Yacht Racing on Rathlin Island

Travelling North and east from Gola there are two headlands to round before crossing the border to Northern Ireland . Bloody Foreland was a doddle despite its rather troubling name , and Malin Head was equally well behaved , although it has quite a reputation for serving up very rough seas. In between them are three deep bays , all markedly different. Sheep Haven is wide open with wonderful sandy beaches , but we passed on this because of the rowdy forecast and instead headed into the long narrow Mulroy bay. Once over a shallow sandy bar this waterway penetrates deep into Donegal through a series of extreme narrows each of which generate correspondingly strong tides . There is a bridge over the second narrows with half a metre clearance over our mast – too close for sanity so we anchored in a sheltered cove and explored deeper inside with the canoe. The third inlet , Lough Swilly, is a deep fiord that used to be a British naval base . We found a perfect little anchorage to sit out the next blow, in the lee of a tiny peninsula with a Martello tower sitting on top to keep an eye on us.

Throughout all this time we saw no other yachts , and indeed precious few people.

Once across the border however it was immediately noticeable that we were back in civilisation, ( a debatable advantage) , and even in the tiny harbour of Rathlin island there were 2 or three other yachts .


This boomerang shaped island sits off the NE corner of Ireland and sports at its Western end a vast colony of guillemots crowding around a lighthouse there , the associated buildings of which make a marvellous viewing platform from which to watch the many thousands of birds get on with their close packed lives.



In the lighthouse was an exhibition of island life which included photos of the “model boat race “ from before WW2. It seems it has been a tradition to race model yachts on one of the fresh water lochs on the island , and by coincidence the annual race was to take place the next day. I duly cycled there at the appointed time to find myself completely alone , but gradually various competitors and spectators arrived ( island time is apparently infinitely flexible) and I was treated to a wonderfully eccentric taste of yesteryear.


The boats themselves could have come out of the same Edwardian photo album ( although one at least was built last year)and had no pretence of steering other than rather crude adjustments of sails. The loch had several promontories and the course took in 3 or 4 of these. The boats were set off and their skippers had to yomp across rough bogland to try and reach the next promontory before their boat.


Several boats missed completely so that these unfortunate skippers had a half mile run to the the other side to reach their recalcitrant vessels and set them off again to try for the following promontory. Rather sadly , the mainstay of this eccentric sport had died the previous week ( in his nineties) . I do hope it will continue in his absence.

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