Ilen River – Eventful Cruise July 2017

July Trip
First few days from memory
First things first. Ilen River is not a yacht; it’s a motor boat with sails, requiring 8 knots of wind to move it, 12 knots for a lazy cruise and 15 knots before she comes into her own.
Update to the above.
That said, she’s a fine boat and she handled everything I threw at her with ease, she might not be perfect in every way, but I wouldn’t have wanted to make this trip in a lesser boat.

Day 1: Slipped the mooring in Castlehaven and motor sailed (from here on MS) to North side of Cape. (Clear Island) Wind freshening N/NW so didn’t fancy North harbour. Heir Island? Not for a first time in murky weather. Sailed round to South Harbour where I dropped the hook. Rolled about for a couple of hours so upped sticks and MS to Crookhaven in misty conditions. Spent the night on the hook.

Day 2: Weighed anchor and MS via Mizzen Head, came very close to getting propped here, I was doing other things just before I ran over a couple of pot buoys; managed to knock her out of gear just in time. This was going to be a reoccurring feature throughout the cruise, pot buoys everywhere and often enough, a long way off. A lesson learned.
MS via the Bull rock, a spectacular tunnel through it, took pics but later discovered they were NFG due to salt on the camera lens, (or low battery) same applied to pics of Greater and Lesser Skelligs. Skellig Michael and Little Skellig for that matter, most impressive, spectacular in fact. Rounded Skellig Michael in quite a boiling sea, lots of tourist boats well inside of me. Must have been even more impressive to the punters, but couldn’t help but think, one engine failure and it would have been all over for said punters. MS past Little Skellig, five miles further on, didn’t the engine stop? Bugger! Gave it five minutes and successfully restarted it. It ran for ten minutes and stopped again. Fortunately the wind was in such a quarter that I could sail to my intended destination of Portmagee, hoping that the engine would restart when asked to do so in order to bring me alongside some kind of berth. Even more fortunately it did, and I tied up on the marina pontoon. A hairy experience nonetheless. The agent for the council owned marina (two visitor’s berths only) was quick enough down the marina to remind me that I could pay my gold at his pub, which I did, but he didn’t produce a receipt, something to think about in the future.
I berthed next to an old fellow from Dublin who kept his boat in, would you believe, Castlehaven? Had a few drinks aboard him, talked the usual nonsense, turned in, tomorrow is another day.

Day 3
Set about changing the primary fuel filter, logic dictating that the trouble lay here. As things would turn out logic isn’t always logical. Got the beast going, let’s get underway. Had a cracking sail across Dingle Bay in a fresh SW wind; destination NE corner of Great Blasket Island. Had to get the Genoa in as I approached the island as the wind whistles down the mountain at some lick. Stood off the strand to take in what has been described as Ireland’s Saint Kilda, abandoned village n’all. Would have liked to anchored off and gone ashore but the weather too unsettled; sailed East and dropped the hook for the night in Ventry Harbour, a large open bay on the N coast of Dingle Bay.

Day 4
Forecast poor so MS round to Dingle Harbour. The only anchorage is about a mile from the town so decided to part with gold and enter the marina. Weather as forecast, misrelated, fogy, rainy, visibility very poor. What a place, a whole town and industry built on the back of a dolphin; bizarre!

Day 5
Dingle marina, weather same, did some jobs. The harbour master, Peter O’Regan turned out to be a second cousin of Fachna, the shipwright from Oldcourt. As too did a tourist boat operator, (name?) It’s a small world.

Day 6
Got under way and MS East back to Blasket Sound then headed NE under some spectacular scenery, the cliffs of Brandon head. Little beknown to me then that ‘spectacular’ would become another word for daunting, most daunting in fact.
Carried on NE with enough breeze for the boat to be comfortable in the extremely large swell that is so typical of this Atlantic coast. Passed a couple of yachts heading the other way, but apart from these I had the place to myself. It is a lonely old spot, which, as I would find out would become even lonelier.
Though still plenty of fuel aboard I decided to call into Fenit harbour in Tralee bay as this might be the last chance to top up for many a mile. Poked my head into the harbour, nobody about so telephoned the Harbour Master and arranged for a sup of diesel the next day. Motored out of the harbour and dropped the hook in three metres and set my paraffin lamp anchor light. All very nostalgic.

