The voyage home to Kilrush July 2011

by Michael Andrews, IWDG member

Our voyage was from Greenock around the north of Ireland and down the Atlantic coast to the Shannon.  It was a romantic, almost exotic, experience for me.  A tiny, fleeting incident at the parade of crews in Greenock set up an elusive out-of-the-ordinariness with which the whole voyage is now invested in memory.  After leaving Greenock harbour and starting the first watch, we passed below a beautiful unspoilt headland to starboard.  Its long arm sheltered the estuary from the wild seas to the north and west.  “Mull of Kintyre” said Bernie.

   

There’d been a stop for fuel on the run down to it, prosaic enough, but there were fishing boats unloading at that tiny place, Kip Marina.  First mate and joint shipboard chef, Garry, stepped briskly ashore and found someone to sell him a bagful of very active live prawns for a feast, pushed them into my hands and went about other business.  The prawns found their way to the galley as Celtic Mist made her way out of narrow waters for the relatively open sea of the North Channel and the lingering twilight. Oh, those fresh prawns were delectable!

Greenock harbour had been swarming with tall ships – familiar from their visits to Waterford and Dublin.

A Parade of Crews takes place at each city visited by the Tall Ships’ Race.  In Greenock it was decided that Ireland and IWDG should participate, and, because the young crew which had sailed her there, as participants in the race, had already returned to Ireland, we, the crew who were to sail her to Kilrush, were thrown into the breach.  We felt uncertain of our appropriateness or even legitimacy (we were far too old to have been a crew in the race).  A little uncomfortable, we took the IWDG banner and Celtic Mist’s tricolour, both rolled tight, and made our way to the assembly point.   We were assigned our appropriate place and proceeded to unroll the long banner and sort ourselves out.  While two of us were sorting out the banner, a brief cheer – obviously impromptu – and a round clapping broke out as if, say, a popular member of another crew had arrived unexpectedly to participate.  We looked round to see what had happened.  It became apparent at once that the cheer had gone up when the green, white and orange had been unfurled.  It came from the nearest crew, Venezuelan or some such.  Like an electric shock it was over before we knew what was happening, but it did put a new spring in our step.  People wanted the Irish there.  We decided that Waterford must have done us all proud in showing the crews what craic really meant!

Celtic Mist was moored just across the harbour from the L.E. Orla of the Irish Navy (she had escorted the race from Waterford) and a wave from an alert rating on her deck was our sole farewell from Scotland that evening.

After passing the Mull of Kintyre, we sailed, night and day, with alternating 4 hour watches and 4 hours sleep through the night for the crew members.  We were blessed with wonderfully calm sunny weather for the first five days of the voyage, and made good progress.  We were running the engine all the time.  The old salts claimed never to have seen the Atlantic as calm.  It was calm – like a lake – causing surprise (and relief).  In the first days sea sickness was not unknown amongst us but recovery had been complete with no after effects.

Skipper Fiacc O’Brolchain told us we were to make our first overnight stop at Tory Island off County Donegal, and we tied up there after a day and two nights of continuous sailing.  We went ashore in the evening of Wednesday, and found our way to the bar where Patsy Dan, the King of Tory, holds court.  He played the accordion – not a common accomplishment among the crowned heads of Europe – and we talked about Delia Murphy’s music.  I’d met her in Donegal as a child.    We had a good night with the King.  We were still on our feet and able to find our way back to the boat at the end of it though.  For that night, in harbour, we had undisturbed sleep – no watches to man.  We were fit to explore the Island the next day too – and saw corncrakes and heard their strange harsh call.  That is quite an event for mainland ornithologists.  The other notable thing was the huge rabbit population – the fields alive with them.

Just as dawn broke the next day the crew on watch caught site of “something” ahead, just a tiny upright white thread, a black dot below.  At first glimpse it could have been a far-off lighthouse (but none was shown on the charts), later it seemed that it could possibly be a yacht under sail.  Watched assiduously, it gradually became identifiable as some sort of sailing vessel and then grew into a handsome three-masted ship under full sail.  She was travelling north, towards us, but on a parallel course further out to sea.  As she passed abreast of us – still maybe half a mile off, too far away to make out a human figure – we trained our glasses but could see no flag of any nationality.  This was a wonderfully mysterious ship in the ethereal light at the break of dawn. Giving no acknowledgement of our presence, she pressed on northward, intent on some arcane ancient purpose of her own, soon hull down and vanished astern, leaving us in fascinated surmise.

Another day or two of sailing and we were ashore again, this time at Inishbofin, County Mayo.  The approach to this harbour was exquisitely beautiful, past little rocky islands with romantic ruins of ancient forts and churches scoured by the wild Atlantic rains and now bathed in cold, sweet light.

 

 

Ashore we met more island characters, independent-minded and self-confident, many of them well known to Fiacc.  The crew luxuriated in another night’s undisturbed sleep.  A natural phenomenon here was an albino peacock – something none of us had ever seen before.

Between Tory and Inishbofin Islands, Celtic Mist had been befriended for a little while by a sociable Minke whale who took an interest in our activities and kept us company for a few sea-leagues.  At another time a similarly gregarious group of Common Dolphins had some sport under and alongside the boat before getting bored with our unwavering mono–directional progress and spurting off to find livelier company.

            

Fiacc had also planned a call to Inish Mor of the Aran Islands for us, but warning of a storm barreling in from the Atlantic meant a change of plan and we hightailed it for the Shannon Estuary, so as to be in sheltered water when the weather broke.  For a while we supplemented engine power with the main sail.  We raced the storm to the estuary, and, when clouds swept over and wind came up, we were anchored off Carrigaholt undisturbed.  The crew had another undisturbed night.  On Saturday we set to work to smarten up the vessel, as she motored up the estuary, for her first appearance (under IWDG ownership) at her new home port.  The sailing and the whale-watching community in the vicinity of Kilrush gave us a heart-warming welcome after our most enjoyable, well organised (and well fed) tour of duty.  On the run to Kilrush up the estuary the Irish Times in the form of its correspondent, Lorna Siggins, had arrived on board. It was an enterprising interception involving another cruiser and another inflatable dinghy – she was accompanied by her young son.

           

By dint of the Captain’s careful planning (and the crew’s magnificent crewing) we sailed in to Kilrush at our exact designated time of arrival: 15.00 hours on Saturday, 16th July.   For us all, and especially for the less experienced sailors, it had been an experience of a lifetime.

Celtic Mist proved basically reliable – she gave some problems, but they involved peripheral rather than vital equipment.

The planning and organisation that Fiacc had put in was not at once apparent.  Only when we had had time to see the voyage as a whole could we appreciate how many purposes this voyage had fulfilled simultaneously, apparently effortlessly, and still, to the last, preserved margins of time against the possibility that less propitious weather or other adverse conditions could intervene.  This was thorough, intelligent, unobtrusive work.

I hope our successful voyage proves to be a sample of the service Celtic Mist will provide to IWDG.

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