Celtic Mist Cruise 9 – Baltimore to Cork
It was a mixed bag of weather as the crew made their way back to Cork!
After a morning of buying provisions, safety briefings and getting to grips with Logger (the programme used for data collection) we set off from Baltimore at 12pm. We made our way through the Gascannane Sound with beautiful conditions and flat calm seas. An hour after we left the harbour a lone harbour porpoise was spotted heading rapidly away from the boat, quickly followed by two more, also heading through the bay towards Baltimore.
We had high hopes for the remainder of the day as we sailed along the coast towards Mizen Head. Unfortunately, this did not come to fruition. Despite ideal spotting weather with no swell, low sea state, and little glare, no sightings were recorded for the rest of the day. However, there were a number of seabirds spotted, including groups of Manx Shearwaters and common guillemots, most were sitting happily on the surface of the water, with clearly very full bellies! Once we got to Mizen Head, we turned back and headed along to Crookhaven to dock in the visitors’ moorings for the night. A quick swim in the bay, followed by a few beers we had optimistic thoughts for the following day.
We had an early breakfast the next day and were on our way to Fastnet Lighthouse by 9.30. Logger was not ready for the early start, however; but was finally sorted by 10:30. Passive watches were undertaken whilst this was being sorted, however it was clear the day was not going to be as calm as the previous. Sea state was at 3, with a light-moderate swell for most of the day, and the sea sickness started to kick in for a few on board. We luckily got to Fastnet without too much difficulty, but we were then notified of a small craft warning coming into place on Irish coasts, so we headed back towards Sherkin/Baltimore. On the way, we had a brief sighting of two common dolphins who were spotted a 100m or so from the boat. A little while later, three common dolphins came to bow-ride the boat, including a mother and very young calf. They did not stick around for long but were spotted leaping approx. 50m from the boat before disappearing into the waves. Gannets, shearwaters, great skuas, and various gull species were flying around throughout the day but were not diving at any stage. That was the end of the sightings for the day, and we had an early end to the day anchored between Skerkin Island and Baltimore. Again, high hopes for tomorrow!
In the morning our skipper Dave relayed the good news for the day, the forecast was due to be good all day! This would likely be our biggest opportunity for sightings for the whole week. We left Sherkin around 10am, with the end goal of Kinsale in mind. After an initial quiet few hours with little spotted and very few birds around, the back of an unidentified whale was briefly spotted 300m from the stern. Shortly after, common dolphins appeared at our bow, bow-riding and leaping. This lifted our spirits immediately, and with conditions calming to sea state 1 and little swell, common dolphins were spotted numerous times whilst we were approximately 10 miles from shore. We were hoping a whale might visit us but unfortunately to no avail. We did however have a young basking shark swim under the boat and mill about the vessel for around 15 minutes.
We then spotted a few circling birds that looked like they were searching for food, when 10-12 dolphins appeared. What we initially thought were all common dolphins, turned out to be a mixture of bottlenose and common dolphins! There was a lot of frenzied activity as they appeared around our boat, which from looking back on the photos may appear to be the bottlenose possibly chasing commons. Further examination of photos are required. After a long day of sailing, we headed back towards the head of Kinsale, passively spotting for the last hour as everyone had worn their eyes out at that stage! We were able to get moorings at the harbour in Kinsale, and had a late dinner, followed by a cocktail in Kinsale. A great day was had, and everyone was in high spirits going to bed.
We awoke to a very wet day in Kinsale and treated ourselves to showers in the Marina before refilling water etc. and heading out towards Crosshaven for our final docking. We had hoped to be able to have a mill around by Cork, however, the swell was very high making spotting impossible. We therefore made our way straight into Crosshaven. Gatherings of seabirds were spotted well in the distance on the horizon between Kinsale and Crosshaven, but it was too difficult to tell if any cetaceans were around. We made it into Crosshaven with a tricky docking at the pontoon, with a sigh of relief from our Skipper! Unfortunately, this was our last day of sailing due to worse conditions forecast for the following day.
