Sailing in West Cork, Ireland
I was recently sailing in West Cork for a few days on a friends boat, it really is something special to be so cut off from it all, the sea surrounding you and it’s power so immediate.
We picked up the boat from it’s mooring in Baltimore, West Cork. An absolutely beautiful village, we spent the night at O’Driscoll’s Cornerhouse Guesthouse , at the centre of the village. We had a great time there, thanks to it’s owner Bernadette, who pointed out many of the best fishing spots in the cove. Baltimore has some of the
most diverse fishing in Ireland in terms of species (40 different ones are usually fished) and types of fishing. Skate, Shark, Cod and many warm water species such as Albacore and Skipper are brought in on the Gulf stream as well.
Once we got up the following morning, we brought our supplies on board, and set sail for Schull and the Mizen peninsula., which is just west of the Skibbereen and Baltimore. We
tracked along the coast all day, stopping every so often, and rowing to the shore, or spending an hour fishing. It’s an area that is famous for some spectacular wrecks and wreck diving, so you have to have an experienced map reader and skipper on
the deck. The largest shipwreck (by tonnage) in the world (to date) occurred of the coast of Baltimore in 1986. When the Kowloon Bridge developed crashed in to the Kedges Reef and sank, thankfully with all hands off deck. There are many other wrecks in the area, so weekend sailors like ourselves were cautious in our travel.
We sailed for about 5 hours along the coast after leaving Baltimore, stopping for a while to look at a pod of Bottlenose dolphins 5 miles west of Skibbereen. Bottle noses are the most common dolphin in Ireland and are noted for being very friendly to humans. Indeed Ireland’s most famous dolphin -Funghi is a bottlenose, and has forsaken his own kind to bask in the attention of tourists in Dingle harbour.
Well the main highlight of the trip for me was always going to be the Mizen Head Peninsula
(Carn Uí Néid). It is probably one of the most idyllic places in Ireland, in a country noted for it’s spectacular beauty Mizen head really takes the biscuit. If you are driving the route, then I suggest that you go from Glengarriff to Mizen head. On the headland there is a visitor centre in what used to be an old signalling station. There are 99 steps across to its entrance, the museum explores the 5000+ years of history of the peninsula, on what is probably the most beautiful located museum in Ireland. The nearby town of Schull was where we decided to stay the night. We had a great night there in the local pub, we met a group of American tourist who were doing the Mizen head to Malin head cycle, basically Ireland from the very north to the very south. It was pretty late by the time we got back to the Mizen head hotel. I don’t envy the Americans, as they had 100 miles to cycle the following day, and we had been drinking singing and have great craic till about 5 that morning. Breakfast was skipped!.
We decided to take it easy till the afternoon, for reason explained above. We walked out to Barleycove beach and rented some surf boards. Up to recently if you told the locals that you were going surfing in Ireland, people would look at you as if you were mad, but boy would they have been wrong. Ireland has some of the best surf in the world and Aill na Searrach off the cliffs of Moher is one of the largest waves in the world. Barleycove is a lot more gentle, which suited me, as I am still getting used to the board. There are some lovely breaks when you have a good south-westerly blowing.
We spent about 2 hours surfing and a great time, but as soon as 1pm came around it was time for a bite to eat, so we decided on a quick lunch in Goleen before heading to the boat. Goleen is a little village on the Mizen head, 4 pubs and some great little restaurants. It is a small spot, but it packs a lot of life in to it. I really enjoy how open and friendly people are in West Cork, they would do anything for you. We sat down for dinner at The Heron’s Cove restaurant in Goleen I had the Scallops and they were stunning. Goleen I’ll be back!
By this stage we had spent enough time on land and it was time to get back on the boat. Our next stop was Castletownbere. To get there we had to round the Mizen head peninsula and go due west for about 40 miles, coasting along the Sheep’s head peninsula, for a mile and then straight across to the Beara Peninsula. Castletownbere is probably the finest natural ports in Ireland, situated at the mouth of one of the deepest bays in the world – Bantry Bay. The Beara peninsula is a truly amazing place and should be included on any holiday plan. Most American visitors are familiar with Killarney Blarney, and bypass this hidden gem all together. One thing that makes me come back to this spot, is the great whale watching. The Gulf stream hits Europe directly here, so the local climate is very mild, and features many tropical plants. It also brings a lot of marine life from afar, so whales that are migrating up or down the Atlantic, plunder it’s rich waters for food. We saw a group of Humpback Whales when we were crossing bear Sheep’s head and 2 Hump back whales at the mouth of Bantry Bay. We pulled up to about 500 meters from the Humpbacks and were able to get some great photo’s, which I’ll put up shortly.
As we moored in Castletownbere, we really felt blessed that we had seen such beauty and wildlife, so close to us. As we settled down for an evening meal and a quiet glass of wine, chatting to the locals, enjoying the rich history of the place. Hearing stories about the Great Irish Chieftain Dónall Cam Ó Súilleabháin Béirre, who was one of the last Gaelic chieftains. Dónall refused to submit to the English crown, and fought for many years against domination. Alas it was to no avail and Beara and its population suffered cruel and repeated massacres for their defiance.
I really enjoyed my boat trip around West Cork. If you are ever travelling to these parts, drop me a line if you have any questions or want some ideas.