The active commercial harbour offers complete protection from all conditions within its basins. Access is straightforward in offshore conditions, at any stage of the tide, night or day.
Keyfacts for Portavogie Harbour
SummaryA completely protected location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position54° 27.410' N, 005° 26.115' W
Upon the position of the South Pier Head navigation lights Fl GWR 5 sec 9m 8-10M situated at the pier’s northern end.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- From the north keep outside of Skullmartin, Burial Island and the McCammon Rocks.
- From the south pass inshore or offshore of the Butter Paddy and the South Rocks but offshore of North Rocks and Plough Rock.
- Find Plough Rock Bouy and steer due west onto the outer pier head's tower where the entrance is situated.
Not what you need?
- Ballyhalbert Bay - 1.3 miles N
- Kircubbin - 2.6 miles WNW
- Ballywalter - 3.5 miles NNW
- Ballyhenry Bay - 3.8 miles SW
- Portaferry - 3.8 miles SW
- Strangford Harbour (Strangford Village) - 4.1 miles SW
- Audley's Roads - 4.1 miles SW
- Audley’s Point - 4.1 miles SW
- Pawle Island - 4.2 miles W
- Ringhaddy Sound - 4.3 miles W
How to get in?
Portavogie Harbour is an important and highly active commercial fishing port. The modern harbour houses a large fishing fleet catching mainly prawns and herrings. Most evenings there are fish auctions on the quays. Portavogie town stands mainly on the north side of its protective breakwaters.
In the past leisure craft were not welcome and no provisions had been made to accommodate them. These days, although the harbour is still not set up for leisure craft, cruising sailors are welcome inside. But expect the harbour to give priority to its fishing fleet and it may be very ‘rough and ready’ rafting up here.
Normal Working Hours: Mon - Thur 8 am to 4.30 pm, Fri 8 am to 3.30 pm, Sat 8 am to 12 noon (Excludes Sundays and Statutory Holidays)
Vessels approaching from the north should keep outside of Skullmartin and Burial Island, situated three miles south by southeast of Skullmartin Rock and 400 metres east of Burr Point. A channel exists between Burial Island and Ballyhalbert Point, narrowed by a spit of gravel extending from the latter to about 100 metres in width, and it carries a depth of 2 metres at low water. Passing outside, keeping at least 600 metres east of the island, would be the preferred path to proceed towards the Plough Rock buoy, two miles south, that should start to become visible at this point.
Vessels approaching from the south can safely set course to pass inshore or offshore of the Butter Paddy and the South Rocks.
Butter Pladdy is a 400 metres wide cluster of rocks that ranges in depth from 1.8 to 4 metres of water. Approximately 200 metres from the centre there is a wreck of a steel ship that only uncovers at low water. Butter Pladdy is marked by an east cardinal.
Butter Pladdy – East Cardinal Q (3) 10s position: 54° 22.453’N, 005° 25.741’W
The cardinal is placed to the east of the shoal as a guide to vessels taking the offshore route along this coast.
South Rock - Unlit disused lighthouse position: 54° 23.948’N, 005° 25.148’W
Vessels passing outside can take a mark from the South Rock Light Float. The red-hulled structure with a light-tower and white mast on the foredeck is stationed one-mile east-by-north of the extensive cluster of rocks it marks.
South Rock Light Float - Fl (3) R 30s 12m 20M position: 54° 24.478’N, 005° 21.993’W
A mile and a half to the north of South Rock is a significant cluster of rocks called the North Rocks. North Rocks, with its breeding Grey Seals, is an irregular bank of rocks and gravel that only cover on spring tides. It extends nearly ¾ of a mile in an east and west direction.
This must be passed on the outside as a narrow spit of gravel, called the Kirkistown Spit, extends from North Rock to Ringboy Point on the mainland. A red painted stone pillar beacon stands, 12 metres above high water on the eastern end of North Rocks, about 150 metres inside from the eastern drying edge. This makes the rock identifiable in most conditions.