Celtic Mist Cruise 8 – Cork to Baltimore
The crew were bathed in sunshine and treated to sighting after sighting of dolphins during the lastest cruise!
by: Kim Ludwig
The day started out with very good environmental conditions, however, due to some issues that needed to be resolved on the boat first, as well as safety briefing, departure did not happen before 13:00. Then we left Crosshaven and made our way out of Cork harbour, heading for a location where basking sharks had been sighted a few days before. On the way, we had our first sighting of two harbour porpoises from the deck. We then continued further to the ‘basking shark point’. We had an encounter with a grey seal bottling but unfortunately no basking sharks were found, so we started to make our way out towards deeper waters, where a couple of wrecks would be lying on the ground and potentially attracting fish shoals and maybe something bigger. We did encounter a small pod of common dolphins, with one calf in the group headed towards us, dove underneath the bow, and showed some bow-riding behaviour. They then moved away a bit and leaping in the distance. Due to the late hour we sailed back and found few more harbour porpoises and another grey seal while heading back into Cork harbour. Environmental conditions remained great for most of the day with high visibility, no swell, sea state of mostly 1 and little glare until the end of the day. Many seabirds were seen throughout the trip, but were generally idle on the water surface. All in all a successful day!
We started the day fuelling the boat and left Crosshaven at about 10:30, making our way out on a mirrorlike sea with fantastic conditions for cetacean spotting! The first sightings were a couple of common dolphins, a grey seal and few harbour porpoises. The middle of the day we sighted mostly jellyfish in the water as we cruised towards the 100m depth contour, making our way west towards Gally Head. On the way, we spotted some more groups of dolphins and as we came closer, they were coming from all sides – there were common dolphins everywhere, including several calves. They came to bow-ride, showed leaps and stayed with us for a bit of time. After that, we went off-effort, but were lucky enough to spot another group of common dolphins on our way to Gally Head. We also got sight of Celtic Explorer on the Horizon. We ended the day anchoring in the Bay before Red Strand. Another day of great weather and cetaceans!
With another day of great conditions ahead, we planned to move towards the shelf edge, to and beyond the 100-meter depth contour where a pair of fin whales had been sighted a few days back. As we headed out, we had occasional encounters with harbour porpoises and groups of common dolphins. However, the further we moved out, the scarcer the sightings became. At the same time, the swell increased, leaving a few of us with slight sea sickness. We moved over a series of wrecks, in the hope of an artificial-reef effect might attract more fish and therefore the cetaceans predating on them. Yet, we were disappointed. Moving back towards the coast, we spotted some more dolphins, two harbour porpoises and a grey seal, and finally arrived and anchored in front of Glandore, where we enjoyed the last bits of sunshine.
The next day was and incredible busy day of sightings, with both biologists flat our inputting sightings, with IWDG members shouting out sighting after sighting! There were several more pods of common dolphin spotted and two encounters of Minke Whales, adding a new cetacean to the mix. The boat travelled from Glandore past Baltimore towards Cape Clear, with more sightings and two bait balls spotted just south of cape clear. We have been so lucky with the weather so far this trip and everyone on board were grinning from ear to ear as we experience some of the best wildlife and scenery that Ireland had to offer!
Last day of cruise 8 started early, as we manoeuvred the boat out of the southern bay of Cape Clear. For the first time since the start of the cruise, we had some more wind. Today’s itinerary took us first to Mizen Head, where we got a surprise visit from a minke whale, surfacing just behind the boat on the way, as well as some more harbour porpoises and common dolphins. From Mizen Head, we went south to circle the Fastnet lighthouse. On the way there, we spotted a small sunfish, which was probably the most unexpected encounter of the day. Further down towards Fastnet, the wind and sea state increased to a point where effort watches were very difficult. We therefore kept a rather casual effort going. Instead, the sails were raised for the very first time, giving the members a different kind of experience. On our way back to Baltimore, we sighted a dead seal in the water, which, from its state of degradation, might have been dead for few days. After taking a few photographs of the carcass, we headed further for Baltimore harbour, everyone happy and looking forward to the first shower in four days!
