The bay provides good protection from the west through north to east and is moderately good from all other points save from the southeast. Access is straightforward in daylight at any stage of the tide although a great measure of tidal planning will be required to address Donaghadee Sound. This is the stretch of water between the mainland and Copeland Island that is well marked but subject to strong tides.
Keyfacts for Chapel Bay
Summary* Restrictions applyA good location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position54° 40.310' N, 005° 32.340' W
This is west-of-centre Chapel Bay where the anchoring position is marked on Admiralty Chart 1753.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- From the north and east leave Lighthouse, Mew and Copeland Islands well clear to port.
- From Belfast Lough or the south, with a favourable tide, pass between the south side of Copeland Island and the mainland coast via the well-marked fairway channel of Donaghadee Sound.
- Approach Chapel Bay from Donaghadee Sound fairway, from due south, paying particular attention to stand clear of Rid Rock.
Not what you need?
- Port Dandy - 0.2 miles NW
- Donaghadee Harbour - 1 miles S
- Copelands Marina - 1.2 miles S
- Groomsport - 1.7 miles W
- Ballyholme Bay - 2.4 miles W
- Bangor Harbour & Marina - 2.9 miles W
- Helen’s Bay - 4.2 miles W
- Whitehead - 4.7 miles NW
- Ballywalter - 4.9 miles SSE
- Carrickfergus Harbour & Marina - 6 miles WNW
How to get in?
Chapel Bay is an open spacious bay facing the mainland on the south side of the uninhabited Copeland Island. Copeland Island is the largest of the island group off the southern entrance to Belfast Lough, and Chapel Bay is situated adjacent to Donaghadee Sound, a popular cut between the group and the mainland.
Set on the southern entrance to Belfast Lough the Bangor Harbour , situated five miles to the west, provides general approach directions to the area. The single exception to this is for a vessel approaching Chapel Bay from around the north side of the island hugging the shoreline. The very dangerous Rid Rock needs specific attention. Particularly so during the southeast going stream that sets on to Rid Rock.
A drying area extends a quarter of a mile southward from the Copeland Island south-westernmost point. This terminates at the continually exposed 1 metre high Carn Point. Foul ground then extends a further 200 metres southward from Carn Point to Rid Rock. Vessels approaching from the north, or indeed the adjacent Port Dandy, cannot cut into Chapel Bay. Rather it is necessary to drop south of the bay and round Rid Rock before approaching Chapel Bay from the south.
Therefore vessels approaching Donaghadee Sound from the north are best advised to take the shipping channel through the middle of the sound by aligning on the Foreland Buoy. Only start to alter towards the Initial Fix when the southern end of the island is due east. Chapel Bay will then gradually open on the port side to the north. From the Initial Fix the bay is half a mile directly north.
From the initial fix track north into the bay. Be cautious not to drift west over to the foul ground that dries at low water and extends southward to Carn Point. The very dangerous outlying Rid Rock is situated a further 200 metres southward of Carn Point.
Anchor according to draft and conditions in sand with good holding. Sandy beach landings are possible in Chapel Bay. The jetty should be avoided as this is for a tourist boat from Donaghadee.
Why visit here?The Copeland Islands group are a cluster of three islands that are called respectively Copeland, Lighthouse and Mew islands. The origin of the group’s name is a little uncertain.
Many believe the group derive their name from ancient Norse kaupmanna meaning merchant. Kaupmannaeyjar is derived from attaching eyjar the plural form of ey, Norse for ‘island’, making it ‘Merchant’s Isle’. Over time this name was anglicised to Copman and altered in usage to the present Copeland. This has led to the suggestion that the Copeland Islands were at one time used as a Viking base and trading centre. Other’s believe that the island group received their name from the conquering Anglo-Norman de Coupland family. John de Courcy lead the northwestern invasion of Ireland, and William with his brother Henry de Couplan was among his most prominent Ulster subtenants in the late 12th century. Named as Willelmo and Henrico de Couplan, they acted as witnesses for two de Courcy charters, including one for the priory of St. Andrew in Ards or Black Abbey. It is believed that the de Courcy seat was the Motte that overlooks the harbour at Donaghadee.
Whatever the case Copeland Island itself is by far the largest of the group and forms the eastern side of Donaghadee sound. It is nearly a mile long, one-third of a mile wide and, only rising to a modest 31 metres at its highest point, it is low in elevation. Although desolate in winter, in summer it is a beautiful grassy and partially bracken covered island that invites a walker to explore.
Today there is less drama on the islands and their modern reputation is derived largely from their wildlife. The group are an internationally important site for breeding populations of Manx Shearwater, Eider Duck and Arctic Tern. They are also nationally important sites for breeding Mediterranean Gull, Common Gull and Eider. Other breeding colonies of note include Black Guillemot, Water Rail Lapwing, Snipe and Stock Dove. Birds of prey favour the islands when the breeding season is over. Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon are all seen regularly.
Copeland Island has the most diverse range of habitats of the three islands. It offers a cliff shoreline, with maritime cliff vegetation, pockets of salt marsh and wet grassland with frequent areas of marsh. As such it makes it ideal for a wide range of birdlife and in particular, it hosts an internationally important Arctic Tern colony, with some 550 pairs. The site now represents the largest colony of this species in Ireland. Significant numbers of Grey Seal and Common Seal can also be found on the shorelines of the islands. They make use of the reefs and off-shore islands as haul-outs plus pupping and mating sites.
From as boating point of view, Chapel Bay is a very useful anchorage on the southern entrance to Belfast Lough. It provides easy access and perfect shelter in a northerly round to easterly conditions where there are few other local options. Donaghadee would be untenable, Copelands Marina inaccessible, and the outer anchorages of Belfast Lough would also be exposed. The very good sandy beach at Chapel Bay makes it easy to combine the anchorage with a visit to this unique island.
What facilities are available?There are no facilities available off this secluded island.
Any security concerns?Never an incident known to have happened to a vessel in Chapel Bay.
With thanks to:Michael Fitzsimons, Groomsport Harbour Master. Photography with thanks to Aubrey Dale, Bobby McKay, Ross, Albert Bridge, Gordon Hull and Rossographer.
Aerial views of Donaghadee and Copeland Island
Aerial views of Copeland Island
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