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Displaying items by tag: Achill Island

When I first saw Clochmor, Achill, County Mayo, in the late 1960's it was as if I had walked into a Paul Henry painting. The Famine era pier, built from the local red sandstone, was intact. Currachs and tarred wooden boats were tied alongside or stored upside down. A fleet of old fishing boats called the pier home. The white cottage above the pier, the forlorn, abandoned coastguard station on Darby's point, even the billowing layers of stratocumulus clouds were somehow straight off his canvas from 100-years earlier.

Nowadays it resembles more a scene from the latest 'Mad Max' movie, crossed with a scene from that Kevin Costner 'Waterworld' one.

The tiny pier is still discernible under a pancake of cement. It has been extended in an L shape and covered in a layer of concrete, steel pilings, arc lights, and bulletproof bollards. The hinterland has been bulldozed into an extensive work area and car park which is permanently cluttered with an amazing collection of steel containers, junk, machinery, plastic tubes, anchors, coloured ropes, pallets, trailers, lobster pots, broken down vans, boats, fish cages, fish pumps and fish boxes. Oil storage tanks, nets, trawl winches, abandoned pilot houses, otter boards, chains and one or two yachts.

The new pier is home to a fleet of indestructible workboats built in the fjords of Norway. The extensive sand flats are used, with the help of the tide, to service the giant circular fish pen floats. Hardy fish farm workers, clad in hi-viz suits operate the cranes and loaders, fish pumps and winches in all weathers.

I love it. Happy as that proverbial clam in the mudbank. Having found a spot on the shoreline where I can park my two boats (Accolade and a 14 ft punt). It's not unlike being in an ultra-safe anchorage or a marina, only much safer.

I acquired Accolade, an ageing Jag 22, some years ago in an earnest attempt to interest my two then kids in the joys of sailing. That, unfortunately, did not happen, and she had lain idle on her trailer as we holidayed in foreign parts.

Accolade sits there; trailer well blocked up. I try not to let her get too dilapidated looking. I bail out the rainwater. I keep an eye on the brightwork, try and keep the interior ventilated and attack the green moss and lichen which tends to develop here and there. I make cups of cocoa on the stove, sit in the sun and keep an eye on the industrious fish farm doing its business at the pier, the workboats coming and going.

There is a thriving sailing scene in Clew Bay-based at Rosmoney near Westport. But out Achill way, there are few yachts. It's not a very hospitable location with strong winds, fast currents and few shore facilities. Angling is its main draw and the recreational boaters who do show up tend to be trailing ribs and motorboats of various shapes and sizes.

Achill Yawls racingAchill Yawls racing. Illustration by Pete Hogan

The exception, however, is the Achill Yawls, a thriving fleet of traditional open boats with a dipping lug sail which is based on the working boats of the region dating back to the time of Granuaile. The Achill Yawl Festival / Cruinniú Bádóirí Acla takes place each summer with a series of weekend races based in Achill Sound, Mulranny and Clare Island. Like the hooker races in Connemara, they have their own rules, such as a start from standing with sail down. I don't know if they observe the port/starboard rule, the rock on which international sailing is founded. Don't mention windward-leeward.

The Achill Yawls differ from the traditional boats of the Galway region in that they seem to prefer white sails as opposed to the romantic red. Also, they use aluminium spars which are a big break with tradition. This allows them to carry a huge spread of sail, making the sailing very exciting. The boats are open and use sand and rocks as ballast. Filling them with water in a gust is a distinct possibility.
July this year came, and the Covid lockdown was lifted. I rushed across country from Dublin to check on Accolade. It was looking highly unlikely that I would be invited to sail on my buddies boats in the Med or Galicia this year, so I decided to launch Accolade from its safe resting place. Staycation was the new right thing to do. The resident fish farm is very helpful in the matter of launching. I hitched a ride on a passing hi loader and in no time at all boat and trailer were deposited on the beach beside the pier at low tide. Off we floated on the rising tide and went alongside the pier. One of the local fishermen, with his truck hoist, volunteered to step the mast. All in a day's work and I was sailing. I couldn't believe my luck.

Launching at ClochmorLaunching at Clochmor. Illustration by Pete Hogan

The weather being settled, I betook myself and my boat out to the mooring located off the beach at Achillbeg. And there Accolade stayed for the summer.