Celtic Mist Cruise 7 – Baltimore to Cork
by: Siún Ní Cheallaigh
Ireland’s biodiversity was truly on display during this jam-packed cruise!
We set off from Baltimore harbour early on Monday morning to a fairly rough start. The swell was high, the visibility was extremely low, and there was a small craft warning forecast for the next two days. I’m usually not someone who gets seasick. Growing up, I spent all my summer holidays on coastal fishing boats, and I worked offshore on fisheries surveys without ever feeling ill enough to puke. Something about the conditions that day got to me, and I couldn’t stay out on deck. I spent the majority of the afternoon in my cabin and missed the first minke whale sighting of the trip. I was disappointed and a bit frustrated with myself, but I was assured that everyone experiences seasickness at some stage. Monday evening brought common dolphin and grey seal sightings. Even with little or no visibility, it was impossible to miss the bow-riding dolphins and they definitely elevated the mood on board.
Day 2 & 3:
The conditions on Tuesday and Wednesday were very similar, with low visibility and no whale sightings. On Tuesday evening, as we sailed into Castletown Berehaven harbour, where I saw my first harbour porpoises. A mother and calf pair passed us by, about a hundred meters away. I had never seen harbour porpoises at home on Killala Bay, Co. Mayo, so it was amazing to finally see our smallest cetacean in person.
Wednesday brought more harbour porpoise and common dolphin sightings. I had long since gotten over Monday’s seasickness and I was once again extremely excited for the better weather forecast towards the end of the week. The harbour porpoise, common dolphin and seal sightings gave us lots of opportunities to play around with Logger, the onboard program used by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group to keep records of every marine mammal sighting from the Celtic Mist trips. It records GPS coordinates of observed cetaceans, weather conditions, cetacean behaviour, and lots more related information. As a result of the less-than-ideal weather, we had not made much distance, and on Wednesday evening chose to return to Baltimore harbour.
On Thursday morning, the day I had been waiting for with anticipation, I was greeted by sunshine through my cabin’s porthole. It was the first time we had seen the sky since leaving Baltimore on Monday morning! The conditions had improved drastically that morning and we set sail out onto almost flat seas. We left Baltimore for a second time, this time with the sun over our heads and Fastnet lighthouse fully visible. It was no longer the hazy, distant figure in the fog it had been on Monday. The visibility was incredible and I along with Thomas, the other marine biologist onboard, were glued to our binoculars. We had only been sailing for an hour or so when an adult minke whale surfaced right in my field of view. The sighting was brief, and it slipped back under the surface, out of sight. It was our first whale sighting in days and excitement immediately spread throughout the crew. We were now on high alert, scanning the area ahead of us for any kind of bird feeding activity, when I suddenly spotted a pair of circling gannets drop into a dive just ahead of us. Then, bang! The minke whale reappeared, surfacing another three or four times and allowing us to snap some photographs, before disappearing once again.
The rush of excitement I was feeling had very little time to subside before it increased tenfold at the sight of three huge, tall pillar-like blows a few hundred meters from our bow. By now, everyone was up on the deck, glued to the horizon as we made our way over as quickly as we could. Three huge fin whales (two adults and one possible juvenile) appeared to our left, blowing again as they surfaced. They rested there, swimming slowly for just a minute or two before they slipped away under the surface and out of our view. It was absolutely incredible to witness the second largest animal on the planet at such close proximity to the boat! I have heard some people describe fin whales as one of the more boring whales to observe, especially in comparison to humpbacks which tend to breach and display themselves more dramatically at the surface. But, to me, these brief glimpses of such an enormous body at the surface make the fin whale more exciting. Their elusiveness adds a layer of mystery to the fin whale that for me personally, makes the sighting a much more exhilarating experience.
