8th-12thAugust.  After a few days’ break in Belfast we started our journey again, initially moving just a few miles along the south coast of Belfast Lough to Bangor marina, where we filled up with fuel, did some food shopping and waited for the stormy weather (which hit the south of England harder than here) to pass. On Sunday 11thafter enjoying a church service at Bangor parish church we were joined by Jonathan’s relative Nigel, who has sailed these waters for many years, for a 30-mile sail down the coast to Strangford Lough.  The wind was strong and from the north west, so behind us as we passed through Donaghadee Sound, with the Copeland islands to our left and Donaghadee harbour to our right.  Nigel remembered many trips out to visit the lighthouse at Mew island, which replaced an older lighthouse on a neighbouring island as the port of Belfast grew in importance.  Its original Fresnel lens is now displayed in the Titanic quarter near the slipways where ships were built and launched.  

Entering Strangford Lough through the ‘narrows’ has to be judged carefully in terms of wind and tide, as strong tides run through the entrance at up to 8kts. Various rocks and ‘pladdies’ (shallow shingle banks) must be avoided, not all of them marked.  It’s hard to see the entrance as you approach from the north, but under Nigel’s expert guidance made our way in without difficulty in calm water, speeding along with 3-4 knots of tide helping us on our way.  As we turned into the narrows, the pretty village of Strangford soon appeared on our left and the larger Portaferry on our right. Soon we were moored up on the visitor pontoon at Strangford – the only visiting yacht – in good time to stretch our legs ashore and enjoy dinner at the Lobster Pot.

pontoon at Strangford

The next morning was sunny and the wind had dropped to a light breeze.  We motored with the rising tide up the last of the narrows into open water and set sail up the Lough, enjoying efficient upwind sailing past green islands, rocky islets and groups of yachts moored in sheltered bays.  It is said that there is an island for every day of the year here – we didn’t try counting!  As we approached the western shore we had to keep our wits about us – there are many shallow patches and the stakes marking pladdies and islets are not always very visible.  We sailed through pretty Ringhaddy Sound, between a green wooded island and the mainland, past a busy sailing club and rows of moored yachts, looking back to the Mourne mountains high above the land in the distance to the south.  We were heading for a narrow entrance to Ballydorn, which we needed to reach near high water.  Once through the tricky entrance we moored up on the Dorn Cruising Club pontoon which is alongside their club headquarters in the imposing converted lightship, Petrel. Lunch on deck and an afternoon’s walk came next, and after Nigel returned home we walked to ‘Daft Eddie’s’ on nearby Sketrick island, a popular restaurant five minutes’ walk away, where we enjoyed a meal of steak and Guinness pie (for Anne) and hake with crab claws (Jonathan) before a peaceful night alongside the lightship.

Nova moored by lightship ‘Petrel’ at Ballydorn
  • Distance: 50 nm. Motored 2h (Belfast to Bangor), sailed 8h
  • Wind: NW4-6 (Bangor to Strangford), NW3 Strangford Lough


On our passage ‘Around These Islands’ Anne is writing about each trip, and Jonathan is writing some more ‘technical’ blogs, from our perspective as ordinary cruising sailors. We are sharing what we’ve learned, and welcome your thoughts too. Please remember that this blog – and your comments – are public.

There’s also a special focus on 12 key ports on our planned route, with articles from These Islands and a series of podcasts from Chrome Media called ‘Around These Islands in 12 Ports’.


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