Scurrying to Inishbofin

Sat 2 Jul 2022 09:10

Scurrying to Inishbofin

It was raining at 6.20 am on 23 6 22 as we motored out of Rossaveal aware that two gales were coming soon, in the next four days. They were part of the big Low-pressure system that was barely moving and would keep returning like a vengeful cat, claws out, to thrash the west coast of Ireland and cause the weather forecaster to say the extraordinary report “High winds above force six, occasionally force 8 around all coasts of Ireland.”

But for a few hours we made a little progress under the blanket of clouds which lifted in the afternoon to reveal the Twelve Pins Mountain range we visited with Phil and for a few moments the sun came out and made our old friend of picnic fame, Diamond Hill, shine bright like a diamond!

We had 3G at sea, guillemots, gulls and gannets all fishing together and because Rupert, Zoonie’s engine was making delicious hot water we indulged in showers on the last part of the passage, reaching the tricky entrance to Inishbofin at half past three.

The entrance is not wide and on the right is the rock promontory upon which stands Cromwell’s Fort and to the left a submerged rock. Transit lines have been built on shore but they set a course a little too close to the underwater rock so a tiny but clear leading light has been installed and we had to stay within the white light beam, between a rock and a hard place. If we went in to the red, move right, if we went in to the green, move left. The challenging passage in lasted only a few metres until Cromwell’s fortress was abeam and then a nice gentle turn right towards the quay was called for.

We had hoped for a secure mooring buoy to weather the strong winds but they were taken by the Irish Cruising Club on their annual rally. Three boats were tied up on a fifty-ton buoy and a single-hander was on the only other buoy that looked feasible.

There is some sort of dispute going on here and we saw a yellow mooring buoy such as we have benefited from before and a big grey buoy both dumped at the top of the quay, so the mooring facilities are not what they once were. Hey ho, we have a good anchor.

The bottom, we learned from the pilot book was hard sand and burying the anchor well was recommended. Usual practice for us.

We spent the first night there but I was concerned that when the wind got up from the NW Zoonie’s stern would be pushed over shallow water, so we moved just a few metres west and the anchor did bite well and immediately we had another metre beneath us, I was happy.

That is where we are now, but many a strong gust has blasted this shallow, sheltered natural harbour in the past few days.

The barometer was dropping ominously and quickly and we had virtually no phone signal to stay up to date with our weather app, Windy, but we knew what was coming and the weather forecasting via VHF is frequent if only short range.

That evening we sat in the cockpit in the sunshine and studied our surroundings through the binoculars and naked eye. A couple came by car, launched their Canadian canoe, paddled across to our side of the bay and retrieved their lobster pots, paddled back, loaded the car and drove off with supper, maybe just for themselves or to one of the restaurants to provide a profitable supper. The island is popular with walkers and has a couple of hotels and a hostel and a growing number of holiday lets.

Two white geese paddled slowly around the perimeter of the bay to a water drain where there was lots of green weed and there they grazed for their supper.

We have found Irish radio now that we have no satellite link for BBC Sounds, and it is entertaining with plenty of that Irish humour, hilarious at times and with the same abandon typified by RNZ, Radio New Zealand. One lady made the sobering comment that western Ireland gets only one week of summer, or maybe she was referring to this summer.

The barometer was dropping, 995 and on down.

Rob and I distracted ourselves by looking at the charts and pilot books for our onward route, looking especially at choices we might look forward to, the weather being our sole master.

In the afternoon of the next day the wind was building and one of the yachts, a fine 57-foot ketch, designed by the same team of Holman and Pye as produced the Oyster 406, Zoonie, dragged her anchor because it had picked up a mesh bag. They retrieved the anchor and started around the harbour looking for a new site.

I was sitting on the settee when I looked up and through the window to see the two masts careering towards us. We leaped outside but weren’t in time to prevent a glancing blow that bent our anchor roller cheek. They proceeded to return to near their original spot and laid two anchors wide apart. They’ll be ok unless the wind turns east and she crosses the chains, fingers crossed it doesn’t.

The important thing was that after a few whacks with the hammer and some re-shaping with the file the pin still fits through the anchor and roller, so the anchor is secure while we are underway.

Rob did his homework, “There’s a good marina at Killibegs and we should be able to get it straightened there, Barb.”

993mbs and on down, (or Hector Pascales as they appear to be named these days. I am still not sure if the new definition is exactly the same but will check when we next have internet.)

A full gale during the night was forecast on the VHF Irish coastal reports, lasting in to the next day. Anchor watches were on the board then.

Inishbofin is reckoned to be the most sheltered anchorage of the western islands except in a westerly, which was what was coming. The wind builds over the low land to the west and sets up a vicious fetch down the length of the east-west bay, as we found out.

The bright masthead lights danced and veered around their vessels tethered to a sinker or anchor and Zoonie would lurch and twist and turn, the chain growling on the bronze roller and snatching in the sudden gusts. We took turns to ‘watch’ but there was no sleep to be had anyway. Eyes darted between the growing black arc her movements were creating around her position on the screen. She was in the middle of the deepest water but would she stay there or would her stern suddenly break beyond her range, and if it did would we be able to help her in time before she reached the rocky shore?