On Friday and Saturday, the sea was even flatter and the visibility somehow even clearer. We were still on a high from our fin whale sightings, but unfortunately, no more whales were to be seen. However, our last two days were still filled with common dolphins and a basking shark sighting and were not any less enjoyable! It was a fantastic experience overall and one I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in whales and dolphins. I will definitely be returning again next year if I can!
Celtic Mist Cruise 6 – Fenit to Baltimore
by: Christina Winkler
How to make it from Fenit to Baltimore in 4 days!
After the previous leg did not make it to Dingle, the Celtic Mist was boarded in the Fenit marina. We spent that first day getting familiar with the boat and getting to know each other over dinner at Mike’s Beach Shop and Café!
That morning we had time to go through all the safety features on board, learn how to knot a fender to the boat and refilled the fuel tanks. A nice sight of a compass jellyfish swimming in the marina made us raring to go and see what was out there! We went for a sail that afternoon in Fenit Bay hoping to encounter the famous ‘Fenit three’, a group of bottlenose dolphins originally from the Moray Firth in Scotland, who have been in Fenit for approximately 3 years. Unfortunately, we didn’t see them this time, but it was nice to have a sail before heading off the next morning.
Finally leaving Fenit, we sailed south to Knightstown, Valentia. This time luck was on our side and we spotted the Fenit 3 that morning! This was just the start of the sightings that day and we soon saw four more bottlenose dolphins in Brandon Bay, this time part of the Shannon dolphin population. Then as we continued south and sailed past the Blasket Islands we came across a feeding frenzy, with several minke whales and common dolphins feeding beneath the waves, as shearwaters and other seabirds joined in, soaring above. We even had a brief sighting of a humpback whale. Although it was difficult to track, we did manage to get that all-important shot of the underside of its fluke, identifying it as HB1RL107 from the Irish catalogue. The most memorable sighting of the day was still to come, however, as a juvenile minke whale was spotted and swam towards the vessel, exploring the underside of our boat and circling around us! Everyone onboard was overcome with excitement, with everyone walking quickly (not running!) from one side of the boat to the other and forgetting about previous sea sickness. After a light lunch in the cover of Inis Vickillaune and watching a few ‘left-over puffins’, we made it safely to our second stop of the leg. What a day!
Having the previous day’s encounters still fresh in our mind, we managed to spot two minke whales and some common dolphins foraging while passing Valentia Island. We also got another very brief glimpse of a humpback whale, a reminder of our encounter with HBIRL107 from the previous day. After a quick visit to Little Skellig and lunch surrounded by gannets, we headed for Derrynane Harbour for the night. The most important lesson we learned that day was probably the importance of closing all portholes properly while out at sea 🙂 Oops!
Heading out of Kenmare Bay the next day, we passed Bull Rock and Cow Rock, watching more gannets dive and circle around us. After passing Dursey Island we made it into Castletownbere for the night, having seen a few pods of common dolphins (again) on the way and terns welcoming us in the harbour.
The last day at sea started with filling the water tanks before heading towards Baltimore. On the way to Fastnet Rock, we encountered multiple pods of common dolphins (yes, again!), which were a welcome distraction from the weather not being great all day and the visibility getting worse the closer we got to port. We also spotted a solitary sunfish, the first of the season for Celtic Mist! One last night out on land was spent dining at Jacob’s Bar in the Waterfront Hotel, followed by pints and a singsong in Bushe’s Bar, before one more sleep in our bunks! What a trip!
Celtic Mist Cruise 5 – Kilrush to Fenit
by: Megan Clarkson, IWDG intern
Despite some setbacks, the crew had a real adventure, exploring the west coast by land and sea!
