Ballywalter provides a tolerable anchorage in south to north-westerly winds. However, a heavy sea runs into the bay when winds trend eastward around to north. Vessels that can take to the hard however will find good protection inside the harbour. Access is straightforward once Skullmartin Rock has been identified, night or day and at any stage of the tide.
Keyfacts for Ballywalter
Summary* Restrictions applyA tolerable location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position54° 32.799' N, 005° 28.576' W
This is the anchoring position of the Ballywalter Light that is set upon northwest end of the pier. It is a 3 metre high metal column with a sectored light Fl WRG 1.5s 5m 9M.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- From the north keep outside of Long Rock.
- From the south pass offshore of South Rocks, North Rocks Plough Rock, McCammon Rocks, Plough Rock, Burial Island and Skulmartin Rock.
- Approach from the east on the 272°T alignment of Ballywalter Light and the spire of Ballywalter Church, passing north of Skulmartin Rock and south of Nelson Rock.
Not what you need?
- Ballyhalbert Bay - 2.2 miles SSE
- Kircubbin - 2.5 miles SSW
- Portavogie Harbour - 3.5 miles SSE
- Copelands Marina - 3.7 miles NNW
- Donaghadee Harbour - 3.9 miles NNW
- Ballydorn and Down Cruising Club - 4.3 miles WSW
- White Rock Bay - 4.4 miles WSW
- Chapel Bay - 4.9 miles NNW
- Ringhaddy Sound - 5 miles SW
- Port Dandy - 5 miles NNW
How to get in?
Ballywalter village stretches along the shore within the Skulmartin Rock. Near its south end is a pier, built on a ledge of rocks, sheltering a small sandy foreshore. Use the directions provided for neighboring Ballyhalbert Bay for approaches to the general area.
The initial fix is located about half a mile northeast of Skulmartin Beacon. This is a conspicuous red 11 metres high mast with cage and flag topmark. It is essential that this is identified before an approach is made on Ballywalter.
Skulmartin Beacon – Unlit position: 54° 32.327’N, 005° 27.154’W
From the initial fix the approach is made from the east on the 272°T alignment of Ballywalter Light and the spire of Ballywalter Church situated immediately behind in the centre of the village. By night, stay in the Ballywalter Light Fl WRG 1.5s 5m 9M, 267°-277°T white sector that stands on the head of the quay. This shows Green over a shallow patch half a mile east-northeast of the pierhead with Nelson Rock, 1.2 metres of cover, being its shallowest point. It shows Red over Skulmartin that is situated nearly a mile from the shore.
The track from the initial fix passes about a third of a mile north of Skulmartin Beacon that marks Ballywalter’s primary danger. Skulmartin is steep-to on its north and east sides, drying to 1.2 metres and is awash at half-tide. Between Skulmartin and the shore, on the southwest side, there is Little Skulmartin Rocks extending from the shore towards the rock, in an east-northeast direction.
Once past Skullmartin Rock continue along the 272° T alignment of Ballywalter Light and the spire of Ballywalter Church. This leads south of a shoal with Nelson Rock that extends 800 metres to the south of Long Rock.
Anchor in sand, with depths from 4 to 5 metres, 300 metres east of the Ballywalter Light. Land at the pier or on the foreshore.
The harbour dries out entirely beyond the pier head but 2 to 3 metres can be found alongside the north side of the quay at high water. Boats that can take to the hard will find the harbour behind the pier small but well sheltered. Be aware that this berth is subject to a heavy ground swell in south-easterly gales.
Why visit here?Ballywalter, in Irish Baile Bháltair, derives its name from Irish Baile, meaning town or towns land, of ‘Walter’.
Walter was a common personal name among the Anglo-Normans and it is thought that Ballywalter derived its name from the De Arquilla family. John de Courcy lead the invasion and shared the territorial spoils around Dunover, near Ballywalter, with Lucian De Arquilla. The remains of a motte built by Lucian De Arquilla can still be seen in Dunover. Walter De Arquilla inherited the lands from Lucien and it is believed the name stems from his Christian name. It was recorded as ‘Walterstowne’ in 1637 but this was then Gaelicised to Ballywalter between the Anglo-Norman invasion and the Plantation period when the area fell into the control of the Gaelic Chieftains.
But all was very far from plain sailing between Ballywalter and the Scottish coast as betwixt and between lies a very dangerous sea with a ragged coastline. Strong coastal tides compress and race past the immediate offshore Skulmartin Rock, plus the nearby South and North Rocks that have always been regarded as the two most deadly hazards off the Ards Peninsula. These, amongst many other offshore dangers, caused the lives of many sailors to be lost after the harbour had become active. In the 25 years between 1875 and 1900 alone, 75 vessels were recorded as totally lost together with 29 men.
But by the turn of the century improvements in lighting and the introduction of steam-driven ships, not wholly reliant on sail, started to improve the safety of shipping. This resulted in a much lower frequency of shipwrecks along the Ards Peninsula, and subsequently, the coastguard stations, placed about every five miles along the shoreline, began to close. In 1906 the Ballywalter Lifeboat station was also closed. During its 40 years of service, the Ballywalter lifeboat was launched 37 times and saved 154 lives. Shipwrecks continued to occur along the County Down coast and during the first decade of the 1900's over 170 serious incidents relating to merchant vessels were recorded, of which 37 resulted in a total loss. A bell from one of the ships that foundered off Skulmartin Rock is displayed in Ballywalter's Presbyterian Church today.
Today Ballywalter is a sizable village with a population of just under 1,500 people. It is popular in the summer when the Long Strand, immediately south of the harbour, provides a wide stretch of shore and safe bathing that makes it an ideal base for water sports. Small children’s play facilities are to be found here along with tennis courts.
From a sailing point of view Ballywalter, akin to Ballyhalbert Bay, provides a highly convenient tide wait location with plenty of interest ashore to warrant inflating a dinghy.
What facilities are available?The remote anchorage area has reasonably good facilities. Water can be obtained on the pier plus coin operated power is also available there. The village, only 500 metres from the pier, has good shopping which serves a domestic population of about 2,000 people. There are unfortunately no petrol stations, fuel depots. Closest fuel, 5 miles in 3 directions by land or Donagedee or Portavogie by sea.
By road from Belfast take the A20 to Newtownards and continue onto the Ards Peninsula. At Greyabbey take the B5 to Ballywalter. From Belfast use the Laganside Buscentre.
Any security concerns?Never an incident known to have occurred to a vessel anchored in Ballywalter.
With thanks to:Michael Fitzsimons, Groomsport Harbour Master. Photography with thanks to Rossographer, Michael Parry, Oliver Dixon, Eric Jones and Albert Bridge.
Aerial view of Ballywalter and the surrounding countryside.
A fishing boat coming alongside the harbour wall
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