North Rock Beacon – Unlit position: 54° 25.638’N, 005° 24.970’W
Plough Rock - Fl R 3s position: 54° 27.389’N, 005° 25.104’W
If the half tide Plough Rock is showing it is safe to cut in between the rock and the buoy.
From the initial fix track in due west, by night along the middle of the Portavogie Light’s white sector 258°- 275°, on the steel tower standing at the head of the outer breakwater.
Portavogie Harbour – Iso.W.R.G. 5s 9m 10-8M position: 54° 27.400´N, 005° 26.100´W
The final stretch outside the entrance is through a short 24-metre wide channel running out eastward of the harbour entrance. The entrance faces due north, with a steel tower standing on the southern outer pier head, and an inner pier 2FG Vert off the shoreline.
Once within the outer heads continue alongside the outer breakwater for about 40 metres then prepare to turn hard to starboard. This is where the 10 metres wide entrance to the main harbour’s Middle Basin is located. The harbour has a maintained depth of 3 metres throughout.
Berth as directed in the Inner or Middle Basin as directed by the harbour master.
Why visit here?Portavogie’s name is derived from its original Gaelic name Port a' Bhogaigh meaning ‘port or place of the boggy area’. The name evolved over time from its 1620 name of ‘Portabogagh’, to ‘Portavaud’ and finally, ‘Portavogie’ that was first recorded in 1810.
Port in Irish means either ‘port’ or ‘place, spot, locality’ and An Bogach means ‘the boggy area’. Most unusually it is unlikely that the word Port here is meant in the sense of a 'port' or 'harbour' as there is no evidence to suggest that an ancient landing place ever existed at Portavogie. The 1625 Clandeboye estate map, the earliest record of the townland, showed no sign of any harbour or beaching area that neighbouring Ballywalter and Ballyhalbert Bay have historically been used for. The ‘bog’ however certainly existed as the entire area of the Ards peninsula, particularly the Blackstaff River delta, was historically an extensive bog.
In 1735 the Anglo-Normans Echlin family were gifted the "Savage" land by the crown as a reward for services rendered. This was a powerful and industrious family who held lands in the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland, an area to the north of Edinburgh. They set about the task of draining the mid-Ards depression between Portavogie, Kirkistown and the Salt Water Bridge. Their contribution can be seen today in the quality of the fertile arable land of the "Bogs" and the greater wealth this created was a primary impetus for the development of towns and ports on and around the peninsula.
Today Portavogie is home to a large active fleet of traditional fishing boats and several seafood processing plants. It is the second largest fishing village in Ulster with nearby Kilkeel being the largest. Most evenings there are fish auctions on the quays for the catch of prawns and herrings. These markets are themselves a worthwhile draw for the passing boatman who would take the opportunity to stock up on an impromptu visit. Several resident seals can often be seen in the harbour, waiting patiently on returning boats in the hope of catching some treats. Three murals on the exterior of the local school celebrate the history of the fishing industry in the town.
From a boating point of view, Portavogie is a useful drop-in harbour, albeit one for a vessel that comes well equipped with fenders and fender boards to protect them from a rough and ready industrial harbour. It offers quick and straightforward seaward access at any stage of the tide, night or day, and being just ten miles north of the Strangford Lough entrance it is a useful staging berth to time a favourable tide to enter the lough.
What facilities are available?With a population of approximately 2000 people all basic provisions can be found at Portavogie. The area is geared to meet the needs of the fishing fleet. A boatyard where repairs to large fishing vessels may be undertaken is available and there is a ships' chandler. Supplies of diesel and fresh water are available at the wharfs, and there is a bus service to Newtownards.
Any security concerns?Portavogie is an open quay where normal security procedures should be adopted.
With thanks to:Michael Young - Harbour Master Kilkeel. Photography with thanks to Rossographer, Ardfern, Michael Parry, Oliver Dixon, Eric Jones and Albert Bridge.
A photo montage of Portavogie Harbour including aerial images
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