There are many interesting cruising destinations within a few hours sail of Cloghmor. The most obvious, easy and handy, is the main harbour of Clare Island. About 5 miles away, it has a good anchorage or moorings, or it is often possible to go alongside. There is refreshment to be had in the hotel or the community centre. There is a beach and the romance of the ancient Granuaile Castle overlooking the harbour. But it is busy, with ferries and fish farm vessels coming and going.

The Harbour,  Clare IslandThe Harbour, Clare Island. Illustration by Pete Hogan

Further south are the harbour of Ronagh and the beach resort of Old Head. Ronagh is a busy ferry port and car park but nothing else. Old Head has a wonderful beach, a drying pier and there is quite a clutter of local moorings and speed boats. It's a fair old walk into the village of Louisberg from either location. On the other side of the bay is Mulranny with a host of facilities. But it can be a bit exposed to the prevailing south-westerlies.

Inner Clew Bay with its famous island archipelago is all very well, but I find that any time I wander in there in a yacht, I invariably go aground. On a falling tide. Then there is the uphill slog to get back west when the tide finally releases the captured vessel.

Lifeboat at anchor in AchillLifeboat at anchor in Achill

Turning to the north from Clochmor there is the small maze-like harbour of Purteen on Achill Island and that gem of a beach, Keem Bay, usually sheltered. Beyond there lies the splendid Achill head and points north.

One might think that Achill Sound itself would be a logical route to the north. But it is shallow and strewn with big clumps of growing seaweed which are difficult to avoid. For obscure reasons, the newly constructed, opening bridge, mid-way along the sound, never opens! If you don't believe me, try it. The body of water to the north of the bridge includes the aptly named Bulls Mouth for which the Admiralty pilot gives a possible spring rate of 8 knots. It is a pity that the route to the north is barred in this way. The large expanse of water in the shelter of Achill Island, including the island of Inishbiggle would make wonderful extra cruising grounds. One could even sail all the way to the rear side of Mulranny.

To the south, the jewel in the cruising crown, the island of Boffin, is an easy days haul from Clochmor. This seems to be the destination of choice for the numerous boats of the Westport fleet. Boffin has everything, a safe harbour, good facilities, beaches and craic. Nearby Inishturk is a bit exposed as an anchorage.

About the same distance from Achill and just as rewarding is the Killary. Relatively few yachts seem to bother exploring its further reaches. Slightly further south is High Island, difficult of access but with a wealth of monastic relics and history to rival the more famous Skelligs. Cleggan and further south, Clifden, complete the range of destinations north of Slyne Head. I have never sailed into either but have always enjoyed visiting the busy Cleggan by road.

Map of Blind SoundMap of Blind Sound

The most unusual jaunt I took this year was to circumnavigate Achillbeg island. Indeed I think I can claim to be the first, and probably the last, proper yacht to achieve this foolhardy honour. My copy of the Irish Coast Pilot dates from 1954. (Tenth Edition) It describes Blind Sound, the channel separating Achillbeg Island from Achill Island as: 'a narrow channel which is navigable by boats with local knowledge' and adds 'except in a heavy sea' My current edition of the Irish Cruising Clubs Sailing Directions for the South and West Coasts, the gold standard for a cruising guide to the west coast, ignores Blind Sound altogether. Rightly so.

I have circumnavigated Ireland, I have circumnavigated the world. I have circumnavigated Dalkey Island, Lambay Island and The Aran Islands. But I had never circumnavigated Achillbeg. The problem lies with Blind Sound, the narrow neck separating Achillbeg and Achill Island. Having traversed Blind Sound many times in a 14-foot punt and by kayak and having perused its layout in all states of the tide and weather countless times over the years, I could claim to have some local knowledge. It is a horrendous place. One should not go anywhere near it in anything claiming to be called a yacht.

There are rocks all over the place and the tide rips through at about six knots. So I have always been tempted to give it a go, but never had the nerve.

But conditions were Ideal. Two guests were staying, Owen, a keen kite surfer and his wife Elaine. Would they like to go for a sail? I asked after brunch one day. We set off shortly after high water and with an, unusual, east wind. Owen steered. The tide was about an hour after high water so would be pushing us through as we approached from the Clochmor side. I stood on the bow and indicated the course direction to Owen on the helm. Elaine on the main sheet.

Past the big red beacon marking the entrance to Achill sound we whizzed, the tide against us but the wind pressing us on. The tide splits, and we picked up the stream ebbing out Blind Sound. Then, under the power cables running across to the lighthouse on Achillbeg. Owen, an electronic wizard, was a bit worried. I assured him that we would have enough room, and luckily we did! Then the serious bit. Standing on the bow, I could see the giant boulders slipping by underwater and the overfalls. Bit of a veer to port and then we were through. One for the record books. We hardened in the sheets and tacked back past the lighthouse. We felt like a group of mountaineers who had just conquered a new route on Everest.

