and walking holiday, so we felt obliged to do at least something by way of exercise and tramped across the island to swim on a beach on the west coast of Coll. Again, not a swim for anyone who enjoys heated pools, but it built up a great thirst which we attended to in the Coll Hotel with a memorable dinner thrown in.

For me, the next destination was one I was looking forward to most – the Treshnish Isles with its puffins. If you haven't seen one of these funny little guys up close, I commend them to you. The Island of Lunga has one of the most spectacular colonies of puffins which nests there April-August.

Thar be PuffinsThar be a Puffin!

The noise is something else, and as you stand among them, incoming puffins whizz past your ears as they land with a bill full of sand eels to feed their young in burrows in the ground. There is also an enormous colony of guillemots that set up a tremendous racket, raising their young on the most precarious cliffs across from the viewing point. Even Kieron, a confirmed non-romantic, admitted to being impressed by the place. The pilotage in and out of Lunga is a bit dicey with rocks all round but in calm weather is tenable during the day.

On through the passage between Iona and the Ross of Mull to Tinker's Hole where we dropped the hook overnight. This is a curious place, perfectly tucked away and a high stopping point on the journey back south. Next day we picked our way through the litter of rocks and islets off Erraid on the way to Scalasaig to await the turn of the tide in the narrow sound between Islay and Jura. The weather had pretty much played ball all trip and pilotage had been mainly by eyeball, cross-checking on the plotter and keeping a backup on paper charts. We'd learned the hard way always to keep paper charts available when crossing the Irish Sea at night when everything electrical sat down. That was an early lesson learned, and I wouldn't fancy being caught out among some of this coastline in adverse conditions without a fix.

Hauling ass at 9.7 knots onboard Hauling ass at 9.7 knots

As the tide turned south again, we left Scalasaig and were sucked into the sound logging 9.7 kts over the ground. In a 10 ton, long keeled boat, this is shifting. Rounding Ardmore Point at the southeastern end of Islay we were met with a decidedly rotten sea-state and bumped our way along an inshore passage to Port Ellen. To ease sheets and head for lovely Gigha again was sorely tempting but we sucked it up on the basis that the wind angle could make the run across the North Channel a challenge the next day. While the marina facilities are excellent, perhaps we hit Port Ellen on a slow night, and we were distinctly underwhelmed by the place. After a dram in a local hostelry, we retired on board to inspect a bottle of Jameson we had overlooked earlier in the trip.

As so often happens, we could have spent a pleasant night on Gigha after all as the next morning we awoke to lots of fog but no wind. So we had to motor for several hours to make the tidal gate in the North Channel which we did and arrived in Glenarm mid-afternoon. Up to Stevie who runs a great pub called The Bridge End Tavern for pints and a meal. Stevie doesn't provide dining, but he has an excellent arrangement with the local takeaways who will deliver direct to your pub table; everything from fish & chips, through Chinese, Indian, Thai to Italian. As I write this, I realise the more I reveal of our culinary preferences, the more I wonder at the ICC granting us admission to its membership.

Planning Rockall via Reykjavik next yearPlanning Rockall via Reykjavik next year! 

Going back down the Irish Sea is an easier prospect as once we carry the flood far enough south we don't pay the price when the tide turns later as we are nearer the slack water area off Dundalk. And so it happened. The sail past Strangford entrance was memorable in that the sunset was perfect; the company was excellent, the music was Johnny Cash hatin' San Quentin and dinner was served in a bowl in the cockpit. Chris and Adrian wanted to round off the trip with a night passage and who were we to deny them? Reaching our home club at RStGYC next day in perfect weather after 18 nights onboard was the ideal end to an (inner) Hebridean adventure. As for next year, perhaps Brittany….although Rockall via Reykjavik is still an option?

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Last June, in what was meant to be the mid-summer period, Ireland was experiencing notably unseasonal weather with winds in the northerly sector which were cold - as anyone who took part in the biennial Dun Laoghaire Dingle Race will agree. Yet those cold winds were fair winds for anyone bound south down the Atlantic seaboard, and even as the racers to Dingle were settling into their post-race partying, an able-looking steel ketch came into port, crewed by a family who looked as though they’d appreciated the favourable passage-making conditions which had brought them and their dream ship down from Galway Bay at the start of a 14-month Atlantic circuit cruise.

