What is the route?
- • Across the entrance to Donegal Bay
- • Outside Aran Island
- • Inside Tory Island
- • Close north from Sheep Haven to Lough Swilly
Why sail this route?This route passes over the largely exposed Donegal Bay preferring the better cruising grounds to be found off the northwest coast of Ireland. These can be found to the north of Aran Island and around Bloody Foreland, after which the coast's numerous, inlets and bays are increasingly under the lee of land to the prevailing south-westerlies. Vessels intending on visiting Donegal Bay’s havens may do so directly as the bay has few dangers and they are all covered in the description below.
What are the navigational notes?
The northwest coast of Ireland between Erris Head and Malin Head is indented by numerous exposed bays and backed by a generally mountainous interior. These provide several conspicuous peaks that are readily identifiable in clear conditions from a considerable distance offshore. The most conspicuous of these peaks rise along the south and north sides of Donegal Bay and to the southeast of Bloody Foreland which is Ireland’s most northwest point.
Within the 115 miles of this passage, there are many partially-protected havens in the bays and inlets that indent the coast. Amongst these are Killybegs, set within Donegal Bay, and Burtonport, situated inside Aran Island, which are important and active fishing ports. However, the whole of the coastline is exposed to the heavy Atlantic Ocean swell. With the exception of the aforementioned fishing ports plus havens upon the north coast, leisure craft will find few western-facing anchorages that are unaffected by swell even though they may provide shelter from the wind. Moreover, the majority of these havens have approaches that are obstructed by rocks, shoals and other dangers.
As such, this particularly beautiful coast requires some planning and keen observation of developing weather events. In thick weather, with the bad visibility that usually accompanies it, leisure craft should stay well clear of the land and the dangerous offshore islands and reefs that front it. Moreover, there is no haven into which a vessel, without local knowledge, could confidently enter a gale. So caution is required.
However, in good summer conditions, this is truly an extraordinary coast to explore. Leisure craft will find wonderful sailing off this awe-inspiring coastline where they will scarcely sight another vessel except for the occasional fishing boat.
The complete course is 112.73 miles from the waypoint '1½ miles north of Erris Head' to '2½ miles northwest of Malin Head' tending in a north easterly direction (reciprocal south westerly).
1½ miles north of Erris Head, 54° 20.025' N, 010° 0.038' W
Erris Head is a 52 metres high cliffy islet fronted by rocks that extend out ¼ of a mile to the north. Pigeon Islet, a conical and prominent rock, lies at the outer end of a chain of rocks which also extend up to ⅓ of a mile westward.
► Next waypoint: 63.04 miles, course ⇓ 49.03°T (reciprocal ⇑ 229.03°T)
2 miles west of Aranmore Light, Aran Island, 55° 0.864' N, 008° 37.070' W
Aran Island rises to a summit of 225 metres at its centre. Its west and northeaster sides, along with part of its southern side, are bordered by vertical cliffs indented by fissures and caves. Aranmore Light, Fl (2) 20s, is a prominent 23 metres high tower, that stands on the northwestern extremity of the island, Rinrawros Point.
► Next waypoint: 16.36 miles, course ⇓ 44.36°T (reciprocal ⇑ 224.36°T)
Western approach to Tory Sound, 55° 12.526' N, 008° 17.038' W
This is the western approach to Tory Sound that lies between Inishbeg and Tory Island. The fairway of this channel has a least depth of 18.6 metres and general depths of 20 to 30 metres.
► Next waypoint: 22.88 miles, course ⇓ 76.98°T (reciprocal ⇑ 256.98°T)
1 mile north of Fanad Head, 55° 17.574' N, 007° 37.921' W
Fanad Head is low and rocky with a prominent 22 metres high lighthouse, Fl (5) WR 20s, that stands on the headland. During bad weather, vessels should approach this coast with caution. Between Sheep Haven and Lough Swilly, the sea breaks heavily on the reefs which extend almost a mile offshore.
► Next waypoint: 10.45 miles, course ⇓ 44.60°T (reciprocal ⇑ 224.60°T)