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Dursey Sound

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Overview





Dursey Sound lies on the southwest coast of Ireland between the extremity of the Beara Peninsula and the immediately offshore Dursey Island. In settled conditions, it is used by mariners as a shortcut in and out of the north side of Bantry Bay. But it also offers the possibility of anchoring close southeast of the narrows in a small bay off of the mainland side of the sound.

Dursey Sound lies on the southwest coast of Ireland between the extremity of the Beara Peninsula and the immediately offshore Dursey Island. In settled conditions, it is used by mariners as a shortcut in and out of the north side of Bantry Bay. But it also offers the possibility of anchoring close southeast of the narrows in a small bay off of the mainland side of the sound.

This is a stay-aboard lunch stop or tide-wait anchoring position that can be used in very settled conditions. Careful navigation is required in settled daylight conditions on account of the rocks and tides that prevail in the Sound.
Please note

Tidal streams in the sound attain rates of up to 4 kn at springs and as such it is advisable to make approaches or pass through with a favourable tide or at least before it reaches its maximum rate.




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Keyfacts for Dursey Sound
Facilities
Slipway available


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationJetty or a structure to assist landingScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Note: 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).

Approaches
2 stars: Careful navigation; good visibility and conditions with dangers that require careful navigation.
Shelter
1 stars: Stay-aboard; lunch stop or tide-wait exposed or tenacious holding location where a vessel should not be left unattended.



Last modified
January 24th 2022

Summary

A stay-aboard location with careful navigation required for access.

Facilities
Slipway available


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationJetty or a structure to assist landingScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Note: strong tides or currents in the area that require consideration



Position and approaches
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Haven position

51° 36.340' N, 010° 8.725' W

Just inside the 3 metre contour in the middle of the anchorage.

What are the initial fixes?

The following waypoints will set up a final approach:

(i) North entrance initial fix

51° 37.134' N, 010° 9.934' W

This position is approx 1,000 metres north-by-northwest of the northern entrance.

(ii) South Entrance initial fix

51° 34.822' N, 010° 10.866' W

This position is approx 1,200 metres west of the southern point of Crow Island.
Please note

Initial fixes only set up their listed targets. Do not plan to sail directly between initial fixes as a routing sequence.




What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in southwestern Ireland’s Coastal Overview for Mizen Head to Loop Head Route location and the approaches and the run through the strait is available in Navigating through Dursey Sound Route location.


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 Dursey Sound for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Garnish Bay - 0.9 nautical miles NE
  2. Dunboy Bay & Traillaun Harbour - 8.4 nautical miles ENE
  3. Darrynane Harbour - 9.3 nautical miles N
  4. Castletownbere (Castletown Bearhaven) - 9.3 nautical miles ENE
  5. Ballycrovane Harbour - 9.6 nautical miles NE
  6. West Cove - 10.4 nautical miles NNE
  7. Mill Cove - 10.8 nautical miles ENE
  8. Lawrence Cove - 12.1 nautical miles E
  9. Lonehort Harbour - 13.1 nautical miles E
  10. Ballinskellig Bay - 13.2 nautical miles NNW
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. West Cove - 10.4 miles NNE
  2. Mill Cove - 10.8 miles ENE
  3. Lawrence Cove - 12.1 miles E
  4. Lonehort Harbour - 13.1 miles E
  5. Ballinskellig Bay - 13.2 miles NNW
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

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Chart
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the haven and its approaches. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Open the chart in a larger viewing area by clicking the expand to 'new tab' or the 'full screen' option.

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What's the story here?
Dursey Island and Sound as seen from the Berra Peninsula
Image: ArnoutVos via CC BY-SA 2.0


Dursey Sound is the narrow channel between Dursey Island and the extremity of the mainland, that is obstructed in midchannel by a rock with a least depth of 0.3 metres. Between the northern entrance of Dursey Sound and Cod's Head, to the southwest of Dursey Island, there is a large bight in the Beara Peninsula. The bight is indented by two small bays and several coves with the anchorage being in the northernmost of these two bays.


The anchorage as seen from Knockaree to the northwest on Dursey Island
Image: Colin Park via CC BY-SA 2.0


Dursey Sound is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean on either end and there can be a large seaway running that is further complicated by shifting and funnelling winds over the tide. Likewise in unsettled conditions the groundswell frequently rolls into the bay, breaking furiously on the reefs that line the shores. So the strait and anchorage may only be used under favourable conditions and avoided entirely during foul weather.