Their dream ship is Danu, a rugged yet stylish Bruce Roberts-designed 13m Mauritius ketch, originally built in 1993 but brought up to superb condition by Vera Quinlan and her partner Peter Owens for this Atlantic project to provide a seagoing home (and schoolroom) for the couple and their two children, Lilian who was eleven when the voyage started from Kinvara last June, and nine-year-old Ruari.

danu berthed2You don’t need extensive varnish work for a boat to look very well – the eminently practical Danu is a Bruce Roberts-designed 13m steel Mauritius Class ketch built in 1993. Photo: Vera Quinlan

Vera Quinlan is “maritime royalty” – there’s no other way to put it. These days she’s a hydrographer on the INFOMAR project with the Marine Institute in Galway after years of international experience at sea and ashore completing research projects. And her sailing career well matches her professional life, for she’s a daughter of innovative architect Fergus Quinlan, who built his own 12m steel van de Stadt cutter Pylades, which he sailed round the world with his wife Kay in 2009-2012.

With this background, Vera was sailing her own Mirror dinghy by the age of 11, she then went on to Lasers, and by 16 she’d sailed on Asgard II during the visit to Australia in 1988, “an amazing and inspirational experience”.

pylades sailing3Fergus & Kay Quinlan’s Pylades, which he built himself and they sailed round the world in 2009-2012
vera quinlan4Vera Quinlan talking on marine research and the INFOMAR programme at an Irish Sailing Cruising Conference. Photo: W M Nixon
Cruising with her father when possible was another part of the seagoing mix, and when she linked up with adventurer and mountaineer Peter Owens, his lack of sailing experience was soon put right by getting her old Laser back into sailing trim, and putting him afloat to learn the basics. He needed to, for things seemed to be happening very quickly, as they got married and planned the honeymoon as a 15-month Atlantic circuit cruise fifteen years ago in the borrowed Pylades.

After that, they settled in the west of Ireland where the Clan Quinlan over three generations have made the southeast corner of Galway Bay their new ancestral home, and life has been decidedly busy and very maritime ever since. The international hydrography projects have played a key role in our growing understanding of the secret special world which surrounds our island, but with their new family of daughter Lilian and son Ruari taking to the waterborne life, Vera and Peter were determined that when the right time came, they’d have themselves organised with the right boat to take a 15-month sabbatical so that the four of them could enjoy the Atlantic circuit cruise together in that magic period when the children are old enough to fully experience the adventure, yet haven’t reached the age when they start having ideas of striking out on their own.

peter owens vera quinlan5Peter and Vera on Danu on the day of their departure from Galway Bay in June 2019. Photo: Pierce Purcell
danu galway bay dolphins6The winds for the first day of the voyage in Galway Bay may have been cold, but they were fair winds, and Danu’s crew were on dolphin watch before they’d got beyond the Aran Islands. Photo: Vera Quinlan
That said, when you’re as broadly and deeply involved in the maritime world as Vera Quinlan, describing an ocean cruise as “taking a sabbatical” doesn’t really get the flavour of it. She observes at it all with a special and professional viewpoint, and as reported in on Thursday, the voyage of the Danu was used to locate an Argo research and recording float in mid-Atlantic between the Cape Verde Islands and French Guiana, an area which would normally be well beyond the scope of the Marine Institute in Galway.

Then too, Peter Owens has his own background in shoreside adventure and mountaineering, and the voyage has seen Danu being left securely berthed in some convenient harbour while the family venture inland to take on challenging mountain ranges such as the mysterious Picos de Europa in northern Spain, and the Atlas Mountains in North Africa.

picos de europa7It wasn’t all “blue days at sea”. With Danu in a safe berth in Galicia, her crew went off to explore the mysterious Picos de Europa in Northern Spain

The entire hugely-varied experience is kept in context by relating it to the family’s home base in Kinvara, their links to the North Clare community around Bell Harbour, and with Galway Bay Sailing Club, which in 2020 is celebrating its Golden Jubilee.

Yes indeed, GBSC is fifty this year. And though reaching your 50th Anniversary may seem modest enough in a year when clubs in Ireland are celebrating Tricentenaries, Quarter Millenniums, Bicententaries, Sesquicentennials, 125th Anniversaries and whatever, getting a coastal sailing club going in Galway fifty years ago was a major achievement.

Then too, it’s doubtful if any of the more senior clubs have a member family undertaking an ocean cruise as complete as the Quinlan/Owen team during GBSC’s Golden Jubilee Year. So as Danu was leaving Vera promised that she’d send a Golden Jubilee Voyage Update by the end of January 2020, and thanks to that promise we can give this illuminating and practical insight into a true dream voyage.

vera pic trades8Lilian enjoying her first experience of Tradewind sailing. Photo: Vera Quinlan

On 19th January Vera wrote:

“Danú and crew (Peter Owens, Vera Quinlan, Lilian (12) and Ruairí (10) all well, and enjoying the Caribbean islands. To date we have sailed 6500 nm from Kinvara south bound to the Isles of Scilly, Brittany, Galicia in northwest Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Madeira, Canaries, Cape Verde Islands and across the Atlantic to French Guiana.

