The Ireland Sailing Holiday was a little different from our usual; for a starter, we stayed in the same place for a week! After Robert and I had sailed the boat from Troon to Carrickfergus, Jen and Chris came over on the ferry to Larne with Kyle. Robert had some work that he had to get on with and the girls had brought the car with them, so it made sense for us to spend the mornings/afternoons entertaining Kyle before catching up with Robert in the early evening for some family time.
One day trip involved a trip to a local nature reseve type place. After wandering through the forest and gardens, we took Kyle into their excellent playpark, where Kyle had a whale of a time! Most of the features were meant for older kids and being the school holidays, the place was rammed! Before heading home we had a bit of a giggle doing their giant maze, but Kyle fell asleep, so I he wasn't much good!
Come the Saturday (18/06/11), it came time for Jen's parents to head home and our friends to join us. Rus, Alimay and Lise came over on the Larne ferry, so I wandered up to the local train station to meet them. Somehow though, they had managed to get off at the wrong stop and ended up a mile or so up the road. Apparently they were counting the stops and overlooked the small fact that the station had the wrong name! So, they had a bit of a walk, but we all met up at the local pub, so all was fine in the end. It turned out to be quite a memorable day as Rus and Alimay came back from a visit to Carrickfergus Castle later on with some news - they had got engaged! Needless to say that needed a wee celebration on the boat ... and thankfully Jeaneau were thoughtful enough to provide plastic champagne flutes for just such an occassion!
On Sunday, it was back to business as usual - we packed up the boat and made our way to Bangor, a short trip over Belfast Lough. Bangor is a pretty big marina and tends to get very busy, so I was a bit worried about the arrival I would be expected to do. Its quite a tricky entrance to Bangor as you weave around overlapping breakwaters. Thankfully the chaps at Bangor assigned us a nice finger potoon at the end of a trot, so it was a pretty easy arrival. We spent a few days in Bangor; took Kyle to some shows that happened to be near the marina.
When we were in Carrickfergus, I got talking to one of the marina staff who mentioned that some pontoons had been installed within Belfast Harbour to accommodate the tall ships that were also available for leisure craft. I somewhat discounted the idea as we didn't have detailed charts for the inner part of Belfast Lough and I wasn't sure what to expect when we got there. However, after a similar chat with another chap in Bangor and finding a useful leaflet for the tall ships pontoon, I decided it might make a nice trip.
So, on Tuesday we left Bangor and headed up the Lough into Belfast Port itself. Its only a 10 mile trip, but the lough is a busy commercial port with lots of big ships. We logged on with Belfast Port Control who were fantastic, tracking us by radar as we progressed up the Lough and generally keeping all the shipping aware of whats going on. It turns out the pontoons are in the Abercorn basin, just a ten minute walk from the city centre!
We had to leave Belfast Harbour on Thursday because a set of tall ships were due to arrive for the Maritime Festival. The first arrived early in the morning and by the time we looking to leave, there were about four. The trip back to Carrickfergus was uneventful, with Belfast Port Control guiding us out through the shipping channel. However, when we arrived at Carrickfergus, there was a small tallship sitting on the hammerhead pontoon that we had been promised! There was another pontoon available, but it was located further into the marina, where we knew it would be pretty shallow. Thankfully, it was light airs, so I was able to 'hover' while Jen gave them a call and assertained whether the available pontoon would be deep enough. After some chat and a bit of tentative exploration, it seemed okay and we made for our arrival. I knew I wanted the boat to be facing towards the entrance to the marina to make our exit easier, so there were ways to do the arrival. The first was to come in and do a loop before arriving on the pontoon at a 45 degree angle like the majority of our arrivals. The downside to this was that there wasn't huge amounts of room and we were still a little doubtful about how much depth there was to play with. The other option was to arrive in reverse! Its certainly a little out of the ordinary for us, but meant that we'd keep to the deeper water and, besides, as Jen said, it would make good practice for me! The first attempt, although successful, wasn't exactly smooth so we left and did it a few more times, with Jen coaching me. I found it quite tricky, but after the 3rd/4th arrival we called it a day and openned up a beer!
We gave the crew a few days to explore Carrickfergus before we made plans to get the boat back to Scotland ...