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  • designersailorchef

And so we begin...

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

We weighed anchor at Whiddy island on a misty windless morning. We came away fully stocked with beautiful fresh garden produce given to us by generous friends there.

This was the start of our progress north and we had no time to loose. Having had to spend a month in West Cork meant that in order to make the Hebrides by the equinox (when the weather really starts getting messy) we had to choose carefully where to go along the way. Our first stop was Castletown Bere, a fishing village at the entrance to Bantry Bay. With no wind it seemed pointless to continue motoring out into the Atlantic so we put the hook down and went in search of a pint and to watch the hurling match, an important one because Cork was playing in the finals for the first time in 12 years. There were a lot of very large fishing boats and the harbour and a decidedly fishy air. I woke the next morning to sunshine and a dead fox floating past, his fur bright with a ruddy sheen. We had no choice but to continue motoring due to lack of wind much to our consternation. On the way we went close past Great Skellig island that features a 7th century monastery and beehive stone hut construction. Little Skellig is given over entirely to gannets, I looked and looked but could see no other bird nesting there. The Skelligs are sheer rocks that soar out of the depths like huge cathedrals and this imposing sight inspired some of the set designs for Star Wars—or so I've been told. On a calm day boats can land people to walk up the 200 or so steps to view the monastery but the boats must wait in the offing for them to come down, there is no dock or place to tie up—not some place you want to be in wind or swell.

Skellig Michael. A place of refuge for 7th century monks.
You can just see the beehive huts on the top right below where there is a bit flat

Little Skellig island

Little Skellig, gannets

At the end of a day of motoring we found anchorage in Ventry, on the Dingle peninsula for the night. A family came by and said hello, the father on a kayak, two boys 9 and 11 each handling a dinghy and the wife swimming. The Irish seem to swim in any weather at any time of the day - rain or shine. Brrrr.

Leaving Ventry we managed to get some sail on and head out toward Blasket sound but were intercepted by the Irish navy who buzzed us in their ship by circling close a few times to get our attention. It was really intimidating as they were so huge and moving fast making us lurch all over the place. (there are better ways of getting attention!) Trevor hailed them on the VHF and they quizzed him before deciding we were indeed harmless. We suspect they were just bored and interested in a boat hailing from Fremantle, Australia. We got through Blasket sound, a snakey piece of water even on that calm day. The wind died and we were becalmed for a spell.

Eventually the wind picked up and we were able to make some more miles toward the Aran islands. Sunset came and I took the first watch as dolphins played around the boat for hours. I got my first sight of a baby dolphin swimming with its mother. It was so quiet, and still with very little breeze and just the slow heave of the rolling Atlantic swell in the gloaming.

So cute to see these little fellows swimming along like magnets attached to their mothers

Not quite the perfect dolphin in the sunset picture but as good as I could get

The wind picked up in the night and after a while I roused Trevor to take the watch and I was able to get some sleep. I woke to sunshine and a moderate breeze that had us moving along nicely if not exactly laying Inishmore, our destination. Imposing cliffs steeply meet the Atlantic swell all along the south edge of these islands, magnificent and wild. You can hear the crashing waves from miles away. Apart from a 20 minute diversion to retrieve my beanie that got knocked off into the swell, we got into the harbour and anchored in the greenest, clearest water I had ever seen.

The steep cliffs of Inishmore from a healthy distance
True emerald water, mesmerising

Traditional thatched roof, not so common. I love the little fairy cottage miniature of this house next to it

Inishmore is one of the three Aran islands (think Aran style cable knit jumpers) and it's main attraction is the iron age Celtic fort on the high point: Dun Aengus. The island was a buzz with holiday makers and visitors who flock there from Galway on numerous ferries. This is fine except for the fact that there is only one pub in operation and the weather was very warm. We went for a long walk to Dun Aengus, the landscape of the islands is spectacular. Trevor (a retired geologist) explained the geology and rock forms to me, which I found very interesting. He looks at the rocks and landscape like I look at the plants and weeds in a place.

Big boulders deposited by glaciers litter the flats, known as "erratics", they are granite and the surface stone is limestone

The view from Dun Aengus, the principle attraction, a Bronze/Iron age fort 100m above the sea

Clinging to the edge, I peered over the side at the roiling water below. There is no barrier to hold you from the edge. Directly below I could see a large basking shark meandering in the clear depths.

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