The Sound offers complete protection from all conditions. However, it is somewhat exposed to strong northerly winds where it may be a little uncomfortable. The enclosed stretch of water provides shelter sailing in all weather, all tides and has ample marks to make daylight navigation straightforward.
Keyfacts for Ballydorn and Down Cruising Club
Summary* Restrictions applyA completely protected location with attentive navigation required for access.
Position and approaches
Haven position54° 29.469' N, 005° 38.961' W
The position of the clubs decommissioned and permanently moored lightship "Petrel" where you will find the club pontoons on the vessels seaward side. It is located on the western side of Ballydorn fairway that is to the west of Rainey Island.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
Not what you need?
- White Rock Bay - 0.3 miles SSE
- Ringhaddy Sound - 1.6 miles SSE
- Pawle Island - 1.9 miles SSE
- Kircubbin - 2.4 miles E
- Simmy Island - 2.4 miles S
- East Down Yacht Club - 2.9 miles S
- Don O’Neill Island - 3.1 miles SSE
- Holm Bay - 3.1 miles S
- Killyleagh - 3.5 miles S
- Between Jackdaw & Chapel Island - 4.1 miles SSE
How to get in?
Ballydorn is a rural district in the Civil Parish of Killinchy on the western shore of Strangford Lough. It is surrounded on three sides by the Lough and connected to Sketrick Island and castle to the east by a road causeway. Overlooked by the old church of Nendrum, on Mahee Island, it is now home to the lightship which is the flagship of the Down Cruising Club.
Tides to the west and north of Rainey Island are exceptional. In a sense, Reagh Bay, to the north-west, acts like a small version of Strangford Lough and a series of narrow channels between Mahee, Rainey and Sketrick Islands behave as The Narrows further south. In the rush to fill or empty Reagh Bay, tidal currents reach speeds of up to 5 knots when forced through the locked channels between the drumlin islands.
In addition to this tidal surge in the channels, that is almost as powerful as that in the Narrows, the tidal flow over the uneven channel contours can be unpredictable. In the approach channel between Sketrick and Rainey you may find the central current flowing very strongly one way whilst along the shores it can be streaming in the reverse direction. Closely moored boats at Ballydorn can be seen to unaccountably pull in opposite directions at times. Consequently, visitors need to be highly conscious of tides when operating here and it should be central to planning a visit.
Details of the approaches, tidal timings and the run up the Narrows to about a ½ below Strangford are covered in the Entering and exiting the Strangford Narrows route description.
After entering Strangford Lough proceed up the deep waters of the eastern side of the Lough to the Sketrick Island Initial Fix. This is situated just over a mile east of the gap between Rainey and Sketrick Island that leads into the Ballydorn fairway on the western side of Rainey Island.
Although Ballydorn itself has depths of 3 to 4 metres the entrance between Rainey and Sketrick Islands has only 1.5 metres at LWS and this is an important consideration for deeper draft vessels. Ideally, a first approach should be carefully timed to coincide with slack water. But if your vessel carries any draft you will need to approach at high-water to be assured of sufficient depth. This will mean you will be entering with a following tide that makes for a more challenging approach.
The very strong currents effectively rule out anchoring in the channel. There are short stay berths on the extended pontoons to the seaward side of the converted lightship. This is moored off the west shore of the channel 100 metres from the entrance channel between the islands. Depths of 3 to 4 metres will be found on the outside berths and there is a gangway to the shore. Visitors should come alongside the pontoon and enquire if there is a spare visitor berth available - or indeed call in advance VHF Ch 16 call sign Lightship Petrel. Again be careful when approaching the pontoon as the tide runs hard past it. Once your vessel is well secured, report to the bar aboard where final berthing arrangements will be made. To help towards the lightship’s continuous maintenance there is a club charge to visitors.
All moorings in Ballydorn Bay are private and controlled by Ballydorn Fairway Committee under lease from the Crown Commissioners and should not be used by visitors without permission. If you need a mooring please approach the club manager to see if accommodations can be made.
