Ballyhalbert Bay provides a tolerable anchorage in southwest and westerly winds. However, a heavy sea runs into the bay when winds trend eastward of south, and onward through east and around to north. Vessels that can take-to-the-hard can find good protection inside the harbour at these times. The bay is open and clear of dangers making access straightforward in daylight at any stage of the tide.
Keyfacts for Ballyhalbert Bay
Summary* Restrictions applyA tolerable location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position54° 29.456' N, 005° 26.420' W
This is the position of the Ballyhalbert Harbour pierhead.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
Not what you need?
- Portavogie Harbour - 1.3 miles S
- Kircubbin - 2.1 miles W
- Ballywalter - 2.2 miles NNW
- Ringhaddy Sound - 4.4 miles WSW
- Pawle Island - 4.4 miles WSW
- White Rock Bay - 4.5 miles W
- Ballydorn and Down Cruising Club - 4.5 miles W
- Ballyhenry Bay - 4.6 miles SW
- Portaferry - 4.8 miles SSW
- Simmy Island - 4.8 miles WSW
How to get in?
Ballyhalbert Bay, is a clear open bay situated immediately north of Burr Point. It provides a sheltered anchorage in offshore winds. Burr Point is the easternmost point of mainland Ireland.
Vessels approaching from the north should stay outside of Skulmartin Rock. Lying nearly a mile from the shore Skulmartin Rock is the furthest of all the outlying dangers along the coast between South Rock and Donaghadee. It is steep-to on its north and east sides, dries to 1.2 metres and is covered at half-tide. Between Skulmartin and the shore, on the southwest side, there is Little Skulmartin reef extending from the shore towards the rock, in an east northeast direction. A narrow inshore passage is situated between them with 5 to 7 metres of water. However the passage inside it is very foul and only people well acquainted with the coast should venture inside Skulmartin Rock. Skulmartin is marked by a conspicuous red 11 metres high mast with cage and flag topmark.
Skulmartin Beacon – Unlit position: 54° 32.327’N, 005° 27.154’W
A further red and white Skulmartin Safe Water spherical buoy is moored 1.4 miles east by southeast.
Skulmartin Safe Water Buoy - LFl 10s buoy position: 54° 31.848’N, 005° 24.910’W
With Skulmartin astern, Ballyhalbert Bay presents a clean open bay that may be addressed via the Initial Fix or directly at angles.
Vessels approaching from the south should stay outside North Rock and the half tide Plough Rock, situated half a mile to the southwest of Portavogie and marked by a buoy. Then continue northward outside the McCammon Rocks that are located one-third of a mile from the shore. These almost cover at high water except for a small portion.
Plough Rock – Port hand buoy Fl R 3s position: 54° 27.389’N, 005° 25.104’W
In all cases, depths of 12 metres will be found just 300 metres eastward of these dangers. Vessels passing within a quarter of a mile to the east of the North Rock Beacon will see the Plough Rock buoy appear in front of Burial Island. Likewise keeping North Rock’s pillar beacon in line astern, or open to the west, of the South Rock tower, will clear Plough Rock and lead to the Plough Rock buoy. If the half tide Plough Rock is showing it is safe to cut in between the rock and the buoy.
Burial Island, is the easternmost point of Ireland and is situated 400 metres east of Burr Point. The visible island is the highest part of a reef of rocks that extends nearly half a mile in a north/south direction and is about 400 metres wide. The northern portion of the reef is just awash at high water. The small spot to which the name of Burial Island refers is on the inner edge of the reef, near to its southern end. It has an elevation of 8 metres above high water springs when it appears very small. On its north and east sides, the reef is steep-to and clear of danger. A rocky shoal extends a mile to the southward of it, with patches of 2.2 and 3.4 metres of water on it.
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 into Ballyhalbert Bay which has no obstructions after Burial Island.
From the initial fix, situated a mile northeast of Ballyhalbert pierhead, Ballyhalbert Bay is clean and open. Anchor 200 metres north of the pierhead in 5 metres. The bottom is generally hard but there are some patches of clay in this location which provides good holding. Land at Ballyhalbert Pier situated immediately inside Burr Point.
The harbour dries out entirely beyond the pier head. Smaller boats that can take to the hard will find the area behind the pier small but well sheltered.
Why visit here?Ballyhalbert derives its name for from the Irish Baile Thalbóid meaning ‘Talbot’s townland’. It is also called Talsbotstoun in Ulster Scots, as the locals here speak with an accent as broad as any Scot.
The Talbot family came from Herefordshire and settled in this country in the reign of Henry II. The locality then took their name Talbotyston. By 1605 this had been gaelicised to Ballitalbot, with baile meaning townland, town, homestead, and it finally became Ballihalbert by 1617. The Talbot family did not reside long in the area as their stay was during a tempestuous time. ‘Spenser's View of the State of Ireland’, written in 1596, noted ‘Bruce rooted out the noble families of the Audlies, Talbotts ... ’. Prior settlements here date back to Ireland’s original inhabitants, as an ancient standing stone near the village graveyard indicates. The Anglo-Normans conquered this area in the 12th century. The Norman family Savage built a number of local castles and priories. The remains of an 800-year-old castle mound can still be seen near the harbour and the ruins of the medieval parish church.
During World War II the village played a major role in the defence of Belfast and the eastern half of Northern Ireland. This was via the RAF airfield that opened in Ballyhalbert in June 1941. It consisted of three tarmac runways and two hangers plus a control tower. In its time RAF Ballyhalbert was home to the RAF, Army, Navy and United States Air Force (USAF). It hosted servicemen from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America and Poland and evidence of this can be found today in the two local churchyards that are located a short distance away from the airfield. Here the Canadian, Australian and Polish men who lost their lives whilst serving at Ballyhalbert found their final resting places. One particularly notable visitor inspected the station in May 1944. This was General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces who became the President of the United States in 1953. The airfield was decommissioned in 1946 but the control tower and a lot of the runways are still visible today. In the 1960s it was sold to developers to create several popular caravan parks.
Today Ballyhalbert is largely a residential area, with a large holiday park on the former air base, with some shops to cater for the needs of the holidaymakers. From a boating point of view, Ballyhalbert is a highly convenient tide wait location. At high water the northbound stream commences, making Belfast Lough a distance of about fifteen miles very easy, and even as far north as Antrim's Glenarm would be obtainable. The southbound stream commences about low water for an entrance approach to Strangford Lough, which is about the same distance to the south.
What facilities are available?The remote anchorage area has reasonably good facilities. Water can be obtained adjacent to the pier. The village which serves a domestic population of just less than 500 people, has a good shop that is open seven days a week. Half a mile to the northwest of the pier in Ballyhalbert Village there is a Pub.
By road from Belfast take the A20 to Newtownards and continue onto the Ards Peninsula. At Greyabbey take the B5 to Ballywalter then the A2 south to Ballyhalbert. Ulsterbus (ULB) Service 9 runs between Portaferry. From Belfast use the Laganside Buscentre that stops in Ballyhalbert.
Any security concerns?Never an incident known to have happened to a vessel anchored in Ballyhalbert Bay.
With thanks to:Michael Fitzsimons, Groomsport Harbour Master. Photography with thanks to Michael Parry, Oliver Dixon, Eric Jones and Albert Bridge.
Aerial view of Ballyhalbert
A kayaking trip which shows the Skulmartin markers and they dock in Ballyhalbert at the end
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