Cruise 8: September 5-12 incl 3 Bridges
by Neasa de Barra
Tuesday 7 September 2021
Crew Neasa de Barra, Brona Grant, Una Healy and Kate O’Connor met skipper Liam Quinn and first mate Irene Reidy on Celtic Mist at Poolbeg Marina. The first afternoon and evening were spent getting familiar with boat living and watching, rather than cetaceans, the comings and goings of Dublin Port’s container ships and passenger ferries.
Wednesday 8 September 2021
On Wednesday Celtic Mist set off bright and early for a cruise to Ireland’s Eye, Lambay Island, and Rockabill Island in north county Dublin’s coastal waters. Conditions were clear and warm, even moving at speed. We were accompanied by much bird life along the way, particularly gannet, gulls, and terns. We saw and logged harbour porpoises briefly between Howth and Lambay on our way out in the morning. They appeared to be feeding. We failed to spot the wallabies on Lambay Island, and did not encounter any more cetaceans after lunch, but saw grey seals off Lambay and hauled out on Rockabill. Each crew member had the chance to helm. Wednesday evening was spent back at Poolbeg Marina.
Thursday 9 September 2021
Thursday dawned overcast and foggy, although conditions on the water were calm and still. Celtic Mist made an early start for Arklow in the fog. Visibility was poor, less than one kilometre. The fog lifted a little around Bray, Co. Wicklow, as we encountered a grey seal eating a dogfish under the watchful eyes of two gulls. We spotted only one cetacean, a harbour porpoise whose fin appeared twice behind Celtic Mist. Despite slowing the boat to a crawl, the porpoise did not reappear. We passed plenty of lion’s mane jellyfish at regular intervals, and debated whether they were appetising to cetaceans and might act as a food source drawing them towards us. They did not! We reached Arklow around 4pm and despite having a few hours of daylight left, moored for the night as the fog was thickening. We were treated to cakes and sourdough bread in Arklow and began preparations for Saturday’s Three Bridges Liffey cruise, cleaning Celtic Mist, and finding and hanging flags and the IWDG banner.
Friday 10 September 2021
The fog had lifted and Friday was another warm and still day. We took a course east from Arklow towards the offshore wind farm, with the intention of cruising north along the bank. We spotted a harbour porpoise making its way south while still in sight of Arklow. Around lunchtime, we spent 20 minutes observing a pod of common dolphins who appeared to be feeding. Later in the day between Wicklow town and Greystones we observed at least one, possibly two, harbour porpoises in the distance closer to shore, also making their way south. The final sighting of the day was another harbour porpoise, which was within Dublin Bay with Dun Laoghaire on our left and Howth on our right. Poolbeg Marina was busy when we arrived back due to cruisers spending the night before Saturday’s bridge lifts.
Saturday 11 September 2021
There was further activity on Saturday morning at Poolbeg Marina as more cruisers arrived. The flotilla was 38 strong and joined by a Thames tugboat, a rowboat with bagpipes, speeding jetskis, and tourist kayakers. The Tom Clarke Bridge (toll bridge), Samuel Beckett Bridge, and Seán O’Casey Bridge were all opened to facilitate the Three Bridges Liffey cruise. The boats cruised up the Liffey as far as the Matt Talbot Bridge before returning to moorings by the 3 Arena to spend the night. It was too windy unfortunately for Celtic Mist to raise any sails, although one or two others did, including a spinnaker.
Sunday 12 September 2021
Celtic Mist spent the night on the Liffey and awaited the Tom Clarke Bridge’s 11am lift to return to Poolbeg Marina. This concluded Celtic Mist’s final cruise of summer 2021.
Cruise 4: 8-14th August 2021 ……. Celtic Spirit
by Shree Krishnamoorthy
On 9th of August, and still coping with the pandemic, the world would wake up to the IPCC report that unequivocally declared global warming and climate change a reality of our times. Nature was angry. A group of eight – Pat – the skipper, Patricia – the first mate, Emily – the biologist, Robbie, Lucia, Angela, Eoin and I set sail to face her head on with our zindadili (feeling of being alive). A rolling ocean and roaring winds awaited us outside the secure Fenit harbour. The massive 35 ton Celtic Mist was tossed as though it was a nuisance to be dealt with. Pat the skipper, Robbie and others at the helm were in a battle of wills with the waves. Emily, our spotter and biologist, brushed aside all the whispers of the white horses even in this weather. She kept her eyes open for signs of Wally the Arctic walrus rumoured to be in the vicinity. She spotted bottlednosed dolphins.