Day 7
Took on seventy litres; fifty quid. Got under way, next stop Kerry Head, then across the Shannon in the direction of the Aran Isles.
Just started to cross the Shannon and the beast stopped again; decision time.
Decided discretion was the better part of valour; turn around, this is no place to be without a reliable engine. I restarted the engine and it ran for a while, so I managed a few miles in a SW direction until it finally gave up the ghost. Still a bit of wind from the North but not an ideal situation as it was quite light and I had a very hostile shore under my lee.
There wasn’t a hope of me getting down the engine room to try and bleed the bleeding thing, the Atlantic swell was monstrous and the lighter the wind became, the more pronounced became the rolling of the boat. My only feasible destination was Smerwick harbour, about eight miles SW of Brandon Head.
In ever lightening winds I needed to keep sea room from this most inhospitable coastline, sheer cliffs that reached the sky, no shoreline at all. I wallowed about in this big swell, the sails slatting all the time, robbing them of any bit of drive the might have produced. My situation wasn’t looking good.
This went on for hour after hour, I couldn’t leave the helm at all, many a time loosing steerage altogether, the boat doing a complete three-sixty and nothing could do about it. I was virtually at a standstill, four miles from Smerwick, three miles off Brandon Head for about six hours. Had I dared try to get the outboard onto the punt I would have strapped it alongside and used the outboard to produce a knot or two. Oh for a bit of wind.
The sun is starting to go down, the batteries are getting low, I’m stressed out and desperately tired, all I want to do is sleep.
Some short time after dark an Easterly wind springs up; not great in strength but enough that I can claw my way eight miles offshore. I heave to and set the masthead light and the alarm clock for ninety minutes; turn in.
The clock wakes me; I switch on the radar and see I have made two miles towards the shore while hove to. The radar then dies for lack of power. Decide to head out to sea for an hour hoping to make another four miles to seaward and then heave to for a longer period of time. While I’m awake I am of course running without lights. As I’m making offshore a very large vessel approaches heading East. I flick on the navigation lights; it passes me within a quarter mile of my stern. I give it another thirty minutes and finally heave to, bugger the alarm clock, I’m knackered. Turn in.

Day 8
I awake at sunrise after a few fitful hours of sleep, put on the kettle and assess the situation. There is 10 knots of wind from the East, cruising chute weather. I set to and rig the sheets and drag the sail up on deck. Will it set foul or will it set fine, I’ve never had it up before? Up it goes and sets fine, this is the business, pulling nicely, Blasket sound here we come. Ten knots of wind though soon becomes less than four. Bugger!
There’s only one thing for it, try and restart the engine as the swell has become considerably less. Down the hole I go and some spanner time and bleeding gets the thing running again. Previous to this time my shore based mechanic, John Regan, had informed me that the problem wasn’t the filter but the engine was sucking air. Off I set in the direction of Blasket Sound at much reduced revs, never mind the revs, I’m doing four knots, a luxury. It takes what seams forever to reach and get through the sound, but get through it I do, anything to get off the North side of Dingle Peninsular and out of the Atlantic proper. I lay a course for Portmagee, as tempted as I am to push her on, wisely I don’t.
I enter Portmagee channel under main and mizzen in an ever freshening SSE wind, 22 knots on the beam at a guess. Keeping the boat head to wind whilst I get the sails down in this narrow channel has its moments so I make the mistake of gunning her to bring her back into wind, but get them down I do and then start to motor towards the marina. The engine stops, bugger and damnation! It half starts again so I chug to windward and quickly drop the hook in two metres. I can’t start the engine to go astern to dig the anchor in so I give her plenty of chain and go below to put the kettle on. I come on deck and she’s nearly aground on the rocky leeward shore. Don’t tell me I‘ve come this far only to lose her in Portmagee channel. Thankfully the engine starts and I motor to windward dragging anchor, chain n’all; a measure of just how bad the holding is. I hand-ball the chain and anchor up, the winch being too slow. Up comes the anchor with a kelp farm attached, I leave it hanging off the bow. I manage to chug to the marina on a wing and a prayer, the engine stopping frequently, and get her into a berth. Stroll on! Went ashore for a couple of beers; back to the boat and crashed. Slept like a log.