Please note if moving a vessel in Ballydorn when the tide is running one should keep a careful watch for half-submerged mooring buoys. It is possible to enter and exit to the north between Mahee and Rainey islands. However, there are a couple of points that are very narrow on the northern exit and currents may be further accelerated here. Indeed at certain states of the tide, a standing wave occurs between these islands.
Why visit here?Ballydorn derives its name from the word 'dorn' that in Scottish Gaelic meaning 'narrow channel, causeway or ford exposed at low tide, or a narrow channel passable at full tide'. The place-name Ballydorn then meaning, ‘townland of the dorn’. This would have perfectly described the original pebble causeway that linked the townland to Sketrick Island and castle.
Ballydorn is another breathtakingly beautiful anchorage immersed in the rounded "drumlin" topography of Strangford Lough. The anchorage offers complete protection with all the resources of Down Cruising Club immediately to hand. The friendly club, of approximately 100 members, enjoy a headquarters in the form of the lightship "Petrel". The historic iron ship was built in 1911 with the traditional riveted and caulked method used by Dublin’s skilled craftsmen of the time. When in 1968 the vessel was withdrawn from service by the ‘Irish Lights’ the Down Cruising Club purchased it. In the years since it has been modified and fitted out, generally by voluntary labour, into the very comfortable and highly unusual Club House it is today. Having a bowed nature the deck is not level and inside the bar stools have been modified to have two shorter front legs in order to stand vertically. An important feature of membership of the club is the maintenance of the lightship, which relies heavily on the revenue generated by the bar where visitor patronage is highly appreciated.
Nearby Sketrick Island is joined to the mainland by a causeway and is the site of an ancient tower house, church, graveyard, and a restaurant. The castle is estimated to date back to the 15th century. It was largely intact until 1896 when a storm caused half the structure to collapse. Nevertheless, as late as 1957 a stone subterranean passage was discovered. Currently, access to the castle is not allowed but it may be viewed anytime.
Mahee Island to the north has the ruins of an early Celtic Monastery on the west side. Nendrum was founded by Mochaoi in the 5th century after being converted by Saint Patrick. The monks were believed to have occupied the site as late as the 10th Century. The monastic site is well worth a visit if only for the view of the Lough from the top of the monastery hill. The north facing cove on the west side of the island offers the easiest landing place. There is a heronry on Rainey Island adjacent to the anchorage, which offers visitors a wide range of opportunities to come across these beautiful birds fishing in the shallows.
Ballydorn is another out-of-the-way and beautiful anchorage that offers very good protection, with all the resources of Ringhaddy Cruising Club close at hand.
What facilities are available?The Down Cruising Club headquarters in the lightship "Petrel" has a bar, plus showers and toilet facilities that are available to all visitors when the Club is open. Opening times, from May 1st to September 30th, Fridays; 19.45hrs to 23.00hrs and opening at the earlier time of 16.00hrs hours on Saturdays and Sundays. However in summer there are usually members on board outside of these hours.
Water is available at the pontoon from a hose. There is a fuel berth that is exclusively for the use of Club Members at the stern of the ship. In situations of duress visitors from outside Strangford Lough may be able to obtain fuel by a special arrangement with the club. Yachts can dry out alongside the old stone Ballydorn Quay nearby.
Fresh provisions including vegetables, fruit, butchery, dry goods, gas and petrol are available in Balloo Village 3.5 KM away. Newtownards somewhat further has a wider selection, including laundry facilities. Likewise chandlers, a sailmaker and a restaurant are in the vicinity.
Any security concerns?The Down Cruising Club grounds are a secured area.
With thanks to:Charlie Kavanagh - ISA/RYA Yachtmaster Instructor/Examiner - navigation and sail training available - details here: http://www.sailsoutheast.com/ Photography with thanks to Albert Bridge, Bob Jones, Robert Ashby and Rowan McLoughlin.
Mahee Island Overview (1)
Mahee Island Aerial Overview (2)
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