A Whale of a time

Getting across Dingle bay is no mean feat and after being defeated by the wind a couple of days earlier I was determined to get across today.  A light head wind restricted my speed to a mere 2mph and with Slea head 15miles away it was set to be a slog.

What I didn’t expect was to have company along the way.  Halfway across I was in my own world day dreaming when I heard a loud “Psshhh” looking over my shoulder I was only 10 metres from a large Grey whale, he had surface for air and then disappeared again before I could get my camera.  Delighted with my sighting I drifted again into my own world as the cliffs of Slea head slowly came into focus, then 50metres in front of me a black fin surfaced and crossed my path, then a second one.  Waking again form my day dream I searched my limited knowledge of Whales, Killer whales have black fins, but you don’t get killer whales in Ireland!  Thinking I must have seen things I decided I would not be sharing this experience as my sanity might come into question.  It turns out however that a family of Killer Whales were indeed sighted by the Irish Whale and Dolphin group near Slea head that day, so I didn’t imagine it.

By now I had closed the distance on Slea Head and safely negotiated the Blasket sound, regretting that I could not stop on Great Blasket to camp as I had originally hoped.  Through the shallow rocks on Dunmore Head I rounded the corner heading for Smerwick harbour.  Crawling up the cliff lined coast I picked out Ballydavid head and set my course for the harbour entrance.  Trusting in my GPS I entered the harbour and headed North to what I thought was Ballydavid.  As I closed in on the bay I began to wonder where the pier was, why could I not see the village?  Landing on the beach I knew I had made an error but I did not know how big, I consulted my charts again and realised that in my haste of planning I had put my destination one mile off course.  With bad weather looming the followed day I wanted to make landfall near civilisation and shelter so I decided although it was getting late to move the mile around the corner and find shelter in Ballydavid Harbour.

Landing on the beach as the sun set I set about finding a spot to camp.  I located a nice flat piece of grass at the top of the beach and as I began to make plans to set up camp a bunch of lads appeared from the local Pub and decided they would have a little party on my camp site.  Reassessing my options I decided it would be best to move across the harbour to a small beach which I hoped offered a suitable campsite.  Sliding under darkness up the sands I had my fingers crossed for a flat piece of grass nearby.  I quickly located a small ledge at the top of the beach and set up camp knowing that I would be resting the following day but likely to get blasted by the impending gales.

Awaiting pick up in a gale

I was not wrong, I woke to the wind attempting to rip my tent from the ground bending the poles out of shape and threatening to snap them at any moment.  A welcome phone call from my Coast Guard colleague in Killaloe, Mike Quigley, notified me that the Dingle Coast Guard were on the way and could offer me shelter from the storm.  Striking camp and packing my bags in record time I was collected shortly afterwards by Frank, the Officer in Charge in Dingle, and he took me along with my boat to their modern and comfortable station house.

On a night in Dingle there is only one thing to do, go out and sample the local hospitality and see what all the fuss is about.  Murphy’s Bar was a most suitable spot to get a feel for the town and following a good feed I watched the football and even stayed around for the Traditional music session, which at times was like a stand up comedy gig.  Great craic had, I returned to the coast guard station to rest my head hopefully to move on the following day.

A small window in the weather would allow me to move a short distance along the Kerry Coast under the shadow of Mount Brandon.  Frank again collected me and after a short chat with some local schools kids who were on a visit to the coast guard station we loaded up my kit and hit the road.   The short hop to Brandon Quay which took only 4 ½ hours felt like a warm up.  Learning form my wind tunnel experience in Smerwick I sought out a shelter campsite and hauled my boat and kit up the beach knowing I would be settling in for another couple of days.

An early night was in order and next morning I reaped the rewards of my shelter campsite as I woke late, well rested.  I strolled up to the local pub on the quay in the afternoon for lunch and enjoy some toasties and tea as I recharged some batteries and caught up with the sports results.

I returned to my tent for a tasty dinner from a packet and keen to move on the next day I made my way back up to the pub to avail of the free wifi and check the weather one last time.  As I was about to return to my tent happy I would be able to move across to Co. Clare the next day the heavens opened and not wanting to be soaked I decided to hold off and enjoy a pint by the fire.  While waiting I got chatting to a couple who had just moved over from New Zealand and Canada, we chatted until late sharing stories of our travels before the rain cleared, I wished them well for their stay and returned to my tent.

I woke to ideal conditions and after the long haul back down the beach I set off for the very distant loop head, for the first 3 hours I was working on my compass until finally the lighthouse on the head came into view falling and rising in the gentle swell.  This would be the biggest crossing to date and going well I decided I would make the extra push and go for Killkee.  At 33 nautical miles this was the longest day so far and I finally arrived into Killkee, after being treated to some spectacular scenery, at 10pm.  I was greeted by the friendly face of Cillian Murphy and his wife Mary.  They were fantastic hosts and after a hot meal Cillian and I went for a pint and a debrief of my trip so far, he also filled me in on his Ironman preparations which were all but complete as his big race in Nice was only days away.

Loop Head

The following morning I collected my boat from the local Coast Guard station, thanks to them for storing it for me, and met with Andree and our friends Shelly and Gally who had come along to resupply me and wish me well for the next leg of the journey.  It was great to have some company as I prepared for another long day.

Waved off at low tide I rounded George’s set my compass to 010degrees and set off towards a grey horizon.  A fresh southerly breeze helped me along the way although it did get choppy at times and I began to feel very exposed as in the distance loomed the faint Aran Islands while 7miles to my right the dark shield of the Cliffs’ of Moher dominated the coastline while to my left was nothing but open Ocean.

I had never visited the Aran Islands before so I was looking forward to my arrival and although the day had gone smoothly I was faced with a tough final hour into a strong head wind.  As I rounded the breakwater in Kilronan harbour I spotted a large slipway which would make an ideal landing site.  As I made my way in I spotted a van on the quay side flashing its lights and me, it turned out to be the local Coast Guard officer in charge, Enda Mullen, who had been tipped off of my arrival and was on hand to look after me.  As soon as I landed I was whisked off in the back of the truck with my boat to Endas brother’s house where we dropped the boat.  It was then off to Endas “Bachelor pad” where he cooked me up a dinner with some freshly caught fish.  He then provided me with some fresh slippers and off we went on a whistle stop tour of the island.  A comfortable bed for 2 nights in a row I didn’t know myself, good night’s sleep and ready for more big miles in the coming days.

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5 Comments

  1. Great reading there mike. Fantastic how the Coastguard helping along the way great bunch of lads. Almost make me want to do something like this NOT 🙂 Best of luck and keep thoes stories coming xx

  2. Hi Mike!
    We hope your trip is still going well and the the weather following your stop in Brandon Bay/ Murphys Bar was clear -the forecast wasn’t looking very good but you may have missed it! All the best and we look forward to seeing your updates on here.
    -Amiria and Mike (the NZ-Canadian couple from the pub)

  3. Great writing mike. Really enjoying the tale. Especially the free willy moment!

  4. Well done Mike, sounds like you are having an amazing time of it. Hope the weather is going to give you a break this week. Will give you a shout at some point to see how you are getting
    Stay frosty
    Graeme

  5. Well done Mike we are following you ever day and enjoy reading your fantastic reports on your travel we hope there is a book in this .
    God Bless,
    Haydn & Liz

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