Arriving on the first afternoon we all, I think with a mixture of excitement and nerves, met our new Captain Mick, first mate Seamus and fellow crewmates. After choosing our bunks and piling in our luggage we settled in and checked out our new home for the next few days. As one of the marine biologists on board, I made a beeline for the equipment to check all was in order and the cameras were ready. The captain then outlined the safety briefing and voyage details before we did the most important task, making a grocery list to get the next morning. Ready for a wonderful cruise and wildlife adventure, the crew headed off for dinner in town.
The next morning, with shelves restocked, we were ready to leave when bad luck strikes. The engines are not engaging. It turns out water had leaked into the battery cases from an unknown source leading to a shortage in the batteries. Plans are immediately made for a mechanic to come to look at the issue and while waiting Mick, Seamus and Shawn drained and cleaned out the water. Topside Megan another of the interns with IWDG went through and explained our goal and research with the rest of the crew, outlining the protocol we follow, what we look for to spot any signs of cetaceans and how we can identify their species by their flukes, fins, size, sometimes behaviour and colouring or markings. By day end, while eating a very delicious meal made by Alessandro and Ruggero, we got the news that we were going to get new batteries the following day.
While waiting for the batteries to be fitted a few of us took the IWDG jeep and made our way to Loop Head. Walking down on the far right-hand side, Alessandro and Ruggero spotted some bottlenose dolphins far out heading south to the tip of Loop Head. As we neared the bottom, we were welcomed with the aerial acrobatics of about 20 bottlenose dolphins coming from all directions, some groups were feeding and throwing fish, others were leaping, and a few were surfing the small waves close to the cliff. After a while the dolphins dispersed, and we were left with a few individuals moving North up the coast. Leaving Loop Head, we headed to the Bridges of Ross. On our way we were met with a herd of cattle and watched as they slowly made their way down the road, laughing as some sneaked off to enjoy a mid-walk snack, creating a stream of cars trailing behind them. With increasingly cold wind in the afternoon, we quickly enjoyed the scenery of the Bridges of Ross, looked for some seals or passing dolphins with no luck, before making our way back to Celtic Mist to find that the old adage is true, bad luck strikes in threes! It turned out that the shortage had also damaged the alternator and fan belt. So, with plans made to get replacements the next day and some of us wondering what could happen next, we went into town to enjoy a meal and drinks at the Haven Arms.
Whilst Megan and our captain Mick went to Limerick to get the replacement part, back in Kilrush some of the crew had an enjoyable morning learning to tie knots, read currents and maps and drive the rib. In the afternoon a few of us went to the Vandeleur Walled Gardens, enjoying the afternoon sun amongst the flowers. The gardens were followed by a nice evening walk to Aylevaroo beach and Cappagh Pier. Mick and Megan then returned with the new alternator on board, ready to be fitted the next day. We all enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the evening sun. After dinner our new crew member Emma arrived and brought with her some very appreciated after dinner chocolates and biscuits!
Waking up to another beautiful morning, final adjustments and engine checks were made and that afternoon we finally set sail and were on our way to open water! Our first destination was Loop Head, everyone looking out to sea for any sign of anything and as we approached the outer estuary. We had our first sighting of seven bottlenose dolphins who, as if to say welcome, came bowriding for a few minutes, before quickly disappeared. The excitement of our first encounter saw everyone continue looking for anything and everything. A few times we were teased by some diving gannets, thinking a possible bait ball had formed and we eagerly searched for any signs of more dolphins. Unfortunately, we had no more dolphin sightings, but we had no shortage of bird activity from gannets to razorbills, shearwaters, cormorants, shags, and gulls, as well as the appearance of two common seals. As evening descended, we anchored in Kilbaha and after another tasty dinner, we went ashore on the rib to enjoy ice cream, apple pie and drinks at Keating’s Bar and Restaurant.
