Entering the treadmill at Carlingford Lough

Howth to Carlingford Lough

On reflection we should have left Howth at 8:30 to enter Carlingford Lough at high water at about 3pm. In practice we left at 11:30 after taking advantage of our first marina internet access at Howth Yacht Club. I think we were lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that all the tide charts have slack water in the Irish Sea off Dundulk Bay and Carlingford Lough, so if we left with northerly tide flows it would not really matter when we left. The winds were predicted westerly 3-4 rising to 4-5 about 6pm, but we found virtually no wind at the beginning of our voyage and so had to motor sail. We even shook out a reef in the main we’d had the day before in order to gain some advantage from the very light winds – which we came to regret later.

The sail past Ireland’s eye off Howth, then Lambay Island and on past Rockabill Lighthouse was lovely. The weather looked set fine, at least where we were, but there were rain clouds north, south and east of us.

IMG_6932 Ireland Eye off Howth with its white guano covered rock on the right

IMG_6936 Passing Lambay Island with the Ireland Eye in the distance emitting smoke – we were not sure if this was a controlled stubble fire or an out of control bush fire as it had been going on for several days

IMG_6943Passing Rockabill lighthouse in the middle of the bay – much like the Eddystone lighthouse off Plymouth Sound except this one has a large house on it. 

We then read about Carlingford Lough – “Tides run fast in the entrance of Carlingford Lough” said the pilot guide with a picture of the current round one of the buoys. Ros called Carlingford Marina and they could give us a berth – “ pick up any one you fancy” was the response. I then spoke to them about the tidal streams coming in and out of the Lough – “4-5 knots”, “Oh” I said, “My engine only does 5 knots!” – “Let us know if you get into any trouble” was his reply. We then looked at the chart. It did look complicated. There was a “dog-legged” channel dredged in 1993 for the first 2500m (1.5nm), marked by pairs of green and red bouys – first 1-2, then 3-4, then 5-6, then 7-8. The odd buoys being green and the even buoys being red – seemed simple, but by 7-8 they were starting to stagger. Then there was a lone starboard buoy (No 9) as you entered a wider channel and then a further lone starboard buoy (No 11) as you entered a second multiple dog-legged channel 3600m (2nm) which was dredged in 2006. From then on there were a further 8 buoys all higgledy piggledy, 13, 15, 17, 19 and 21 starboard buoys and 10, 12, 14, 16 port buoys ending in the pairing 16-21 as you entered the main Lough and deep water. In between the two channels there was a short respite of about 2000m (1.1nm) of slightly deeper water, which we were thankful for later when an unexpected event happened.

IMG_6970 (1) IMG_6987 Overview of passage plus detail of buoyage into Carlington Lough

When motor sailing we’d worked out we’d arrive at Carlingford Lough at 6pm when the exiting tide would be in full flood (ie 5knots) so we decided to take our time and sail there slowly entering the Lough about 8pm when the tide had eased – which was great. It was lovely to have the motor off and relax in a gentle breeze – most of our other trips had been more pressured to get to a port by a specific time, but now we were not in a hurry – well we weren’t, but the wind had other ideas. It slowly increased from force 3 to force 4 gusting 5 and we were sailing faster and faster. We eventually arrived at the Carlingford Lough entrance buoys 1 and 2 at 6:30pm only half an hour after maximum flood tide. I do not know why I made this decision, but we were going so well under sail that I decided to sail in through this narrow channel. We were making 6 to 6.5 knots through the water, but when we entered the channel we had to change course and we were very close hauled and healing over at quite a steep angle as we were now rather oversailed for the wind. It led to an exciting sail, but with very slow progress creeping in at about 2-2.5 knots.

IMG_6954 Port Buoy No 4 at the entrance to Carlingford Lough showing the force of the outward flowing tide of 4-5 knots.

It was like being on a treadmill and running as fast as you can but hardly getting anywhere. Can you remember as a kid trying to run up the down escaltor and seeing if you can get to the top – stop for a second as you run out of breath and you go backwards. Well this was a bit like that but we were on a water treadmill sailing like the clappers but getting nowhere. My worry was that the wind would suddenly drop and I’d go backwards – I had the engine in reserve of course but this would only give us an extra 2 knots at the most. It took half an hour for us to creep through the first channel and then we had a short respite as the treadmill slowed a bit in the deeper water and we started to make 3 knots. Suddenly from nowhere there was this loud foghorn sound and there in front of us it looked as if a section of the side of the mountain was moving toward us – it was the 14,759 ton Seatruck – Clipper Pennant as we saw later as it passed. It came out of the sun and was backlit so we had not seen it, but it was huge and bearing down on us at great speed as it had the 4 knot tide with it. The horn meant that it had no manoeuverability, so even though I was under sail, I had to give way. Unfortunately, I was loughing up to lose wind in the gusts and this took me right into its path so I was forced to bear away to starboard causing us to heel wildly until Rosamund could loose both main and jib to spill wind and take us to the extreme edge of the channel. As it passed close to port and leeward of us, we lost all wind and were probably heading backwards for a while on the treadmill until what appeared to be ages later when it had passed and we picked up the wind once more and headed for the second channel. It took us almost two hours to do the 4.6 nautical miles through the entrance to Carlingford Lough but on the treadmill we’d done 9.1 nautical miles as I later learned from my log and trip meter.

