Celtic Mist leg 11 (25 Aug-1 Sep 2019): Fenit to Bantry

Report by Karen van Dorp

Skipper: Dr. Patrick Hartigan (‘The Swamp Monster’)

First mate: David Bagnall

Senior marine biologist: Karen van Dorp (‘Headbanger 2’)

Marine biologist: Derick Bora (‘Bowrider’)

Crew: Conal O’Flanagan, John ‘JC’ Cotter (‘Headbanger 1’), John ‘The Real John’ Kelleher (‘Twinkletoes’, ‘Hawkeye’, ‘Queen of the Night’), Norrina Fleming (‘The Real Queen of the Night’)

Sunday 25 August

The Celtic Mist was waiting for us in the marina of Fenit, Co. Kerry – fabled to be the starting point of Saint Brendan the Navigator, and we were sure we were all feeling a bit like Brendan would have felt on the evening before his departure! After a thorough cleaning of the galley and heads and a trip to the local supermarket for some essentials, everybody got familiar with each other, the ship and the safety regulations. We enjoyed the warm weather and an amazing sunset over Tralee Bay and the Slieve Mise mountains as we walked over the causeway to the mainland and had dinner in the West End Bar. It did not take us long to realize that we would get on very well during the coming week, and Karen (who has just moved to Ireland from The Netherlands) was introduced to some good Irish craic on board that night!

Monday 26 August

Weather conditions were still good when we left Fenit and just a few minutes later Derick spotted two Bottlenose Dolphins who approached the bow as we were sailing out of the bay. We passed the islands north of the Maharees, of which one closely resembled a Minke Whale; which we considered a good sign – little did we know that the two Bottlenose Dolphins would be the only sighting on what would turn out to be quite a rough day! When we turned around Dingle Head the weather and sea state deteriorated and the skilled sailors amongst us put the mizzen sail up, but this did not prevent some of us feeding the fish and lots of broken glass in the galley. Derick did not leave the bow during this mayhem, and so he earned his alias ‘The Bowrider’.

Sailing towards the north of the Maharees (photo: Karen van Dorp)

Sailing out of Fenit (photo: Karen van Dorp)

Karen photographing Bottlenose Dolphins (photo: John Cotter)

When we turned again and sailed east along the south coast of Dingle Peninsula, conditions became a bit more comfortable and after eleven hours we reached the Dingle marina. Karen, Derick and Norrina went on a shopping spree in Supervalu and brought back food for the entire week. After a hot shower everybody felt much better and we went for dinner in John Benny’s pub, during which we had an interesting and educational discussion about poppies, Dutch pipes and sponging sheep. There was even a magical music session by The Feelings Parade before getting into our bunks that night.

Tuesday 27 August

Strong winds and lashing rain kept us from sailing, so we made the most of our day stuck in Dingle town – after a fantastic (and enormous) fry by chef of 20 years Derick, we were given much appreciated lessons in chart plotting, using a divider and passage planning by skipper Pat and first mate David. The weather and sea state conditions for the following day were promising, which kept our spirits high throughout the day! Cooking went on in the galley all day long – chef Derick and his helper Karen made potato and leek soup, coleslaw, potato salad, lasagne and even a chicken curry for the next evening, so nobody would have to cook after a long day of sailing. After a pint in the pub we devoured all the excellent food that was prepared on board during the day, and we had a lovely night with singing, flute playing by The Real John and lots of laughter, jokes by John ‘JC’ Cotter, and Father Ted impersonations.

Enjoying breakfast in Dingle (photo: Karen van Dorp)

David explaining passage planning to the crew (photo: Karen van Dorp)

Wednesday 28 August

Fungie (the resident Bottlenose Dolphin of Dingle Bay) briefly showed itself on our port side when we sailed out of Dingle harbour at 6.30am through calm waters and under a beautiful sunrise. Conditions were good enough as we sailed in an almost straight line past The Skellig Islands, and on the way we were treated to several exciting sightings of Common Dolphins in groups of up to 15 individuals with juveniles and calves, which joined us for some bowriding. There was one sighting of a Bottlenose Dolphin, and we were even lucky enough to see a Minke Whale surface several times in the middle of a Gannet feeding frenzy!

