We had a plan to sail from Belfast to the Isle of Man. However the strong winds created high waves and made the Isle of Man unreachable to us. The local sailors recommended to visit Strangford Lough instead as it is not an open sea but more like a lake.
The current in Strangford Strait is strong, up to seven knots. At the strait entrance on the Irish Sea the tide is turning two hours earlier compared to Strangford that is located only five mile upstream on the strait. Thus it is better to enter the strait one-hour after the low water at the entrance for getting the favourable current. Our calculations were on the spot. We left Belfast around noon and arrived at Strangford Lough entrance at seven in the evening. The current was just changing its direction and we had an easy ride up the strait with the flood tide. When approaching the entrance we also spotted some breaking waves. This entrance has really to be taken seriously if the wind is against the current, especially during the onshore winds.
There is a small marina in front of Portaferry. Looking from the chart it looks very welcoming. According to local sailors the anchorage might be a better option at the next cove if you are not comfortable with manoeuvring the boat in tight quarters in a four knot current.
For us there was a third option as well. Across the strait is the ferry pier of Strangford and there is also a pontoon for pleasure boats. It is nicely located just outside the strongest current. Coming alongside was easy as the tide is running in parallel with the pontoon. Of course there is some swell and noise from ferry propellers. For us however it was a perfect place for layover after a long day at sea.
We tried to be lazy and get something to bite from the local pub. It was Sunday and already past 9pm, so there was none available. We joined to local crowd for a pint of Guinness and later returned to boat for a cooking.
On Monday morning we went to explore the village of Strangford. An idyllic scenery with old Viking watchtowers looked just like Ireland we’ve been waiting for.
Our timing was perfect as there was a drive-in of lovely vintage Austin cars at the Cuan Hotel. Mr George was very kind to show us his 1927 Austin. It was a lovely feeling to sit in the car and embrace yourself with the car world of the 1920s. His car was in an excellent condition and really sweet.
Strangford Lough is 3 miles wide and 10 miles long tidal inlet. Even if the wind was blowing at 23 knots from the west we had a beautiful sail because there were no big waves. It was like being at the Archipelago Sea in Finland where the wind only creates small waves due to the lack of fetch. There are a lot of small islands and beautiful anchorages as well. In this sense it is also similar to sailing in Finnish archipelagos.
Already back in Belfast we got a tip about Sketrick island and a lightship with a pontoon in its anchorage. We can enter the Sketrick island only during +-2h of the high water thus we aimed at departing during the last two hours of the flood tide. This would enable us to come alongside at the slack water. Stargazer, a yacht from Wales was our neighbour in Strangford and had departed some time before us. We were delighted to meet them again at the pontoon of the lightship.
During our Sketrick visit it was raining all the time. We had hoped for a long trek in surroundings but instead we only had short walks nearby between the showers. The island is very beautiful with only a few houses. We also saw sheep, cows and donkeys in the island. There were some dog walkers trecking on the paths as well.
There are many yacht clubs based in Strangford Lough. For example the lighthouse ship is the base for Down Cruising Club. Unfortunately we were there during the early week because the restaurant at the lightship is open only from Friday to Sunday. However the Daft Eddies restaurant on the Sketrick island was open and we sampled some dishes there on rainy evening.
The strong winds on the Irish Sea enabled us this wonderful experience that otherwise we had missed by going directly to the Isle of Man. Now we’ve been sailing in one of the most beautiful sailing grounds of Northern Ireland for sure.