The next day, the show down was over. The seas had accepted us and a friendship began. We sailed at dawn from Portmagee to Baltimore passing the Skellig islands on this day. The waves sloshed in a rhythm over the engine sounds. We sang-
Musafir hoon yaaron Na ghar hai, na thikana
(Am a traveller, my friends. I have no home nor an address)
Hawa ke paron pe mera aashiyana
(On the wings of winds is my shelter)
Subah se shaam se mera dostana
(With the dawn and the dusk is my friendship)
(- song in Hindi by Gulazar)
Through the monotony of ocean, the Little Skellig and Skellig Micheal islands rose. Little Skellig shone with the snow-like guano of the Gannets.
Monks must have felt both insignificant and at one with the universe in the monastery at Skellig Micheal. As we closed to the Skellig, a humbler monk -the puffin appeared on waters in its black and white suit and its colourful beak.
The puffins should have left, but they were learning to survive the changing climate. Puffin-parenting only lasts till the young are competent, not till they finish college and have enough for a mortgage.
As we closed towards Baltimore, we saw yachts in the Fastnet race. It made me wonder why human spirit tests itself against nature? Is it to scream – “I am significant!” defying the impermanence of our lives?
Next day we sailed towards Crosshaven. Smooth sailing was thanks to Lucia and Angela at the helm. Both are experienced sailors. Sea-birds and common dolphins kept us company.
In Crosshaven, Robbie gave us a tour of the town, its beaches and the fairy forest.
On the last day, right at the outset we saw a 30+ member pod of bottlenosed dolphins. What an end to the trip! For myself, on Celtic Mist I got the sense of the smallness and insignificance of human life. Only made vast by the spirit we share with nature. In the light of the IPCC report I hope that many generations after me can experience this oneness with life on the sea.
Cruise 4: 20-26 July 2021
Surveying the Shannon Bottlenose Dolphins
To sail on the Celtic Mist recording and identifying individuals from the genetically distinct Bottlenose Dolphins populating the Shannon Estuary and nearby locations.
Skipper Pat Hartigan began his experience nearly 30 years ago learning about the sea out on fishing boats, completed the yacht master exams in the nineties and owned his own boat. An experienced yacht master instructor and twelve years frontline service with the Coast Guard Pat first skippered the Celtic Mist in 2016. Built in 1974 this 57-foot Ketch, formerly owned by Charles Haughey, was gifted to the IWDG in 2011. He was pleased with the performance of the boat and delighted to get a little bit of sailing during the week despite very little wind. Describing us as an eclectic mix Pat was happy with the crew which worked as a great team.
Keen hurler Daragh McLaughlin the youngest member of the crew has always been interested in marine life and when he came across this voyage immediately joined as a member of the IWDG. He was surprised to see so much marine life and particularly enjoyed observing the large numbers of Common Dolphins and Minke Whales.
Bringing his light-hearted humour there’s not much that First Mate David Bagnall can’t fix or improvise a solution to. David was a key player with the recent painting and refurbishment of the Celtic Mist and soon hopes to be reunited with his boat in Galicia. On this trip he particularly appreciated the great weather and the decisive mission of the Marine Biologists and where they wanted to survey.
Retired nurse from Galway Patricia O’Brien just loves being out at sea and can’t help but show her delight by talking to the marine life and thanking the Kerry mountains. A real team player Patricia enjoyed interacting with the nice crew, was very organised in the galley and kept us safe with her guidance on keeping surfaces clean. She also shared her archaeological knowledge on the monastic sites we visited.
Then we come to the three marine biologists – Seán, Bogna and Mags. They hit it off with each other in their student days and were excited to finally work on a project together.
Recently returned from Norway and Catalonia Seán O’Callaghan was delighted to be invited back in Ireland to bring his drone flying skills to this project. He was astonished at the sheer amount of activity we observed each day. Seán is off to the Azores in August for more cetacean adventures.
Armed with an array of gadgets Bogna Griffin’s aim is to gather bottlenose dolphin DNA with the potential to trace family groups and ancestry of the population.
Project leader Mags Daly is utterly devoted to the Shannon Dolphins and can identify many individuals within a split second of a sighting. This mission was a specific survey she had been wanting to carry out for a couple of years and was to include the wider range of Brandon, Smerwick and Loop Head. She is particularly driven to identify individuals to aid the tracking of mortality, gender, new calves, and the hotspots where they reside.
And finally, crew member number eight was me (Denis O’Regan).
As a keen photographer and birder I was just as excited to observe the diversity of pelagic birds including the stunning Black Guillemot, Puffin and newly born Guillemot youngsters as well as three Ocean Sunfish.