Departing early in the morning with another beautiful day and calm seas. We sailed east towards Brandon Bay and came across our first cetacean sighting of the day. Still some distance away, initially, the surfacing behaviour and small size looked like harbour porpoises but coming closer we realised they were common dolphins. They had just finished a feeding frenzy and were now resting and dispersing with small groups of two to three individuals widely spread around the boat. We then sailed past Brandon Bay to Sauce Creek. On the way, we saw a few diving gannets and a massive bloom of jellyfish, some the length of your arm! Turning around we headed back to Brandon Bay and as we were ready to drop anchor, two bottlenose dolphins popped up a few metres parallel to the boat, we rushed for our cameras, while they slowly swam away making their way out of the bay and passively surfacing.
After a nice lunch we were anchors up and with the weather changing due to the coming storm, bad luck strike 3, we headed to Fenit. Just outside of the bay I saw a group of dolphins far away from us and went to log the sightings and environment data, only for them to suddenly appear beside us. A group of five bottlenose dolphins caught a ride, bowriding for a few minutes then stopped and started foraging with behaviour of deep dives and non-directional travel. Leaving these dolphins, we proceeded to the Maharee Islands. Passing the islands, the rain started, and the swell increased making for a fun, wet and semi-wild ride. Turning into Fenit bay we were hopeful to see the famed Fenit three, which are Scottish dolphins from the Moray Firth who have been in Fenit for approximately 3 years. As if they knew our anticipation to see them, they stayed hidden for what seemed as long as possible. As we neared the harbour, we started to give up on seeing them but stayed out in the rain just in case. Although we got totally drenched, we were rewarded with their sudden appearance at the bow. We quickly scrambled to input data and get the cameras. They were browriding for about ten minutes as if guiding us in, moving from left to right and rolling on their sides to look at us, while we were dangling over the railing trying to see them. It’s an amazing experience looking into their eyes as they play near the boat but then, just as quickly as they appeared they broke off, and we could see them far off the stern swimming to the outer part of the bay. Excited with the cuteness of the dolphins we sailed into the harbour. The arrival of the storm meant the end of our voyage and the final dock at Fenit. Ending the night with another tasty meal and chatting and checking our photos, we finally fell asleep to the sound of rain and small waves hitting the side of her hull.
On our last day all together we said our goodbyes to half the crew mid-morning, and we were left with four. The rest of the day was spent cleaning and packing, making the boat ready for the next crew. As evening approached, two members other members from the IWDG arrived to collect us and we all went out for a wonderful dinner and drinks at the West End Bar and Restaurant in Fenit, with live music accompanying our meal!
I want to say thank you to my fellow crewmates, the captain and first mate for a wonderful trip. Although not always to plan, it was an amazing experience with incredible dolphins, delicious food, amazing weather in the first half of our journey and amazing people on board who made it a very enjoyable voyage.
Celtic Mist Cruise 4 – Kilrush to Kilrush
by: Peter Brennan
It was a bottlenose bonanza on our latest cruise.
We were scheduled to meet Celtic Mist at Kilrush Marina for the start of the cruise, but the previous group had some Covid issues and had left the boat in Fenit. I got a ride from Dublin with Irene Reidy, the Chief Mate, and Liam Quinn, the Skipper, with the mission to get the boat back to Kilrush to pick up the rest of the crew.
We left the harbour early on the next morning with a thick fog bank covering Tralee Bay. However, it wasn’t long before our first sighting as two adult dolphins and a juvenile came and swam in the bow wake. The fog cleared when we passed Kerry Head, but we could see it was still foggy in Tralee Bay. We entered the Shannon Estuary at about 8:15 am and saw numerous bottlenose dolphins, with several swimming and surfing in the bow wake, jumping and playing around the Celtic Mist! We arrived at the Kilrush lock at midday. Liam, Irene, and I tested for Covid and all came up negative. Yay! We were ready to pick up the rest of the crew!
