Joe Slim's Iona Pilgrimage

On Thursday, June 23rd, 2016 Jo Slim, a Shipman 28, crewed by owners BJ Maher and John Clarke left Dun Laoghaire around ten in the evening. A S/W wind, Force 3, enabled us to fly the spinnaker across Dublin Bay as we headed North. By midnight,near Lambay, we had to motor, but with the dawn the breeze returned, up went the spinnaker and we were doing 8 knots, good for a Shipman.

This was too good to last, by midday we had to motor again and reached Port Patrick, in Galloway, Scotland about 5:00 pm. Port Patrick is a pretty little harbour where you tie up beside the quay. It’s quite tidal so a degree of fitness is needed to climb the ladder. It’s a busy town in summer.   Many visitors come to have a drink by the harbour and eat in the good fish restaurants. There's also a good golf course. We had an excellent meal in a fine seafood restaurant close to the lighthouse.

We slept in the boat and made a late start as it was overcast with little wind and the tide was adverse. We thought getting up to Port Ellen via the Mull of Kintyre, a route we had used previously, would be difficult,and elected to go to Rathlin Island. A really tough sail followed. The day brightened, the wind rose to a 4/5 from the North-West, the worst angle for us. The water got very choppy, large seas broke over the boat and Jo Slim and its crew were drenched. We were very cold by the time we reached Rathlin just before ten that night. But then our luck changed, over a much needed Black Bush in McCuig's pub we were recommended an unmarked guest house next door. By eleven we'd had hot baths and were having a hot stew and another drink or two. All was well. Our land-lady Hilary is a great woman. She and her husband are from the mainland but have made Rathin their home. Their number +44-(0)75-6587-1319. Saturday we were lazy, had a hefty Ulster fry and hit the water to Islay about noon.

 Rathlin is a lovely island to walk around or sail around. We went west,and had some interesting views of the cliffs and of the geology. If I recall correctly from previous visits there is a current that will bring you west to east close in on the north shore, when you might expect an adverse tide. En route to Islay we were inspected (and rejected) by a Minke whale. By 5.00 pm we were near Port Ellen with a flood tide. Our course was through the Sound of Islay (between Islay and Jura) which is like a river. We pressed on and had 4.5 knot tide with us once we were in the Sound itself. We tied up at the ferry harbour and lifeboat station of Port Askaig, but then our luck changed again. There was no room in the inn and the boat was cold and wet. But we did get an excellent seafood meal and a lovely English couple we met lent us extra blankets, so we had a good night. Twelve hours after we arrived the flood was set again. We had a nice south west breeze and raced up the Sound and past Collonsay. That day's objective was Fingall's cave on Straffa, an island off Mull. Regrettably a cruise ship beat us to the island which crawled with people, but we were able to get within 50 yards of the mouth and saw the Giant Causeway like pillars of cooled basalt. A Scotsman we met told us that on a calm day they had been able to reverse a cruiser into the cave itself, but we had choppy conditions.

Back to Iona where there is a shortage of visitor's moorings. We decided to risk picking up a mooring we were told was 'spare'. Perhaps we should have anchored. Iona in season is very busy. Accommodation should be booked in advance, we could not even eat at the waterfront hotel. We were given a list of accommodation and everywhere was full. Another night on the boat loomed, but then we spotted a small 'vacancies' sign. Louise and James, who was a skipper on a boat servicing fish farms, had just come to Iona and were off the 'list'. They took us in and when the owner of the mooring came to evict us, James,who had a rib, helped us to move Jo Slim to a better mooring which we had been afraid to pick up. A true host. There is an alternative to mooring at Iona. There is a port on Mull, a couple of miles away by road, Bunessan, where you can tie up at the quay, but we thought it would be too inconvenient.

Tuesday, after a generous breakfast we went off for a bit of sight seeing. The Cathedral and other religious sites are looked after by 'The Iona Community', multi denominational but supervised by the Church of Scotland.(Presbyterian). St Columba founded the monastery here in the late 6th Century. It became the burial place of the Scottish kings, including Macbeth,and also a couple of Norse kings and several Lords of the Isles'. The Cathedral is a 'Must See'. It boasts classic cloisters of great beauty and of course is the centre of the modern Iona Community. By noon, however,we were back on board. Our aim was to be back in Dun Laoghaire Thursday evening. 

We had a good breeze from the S/E,and quickly cleared Iona Sound,but this left us a beat to Port Askaig, time ticked away but Collonsay stayed in view. About 6.00 we decided to motor but we had left it too late and the tide was adverse as we aimed for the Sound of Islay. Hugging the shore we reached Port Askaig but this time the restaurant was closed and we had to make do with whiskey, soup and sandwiches. There was a convivial crowd at the bar ,and we had a pleasant time before re-boarding. By midnight the ebb was with us and we sprinted down to Port Ellen. Be careful entering Port Ellen from the North in the dark, only BJ's navigational skills saved us from mishap. So we tied up in the Marina about 4.00 am, had three and a half hours sleep, a good breakfast of Eggs Benedict at the Islay Hotel, bought two ten litre cans of fuel and were off by ten for Bangor. Take note, diesel is not easily obtained in the Isles, we could not refuel, except at garages, in any of the harbours we visited.

Wednesday was a lovely day with only a little wind so we mostly motored down the Antrim coast. En route we saw a rib, crawling across the Channel. It was escorting a swimmer my daughter knows, Sabrina Wiedmer, the first lady to swim from the Mull of Kintyre to the Antrim coast. Apart from the distance the water is very cold. Open water swimmers 'grease up' but don't wear wet suits. We reached Bangor about 9.00 and refuelled, 24 hour service there. Following a tasty Indian meal we set off again at midnight. There was a good breeze from the S/W and an easy sail beckoned. Think again, sailing down the Irish Sea is always problematic. Turning south the wind only permitted a course of 170. So we ended up in the middle of the Irish Sea in dirty weather. Once again we had to motor through the wind and rain. Lambay Island took forever to pass, and it was a bedraggled pair of sailors who reached Dun Laoghaire about 8.00 pm that evening.