For two days we stayed an anchor in the relative comfort of Kitchen Cove, toward the top of Dunmanus Bay. We chatted a bit with local fishermen, but more talked outside the pub with the many English people who own holiday homes in the area. Apart from having to chase after a wayward dinghy (the painter broke loose and it drifted off seaward, to be retrieved by a kind fisherman, deeply embarrassing) our time there was quiet, restful, uneventful.
On Thursday we decided to sail back around Mizen Head, across Long Island Bay, into Baltimore harbour so Steve could explore Sherkin Island and Baltimore before heading home on Saturday. This sail gave me an insight into the edgy-ness of voyaging a coastal area like this. The last time I came to this Bay I anchored in Dunmanus Harbour relatively near the entrance. I focussed my attention and my writing on the wild and ancient aspects of the Bay, maybe rather too romantically seeing a wild and relatively untouched ecosystem. Having come further up to Kitchen Cove–more sheltered, more pastoral, more homely, more developed; and with both a local fishing economy and a more or less wealthy international community–I am seeing a different, maybe more complete picture.
Once we had hauled the anchor out of the mud into which it had firmly settled and motored out of Kitchen Cove, we hoisted the main sail with one reef and began to reach west by south down the Bay. Soon it was clear we had too much sail up and in squalls approaching 30 knots Steve climbed onto the deck and took in a second reef, mainsail flapping wildly. As we continued down the Bay the countryside on each side becomes wilder: no trees, and with pockets of cultivation in sheltered hollows only. This is the typical landscape of this area: emerald green fields bounded by stone walls tucked between duller rough hillside and rocky outcrops. The sea too changes character, almost lake-like at the top of the Bay with increasing wave height toward open sea, particularly west of Carbery Island, which with its sisters Furze and Horse Islands, forms a protective barrier half of the way across.
At the entrance of the Bay we were held up for a few frustrating few minutes rocking around getting nowhere in the wind shadow of Sheep’s Head to the north, then we were in the open sea, with mostly 25 knots of wind from the northwest throwing up moderate waves with white horses blowing off the top. Coral was in her element, bounding over, or sometimes crashing through, the waves at over 7 knots. The waves bearing down on her quarter sometimes lifted her easily, sometimes slapped hard against her side, sometimes broke over in a sheet of spray, but she kept up her speed and felt secure. We skirted well off Three Castle Head, eased round more southerly onto a broad reach to pass Mizen Head a good two miles to seawards, and carefully gybed round onto a southeasterly course across the wide entrance to Long Island Sound, with the Fastnet Rock on the horizon to starboard and Cape Clear Island ahead..
On this coastal passage past exposed headlands we were truly on our own, in an untamed wildness. And we were adapted to it–with our deep-keeled yacht, our waterproofs and lifejackets, our modern navigation equipment, and after two weeks at sea not the least feeling of queasiness at the motion of the ship. And yet I cannot say we were completely in the wild: I was well aware of the coastguard up on Mizen Head, maybe looking out at us, writing down the ship’s name in the log, watching us gybe around and sail safely out of view. We had exchanged a brief radio conversation the previous day about our missing dinghy, so maybe, I thought, he or she is thinking, “There go those Englishmen who can’t look after their dinghy.” Much more likely they were just having a cup of tea, and gave us no more than a cursory glance as we passed. But, nevertheless they were there in my imagination.
We had a wonderful fast sail across toward Clear Island, now in smoother water, sparkling in the sunshine. For a few minutes we were accompanied by a pod of dolphins, the second group we have seen this week. We followed the Pilot book instructions to find our way through the rocks into the north passage to Baltimore harbour (which is actually a large enclosed bay with a harbour proper in one corner) and found a quiet anchorage out of the wind by Sherkin Island. The wind dropped, the sun went down, the nearly full moon shone almost exactly over the middle of the harbour entrance between the beacon and the lighthouse. We had moved back and forth over the edge between the wild and the civilised, ready now for a huge supper of sausage casserole and pasta.