Mon 19 July – Fenit to Smerwick Bay
After fuelling and stocking up with provisions we left Fenit and headed Northwest. By 12:45pm we were already observing bottlenose dolphins. Later that afternoon we were treated to large numbers of Common Dolphins and at least 20 Minke Whales.
Sean managed to capture some stunning drone footage of Minkes feeding and Dolphins tossing a Salmon. We anchored in Smerwick Bay and were greeted as Gaeilge by a couple in a traditional Currach as the sun slowly sank behind the Kerry mountains.
Tue 20 July – Smerwick Bay to Fenit
We awoke to find a thick fog had descended upon us. So, after waiting a while we finally set off late morning gingerly travelling eastwards watching out for lobster pots and any other vessels. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves amongst the Common Dolphins and Minke Whales again.
By 2pm this turned into non-stop bottlenose dolphin activity. Eventually we moored back at Fenit Pier for the evening.
Wed 21 July – Fenit, Illauntannig, Brandon Bay
This day we ventured out to the Magharee Islands after gaining permission from the owner to land on one them. By the time we arrived and took the inflatable to land on the shore of Illauntannig (the largest of the islands) the combination of intense sunshine and virgin sand would have convinced anyone we had landed in the Caribbean.
Amidst the flock of sheep and grain of Sanderlings we happened upon the ruins of a sixth century monastery. Founded by St Senach, within the thick curving cashel wall we discovered the remains of three beehive huts, two rectangular oratories and three burial platforms. One of the huts even incorporated a well-preserved souterrain (a tunnel).
After returning safely back to the Celtic Mist we cast off by 4:30pm and within half an hour were back amongst the frenetic activity of the Minke Whales and Shannon Bottlenose Dolphins. It was poetry in motion watching how these large dolphins effortlessly soar their heavy bodies completely clear of the water in a mesmerising almost slow motion dance.
Bottlenose Dolphin effortlessy leaping © Denis O’Regan
Thu 22 July – Brandon Bay, Loop Head, Brandon Bay
Woke up early to screeching Sandwich Terns fishing around us in the bay.
We set off for Brandon Head and by 9:30am were amongst the Bottlenose Dolphins again. We were blessed with yet another morning of lively action. The dolphins were particularly fascinated with our various items of DNA gathering kit hanging over the side with investigative swimming on their side, shaking their heads accompanied with piercing whistles audible from the boat.
By midday a moderate breeze encouraged us to cut engines and make steady progress under sail. I was given the privilege of the wheel and directed the Celtic Mist in silence towards Loop Head… just fabulous! After even more Bottlenose Dolphins joined us around the dramatic cliffs we made our way back towards Brandon traversing through thousands of Moon and Compass Jellyfish and even passed the waving fin of the exotic Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)
The day ended with yet more Bottlenose activity back at Brandon Head before dinner in congenial company and another night sleeping on the Atlantic.
Fri 23 July – Brandon Bay to Kilrush
The morning was tinged with sadness as the question on our lips was Where did the week go?! The magnificent weather, frenetic cetacean action and amiable company meant it was all coming to an end far too soon.
As we left Brandon Mags was delighted to recognise Minnie, first spotted in 2019, a Bottlenose calf with kyphoscoliosis (a deformed spine) and a collapsed fin. As we made for Kilrush the sea state became quite choppy making the sighting of dolphins a challenge. Not a problem for our eagle-eyed team as we spotted more animals that seemed much more reticent to check us out. RTE issued an orange weather warning for thunder just as we came into the lock at Kilrush.
We moored up just in time as the atmosphere was alive with electricity and although we heard reports of violent flashes and power cuts the threat seemed to pass us out.
Sat 24 July – Clean Up
Today was all about cleaning and scrubbing the boat and our gelled team sprung into action like a well-oiled machine. This week was a great example of how complete strangers with a variety of skills and knowledge can flourish as a team creating a fertile environment for new ideas. Aristotle’s wise words come to mind: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.
Now we had an established routine I was ready for another week but alas my plans to hide as a stowaway were doomed as Mags was to drive me back to Fenit to collect my car. Something tells me this is not going to be the last time I stand on the deck of the Celtic Mist!
