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Chapel Bay

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Chapel Bay on Copeland Island, one of the Copeland Islands group, is located in the Irish Sea off the northeast coast of Ireland. The island group is situated on the south side of the entrance to Belfast Lough, and Copeland Island is the largest island and closest to the mainland. Chapel Bay is on the west and mainland facing side of this secluded island. It provides an anchorage in a spacious sandy bay.

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.
Please note

Any trip to the Copeland Islands will require good charts and careful navigation as the waters are shoal, encumbered with rocks and the channels between are swept by rapid tides. This is particularly true of Donaghadee Sound, where streams achieve 4.5 knots in places, and great care plus tidal planning is necessary on approach and departure. In thick weather, the area should be avoided entirely.

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Keyfacts for Chapel Bay
Marked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the area

No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationRemote or quiet secluded locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open water

Restriction: strong to overwhelming tides in the localityNote: strong tides or currents in the area that require consideration

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
3 metres (9.84 feet).

4 stars: Straightforward; when unaffected by weather from difficult quadrants or tidal consideration, no overly complex dangers.
4 stars: Good; assured night's sleep except from specific quarters.

Last modified
July 18th 2018

Summary* Restrictions apply

A good location with straightforward access.

Marked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the area

No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationRemote or quiet secluded locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open water

Restriction: strong to overwhelming tides in the localityNote: strong tides or currents in the area that require consideration

Position and approaches
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Haven position

54° 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?

The following Chapel Bay Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
54° 39.990' N, 005° 32.340' W
This is just under half a mile south of the anchoring location. It is set upon the 5 metre contour, approximately midway between the anchoring position and the Foreland Red Can Buoy Fl R 6s.

What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in the northeast Ireland’s Coastal Overview for Malin Head to Strangford Lough Route location.

  • 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?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to Chapel Bay for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Port Dandy - 0.2 miles NW
  2. Donaghadee Harbour - 1 miles S
  3. Copelands Marina - 1.2 miles S
  4. Groomsport - 1.7 miles W
  5. Ballyholme Bay - 2.4 miles W
  6. Bangor Harbour & Marina - 2.9 miles W
  7. Helen’s Bay - 4.2 miles W
  8. Whitehead - 4.7 miles NW
  9. Ballywalter - 4.9 miles SSE
  10. Carrickfergus Harbour & Marina - 6 miles WNW
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Port Dandy - 0.2 miles NW
  2. Donaghadee Harbour - 1 miles S
  3. Copelands Marina - 1.2 miles S
  4. Groomsport - 1.7 miles W
  5. Ballyholme Bay - 2.4 miles W
  6. Bangor Harbour & Marina - 2.9 miles W
  7. Helen’s Bay - 4.2 miles W
  8. Whitehead - 4.7 miles NW
  9. Ballywalter - 4.9 miles SSE
  10. Carrickfergus Harbour & Marina - 6 miles WNW
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How to get in?
Church Bay
Image: nealpreston46

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 Click to view haven, 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.

Church Bay as seen from the west
Image: nealpreston46

Initial fix location 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.

Haven location 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.

The anchorage of Chapel Bay derives its name from the ruins of a church that can be found immediately inshore from the landing beach. Its adjacent burial-ground is very old with inscriptions on headstones dating back to at least 1742. Back then Copeland hosted a thriving community that took great pride in the island’s appearance and unique community culture. In the early part of the 19th-century, the island population was almost one hundred with a school that had 28 pupils. This was, however, its peak from which it gradually declined during the first half of the twentieth century. The last two families regretfully moved ashore in 1946 and finally the last islanders, Frederick and Aise Clegg, departed for the mainland in 1953. Just over a decade later they returned one final time to be buried in the island graveyard. Today the island’s seven neat farmhouses are weekend and holiday homes that are usually only visited during the summer.

Although the islands may be quiet and secluded this could not be said of their surrounding waters. Situated as they are in the fast running tides of the North Channel the island group have been responsible for many shipwrecks. For here the North Channel conflicts with tides swirling around the Lough plus those that wrap around the island group. The resultant ‘Ramharry Race’ that is derived from the Norse for ‘rough and strong’ entirely lives up to its name. Add to that, the island group channels that are beset with dangers swept by their own rapid currents, and a dangerous environment is created for vessels approaching Belfast Lough. A spectacular wreck of the slave ship Enterprise which went down close to the notorious Ramharry Rock in January 1803, is on the eastern side of Mew Island.

This occurred before the new lighthouse was built on Mew Island in 1815, and which may have been a key contributing factor. Prior to that, Lighthouse Island hosted the lighthouse and hence its name. This original structure dates back to 1711 and the ruined stump of the 16 metre stone tower remains to be seen on the island today. Because Lighthouse Island was the higher of the two outer islands the maritime engineers of the time considered it to be the natural placement point for a lighthouse structure. However, in practice this was a disastrous decision that had to be abandoned. The highly visible light on Lighthouse Island concentrated attention on the higher island causing the low-lying Mew Island to be entirely overlooked. This caused so many wrecks that the lighthouse had to be deactivated and moved out to Mew Island.

Amongst the wrecks as previously mentioned was the Enterprise, a slaver working the Atlantic triangle. Enterprise had made 9 voyages 1791 – 1803 purchasing slaves in Bight of Biafra and West Central Africa and selling them on in Grenada, Jamaica, the Danish West Indies and Cuba. The vessel was extremely efficient, as a surviving account book for the 1794 voyage showed it made a profit margin of 44% in 1794, far higher than the average 8 - 10% expected for British slave ships. Average slave mortality was 1 - 4% per voyage, which might have been expected to be higher. Indeed crew mortality rate was much higher than that of the slaves. Homeward-bound with her ill-gotten gains, by way of the coast of Guinea, the Caribbean and New England, it had a rich cargo and silver dollars’ worth over £40,000. The ship was completely wrecked off Mew Island and all hands were lost and 11 crew members drowned. Two crew members died of exposure after the initial 11 drowned which included an African crew member. It is said instead of immediately seeking to save themselves, the crew attacked a container on the deck with axes and pocketed the contents which were silver dollars, the proceeds of the slave trade. The weight of this booty caused them all to drown. The entire cargo lay buried in the sea until 1833. Then a man who would achieve fame as an inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, by means of an innovative diving apparatus succeeded in recovering about £25,000 of the dollars, five brass guns, and other valuable property.

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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