Castletown Bearhaven is a completely protected harbour. Safe access is provided in all reasonable conditions, on any state of the tide, day or night with the support of illuminated transits and a well-marked channel.
Keyfacts for Castletownbere (Castletown Bearhaven)
SummaryA completely protected location with attentive navigation required for access.
Position and approaches
Haven position51° 38.812' N, 009° 54.487' W
Entering the harbour channel on the 010° Leading light east of Came Point.
What are the initial fixes?The following waypoints will set up a final approach:
(i) Bearhaven East Entrance initial fix
51° 38.670' N, 009° 45.840' W
This position is approx 600 metres east of Carrigavaddra Perch south cardinal off Lonehort Point.
(ii) Castletownbere Harbour initial fix
51° 38.335' N, 009° 54.625' W
This position is approx 600 metres south of the entrance on an intersection of both harbour transits.
(iii) Bearhaven West Entrance (Pipers Sound) initial fix
51° 36.850' N, 009° 55.680' W
This position is approx 600 metres east of Fair Head, half a nautical mile from the entrance, situated on the 024° leading light and beacon on Dinish Island.
What are the key points of the approach?
Not what you need?
- Dunboy Bay & Traillaun Harbour - 0.6 miles SW
- Mill Cove - 1 miles ENE
- Lawrence Cove - 2 miles ESE
- Lonehort Harbour - 2.6 miles E
- Ballycrovane Harbour - 2.7 miles NNW
- Ardgroom Harbour - 4 miles N
- Adrigole - 4.6 miles ENE
- Ballynatra - 4.8 miles SE
- Kilmakilloge Harbour - 4.9 miles NNE
- Garnish Bay - 5.2 miles WSW
How to get in?
Image: Aaron Byrne Photography
Bearhaven, formed by the strait that separates Bear Island from the mainland, is an excellent harbour that provides shelter against all winds. It is spacious, has easy access and good holding ground. There are two entrances to Bearhaven, one round the western end of Bear Island, and the other from the eastern end between Carrigavaddra and Roancarrigmore Island.
The shortest route from the sea to Castletownbere is via the West Entrance that lies between the high precipitous shores of Fair Head, to the west, and Ardnakinna Point with a lighthouse on the east. Also known as Pipers Sound it is as little as 350 metres wide at its narrowest point. This approach has the benefit of a lighthouse, lit buoys and illuminated transits making it the best option for a night entrance. However it can be subject to baffling winds, and a heavy ground swell and its stronger currents can make it uncomfortable in a strong southwesterly against the ebb.
Photo: Robert W Watt via CC BY-SA 2.0
The East Entrance is the wider choice. It is three-quarters of a mile wide and very deep making sailing access very easy, but it should only be used by day. The entire eastern area of Bear Island is low, shelving, ill-defined and as such should be given ample respect. Moreover, Bear Island’s eastern point is unlit and the passage up Bearhaven has well-marked mid-channel rocks but uncharted marine farms that could present difficulty. At any time during the day, a sailing vessel may work through it without difficulty as there is very little tidal stream to contend with.
The main approach to the harbour lies between Fair Head and Ardnakinna Point Fl (2) WR.10s on the western end of Bear Island. Ardnakinna Point Lighthouse is a conspicuous white 20 metres high round tower 62 metres above MHWS.
Ardnakinna Point Lighthouse - Fl (2) WR 10s 62m 17/14M position: 51° 37.104’N 009° 55.092’W
The Western Entrance has supporting beacons and leading lights all the way into the harbour from the entrance. The first set leads up to Dinish Island then, the second set, into the inner harbour itself.
The first set of entrance leading lights are on a bearing of 024° T and lead up to the Castletownbere Lighthouse on the south end of Dinish Island. By day the beacons are front; Red with White vertical stripes on Castletownbere Lighthouse, and rear; white hut, red stripe, 6 metres high, 4 above MHWS, on the mainland beyond.
Castletownbere Lighthouse - Dir. Oc. WRG 5s position: 51° 38.792’N 009° 54.312’W
In the daytime, this first set is barely distinguishable from Ardnakinna. However, a mid-channel path provides more than adequate water for a yacht, with little or no danger to a leisure vessel. The single obstacle at the entrance is the 3.6 metres deep Harbour Rock situated half a mile within the entrance. This is unlikely to be an issue for leisure craft and, by this stage, the leading line will have been safely acquired. At night simply keep in the white sector Dir. Oc WRG 5s.
Follow this bearing up the north by northeast facing Western Entrance fairway, also known as Pipers Sound. The fairway leads between Naglas Point, to starboard, and the forested Pipers Point, to port, and narrows to about 350 metres.
The fairway opens out at Dunboy Bay. Colt Rock that uncovers on the last quarter ebb, with its distinctive red marker with a red horse and rider figure on top, lies abreast of the fairway here.