At the end of Summer I hauled Accolade out again with the help of the fish farm, blocked up the trailer, and that was that. The country has gone into lockdown again; my sailing now consists of following the Vendee Globe on the computer. I keep a weather eye on the storms tracking into Achill and hope for the best. I look forward to returning next Summer. Maybe I can circumnavigate Achill. Stay safe.

Published in Island News
Tagged under

Outgoing Gaeltacht minister Sean Kyne has expressed disappointment at the Government decision to approve early re-opening of offshore islands to visitors from Monday (June 29).

The Attorney General had advised the Cabinet that there could be legal consequences if it did not abide by the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), Mr Kyne confirmed.

Offshore communities had been taken by surprise when NPHET announced a week ago that travel to and from islands could resume from June 29th.

The Government’s “road map” had originally set from August 10th as a date for all but essential travel to and from islands.

Mr Kyne said he contacted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Cabinet colleagues about the need for a more phased approach, given the lack of time to prepare for anticipated large numbers of domestic visitors.

Mr Kyne confirmed that he had received appeals from Aran island medical professionals urging caution, but had also been contacted by tourism interests seeing an early reopening.

He said that NPHET’s advice to Cabinet was that there was no reason on public health grounds for curtailing visitors to the islands.

“I am disappointed - I expect some businesses will decide against reopening on Monday,” Mr Kyne said.

Two Aran islands – Inis Oírr and Inis Mór – held surveys which voted overwhelmingly against an early reopening.

All three Aran islands are in a declared Irish Water “drought” category, and have had water rationing due to the severe dry spell.

In Inis Oírr’s case, 92 per cent of residents and businesses voted against re-opening for the remainder of the summer due to fears over the spread of Covid-19.

A number of other islands have limited health facilities, lack of provision for public toilets, and limited scope for social distancing on piers during busy ferry berthing periods.

"The Government seemed to be more afraid about protecting itself against law suits by businesses than our public health," one island resident said.

Earlier this week, the Irish Islands Federation, Comhdháil Oileáin na hEireann called on the Government and NPHET to provide “clear guidance and protocols” on the safe re-opening of islands to visitors.

The federation pointed out it had not received any written reply to submissions to State agencies, "seeking direction and supports for the offshore islands".

Government Covid 19 data suggests that up to six electoral districts with islands had less than five cases of the virus, but the Department of Health would not comment further.

Island representatives are only aware of one case on the largest Aran island of Inis Mór and a very small number on Achill island, Co Mayo, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge.

The island federation had no comment to make yesterday.

Published in Island News

The past weekend’s good weather tempted a group of jet-skiers who subsequently ran into difficulty in Clew Bay, as The Irish Times reports.

Achill Island RNLI launched its lifeboat on Saturday evening (25 April) to reports of three men on personal water craft needing assistance between Newport in Rosmoney — waters considered treacherous for even the most experienced of mariners.

All three were towed to Rosmoney with a locally owned RIB in an operation that also involed the Irish Coast Guard and An Garda Síochána.

Gardai also mounted further patrols of Lough Derg, where earlier this month they had exercised their emergency powers to warn inland waterways users to stay at home as measures to control coronavirus remain in place.

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Published in Inland Waterways

Keem Bay on Achill Island has made the grade among the 50 best beaches in the world, according to a top travel website.

And as The Irish Post reports, the Co Mayo coastal beauty spot was ranked among the best even of that number, placing just outside the top 10 of Big 7 Travel’s selection.

Keeping company with the gorgeous turquoise waters of the Adriatic and eastern Mediterranean, the West Indies and other breathtaking tropical paradises, we think that’s good going for the Wild Atlantic Way.

Published in Coastal Notes

One of the world’s largest sharks had become a regular visitor to an Achill Island beach, as Independent.ie reports.

Local tourist officials have recorded almost daily sightings of the 20-plus-foot basking shark in the waters of Keem Bay over the last month.

And has word of got out, visitor numbers on the Co Mayo island are growing among those hoping to get a glimpse of the gargantuan fish.

The second biggest fish in the seas behind the whale shark — and the largest in the North Atlantic — basking sharks are regulars in Irish waters.

Indeed, number of the gentle marine wildlife giants have reached such figures that experts have referred to the waters off the West Coast in the summer months as a ‘shark ark’.

