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Port Oriel to Strangford Lough

After nearly getting hit by a fishing boat whilst at anchor at Port Oriel (Clogher Head) we couldn’t wait to raise the hook and get going! And today we’d be heading to Northern Ireland!

Strangford Lough was our destination, in particular a spot close to Killyleagh, approximately 7nm inside the Lough. Strangford Lough is known for fast tides and reefs and shoals known as ‘Pladdies’ – careful planning and navigation is required. Our cruising guide ‘Irish Sea Pilot by David Rainsbury‘ recommended entering ‘The Narrows’ (a 5 mile channel that opens to the sea where the tide can race at up to 8 knots) on the flood tide and ideally preferably at slack. As the tidal flow enters the Lough, a rotary eddy, known as the ‘Routen Wheel’, occurs resulting in small whirlpools. These whirlpools are usually harmless though sailors should be prepared for some sudden shifts in the movement of their boats!

Our Passage Plan

Low water in Strangford was at 12.55. Our cruising guide advised that the streams in The Narrows started running inwards -03.30 hours before HW Dover which was at 16.55. This gave us a time of 13.25. However e-oceanic advised arriving between Belfast High Water -0420 and +0120. HW Belfast that day was at 17.22 so this gave us a slack time of 13.02. Our aim was to try and arrive as close to slack as possible, before the flood tide really started to run, so we made a target of 13.00 and set our waypoints:

WP1: 54°0.995N 5°55.230W Kilkeel
WP2: 54°8.888N 5°46.106W Newcastle
WP3: 54°15.111N 5°34.928W Ardglass
WP4: 54°18.509N 5°30.666W St Patricks Rock – entrance to Lough

Navionics was showing a distance of just under 50nm, with approximately 40nm to the entrance. Allowing 5 knots boat speed we set a departure time of 5.00am in order to try to time it for slack.

The tides along the coast would be slack till around 10.30am when it would turn against us, however today was ‘neap day’ so this was minimal at maximum 0.5 knots. The forecast was showing sunshine and very light winds of around 5-7 knots so we anticipated a motor sail.

As we would also be returning to the United Kingdom we needed to a submit a Pleasure Craft Report to notify Border Force and HMRC. This can be done online at https://www.spcr.homeoffice.gov.uk and needs to be completed within 24 hours and up to 2 hours before departure to or from the UK.

Our Actual Passage

We left slightly later than planned, at 05.30, mainly to allow for a little more daylight. There were so many pots near Port Oriel that we didn’t wish to navigate through these without good visibility. As it turned out visibility was a little difficult, but not due to the lack of sunlight, more so because of so much sunlight – the sunrise that day was incredible!

Sunrise on the Irish Sea

After the breathtaking sunrise we attempted to sail. With a full main and full head sail we were somehow managing to just about sail in only 6 knots of wind. As we slowly cruised by Carlingford Lough we took down our Irish courtesy flag as we were now entering Northern Ireland.

Sadly the sailing didn’t last! By 9.00am the wind was down to just 3 knots so the engine had to come on if we had any hope of arriving in Strangford in daylight! However we didn’t mind as the sea was like glass and the Mourne Mountains, a dramatic mountain range which famously sweeps down to the sea, provided an impressive backdrop.

Mourne Mountains

We encountered a couple of dolphins, a number of seals and countless Gannets, in fact the first time we had ever seen these birds. White in colour these large seabirds are the largest seabirds in the North Atlantic and have a wingspan of up to 2 metres, and annoyingly we kept mistaking them for buoys as they sat on the water 🤣

Gannet going for take off!

At 13.04, just 2 minutes after slack provided by e-oceanic, we arrived at St Patricks Rock and made our turn towards The Narrows. We had timed this perfectly!

We made our way into the Lough and was greeted with outstanding beauty; this place looked pretty special. The tide did start to pick up quite quickly although it was of no concern and the whirlpools posed no problem, though it’d be interesting to see just how wild these could get!

Portaferry
Strangford

We dropped the main just passed Strangford Creek and cruised around to Killyleagh, anchoring just off of the moorings belonging to Killyleagh Yacht Club, in position 54°23.493N 5°38.493W before enjoying a spectacular sunset later that evening!

We were unsure as to whether or not we needed to contact Yachtline to confirm our arrival back into the UK. We had received a confirmation email following our online submission but no further correspondence. A quick search online and we came across the SUBMIT A PLEASURE CRAFT REPORT (sPCR) PARTNER PACK AUGUST 2022 which stated in the FAQ’s that we only needed to call National Yachtline if anything had changed since we had submitted our voyage plan and we had not been able to update this online. As this wasn’t the case with us and no changes were necessary we’re assuming we’re all good with regards to our ‘status’!

Yacht anchored in Killyleagh

Little did we know then that we would absolutely LOVE this place, so much so we wouldn’t want to leave!