IMG_3558The Clipper Pennant – a RoRo Transport Ferry passing close on our port beam doing 12 knots heading for Heysham, England.

Carlingford Marina was certainly a haven for us from the high winds that were now developing from the west. In the lee of Carlingford Mountain it gave great shelter. Being in a fiord the harbour did not need the protection of a conventional sturdy harbour wall. Carlingford was, like the buoys, another higgledy-piggledy arrangement. I remember as a kid how I used to love building things with packs of cards – starting with two to make a triangle, then another two and then place one on top to stabilize it – repeat this a number of times and you get a structure on which you can build more structures and so on. Take one link out and it often collapses. Well Carlingford harbour seemed to be constructed rather like that and in their case there were some links missing. There was also a huge concrete ship in the middle of the harbour – that acted like a landing stage. You had to cross this ship to get off the marina up metal stairs that were fixed relative to the pontoon, which meant that the concrete ship was actually floating and anchored.

IMG_7013 The Cretegaff in Carlingford Marina today.  Had been the clubhouse before the new one in the background was built and is now the fuel barge and deck to reach the pontoons.

An except from Isle Of Man Today gives some of the history of this vessel – ‘During the First World War, when steel was in short supply, the British Government commissioned a series of sea-going barges designed to carry 1000 tons of coal. A number were built of reinforced concrete at various locations around the country. To pull these barges a small fleet of concrete ocean-going tugs was also built.

‘Both the tugs and the barges had names which began with the word Crete and the idea was to use them to transport coal to Europe and Russia.

‘During the Second World War a further series of concrete barges was constructed. The durability of the material is borne out by the fact that there are still a number of such vessels in existence today, although no longer in commercial use.

‘In the 1930s one of the large ocean-going tugs, the Cretegaff, was purchased by a Captain Stephen Portus, who was a pilot and tug owner in the port of Garston on the River Mersey. For a short time he undercut the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company for the job of bringing in to the Island the English daily newspapers.

pp_shorm_89969_20120305_1599678102Launch of the Cretegaff in 1917 in Southwark 

When we went into the clubhouse to see if we could get some food we discovered that Saturday night was “music night”. A party of women had just arrived for a birthday celebration and there was a live music show just being set up. We were greatly entertained while we ate our meal, by the live music and the craic.


IMG_6967Live music at the Carlingford Yacht Club.

Leaving relatively early compared to the Irish, I said to the waitress when paying the bill how much I’d enjoyed the music. ” Oh, that’s just as well” she said, “he’s my husband!”



3 thoughts on “Entering the treadmill at Carlingford Lough

  1. Laurie Wilson

    Ian- Glad to see you are making progress up the Irish coast. If you think Carlingford tides are big wait till you get to Strangford especially on Springs! Anyway sounds all going ok.
    I am hopefully off to Brittany on Thursday with a forecast of light south/south west winds. Just what’s wanted for my little pocket battleship Vancouver 27 !.
    Its the 25th anniversary yacht race from Newton Ferrers to Trebuerden on the north coast and at the moment there are 34 entries with eight French boats coming over to join in.l. Then I expect to go down to Brest area and play around the offshore islands if weather permits. Not proposing to go further south as the French holidays will be starting and it gets so busy. I prefer to go south in May or June when you have anchorages to yourself. . Expect to be away about a month back just in time for school holidays and possible family invasion.
    Hope the sun shines over Aran for you – a magical place.


    1. iansutherland455 Post author

      Laurie – before you leave, I’d like to thank you for your advice. We will miss out Strangford Lough on the way up and have decided to miss Bangor, Belfast and Copeland Island as well. As the weather is set fair, we’re planning to cross to Scotland from Ardglass to Portpatrick and then on to Arran after Stranraer and Girvan. We leave in a few hours. Your Brittany trip sounds great and something we hope to do ourselves in a few years time when we get Milo south again.

      Hope you get better weather than some of the sailors we met returning from Brittany in Padstow – they got stuck for a month!!

      All the best. Ian & Ros


  2. Andrew

    Beautiful pictures. Must have been quite a shock to suddenly see the transport ferry heading towards you at speed. I can imagine the scenario as you head away suddenly – close hauled under full sail with mum struggling to ease the sails whilst trying not to fall in! A



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