Cruise 3: 11-17 July 2021
Crew on the third week members cruise on Celtic Mist Pearse McDonnell reports via video:
Cruise 2: Sunday 4 July
Our journey began in Crosshaven, Co. Cork, where we met our fantastic crew – skipper Noel, first mate Pat, IWDG members Susan, Tony, Robbie, and Daniel, and marine biologists Sorcha and Li-ann. The crew clicked instantly, we knew we were in for a whale of a time and it wasn’t a fluke! First order of business was a trip to the shop to stock up on necessities for the week. Once that was out of the way our skipper gave us the safety briefing, outlined the passage plan and the duties involved in sailing for the week. We sat down to a nice meal and went to bed dreaming of our voyage ahead.
Monday 5 July
We set off early on Monday morning as we had a long journey to our next destination, Glandore. Upon leaving Cork harbour Sorcha and Li-ann recorded the environmental conditions. As it was our first day the crew were just getting their sea legs and we were all feeling a bit queasy! It was a loooooong 9 hours! We soon realized that the cure to sea sickness is SIGHTINGS! Our first sighting was just off the Old Head of Kinsale, Sorcha spotted a large blow in the distance which we made sure to record in our data collection software – Logger. We made our way safely toward the animal and discovered it was a fin whale. Not only one, but two whales! We couldn’t believe it, our first sighting and it was the second largest whale species in the world! The encounter lasted about half an hour, and they surfaced right beside us, we could even hear their blows!
Not long after, we had our second sighting – a juvenile minke whale. The highlight of our first day had to be our third sighting. A curious minke that hung around for twenty minutes, swimming in under Celtic Mist a number of times and surfacing right beside us! Close enough to understand why they’re affectionately known as Stinky Minkes! We arrived in Glandore and were treated to a gourmet feast by the first pair on cooking duty, Tony and Daniel. A great way to end our whale-filled first day.
Tuesday 6 July
We set off from Glandore to Baltimore. The sea state was less than ideal with a large swell. However, we had learned our lesson from the previous day and took our sea sickness tablets! Life changing! Unfortunately, due to poor sea conditions we had no sightings. We still made the most of our time on the Atlantic. The more experienced crew members helped the marine biologists learn valuable sailing skills like rope knots, putting up the sails and using fenders safely. The rain held off, so we enjoyed our second day just appreciating the journey to our next destination. When we landed in Baltimore, we decided to go for a sociable pint on land in Bushe’s bar. Li-ann and Sorcha were on dinner duty and much to their surprise everyone enjoyed it immensely!
Wednesday 7 July
Wednesday morning, we refueled and set sail for Castletownsend. We sailed out of Roaring Water Bay, past Cape Clear Island and around Fastnet Rock. The weather was incredible! We spotted multiple sunfish flapping their fins on the surface of the water, looking as confused as we were! Sunfish lack a tail fin and use their dorsal and anal fins to move making it look unusual hanging around the surface. What an awkward fish! There were also lots of puffins sitting and diving all around us. We arrived in Castletownsend and anchored. After dinner, two of the crew decided to take a short dip in the balmy waters of the harbour. What a way to conclude an amazing day!
Thursday 8 July
We left Castletownsend for Kinsale. We had our first experience of dolphins bow riding – 4 common dolphins swam with the boat for several minutes, breaching and twirling in the water. Everyone was thoroughly entertained by their mesmerizing acrobatics! The sea was calm making it easier to spot marine mammals. The highlight of the trip was spotting a Humpback whale off Galley Head that appeared to be travelling with two fin whales! Their blows were very distinctive, tall and bushy! We followed them while also maintaining a safe distance so as not to disturb them. The humpback fluked, showing the underside of his tail as he was diving. We took photos of the tail and dorsal fins, which was distinctively marked, allowing us to identify him as HBIRL3 or “Boomerang”. This whale has been sighted in Irish waters since 2001, and our encounter was the 57th to date! Our day finished in Kinsale, with a delicious birthday meal for our first mate Pat! Happy birthday!
Friday 9 July
The last day of our trip was spent exploring Kinsale town, hearing local history from one of our crew members, a Cork native! The weather was less than ideal, more of a day for ducks than a day for whales! We left Kinsale for Crosshaven on the final leg of our voyage. There was a large swell and heavy mist, making it difficult to spot any animals. It was a short journey back to Cork harbour, with many jellyfish along the way. We went for a freezing cold swim in a local swimming spot – Graball Bay. It was there we had our final sighting of the trip, a grey seal a short distance from the shore. It was a great way to seal our adventure!
Saturday 10 July
Saturday was spent giving Celtic Mist a good scrub-down. We sadly said our farewells to our wonderful crew members, after a fantastic week of cetaceans, craic, agus ceol! Until the next adventure
Text by Li-Ann Small and Images by Li-Ann Small and Sorcha McGuire