Sailing out of Dingle harbour (photo: Karen van Dorp)

Skelligs in sight! (photo: Karen van Dorp)

When the cetacean galore died off, Conal taught us how to identify the seabirds that we saw along the way – Fulmars, several species of gulls, Guillemots, Razorbills, Manx Shearwaters, and even the odd Sooty Shearwater made their appearance. All of us enjoyed the sunshine, the sea state level two and the excellent visibility of The Skelligs, Bull Rock and the impressive Kenmare and Beara coastlines. Bear Island harbour and Castletownbere were fully booked, and so we sailed on to Bantry harbour where we tied up after fifteen(!) hours of very enjoyable sailing. Some of us headed up to the pub for a pint (or three), and we only had our curry dinner at 11pm, tucked into the ship, followed by songs and laughter until late hours!

Thursday 29 August

Karen walked up the hill looking over Bantry and when she came down, she found everybody in recovery mode – we knew we were not going anywhere fo the next two days because of bad weather, so we explored Bantry, relaxed on board with newspapers and books, or went for a gym or swim session in The Maritime Hotel. Several interested people in the harbour were invited on board Celtic Mist and we talked about the work of the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group. Some of us visited Bantry House and Gardens which were very impressive.

The Sunken Garden at Bantry House (photo: Karen van Dorp)

At the end of the afternoon our skipper disappeared into the galley and made us his signature pasta dish, which was much appreciated by the crew. With our bellies full, we walked up to Ma Murphy’s Pub and had a great night out. Norrina turned out to have an excellent eye for spotting German women who were hoping to be asked to dance by an Irishman, which ended up with The Real John earning his second alias ‘Twinkletoes’, some excellent jiving by Conal and David, and everyone in the pub cheering Derick on while he played guitar and sang brilliantly.

Friday 30 August

Tied up in Bantry for one more day, we had a well-needed lie-in followed by another superb fry by Derick. The afternoon was spent exploring the town a bit more, having another swim/sauna session and inviting people on board to have a look around and talk about whales and dolphins in Irish waters. Our skipper drew up the passage plan for the following day, even though the forecast was not looking very promising – we were going to sail from Bantry to Baltimore, but the skipper would make final call in the morning. Derick once more made magic happen in the galley and prepared a fabulous meal of vegetables, roasted pork and potatoes, apple sauce and gravy – using just one ring and a failing oven, which made it all the more impressive.

Saturday 31 August

Unfortunately conditions were too bad to sail, so Pat and David called off our trip to Baltimore early in the morning. Stuck in Bantry for the third day, we decided that we would visit Mizen Head over land. We were picked up by a minibus and the friendly driver took the coastal road so we could enjoy the fantastic views over the south coast of Sheep’s Head across the water, the hills and Barleycove Beach. Our visit to Mizen Head made it quite clear that the skipper and first mate had made the perfect call – we saw a ship struggling to sail around the point in the galing winds and we were all happy that we were not on the water! On our way back to Bantry we stopped in Goleen for a pint and when we returned to the ship, we made sure to get it spick-and-span for the next crew – the deck was scrubbed, the brass was brassed, the galley was cleaned, the floors were hoovered and the woodwork was treated with beeswax. We enjoyed drinks and a good dinner in the Snug Bar, where our skipper invited us to a group hug to commemorate the great week we had together!

Pat, Norrina, Karen and JC at Mizen Bridge (photo: Conal O’Flanagan)

Sunday 1 September

After breakfast we cleaned some more and said goodbye to Norrina who waved us off when the rest of us took the 10.30am bus to Cork and then on to our individual destinations all around Ireland. Overall we had a fantastic week on Celtic Mist – bad weather conditions and low sighting numbers did not stop us from having a great time together!