Colt Rock Perch - (unlighted) position: 51° 38.068’N 009° 55.087’W
The fairway channel is to the east of it, between the rock and Fort Point. The latter, distinguished by the No.1 starboard mark, and a battery and square blockhouse ashore, is foul to nearly a cable off, as is the shore to the east of it as far as Sheep Island.
No. 1 Starboard marker – Q.G position: 51° 38.078’N 009° 54.702’W
Continue up to the No. 2 Port marker where the least depth from the entrance is no less than 7.9 metres staying on transit.
No. 2 Port marker – Q.R position: 51° 38.345’N 009° 54.689’W
Vessels approaching from the east will pass to the south of the conspicuous Roancarrigmore lighthouse, a white round tower, black band, 18 metres above MHWS.
Roancarrigmore Lighthouse - Fl WR 3s 18m18/14M position: 51° 39.180’N 009° 44.820’W
The approach to Bearhaven is then between Roancarrigmore, passing it to starboard or east, and Carrigavaddra South Cardinal Beacon to port or west.
Carrigavaddra is the highest part of a reef that is situated 800 metres southeast from Lonehort Point, Bear Island’s low eastern extremity. The remains of an old pile lighthouse may still be seen on the point. Carrigavaddra, just covered on neap tides, is very much in the way of vessels going into Bearhaven by the east entrance, and especially to vessels rounding from the south. It is marked by an unlit beacon on a 2.7-metre high rocky area half a mile southeast of Lonehort Point.
Carrigavaddra Perch – South Cardinal (unlighted) position: 51° 38.670’N 009° 46.330’W
The north side of Lonehort Point is foul, out to 150 metres. The opposite shore of the mainland is also foul, with a bank 150 metres to the southeast of Carriglea Point which must be approached with caution by boats reaching over from Lonehort Point.
Coming in by the East Entrance, after rounding Carrigavaddra, there is no danger in a mid-channel course until George Rock is approached, about 1.5 miles to the west of Lonehort Point.
Once inside the entrance proceed down the centre of Bearhaven, leaving in order, the George Buoy to starboard, the Bardini Reefer Buoy to port, the Hornet Buoy to starboard and the Walter Scott Buoy to starboard.
George Buoy - Fl (2) 10s position: 51° 39.024’N 009° 49.695’W
Bardini Reefer Buoy – North Cardinal Q position: 51° 38.821’N 009° 51.406’W
Hornet Buoy – South Cardinal VQ (6) + LFl 10s position: 51° 38.859’N 009° 52.171’W
Walter Scott Buoy – South Cardinal Q (6) + LFl 15s position: 51° 38.541’N 009° 54.234’W
Proceed west from the Walter Scott Buoy until approximately 600 metres south by southwest of Dinish when the 010° will appear by night, Occulting W.3s, or by day the harbour beacons on Castletownbere’s north shore leading to the inner harbour.
From the Castletownbere initial fix, just before the No. 2 Port marker, the inner harbour leading marks are easily picked up. On the alignment of 010° T they are situated on the north shore of the harbour and are marked by red and white striped leading marks Oc. Bu. 6s by night.
The option here is to continue into Castletownbere Harbour or break off to the east for Castletownbere’s mooring buoys outside the harbour and close west of Minane Island.
For those intending to pick up the moorings alter course to starboard. Pass close southeast of Walter Scott south cardinal mark, then southeast of Privateer Rock, marked by a south cardinal mark close south of Dinish Island, then continue about 250 metres off and parallel to Dinish Island's southeast shore.
For those intending to continue into Castletownbere Harbour follow the new marks, occulting W.3s by night, leading in on a bearing of 010° T. These lead into the west of the Walter Scott south cardinal mark, then Dinish Island and into Castletownbere’s inner harbour.
The inner harbour entrance channel is situated between Came Point and Perch Rock. It is marked by two concrete column beacons on either side. First, a starboard and green column marking Perch Rock, Q.G. by night, is situated on the outside of the channel off Dinish Island shoreline.
Harbour entrance starboard beacon - Q.G position: 51° 38.834’N 009° 54.461’W
Further inside a port red column on the inside, Q.R. by night, off the western shore still remains. The 010° leading lights lead a path between both beacons on a mid-channel route.
Castletownbere stands on the shore of a little creek in the northwest arm of the harbour. The east side of the harbour is enclosed by the highly industrialised Dinish Island, which extends into Bearhaven and is connected to the mainland by a low bridge.
The inner harbour is divided into two halves, on the town side there is 350 metres of berthage, and on the Dinish Island side about 120 metres.
The anchoring area is on the starboard side of the harbour between the lifeboat and the quays on Dinish Island. It is centred about 250 metres west of the quay close to but avoiding the RNLI mooring. If a southern blow develops moving in closer to Dinish Island provides better shelter or use Bearhaven that provides numerous sheltered anchorages.
