A stunning day on the water with both of us sunning it up in shorts and t-shirts! Also enough wind to sail – perfect combination. Our passage took us through the Dursey Sound which has a cable car running from main land Ireland across to Dursey Island. I was sure our mast was going to hit the cable and car but alas we cleared perfectly fine. Lots of caves and nooks on either side as the land closed in coming out the other side, perfect for smugglers back in the day looking to hide their booty.
We were interested in visiting Great Skellig Island which we had read about as it is a sixth-century Christian monastery perched at 160 m above sea level on a ledge and is UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were told the monks hand-built beehive huts are still in fantastic condition, and the monks used to live out there as the ultimate sacrifice and pilgrimage to God. We had also heard that since the filming of some star wars scenes on the island the year before it had become a massive popular tourist destination (we were going for the history and nature not the Star Wars connection). My research online during the passage showed all the tickets to the island sold out until August (it is currently May), hmmm it must be great (or someone in America has a great marketing campaign). I dug a bit deeper and tried calling around the smaller towns along the coast from the island and hit gold with a fisherman/skellig charterman from a wee place called Darrynane (which I couldn’t actually find on a map). After a good chat with him he told us he could take us out the island the next day and that we were much better with the yacht in Darrynane Harbour/Bay than going anywhere near the bigger town of Portmagee (where most operators run from), however watch the tricky entrance into Darrynane past the waves breaking over rocks and stay to port real close to the wall even though it looks wrong stay to port – yes we will definitely watch that as we would prefer not to end up a wreak on the rocks!!
For the next hour we smiled and laughed with delight (letting out the odd sequel also) as we were escorted by a pod of dolphins playing in our bow – one will never tire of the privilege when nature comes to visit. Got some great photos and video footage of them accompanying us. Oh how special it is and how very lucky we are.
As we approached my phone rang again and it was my mate John from Darrynane asking if we were the Red Yacht (he could see us approaching) and he talked us in though the tricky approach and into the most stunning sheltered bay surrounded by a sandy beach with the sun shimmering on the water.
I didn’t need any encouragement and minutes after picking up a mooring buoy I was in the water, no sooner than I hit the water a scrubbing brush from the captain landed beside me!! Fresh was an understatement but I soon warmed up by diving on the mooring buoy chain to check it all out, and some scrubbing of the hull particularly the prop, the bow thruster and the intake holes. Once I had done all the work Phil decided it was a lovely day and the water did look inviting however his jump in was quickly overshadowed by his lightening quick escape out of the water and back onto the boat, apparently “fresh” was an understatement and he didn’t need a heart attack from the freezing water.
Also enjoying Darrynane was Freja with Tony and Jenny coming along side in the dingy as they returned to the boat from an onshore walk. Plans were soon set for a Guinness on shore at the one and only local establishment before dinner later that day, just one or two tho as they were sailing on early the next day and we were getting collected even earlier to visit Skellig Island. This was great and a little surprising for us as in the bay you can only see a dozen buildings or dwellings scattered along the shore and hills, so for one of them to be a pub was fantastic!
Well we collected them in Joey (our dingy) and with only a few bob each in our pockets for “one” drink as agreed we settled in the sun outside the local (which was more of a house than a pub). We have since come to the conclusion that at least every second person in Ireland knows how to play a musical instrument and can hold a tune, and it was no different in Darrynane as on this quiet May Wednesday evening just as we were polishing off our second drink 3 locals gathered in the pub one with a piano accordion, another with a guitar and the third with a Spanish guitar and an Irish flute, the decision easily made to stay for another drink and to listen to a song or three.
Two hours later we were pooling the remaining coins in our pockets to see if we had enough money for another round (no the pub didn’t take card or serve any sort of food and the nearest ATM was in the town about 8km away). The picture below capturing the moment Tony and Phil counted the now copper coins in their pockets to discover they had enough for two more drinks (one each) and didn’t have to share a pint, was, well, the picture says it all. Eventually with no money left, sore throats from singing along at full roar and stumbling (due to the darkness…maybe) we departed to the jetty to return to Red Roo and Freja only to find Joey high and dry 200 meters from the water, yes the tide had well and truly gone out! So the four of us lifted joey (heavy) and carried/dragged her to the water and eventually made it back on board our boats.
Our early start the next day (along with well-deserved heavy heads) was met with a day drastically different from the day before as we departed the sheltered bay towards Skellig the sea had become quite rough with a uncomfortable swell having built overnight with the wind, making the long 2.5 hour trek to the island in a smelly diesel converted fishing boat lurching over each wave, splashing those in the stern seats rather unpleasant, especially for the other tourists on the boat who were not sea fearers at all and two of them who threw up and fed the fish all the way out and were horrified at the thought of the return journey which we were told could be rougher.
Upon arrival all thoughts of the unpleasant trip and our heavy heads instantly evaporated this island is unbelievable. Huge imposing cliffs, small patches of iridescent green on steep slopes, gray and black rock, puffins flying in and out to nests the colours brilliant. The thought that monks back in the sixteenth century rowed (yes rowed!!) out here and set up camp surviving on sea birds and what little they could grow, building beehive huts with their hands out of rock they chipped away themselves – is purely overwhelming!! Why, also springs to mind as well as the fact I will never complain about things being hard/tough again (I think that lasted at least a couple of weeks).
The National Trust do a fantastic job of presenting this island, keeping it as it was (yet accommodating visitors) and the rangers gave enthralling talks about the lives of those who lived and died on the island. Of the 12 tourists on the boat only 7 of them actually made the trek to the summit of the island to visit the bee hive huts and really see the island. The ranger told us when we arrived that the climb is steep and didn’t want to scare anyone but reiterated that many people freeze and can’t get back down and have vertigo issues, therefore the other 5 from our group clambered onto the landing stage of the island and sat waiting for us to climb up and back, dreading the thought of the return journey. Whilst up at the summit listening to a ranger story we had the most spectacular view of Freja sailing through the swell past the island – magic! One of the best places we have seen so far without question.
The return journey on the boat wasn’t any easier and we were issued with wet weather coveralls for the waves crashing into the boat. The partners of those that were sick going out and not offering any sympathy got there just deserts as I think all but 4 of us were quite ill on the return journey! A great day out for Phil and myself – we didn’t have to skipper, worry about the swell, no navigation required a day off on a wonderful site, not so much for the rest of the passengers.