With many miles under the keel to date, we have had plenty of sailing adventures. A few things stand out:

Entering into Rabat, Morocco under its ancient citadel, crossing the bar and negotiating ferries crossing the Bouregreg river. Then the harbour at Porto Santo, Madeira was an unexpected gem. We much enjoyed meeting Conor and Breda Minogue from Kinvara in Tenerife - they had chartered a yacht.

We experienced 30 knot plus winds and 4m seas from the Canaries to Cape Verde (Ed note: This region can see the Northeast Trade Winds in decidedly brisk mood – it was at the Canaries that Conor O’Brien with Saoirse recorded the best day’s run of his entire 1923-25 Round the World Voyage – it was 185 miles, and he reckoned they would have broken the 200 with an able alternative helm).

Vera resumes: We also happily recall the wonderful Bahia de Ferrios on Isla Brava of the Cape Verdes, where we filled with fresh water, and got ready for the Atlantic passage, preparing for the open ocean after some notable inland experiences, for we had left the boat in safe berths twice in order to explore the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain, and the Atlas in Morocco. The latter involved a challenging trek through semi-desert terrain of the Jebel Saghro region. We walked 150 km over the 6 days, sometimes in temperatures over 30 degrees.

atlas mountains9And now for something completely different…..the Atlas Mountains in Morocco involved Danu’s crew in a six-day trek

Thus the prospect of a real sea voyage was refreshing, but as it was the first proper ocean voyage for Lilian and Ruari, we’d planned the Atlantic crossing to be at one of the shortest hops, from the Cape Verdes across to French Guiana in South America.

For this passage across, we were joined by my cousin Chris Lacy, who had just completed his Yachtmaster qualification and wanted an Atlantic passage under his belt. We departed on the 29th November from Brava. The first few days we enjoyed great downwind sailing conditions, running with main and poled out genoa. We reefed and un-reefed as the conditions allowed, our average speed 6 knots, and daily runs of 145 nm.

vera pic cape verde10The Cape may be Verde, but some of the islands aren’t, yet Danu’s crew much enjoyed Bahia de Ferrios on Isla Brava before departing across the Atlantic. Photo: Vera Quinlan
atlantic crossing11By making their Atlantic crossing from the Cape Verdes to French Guiana on the South American mainland, Danu’s crew reduced the passage time to 13 days.

For weather forecasting, we had planned on our satellite phone to download gribs from Predict wind. Unfortunately, we had a problem with the phone data cable and so we resorted to a voice call every two days to Fergus and Kay Quinlan beside Bell Harbour on the north coast of The Burren. They would note our position and current weather conditions and then send us a weather update by text. This worked very well, and it was wonderful through the miracle of modern technology to talk directly to someone in County Clare from the mid-Atlantic.

Four days into our crossing, we started to experience squalls with heavy rain showers, some of them torrential, allowing us to fill 5L water bottles from the coach-roof in minutes. Squalls would come in with ferocious intensity, and lightning was seen in the distance.

We ran dark with all electronics disconnected in case the electrical activity caught up us. It finally did on the morning of the 5th December, when a massive lightning bolt discharged a few meters from Danu's stern. We sailed on as quickly as possible, eventually getting somewhat clearer weather. We were informed from our Bell Harbour weather forecasters that the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) had moved northwards, and as our Great Circle route was bringing us to 5 degrees North, we had no choice but to sail through it.

We enjoyed much brighter weather the following day, and we were able to deploy our Argo float. We had carried this instrument since leaving Ireland, a project we coordinated with the Marine Institute. This float will record temperature and salinity data from 2000m to surface level, on surfacing the instrument will download this data to the Marine Institute to aid climate change research. This Argo float will make this continuous 10-hour cycle for a period of 4 years.


Despite pitching in the Atlantic swell we managed to deploy the float successfully, and our Mission Control Centre in the Burren relayed the message to the Argo team at the Marine Institute. A few days later we got the notification that the float was transmitting data successfully. Celebrations all around, as it is a first for Ireland to have an Argo float in this location.

