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When the weather is fine, this is a delightful and beautiful cruising area, slightly less dramatically craggy than W Scotland on the W coast (7/10 and 8/10) and rather flat on the east coast (3/10). The deeply indented west coastline has many harbours and anchorages with only short distances between them, suitable for day sailing. Dolphins are common, and like Scotland, the quieter anchorages are rich with sea birds, seals and shellfish. However, a challenge is that all significant west coast passages are exposed to the Atlantic, its swell and weather.
Weather and Sea State. Weather is dominated by the passage of Atlantic depressions. Big Atlantic swells are common and the coast's exposure means that crews and boats should be capable of dealing with rough conditions. This is not a cruising area for the seasick prone. The cruising season runs from around mid-May to mid-September, when depressions are less frequent. The frequency of strong winds is similar to Scotland or the Channel, but the amount of rain and cloud diminishes as you travel south. Dull weather (they call it 'soft') is normal. Gives you a strong incentive to rush to the bar. Pray for one of those intervals of fine weather, which can last for a week or so if you're lucky.
Tides and Pilotage. Tidal ranges are generally between 3.5 and 4.5 metres, with a 'no tide' zone on the east cost, south of Dublin. Tidal streams reach up to 4kts at springs off the major headlands and must be taken into consideration when planning passages, especially between Ireland and Scotland. Pilotage skills are needed to enjoy some anchorages, but much of the coastline is easy for a competent navigator.
Harbours and Anchorages. The coast divides naturally into three areas with different characters: SW, NW and the East. Many harbours of the Irish Republic have convenient visitor's moorings, often borrowed by the locals. The Republic is also noticeably more expensive than UK (The NE corner of the island), perhaps encouraged by groups of Americans peering into their history - and other tourists. Catering for these visitors requires a large number of bars of course . . . full harbour details at http://www.inyourfootsteps.com/sailing/harbours/europe/ireland
Threats. Apart from the occasional super-tanker in Bantry bay, there is very little commercial traffic. A past hazard was salmon nets, deployed in great chicanes up to a couple of miles long, especially just south of the Shannon. From the end of 2006 these were forbidden
Unique Attractions. Bars, and the 'craic' that goes with them. Friendly natives. Light yacht traffic to the west.
Snags. Too much of that black foamy stuff they serve in the pubs . . .
The coasts are described clockwise from Cork. On balance, the winds slightly favour this way to circle the island, but it does mean you start with the most sociable area first.
Easily the most pleasant area for cruising is the SW (from Cork to Kilrush - 8/10). In this friendly and sociable cruising area, only moderately populated, it's easy to seek out 'the craic' - you're made welcome everywhere you go. Many bars are rich with (even richer) anecdotes and often live music. Cork and Kinsale provide good yacht facilities, several marinas and some wonderful old 'Royal' yacht Clubs. Moderate yacht traffic diminishes (as does population density) as you move W around the deeply indented SW corner. Here there are many quiet anchorages, some requiring good pilotage skills. Bantry bay houses a raft or two of supertankers from time to time, but don't avoid it or you'll miss Glengarrif, a truly beautiful spot, and there's a useful marina at Lawrance Cove. A two week cruise will skim the high spots; three weeks will allow a more thorough exploration. (Separate page to be added)
In the NW and N (from Shannon to Rathlin Island - 7/10) the population is much thinner, with many fewer yachts, more wild life and more remote anchorages. These are wonderful cruising grounds for those who like peace and quiet - and can survive a while on ship's rations. Occasional fish farms dot the area. A one week cruise along the coast is just enough to appreciate it, though two weeks may be better. (Separate Page to be added)
The eastern coastline is rather flat - (3/10) with safe sailing areas around Belfast and Dublin. Perhaps with the exception of Strangford and Carlingford Loughs, they have less appeal to the cruising yachtsman. This is passage making territory, rather than a cruising ground, but it is difficult to resist a 2 or 3 day pause near Dublin, a noisily sociable city which attracts a lot of visitors - and internationally branded shops to cater for them. (Separate page to be added)