Independent.ie has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#Kitesurfing - Independent.ie has the lowdown on this weekend’s Battle for the Lake kitesurfing extravaganza on Achill Island.

Keel Lough is the venue for the finale of the 2018 IKSA tour that will see many of the same competitors that wowed the crowds during the Battle for the Bay on Dollymount Strand this past summer.

Also bringing his skills to this eighth Battle for the Lake is Kevin Langeree, Red Bull’s King of the Air, who will be giving demonstrations on the lough and even DJing for fans after dark.

Indeed its the festival atmosphere around the competition that’s as much of a draw to Mayo from today (Friday 28 September), with a packed music and comedy lineup — even fire dancers to light up the nights.

Independent.ie has more on the story HERE.

Published in Kitesurfing

#MarineWildlife - Islanders’ attempts to rescue a seal pup stranded on Achill in Co Mayo recently were sadly not successful.

But the incident has galvanised a local group set up amid growing concerns over marine wildlife strandings, who will train with a team from Seal Rescue Ireland in January on potential lifesaving measures, as the Mayo News reports.

“We’re getting these trainers down just so people know what to do in these situations,” said Achill resident Sorsha Kennedy. “It’s okay for them to be on the shore, they may just be resting, but people don’t know that.”

Kennedy was part of a group that attempted to rescue a baby seal washed up on rocks at Keel Beach in late November.

The pup unfortunately died in transit to Seal Rescue Ireland’s base across the country in Courtown.

“It’s a terribly long stressful journey for an animal already in distress,“ said John Nikolai, who discovered the seal while walking his dog. “It’s such a pity there isn’t another sanctuary closer in the west.”

The Mayo News has more on the story, while Afloat.ie reported recently on other seal rescue efforts around the Irish coast.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Michael Davitt Bridge that connects Achill Island to the mainland was officially opened by leading Irish land reformer Michael Davitt on 31st August 1887, making 2017 its 130th anniversary. Construction began on a replacement Michael Davitt Bridge in 1948, and was completed a year later writes Daria Blackwell

The third Michael Davitt Bridge, which was commissioned in 2008, was a design based on a Spanish Calatrava architectural model. This swing bridge weighs 390 tons, yet it is operated manually. It’s illuminated by LED lighting integrated into the bridge design, and in the long winter nights of West Mayo, this adds to its sense of permanence.

fleet departs8The Michael Davitt bridge at Achill Sound has an air of permanence about it, but that small central span can be opened, albeit with difficulty

And the fact is, the 2008 bridge has been rarely opened since it was built. It had been too difficult to close, so it was decided that it would be better not to open it in the first place. The sheltered theoretically-available through-transit by boats with a high air-draft via narrow and tidal Achill Sound, while not actively discouraged, was certainly not promoted as a passage-making option.

This caused a dilemma for the islanders, for when it comes to Government grant aid, an island is not an “island” if connected by a fixed bridge. A long battle with the State has been ongoing since, with the Achill islanders demanding that the bridge be shown to be openable again, and this finally happened this past weekend.

fleet departs8Achill Island is big country, a challenging island to sail round

To mark the connection choices that Achill maintains with the mainland, a Maritime and Heritage Festival celebrating the past and present of the Achill Parish was held on Sunday the 3rd of September. As part of the festival, the bridge was scheduled to open at 5:00 pm to allow a parade of ships to pass through at high water.

Mayo Sailing Club was invited to take part. Members of the Club accepted the invitation and seized the opportunity to go one step further and circumnavigate Achill Island. Wallace Clark had written about it in Sailing Round Ireland and several members of MSC were inspired to attempt the challenge, as it had not been done in recent memory.

fleet departs8The route taken by the Mayo Sailing Club fleet at the weekend

The currents in Achill Sound run strong and swift, and shoaling is common. Mayo Sailing Club Vice Commodore Duncan Sclare organized yachts to sail from Rosmoney in a clockwise manner so they’d have a rising tide coming south through Achill Sound and still have enough water to exit the Sound beyond Corraun back into Clew Bay to return to their moorings in Rosmoney.