Up to the 8th of December, we had the Trans-equatorial current with us, enabling good daily runs. On the 9th December, around 6deg40'N, 46deg22'W, we ran into a knot of countercurrent, and experienced swells from three different bearings. This made the sailing slow and uncomfortable – it’s amazing how seemingly small changes outboard can affect overall mood onboard……. 

fish catch13Something for immediate consumption and the larder. They don’t come fresher than a fish catch in mid-Atlantic. Photo: Chris Lacy
On the bright side, we caught some fantastic deep ocean fish such as dorade and wahoo which made delicious fresh eating, and provided huge excitement. Then by the 11th December after two days of adverse current, we started to pick up the favourable Guiana current, increasing as we sailed west. We made landfall at the Iles du Salut on the morning of the 12th December, making for a compact 13 day Atlantic passage.

guiana A very tropical place, French Guiana is slotted into South America between Brazil and the Dutch-linked Surinam.

Notorious for being a former French penal colony centred around the infamous Devil’s Island in the north of the little group, the Salut Islands nowadays are a convenient stop before clearing into the French Guiana mainland. Relics of the old prisons remain, an eerie reminder of the times where France's most dangerous prisoners were sent, many never to leave the islands. They were made even more famous by the publication of the book 'Papillon', thrilling reading which acquired deeper meaning after seeing the place, particularly if you’ve sailed there - free as a bird - in your own boat.

After a few days exploring the islands, we left for the nearest mainland port at Kourou, marvelling at the shallow depths from there to the South American mainland. We spent three weeks in French Guiana, with one of the highlights being a Soyuz launch from the Space Center near Kourou - being so near the Equator, Kouro provides the minimum distance to Inner Space.

Guiana space center liftoff15 Not something you’ll see on most cruises, yet Danu’s crew saw this happen at the Guiana Space Center in December.

In complete contrast to space travel, we navigated a narrow tributary of the Maroni River which marks the western boundary of French Guiana to anchor off an Amerindian settlement. Bringing Danú through a river where the trees of the rainforest almost touched the spreaders, yet with 10m depth beneath us, was incredible. We had Christmas dinner off the river port of St Laurent Du Maroni, managing to find a micro turkey in a local supermarket, while Santa read the GPS coordinates we sent and found us successfully……

vera pic chartplotter16A very unusual place to spend Christmas, yet thanks to having the correct co-ordinates, Santa Claus managed to find Danu up this winding tropical river. Photo: Vera Quinlan
danu tropics17How far can you get in place and mood from Kinvara in December? Danu in a tributary of the Maroni River in French Guiana. Photo: Vera Quinlan
French Guiana was definitely off the beaten track, with only a few boats of the 500 plus that crossed the Atlantic this season. We enjoyed going off the beaten track, but the almost constant rain, 100% humidity and mosquitoes were challenging, and we wondered how anyone would choose to live here. On Stephen's Day we departed for Bequia in the Caribbean, making the passage in 4 days.

Sailing on a fast reach in relatively calm sea conditions with 1.5 knots of Guyanian current was truly memorable. We sailed into Admiralty Bay, Bequia, marvelling at the crystal clear waters after so many days in the muddy cayman and piranha-filled rivers of French Guiana. Ruairi and Lilian were over-board and into the sea moments after we dropped anchor, and we welcomed friendly waves from many boats we had not seen since the Canaries.
We were elated to be here, having previously sailed into Bequia fifteen years previously on Pylades.

bequia island18Bequia is in marked contrast to the muddy rivers and tropical rain of French Guiana
Now we are anchored in Chatham bay off Union Island. The weather has been uncharacteristically marked by high winds and rain showers so we have stayed here for four days, exploring Union by foot, the best being a hike through the forest to the highest point called 'da pinnacle'. On the way, you see tortoises, snakes, hummingbirds, hermit crabs and the unique Union Island gecko. The views from the summit are superb looking over to Clifton, the capital, with the islands of Petit Martinique and Petit St Vincent beyond. The reefs and special anchorages of the Tobago Cays are now beckoning, to which we depart in the morning. Meanwhile, warmest Golden Jubilee greetings to Galway Bay Sailing Club

Vera Quinlan
Peter Owens
Yacht Danú in the Caribbean

galway bay sc19Home club. Galway Bay SC is celebrating its Golden Jubilee in 2020

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At year’s end, the Sailors of the Month adjudicators survey the overall scene in search of an outstanding and innovative event which has added to the variety of the Irish sailing programme. In 2019 this role was well filled by the Galway-Lorient Cruise-in-Company organised in July with great energy, enthusiasm and effectiveness by Cormac Mac Donncha. It attracted 27 boats including a French contingent, together with participants from as far north as Sligo on Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard, and set new levels of target achievement which similar future events will do well to match.

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Exploration and Discovery is the theme for the 2020 Irish Sailing Cruising Conference at the National Yacht Club on 15th February 2020 at Dun Laoghaire Harbour in County Dublin.