Day 9
Blowing half a gale from the SE; got my head together and set to and went through the engine methodically, changing O rings and copper washers on various parts of the filters; made sure she was bled properly and completely. Started her up tied to the berth and ran the engine at full revs both in and out of gear; repeated this process throughout the day. This in retrospect was a mistake; all it was doing was drawing air into the system thereby reducing running time when getting underway.

Day 10
Morning started with plenty of wind and rain but slowly moderated throughout the day. I might have got away today but SW gales forecast for this evening. Stayed put: ran up the engine; stayed aboard and wrote up this log. A better forecast for tomorrow; I hope to get way early if it’s fit. Got a spin into Carishiveen hit the ATM and bought essential supplies. Hitched back.

Day 11
Caught the 04.00 forecast on the VHF, sevens and eights forecast all around the country. Given that the previous forecast sixes and sevens never quite materialised, I might chance a look later.
08.00 Let go the pontoon and got squared away and motored down Portmagee channel under just the main. Cleared the headlands, didn’t like what I saw, four metre waves and breaking. About turn. Met half a dozen of the more hungry tourist boats heading out to the Skelligs. Have those punters any idea what kind of trip they are in for? They can’t have. You wouldn’t get me out there if you paid me, let alone parting with thirty five Euros. (E 80 for a two hour lading trip) Returned to base, decoked the heater.
Rafted up outside a tourist boat that don’t seem to operable, wind 22 knots NW. Ireland in July FFS! Forecast due in a couple of minutes. Weather moderating, a chance of getting away tomorrow, if not then Sunday.
22.30 Just got out of my nice warm pit to put shorelines out, on both me and yer man I’m tied to. Pissed wet through. Ireland in July? Stroll on! 32 knots registering on the whirligig. Well that’s one forecast they certainly got right. Won’t be going anywhere tomorrow, there will be a big run out there, I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like on the North side of Dingle peninsular. Eeh gods and little fishes; I will say one thing though, not for one minute can I imagine being on this boat without the Refleks heater, not for a moment I can’t. It’s warm, dry and cosy below; it’s worth more than rubies and pearls. More tea.

Day 12
05.00 Wind shift and moderating, the punt is clattering about, get up and move it.
09.00 Talking to one of the charter skippers, he reckons the run will be ok once clear of Puffin Island, but I need a better night’s sleep if I am to make the sixty miles home in one hit. Tomorrow then.
No today, I’ve had a enough of this one horse town. Let go about 11.30. Get to the seaward end of Portmagee channel, big big seas from the NE as is a 15 knot wind, but doable. Head straight out to sea to get sea room. Ten minutes later doesn’t the bloody engine stop? Stroll on! Didn’t even try to restart it, unfurled the Genoa and stand out to sea, I want sea room. I don’t fancy being inside in this kind of seaway. I put in a long quartering tack until S of Little Skellig, pinching as much Westing as I can. My thinking being that I don’t want a repeat of Brandon Head should the wind drop. I want to be reaching or at least quartering into Kenmare River which is the only logical destination.
I gybe about at Little Skellig, just as impressive as Great Skellig it must be said and have what might be described under other circumstances as a very pleasant sail.
The island of Deenish at the mouth of the Kenmare shows a small bay on its Eastern side, somewhere to drop the hook and bleed the engine. I have a look in but don’t fancy it for all kinds of reasons. Wind now 8-10 knots WSW, decide to rig the cruising chute, and head across the bay to Dursey, big mistake, the wind freshens to 15-17 knots and I’m well overpowered on a broad reach. Not much I can do about it now, I’m not going on the foredeck and struggling to get the bugger down, not with this sea running I ain’t. Jeebus it’s hard work trying to control her, my neck muscles are on fire with stress, relax I keep reminding myself, yeah right, I’m touching 9 knots at time surfing down the backs of waves. I can’t even roll a ciggy!
I round Dursey, conditions not much better, I have to get the thing down, there’s no way I can gybe it on my own and I can’t lay the course I want with it up. Tried to get it down, total disaster, no engine means no auto pilot means the minute you go on deck the boat does what she wants. I end up letting go the halyard and dropping the whole lot into the tide, it’s the only way I can calm the bugger down. Drag it in and down the hatch. De-rig the sheets too; they’ve become a pain in the arse too. Get the genoa set; she’s sailing well in a diminishing sea. Tempted to go straight for the Mizzen but decide on Castletown Bear.
Wind fresh and fair, I should be able to sail straight up the harbour, but the headlands around the harbour have different ideas; I’m headed in light breezes. The bugger starts and I only ask 500 revs of it. It gets me to an anchorage and I drop the hook. Decided to try the engine proper. She purrs like a kitten at 2,000 – 3,000 revs, WTF is going on?