Navigational calculations were meticulously plotted, tides accounted for, fishermen consulted, and charts checked, as the fleet prepared to set off on the Saturday from Rosmoney. Five yachts set off on the circumnavigation. This was no small feat, as conditions on Saturday were demanding. A rough, wet and boisterous rounding of notorious Achill Head was in store for the fleet, which was subjected to 40+ knots of gusts of wind tearing down Slievemor, the second highest peak on Achill Island at 671 metres. They sought shelter for the night and holed up securely at anchor in Blacksod Bay, where good company and cold beer went down well in the pub.

fleet departs8The Mayo SC fleet safely through the bridge despite the fog, and already on their way south as the tide is ebbing. Photo: Alex Blackwell

They set off in the morning to arrive at the bridge just before its scheduled opening, but a thick fog enveloped Achill and Achilbeg. Yet the project continued, even though two deeper draft vessels ran aground on the way in and had to await the incoming tide to continue on. When the time came, all five of the Achill circumnavigators succeeded in passing though the bridge, dressed for the occasion. A sixth member joined the fleet, passing under the bridge from the south and returning with the fleet, accompanied by Coast Guard vessels, rowers, and ribs, and a flotilla of the famous traditional Achill yawls making spectacular transits under sail.

fleet departs8Last boat through – an Achill yawl sweeps towards the narrow gap at good speed with the sluicing tide under her…... Photo: Alex Blackwell

fleet departs8…..and almost immediately the bridge closes again………Photo: Alex Blackwell

fleet departs8....with the MSC fleet still in fog as they disappear down the Sound………..Photo: Alex Blackwell

fleet departs8…..but back at the reinstated bridge, the sun is out, and shore transport becomes dominant once more. Photo: Alex Blackwell The crowd cheered from the bridge as each vessel passed through, and the Achill yawls then had a race in the Sound close south of the bridge in front of Alice’s Restaurant, complete with loudspeaker commentary as the evening weather finally improved for the fog to lift, and let sunshine illuminate the spectacular landscape. The day’s events were recorded by Henry McGlade for the TV show “The Irish at Home and Abroad” for an episode due to be shown on Sky TV in early October.

fleet departs8The evening sunshine strengthens as the fog continues to lift, and yawl racing gets under way in the Sound. Photo: Alex Blackwell

fleet departs8Achill yawl racing at its best – this is going to be a cracker of a finish. Photo: Alex Blackwell

But by the time the weather improved, Mayo SC fleet were well on their way, their movements dictated by the now rapidly falling tide, and it wasn’t until they were out on Clew Bay itself that the visibility began to clear properly for them, and the familiar sight of the peak of Croagh Patrick showed above the fog’s grey blanket.

Back in Mayo SC’s hospitable clubhouse at Rosmoney, Former MSC Commodore Rory Casey of the First 31.7 As Lathair commented: "One of the best sailing weekends I've ever had - we had a bit of everything. Why do we have to travel to the ends of the world, when we have this adventure sailing here on our doorstep?"

fleet departs8Out on the open waters of Clew Bay, it took longer for the fog to lift, but the MSC fleet got the reassuring sight of Croagh Patrick above the fog blanket as they headed for home after a successful weekend circumnavigation of Achill Island. Photo: Rory Casey
Vice Commodore Duncan Sclare, who made the circuit on one of the smaller boats, the Achilles 30 Freebird, summed it up: "On this circumnavigation of Ireland’s largest island, we experienced it all: Flat calm, Atlantic seas, howling winds, rain, sunshine, fog, tricky navigation, an unopenable bridge that opened, and great company. A voyage that will be remembered a lifetime."

The Mayo Sailing Club boats whose crews now cherish very special memories of the first weekend of September 2017 in proving that Achill is indisputably an island were: Freebird, As Lathair, Xena, Misty, Enya, and Eabha Marie.

Published in Island News

#CoastalNotes - A beach on Achill Island lost to storms 33 years ago has returned after a freak Easter tide.

And locals at Dooagh are celebrating the return of their 300-metre sandy strand that in more recent years has been bare rock, as the Guardian reports.

It’s believed a wintry cold snap in mid April, with winds from the north, led to the surprise sandy deposit — one that’s already boosted tourism in the area, part of the Wild Atlantic Way coastal route.

The Guardian has more on the story HERE.

Published in Coastal Notes

#CoastalNotes - Achill Island has been blemished by ‘tar balls’ that washed up on its Blue-Flagged Keel Beach during the week, as The Irish Times reports.

Appearing as black stones from a distance, the blobs of crude oil are soft and extremely sticky to the touch.

But despite being the result of oil leaks at sea, such tar balls are considered relatively harmless, according to the Irish Coast Guard.

The news comes less than a month after Fingal County Council warned of palm oil ‘fatbergs’ washed up on a Skerries beach.

Similar fatty deposits were found on beaches in Mayo last November.

Published in Coastal Notes
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