The bay provides good protection from the east round through south to west but is exposed to all northerly component winds. Although unmarked there are no off-lying dangers in the area making daylight access straightforward at any stage of the tide.
Keyfacts for Ballyholme Bay
SummaryA good location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position54° 40.080' N, 005° 39.157' W
This is the seaward end of the Ballyholme Bay Yacht Club jetty. It is located between the two club slipways on the western side of the bay.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- From the north pass Black Head and the Cloghan Jetty to starboard.
- From the east pass north of Mew, Lighthouse and Copeland Island keeping them well clear to port.
- From the south, with a favourable tide, pass between the south side of Copeland Island and the mainland coast through the well-marked Donaghadee Sound shipping fairway.
- Belfast Lough's navigable area is free of dangers and Bangor Bay has no obstructions.
- Track in from the north into the gradually shelving bay keeping well clear of the headlands.
Not what you need?
- Bangor Harbour & Marina - 0.4 miles W
- Groomsport - 0.8 miles ENE
- Helen’s Bay - 1.7 miles W
- Port Dandy - 2.3 miles E
- Chapel Bay - 2.4 miles E
- Donaghadee Harbour - 2.8 miles ESE
- Copelands Marina - 2.8 miles ESE
- Whitehead - 3.4 miles NNW
- Cultra - 3.6 miles W
- Carrickfergus Harbour & Marina - 3.7 miles WNW
How to get in?
Image: Andrew Muir
Ballyholme Bay, a mile eastward of Bangor and westward of Groomsport Bay, provides a wide open and deep bay with a good clean anchorage in any offshore winds. The headquarters of the Royal Ulster and Ballyholme Yacht Clubs are situated on the west side of the bay.
Approach directions to the area can be found in the Bangor Harbour situated close to the west.
From the Ballyholme Bay initial fix track south into the gradually shelving bay. Anchor according to draft and conditions in a mixture of sand with mud and shells that provides very good holding. Land by dinghy at one of Ballyholme Yacht Club’s two slips or alight on the beach at the head of the bay.
Why visit here?Ballyholme is derived from the Gaelic Bhaile Hóm of which baile is the Irish for ‘townland, town, homestead’. The second element of the name is a little less certain but most likely related to the Vikings who had a stronghold in the bay. The old Norse word holmr meant ‘river meadow’. It was borrowed into English as ‘holm’ and in Scots parlance means ‘a piece of flat low-lying ground by a river’. It could also relate to a Danish surname as the name Holm(es) is derived from Old Norse holmr.
The Vikings would not have overlooked this most highly sheltered and easily accessed bay of Belfast Lough, and especially one that at the time was adjacent to the most prized monastic settlement in Western Europe. It is thought that they not only landed here but held the area with a stronghold. An important Viking burial site discovered near the shore attests to the bay’s Viking past. The grave was found in 1903 and it contained a pair of bronze brooches, a bowl, fragment of chain and some textile. The brooches were of a type that dates the grave to the latter part of the ninth century. Although no human remains were found with the artefacts, it is believed to be the burial site of a female as males were normally buried with weapons.
The open clear access and excellent shelter have made the bay a centre of sailing for countless decades. Prior to the construction of Bangor marina, Ballyholme Bay was the town’s primary yacht anchorage. This maritime legacy is carried forward by the Ballyholme and Royal Ulster Yacht Clubs and its sailing popularity remains undiminished. Both of the clubs are situated on the eastern side of the bay and the Royal Ulster Yacht Club’s clubhouse is of particular note. The club was established in 1866 as the Ulster Yacht Club and three years later it received its Royal Warrant. The large and very impressive red-brick clubhouse, with its commanding views of the lough and the County Antrim coastline, dates back to 1897 and is now a listed building of historic interest.
The next 2 km of coastal heath and scrub crosses property managed by the National Trust. The path is covered in grass or gravel, surrounded by gorse and brambles in places, plus wild gorse covered scrubland that is good for rough walking. Although close to a highly populated area the point is surprisingly secluded and naturally favoured by many species of birds, the combination of rough grass, gorse and rocks forms an inviting habitat for a wide variety of birdlife. Sailing season cruisers will find it a breeding ground for skylarks, oystercatchers, rock pipits, stonechats, willow warblers, reed buntings and linnets. Sandwich terns arrive in the summer and join the native breeding arctic and common terns. Their eye-catching flights, dives and loops in search of fish are a feature of a summer stroll here.
From a boating perspective, Ballyholme Bay is a very good anchorage with easy access and is located only a short distance from the Irish Sea cruising routes. The bay itself has innate charms and provides the cruising boatman with not only an excellent base for Bangor but one for Belfast and the entire area.
What facilities are available?Ballyholme Yacht Club has changing facilities and showers, Sky television in the Lounge Bar and a large projection screen in the Jubilee Room for match day sporting fans. During the weekend meals are available with outside grounds for BBQs. Additionally diving cylinder compressors, and air & nitrox refills are available here plus dinghy parks and winter boat storage. Vessels drawing less than 1.8 metres can come alongside the club wall at high water to take on water.
The Royal Ulster Yacht Club is situated up the hill from Ballyholme Yacht Club. It is homed in a splendid red brick building that has a commanding view of Belfast Lough. It offers similar facilities to Ballyholme Yacht Club with the addition of a full dining room service during afternoons and evenings, seven days a week. Both clubs extend a warm welcome to members of other clubs visiting Belfast Lough.
For all else there is Bangor Marina one mile west. This is Northern Ireland's biggest and most prestigious marina offering all facilities 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Bangor itself is a prosperous town that is 22 km (13.6 miles) east from the heart of Belfast City Centre on the A2. It has excellent transport connections via trains, and a bus service that connects to Belfast city and from there on to any location in Ireland. Flights to domestic and international destinations operate from Belfast City and Belfast International Airports. There are also frequent ferry crossings from Belfast and Larne.
Any security concerns?Never an incident known to have happened to a vessel anchored off Ballyholme Bay.
With thanks to:Michael Evans, Deputy Harbour Master, Belfast Harbour. Photography with thanks to Rossographer, Ross, GreyHobbit, Sue Adair and Stephen Colebourne.
Dinghy racing in the bay
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