Day 13
A windless morning in the haven. 07.00 forecast promises N 4 to 5, that’ll do nicely. (It never comes Northerly) Get under way very slowly down the channel, the bugger stops at the end of the channel, FFS! Unfurl the genoa and fortunately there’s a bit of breeze that allows me to make some sea-room. Go down the hole, bleed the bugger and set a course for the next ‘milestone’ the Mizzen at 1500 revs.
Clear the Mizzen at 12.00, next milestone, Cape. The bugger stops two miles short of Cape, head out to sea, sail for a while, bleed the engine and head for Baltimore. It keeps running, I tie up at the pier, go for a pint. 20.00 turn in.

Day 14 Last Day
02.00 the punt is banging off the boat, get up and sort it. Fortuitous really, the shore lines of the whale-watching boats are trying to destroy my new VHF aerial fixed to the goalpost. Move the boat further along the pier. Get squared away below, water-up while I have the opportunity; breakfast.
05.00 Coming light, will bleed the engine shortly and get under way.
06.00 Let go and motor out into a brilliant morning, the sun is blazing and next to no sea. The engine runs faultlessly at 1,500 RPM all the way to Union Hall and drop the hook off Union Hall pier among many classic boats that have turned up for Glandore classic boat week.
So endeth the trip, it’s been, what shall I say, interesting if nothing else?

I have been extremely lucky on this trip, for all the caution I have employed and tried to anticipate ‘what if’ scenarios, had the engine failed ten minutes earlier on more than one occasion, this story might have been totally different.
Two engines are better than one. Unless the boat sails like a witch, which Ilen River doesn’t of course, then even an outboard strapped to a drop down bracket would be a nice bit of insurance. Is this an overreaction? Probably, but then it has been one of those trips.
The West Coast of Ireland: It’s beautiful, it’s spectacular, it’s also very hostile with few safe havens and even fewer lights I add. If you don’t have to be there, then think very hard before going there. There are far more pleasant and safer cruising grounds to be found elsewhere.
Radar is a nice piece of kit, sometimes hard to read, other times not. I would sooner be with it than without it. It would really come into its own in busy shipping channels, setting the guard zones, but apart from the one ship mentioned I had the whole West coast to myself. As I said, it’s a lonely spot; you’re on your own.
Chart Plotter: I don’t know how I ever sailed without one. I wouldn’t sail without one ever again. Given the innumerable dangers in Irish waters, I think it’s an absolute must, particularly if single handed. I wonder if I would be writing this now if it wasn’t for the plotter. Folks say you shouldn’t rely on them one hundred percent, well I relied on mine all of that. Whether you’re tired or not or the least little bit in doubt, there is nothing else to compare with it.
Refleks diesel heater: Already mentioned in the text.
Big sails: If you are on your own, leave them in the bag.
Gloves: Wear them when handling sheets; I have the hands torn off me.
That’s about it I think, off to the bunk.

July 24 2017

About Mel Midgley

Retired toolmaker. Been around boats of different stripes on and off since childhood. Refuse to grow old. Recent new owner of a Barbary Class with view to single handing. Presently situated West Cork Ireland.
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