Met Eireann Meteorologist and Wave Expert, Sarah Gallagher, will be talking about waves and how we can forecast them and the effects they have on our shores.

The highly respected ornithologist and Antarctic wildlife tour leader, Jim Wilson, will be sharing the story of the discovery of Antarctica by Irish man Edward Bransfield – yes a Cork man was the Leader of the first expedition to see and chart the Antarctic Mainland on 30th January 1820.

Damian Foxall, Niall MacAllister and Lucy Hunt, currently known as Team South, are leading a series of expeditions in Antarctica this winter and will be sending us a message from the ice and give a on the ground feel for life out there and what Bransfield would have seen.

There will be a ‘fireside chat’ with Jamie Young, Expedition Leader, Skipper and owner of Killary Adventure Centre, catching up on his trip to Greenland and the Arctic Circle and what he has learnt from his icy adventures.

Racing sailor and adventure cruising sailor, Christine Heath, will share her travels sailing her Sadler 28 to Holland, Sweden, Norway and Scotland these past few years. She is now nestled in Kilrush Marina and looking forward to exploring our wonderful west coast in 2020.

Vera Quinlan returns to the conference by video to share the latest developments on her family cruising adventure sailing round the Atlantic Circle.

Tony O’Leary of Union Chandlery gives some professional advice on anode types and galvanic corrosion and more environmentally friendly anode options.

Norman Keane has been busy sailing round Ireland with his drone and will present a birds-eye view of our ports and harbours.

Cruising Association of Ireland will give us an insight into their plans for 2020 cruising.

Royal Cork Yacht Club share their plans to celebrate Cork300 with the Wild Atlantic Way Cruising in Company.

Plus breakout workshops … details to follow nearer the date.

Union Chandlery is back on board as event sponsors for the 4 years running now and in true Union Chandlery style they will be giving away a bonus prize on the day and goodies for everyone.

Kilrush Marina and Cruising Association of Ireland are joining the event again as supporters. The support of these organisations helps to keep the entry fee down to cover bare costs and keep this fantastic event accessible to everyone.

The conference will also have limited spaces for marine industry companies and agencies to promote their goods in a small expo. If you are interested in exhibiting please contact Gail on [email protected].

Space is 100 seats, so early booking is recommended here

Published in Cruising

John Leahy, Honorary Secretary Cruising Association of Ireland, reports on this year’s "Three Bridges Liffey Cruise"

The Cruising Association of Ireland’s “Three Bridges Liffey” cruise is an annual end of season mini social cruise which attracts a large number of East Coast sailors to mark the end of another summer afloat.
Typically hosting thirty plus yachts from 28 feet up to 50 feet, they cruise up the Liffey with dress flags fluttering as some skilled manoeuvring and helming is required to motor under and through three bridges, with it all followed by shared in-city berthing and an end of season dinner and much craic.

sunshine image2Getting ready for the bridge transits – sometimes an extra fender is very helpful indeed. Photo: Aidan Couglan
The name “Three Bridges” comes from the fact that only once per annum, all three Liffey Bridges open simultaneously to permit the fleet to sail nearly up to the old limit point of Butt Bridge. A new pedestrian bridge is the last barrier these days, but they are within a couple of hundred metres of the centre of the city.

To get the three bridges open at once is a massive operation and thanks have to go to Dublin Port and Dublin City Council for permitting this to happen. Traffic management all over central Dublin has to be put in place, since during the cruise the only way over the eastern Liffey is the East Link and Butt Bridge.

This year the fleet was blessed with autumn sunshine on Saturday and 33 boats left the Poolbeg Sailing Club at 1230 hours to be there for the bridge opening at 1330. East Link opened first, followed by Samuel Beckett Bridge and then swinging pedestrian bridge upstream. They completed two circuits of the Liffey anticlockwise before berthing at the Liffey Port Pontoon beside the Point Arena - it was really quite a spectacle.

rafting upWarm weather, warm friendship – in conditions like this, there’s always room for more. Photo: Aidan Coughlan
Many coastal cruises end with a stroll in a local village or social chats on deck, so this cruise organised a guided walking tour of Dublin led by Joe Varley for those looking for a stretch, while the rest of the gang enjoyed being rafted up in the warm sunshine and swapped stories of their summer cruises.

Cruising in company brings together the joy of sailing and exploring with the fun of socialising with like-minded sailors. CAI welcome new members at the very low rate of €30 per annum and not only provide a social and cruising calendar but great support and advice.

aldebaran berthedThe most-travelled – Pat Murphy’s Aldebaran from Howth is the veteran of a nine-year global circumnavigation. Photo:Aidan Coughlan

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