The anchorage as seen from above the pier on Dursey Island
Image: Kathi Bellinger via CC BY-SA 2.0


But in good conditions, Dursey Sound is a lovely shortcut from Bantry Bay to Kenmare bay that saves 10 to 12 miles of passage at the least. It also has this passage anchorage, especially useful to north going boats waiting for a tide. With the benefit of an anchor watch, on account of the strong tidal streams, it provides a great opportunity to stop off with plenty of depth and good holding. It is also possible to land a shore party on the slips on either side of the sound.


How to get in?
The southern end of the Sound with Crow Head seen from Dursey Island
Image: Allie Caulfield via CC BY-SA 2.0


Convergance Point Use Ireland’s coastal overview for Mizen Head to Loop Head Route location for seaward approaches and the run through the strait is available in Navigating through Dursey Sound Route location.


The slipway on Dursey Island opposite
Image: Burke Corbett


The anchorage is in the northernmost of the two bays set into the mainland bight to the southeast of the narrows and opposite the pier on Dursey Island side. The sand lights up the water on closer approaches making the anchoring position obvious.

Approaching the bay
Image: Burke Corbett


Haven location Anchor in a patch of sand according to draft and conditions.


Why visit here?
Dursey takes its name from its Viking period and the Norse Þjórrsøy, or Bull Island. Its Irish name of Oileán Baoi, 'island of the sunset' marks its position on the westmost point of the peninsula over which the sun sets. This older Gaelic name also links it to the older name for Bantry Bay, Cuan Baoí, 'calm lake of the sunset' and Berra's highest mountain peak Cnocbaoí 'mountain of the sunset'.


Dursey Island was once a Viking base
Image: Tourism Ireland


The island has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Sites have been surveyed on the island, including examples of bullaun and cup-marked stones in Ballynacallagh, a prehistoric hut site at Killowen, and a radial stone enclosure at Maughanaclea. Its name was changed to Dursey when, from 800 AD to 1150 AD, the Vikings were the masters of the North Atlantic. During their time they used the island as a holding place for hostages and slaves, mostly women, taken along the Irish coast. They held their Irish slaves here until they had enough to fill a ship to go to Scandinavia or make a passage south to trade them in southern Europe.


Dursey Island Signal Tower set on the highest point on the island
Image: Kathi Bellinger via CC BY-SA 2.0



O’Sullivan Bere ruled here until 1601 and had a stronghold called Oileán Beag, 'small Island' contrasting it to Bere Island. This castle was destroyed 1602 along with the clans principal seat of Dunboy Castle, at the end of the Nine Years' War – see Dunboy Bay & Traillaun Harbour Click to view haven. All of the occupants of castles were killed by the English forces. Those who were put to death on Dursey were mostly the clan's women and children about 300 in total who were trying to take refuge from the violence and the event is known as the Dursey Massacre.


Dursey Island signal tower
Image: Colin Park via CC BY-SA 2.0


After the disaster Donal Cam O'Sullivan Beare gathered his people from across Cork and famously marched with 1,000 to take shelter with the O'Rourkes of Leitrim, to join the remnants of the rebellion, rather than give in. Of the 1,000 that set off, 35 survived of the clan to reach the O'Rourkes after the convoy was repeatedly attacked. This is now waymarked the O’Sullivan Way or Beara-Breifne Way and is Ireland’s longest walking and cycling trail. The full trail commences on Dursey Island, but it can start in Castletownbere. Sadly little evidence remains of the Oileán Beag stronghold today.


The view towards the mainland from near the signal tower
Image: Colin Park via CC BY-SA 2.0


The most prominent historic mark is the Dursey Island Signal Tower set on the highest point on the island, at Tilickafinna. Following the rising of 1798 and a burgeoning Napoleonic treat, the authorities were anxious to establish an early warning system along the west coast. Orders were given to put in place a chain of signal stations on the south coast from Dursey Island to Cork. The narrow rectangular tower had two storeys over a basement, with each storey supported by vaulted stonework. After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, the need for the stations ended and they were largely abandoned. Dursey's signal tower was in ruin by the mid-19th century. But a lookout station was established once again here in 1939 that would last for the duration of the 'Emergency' as World War II was known in Ireland.


Derelict farmhouse Dursey Island
Image: Olivier Riché via CC BY-SA 2.0


During the war, the Luftwaffe High Command flew daily weather reconnaissance aircraft over the area using the Bull Rock Lighthouse as a navigation mark. A whitewashed sign saying 'Éire' was built and whitewashed close to the signal tower to indicate to pilots that they were overflying neutral Ireland. As such the islanders and lighthouse keepers were more than familiar with the Junkers 88 planes that flew the routine missions from Merignac near Bordeaux. But routine it was not and on July 23, 1943, the Junkers 88 was heard approaching Dursey Island from the southeast, flying low in poor visibility conditions due to heavy fog. It clipped the south side of the Crow Head peninsula's Ballinacarriga Hill (187 metres) that overlooks Dursey Sound on the mainland side. It flipped over the crest of the hill then tumbled down the opposite side burst into flames. All crew died still strapped into their seats.