It is possible, by arrangement, to come alongside the wall if a slot is available or raft up alongside a fishing boat. The northeast quay is usually the best place to find a berth. Avoid the central part of the quay where there is an ice plant that is in continuous use by fishing vessels.
Why visit here?Castletownbere, in Irish Baile Chaisleáin Bhéarra, derives its name from the Gaelic baile meaning townland, town, or homestead caisleán meaning castle of [O'Sullivan] Bere. Also known as Castletown Berehaven, it is an area that is steeped in history.
Beara was the traditional seat of power of O'Sullivan Beare and was one of the last points of native Irish resistance after the Battle of Kinsale. The name of the town comes from a MacCarty Castle that has not survived. However, the impressive ruins of Dunboy Castle, two miles west of the town, are visible and the history of the area is described in the Dunboy entry.
Another potentially national turning point in Irish history almost happened here, when in 1796 Theobald Wolfe Tone and his confederates arrived into Bantry Bay in French ‘men o'war’ ships. They anchored off Ahabeg situated just five miles east of Castletownbere, however, the gales at their time of arrival were so violent that they could not land. Wolfe Tone raged that he was so close to Ireland that he could almost have thrown a ship's biscuit onto the shore. He reflected, "England has not had such an escape since the Armada" perhaps an allusion to the fact that adverse winds frustrated England's mighty enemies on both occasions.
Up to the 19th century, the deep-water harbour was very much the domain of smugglers and fishermen, but this second largest natural harbour in Ireland was not only known for this. The entire area was fortified in the 19th century to become a key Royal Navy asset. The extensive batteries around Bear Island were set in place to protect the then 19th-century fleet of dreadnoughts that would use the haven. Once anchored these boats could take as long as two days to ‘get up steam’ and make their way out to sea. Hence the need for the wide-ranging fortifications to protect them at anchor.
Following the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, three deep water Treaty Ports, Bearhaven, Queenstown - now Cobh - and Lough Swilly were retained by the UK. These were sovereign bases maintained by the Royal Navy, as is the case today with the UK bases on Cyprus. The main reason for the retention of the ports was the concern by the British government that it needed to protect itself from another Irish coastal U-boat Campaign as had happened in World War I. As part of the resolution of the Anglo-Irish Trade War in the 1930s the ports were returned to Ireland, the Free State's successor, following agreements reached between the British and Irish Governments in 1938.
Photo: Tourism Ireland
Today Castletownbere is the principal town of the area and, being the largest white fish port in Ireland, the headquarters for the Irish fishing fleet. Despite its isolated position and small permanent population, of around 875, the town managed to re-establish itself as a commercial centre. The bustling waterfront is lined with bars, tackle shops and small factories.
For hikers, the area offers spectacular mountain treks that afford breathtaking views of the counties of Cork and Kerry and out over the sea, and it is an ideal access point to ‘The Beara Peninsula’. This beautiful peninsula has two mountain ranges running down its centre, the Caha Mountains and the Slieve Miskish Mountains, and is bounded between the Kenmare "river", actually a bay, to the north side and Bantry Bay to the south. It is truly worth hiring a car to follow the Ring Route and cut across the Beara from Castletownbere for spectacular mountain scenery.
From a sailing point of view, it is an ideal sailing destination that should not be missed. Sitting near the outer end of Bantry Bay, Castletownbere offers total protection, a great arrival point to commence a visit on Bearhaven and is an ideal provisioning point. Although the busy fishing town could never be described as attractive, it is nonetheless a lovely little town to visit, attend to boat repairs and immerse oneself in the history and the areas beautiful scenery.
What facilities are available?Being the headquarters of the Irish fishing fleet Castletown Berehaven as you would expect has all the facilities that a visiting cruiser is likely to require. These range from a 200 tonne syncrolift with 30 metres of quay space around it for repairs, several marine engineering firms, electronic and radio repairs, ships chandlers, and water and diesel available on the pier for refuelling.
For all other enquiries contact the Harbour Master Cormac McGinley at the Harbour Office on the main pier tel. 027/70220 or mob. 087/2155432.#
The town has all the main facilities that you might require including hotels and B & B's, two supermarkets, a general supply store, two chemists, half a dozen pubs and the same number of restaurants that range from take-aways to meals at the Bearhaven Golf Club.
Any security concerns?It is difficult to find a spot that is not in the way of commercial fishing. Always leave someone on board to shift the boat in the event of a problem whilst others are off shopping. It is a friendly location and you are unlikely to encounter a security problem there.
With thanks to:Burke Corbett, Gusserane, New Ross, Co. Wexford.
Aerial views of a fishing boat arriving into Castletownbere
Aerial views of a fishing boat departing Castletownbere
Aerial views of Castletownbere Harbour area
Entering Berehaven Castletownbere from the western
Eastern Castletownbere entrance from a time-lapse sequence
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