The wind peaked at 37 knots and I shook with worry for her, but with the merciful light of day we could see all nine of us were still in roughly the same place. We felt drained but knew the anchor was by now well bedded in. Just as well as there was a lot more wind to come.

By midday the next day the wind had dropped and we prepared for a quick trip ashore. 988mbs and steady.

Ashore we compared notes with other cruisers and found most of us spent the night awake in readiness for the need to take immediate action. Locals confirmed this was not typical for June, but the weather was changing its annual characteristics quickly. There was no more ‘normal’.

The shop was tiny but had all we needed. I thought it would as the islanders (160-200) and visitors need feeding as well. On the short walk back to the quay we thought a quick drink in the Beach Bar was called for. What friendly people and a beautiful bar inside, with lots of shiny varnished wood and lofty ceilings.

Soon after we sat down locals started arriving with violins, harmonicas, guitars and a banjo and soon we were treated to a fabulous folk and Irish music session, for which this bar is apparently famous. It was our first because the other ones we have heard of in Bantry and places did not start until after nine, and we are elsewhere by then!

We were told that these sessions are often spontaneous and the musicians may not regularly play together which made the quality of their harmonising even more amazing. We hummed along and really enjoyed the experience after such a wretched night.

We ended up having a two-course meal there amidst the lively buzz of the crowd, another great distraction along with the chart gazing from earlier.

Back on board the barometer had gone up 2mbs, lah de dah, but it was thought the wind would be North Westerly, so the fetch would be much reduced. We risked a full night’s sleep and got it.

The next morning dawned bright and breezy so we took the tender across to the beach so we could explore Cromwell’s fort. At one of the high points Rob got 4G on his phone and took screen shots of the weather for the next few days so we could review them later. The fort has square shaped corners with strategically placed rifle slits to fend off the enemies but provided ideal frames for our more friendly shots. Inside the accommodation must have been quite cosy in two and three storey buildings with multi chimneys, a cluster of three for three separate rooms. A small harbour had been created nearby with a broken band of rocks and the way to the fort was short from there.

In the era of Good Queen Bess there was a famous female pirate in these parts called, in English, Grace O’Malley whom you may have heard of as she is now back in the history books and well documented on the net. One story about this intelligent and well-educated lady I really like is that she eventually attended a court meeting with Queen Elizabeth I over some grievance. During the meeting she sneezed and one of the ladies in waiting handed her a lace hanky to blow her nose. As soon as she had finished, she threw the hanky into the fire to the astonishment of the company. Quickly Grace explained that in Ireland this is what they did in case there was something nasty (infectious?) on the used cloth. I imagine there was a shared sigh of relief.

She pre-dated Ann Bonny and her friend Mary Read by two hundred years and became a respected, and rare example of feminine power and leadership in a male oriented world.

Grace lived and operated in this area of Clew Bay, and right around to Waterford and far beyond to the UK and Europe her reputation preceded her. One main stronghold was near Westport, tucked behind hundreds of tiny islets where only those with local knowledge could safely pass. So, she remained free from capture and died from natural causes when she was seventy-three. Her descendants must take pride in their unique ancestor.

There is a pattern being established here as this same Low keeps sending us more discomfort, surely soon it must move away?

This morning was another bright start so we walked from the quay up the hill and found a bench overlooking a graveyard and ruined church and further on the mountains on the mainland to the east. We both had 4G on our phones, maybe a spirit had aided the connection or more likely it came from the aerial on a distant hill. Anyway, we were able to reassure family that we were alright despite not having communicated for a few days.

There were two damaged cars parked at the side of the narrow, single-track road, both their door mirrors had been swiped off by passing vehicles. Inishbofin has a very independent spirit. There are no police and the law is liberty. Children drive from when their toots reach the pedals and the few vehicles need no license. The population covers all the ages; what a great place to grow up, fresh air, learning to be self-reliant, outdoor life, relative freedom and yet a short ferry ride to the mainland.

Some boats have left during these two short term reprieves in the weather while we have taken that time to look around. Hopefully we are living through the penultimate blow now, with a lull later tonight for a few hours (sleep) and then a final fling tomorrow. Wednesday the weather looks better and we hope to make a move on Thursday to Ballyglass, 60 miles north of here and then Killibegs, sixty miles further on, but not before another visit to the bar with the hope the musicians might return.

So because the wind direction last night was S to SW the water was more calm than in the Westerly gale we had earlier. It did gust up to 37 knots again but only briefly this time, as Zoonie was only under strain from the wind and not the waves, we slept in the saloon with ears open in case of a change in sound and motion and both got a good night’s sleep. The final moderate blow is going on now and we are sitting in the saloon which is benefiting from the warmth of the sun and we have a possibility of another visit to the pub tonight. It wasn’t open yesterday anyway. I cannot wait.

I love this radio station, they’re talking about the rising statues of the Virgin Mary seen by thousands of people back in 1985. In Ballanspittle (my spelling) and Kilkenny both believers and atheists saw the phenomenon, thought by one Garda Officer to be the meeting of the real and the mystical worlds.





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