Dry stone wall Dursey Island
Image: Allie Caulfield via CC BY-SA 2.0


This was perhaps the biggest event of the century for the peaceful people on Dursey Island. They continued to quietly live from the sea and the land. In the winter months, fishermen from Dursey fished mackerel and herring and over the summer months fished for lobster and crabs. The fish from the sea with their farm animals and vegetables gave the islanders a remarkably healthy diet.


The Cable Car as seen from Dursey Island
Image: Tourism Ireland


Today the peaceful island is one of the few inhabited islands that lie off the southwest coast of Ireland. Its handful of semi-permanent residents connect to the mainland by Ireland's only cable car, which is reportedly the only cable car that goes over open water in Europe. Originally opened in 1969, the Dursey Island cable car remains, to this day, the primary means of transport across the turbulent waters of the Dursey Sound.


The cable car is licensed to carry six passengers or one large animal at a time
Image: Tourism Ireland


Licensed to carry six passengers or one large animal at a time the wobbly passage is one of the islands main attractions and the 10 minute offers a truly singular experience. Up until very recently sheep and animals such as cows also travelled frequently on the cable car! It runs continuously in summer, and at set times only the rest of the year – check the Dursey Island website External link for details. But remember that the handful of residents take precedence over tourists!


The Berra Way leading down to the southwest end of Dursey Island
Image: Colin Park via CC BY-SA 2.0


In fine weather, it might be possible to land a shore party, on the island at the island boat slip opposite. 5.6 Km long and 250 metres high Dursey is truly a wonderful island to unhurriedly ramble around. If there is a concern it is always possible to anchor in Garnish Bay Click to view haven and walk back the 3.5km, via R572, to the Cable Car terminal. The Beara Way loops around the island for 14km, allow four hours for the complete loop, and the signal tower is an obvious destination for a shorter walk, 8km round trip.


The island is steep too and has no beach
Image: Allie Caulfield via CC BY-SA 2.0


The main area of habitation is about one third along the island but there is no village and, as such, it is blissfully free of shops, pubs and restaurants. There is just the island to enjoy and its forlorn beauty, its ruins and standing stones but it is very steep too and most unusually Dursey Island has no beach.

Calf Rock and the remains of its destroyed light house and worker dwellings
Image: Kathi Bellinger via CC BY-SA 2.0


What it does offer in spades are spectacular views back over the Berra Peninsula and out to seaward out over The Calf, Cow and the most south-westerly point of Ireland – the Bull Rock. On Calf Rock, the smallest of its three outlying rocks is the remaining stump of a cast-iron lighthouse that once existed on the rock. It was destroyed by a great storm in 1881, just less than two decades after it was first built in 1866 and strengthened in 1870. Miraculously, when the head was swept away, the six men that operated it managed to make their way into the ancillary dwellings that were hewn into the rock for the construction - the black rectangular holes pictured. Here they stayed alive for 12 days in waterlogged conditions until the seas abated enough that a rescue could be made.


The Cow and the Bull Rock seen off the west end of Dursey Island
Image: Kate Allen via CC BY-SA 2.0


The light was then replaced by the tower built on the Bull Rock in 1882. Interestingly, in early Irish mythology, the dead were said to go to 'Tech Donn', 'the house of Donn', an otherworldly figure associated with death. 'Tech Donn' is believed to be the Bull Rock. Those planning to cruise around the island will find its shores clear of dangers except for Lea rock off Dursey Head at the southwest corner.


The Bull Rock
Image: Colin Park via CC BY-SA 2.0


From a boating perspective, in fine weather, Dursey Sound is a lovely shortcut from Bantry Bay to Kenmare bay that saves 10 to 12 miles of passage at the least. And with tidal streams in the sound attaining Spring rates of up to 4 kn, this anchorage could provide a useful tide wait location for northbound boats. But in an auspicious weather window, it could also offer a wonderful island experience.


What facilities are available?
None.


Any security concerns?
Not applicable as it is not advisable to leave a vessel unattended in this area due to strong tides and shifting winds.


With thanks to:
Burke Corbett, Gusserane, New Ross, Co. Wexford.







Scenic views of Dursey Island




Views of Dursey Island and the Calf Rock




Views of The Bull Rock and the Cow Rock



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