At Kilrush, we were joined by Siobhan Shell, Frank O’Malley, and Susi Matejka, who also tested for negative Covid. Yay! Again. We did our grocery shopping and had some tea and scones (made by Irene’s Mom, Bernice – Thanks Bernie!), before setting off from Kilrush at 4:00 pm. When we got to the lock, we had to wait while thirteen curraghs, with an accompanying RIB and a large motor boat, exited. After a while, it reminded me of the car at the circus where all the clowns keep coming out. Liam kept us “in neutral” until they were all out, and then we transited the lock and headed back toward Fenit. We saw a few dolphins on the way, but not so many as on the way up, and they did not come and play around the Celtic Mist.
The next day was cooler, with full cloud cover – which actually makes spotting and observing marine mammals easier! After breakfast (again, thanks, Bernie, for the scones) we warped at the pier so we could pull out of the marina in forward, not reverse and Susi gave us a brief lesson on the logger software, which is used to record all the data. That morning we passed between Rough Point and the Maharees, a.k.a. the Seven Hogs, and proceeded west, staying north of Brandon Bay. Hours passed without seeing any sign of whales or dolphins. We were near Brandon Head and just sitting down to lunch when we had our first sighting. I think at first it was five bottlenose dolphins, but soon there were many, many more, coming from all directions. Many of them spent a good while surfing in the bow wake. They were jumping and turning belly up and such. There were some juveniles and calves including at least one who was very, very young – still showing the wrinkle lines from being curled up in the mommy’s womb, known as fetal folds. As we headed into Brandon Bay that group left us, but a short time later another group joined us and picked up where they had left off. They accompanied us all the way to the village of Brandon mooring field.
We had considered spending the night on a mooring in Brandon Bay, but at this point, the weather was getting rough, and we decided to return to Fenit, with another group of dolphins escorting us back toward the Maharees! “The Fenit Three” a.k.a. “The Scottish Dolphins” then escorted us the last mile into the Fenit Harbor Marina. After dinner Susi presented a slide show of photos taken with the Hi-Res cameras on the Celtic Mist, pointing out the identifying marks that help the group’s scientists to track individual dolphins.
The next day, the weather was raw. We left Fenit, heading northwest, passed Rough Head and Inishtookart without seeing the Fenit Three. We then passed Kerry Head in deep fog and swell and made for Loop Head. We proceeded north following the 50-meter contour line. We had heard that Minke whales are often seen along the contour line, but we, unfortunately, did not see any. After hours with no sightings, we finally saw a couple of common dolphins. When we entered the Shannon estuary a few bottlenose dolphins came to check us out, but it was nothing like the day before, which had been action-packed. We anchored for the night off Kilbaha.
The next day we left the Shannon estuary, rounded Loop Head and followed the 50-meter contour line along the coast, on a northeast heading for a good few hours, but did not see minke whales or dolphins. We returned to the Shannon estuary and just after 6 pm that evening two small groups of bottlenose dolphins came and swam with us. Susi said that the photos were taken captured markings that will enable IWDG to identify individuals. We anchored for the night in Carrigaholt Bay, besides Peter Lawless. Just off Carrigaholt Castle.
We followed the 50-meter contour line for six hours on Thursday, from Loop Head to Brandon Point, seeing nary a whale nor a dolphin – until we approached Brandon Bay. Then the dolphins came out. And how! They came from near and far. They came in droves. They actually came in shifts, and it was obvious that they thought surfing in the bow wake of the CM was the best bit of fun since the circus last came to town. They crowded each other out to get the best spot. They jumped, they spun, and they swam upside down.
At one point a very big fellow misjudged his jump and banged his head, hard, on the guard rail on the starboard side. It sounded like the CM had hit another steel-hulled boat. After that, there was a lull for a few moments as if maybe the group’s mother said: “Calm down now everybody. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”
But after a short while, the festivities began anew. The dolphin who had hit the rail resumed jumping, much to our relief. We took thousands of photos that day. There were mothers with calves, juveniles, old folks, and gangs of adolescents. They seemed to be showing off and trying to outdo one another. I’ve seen a lot of dolphins jumping over the ears, living as I do on the Gulf of Mexico, but we saw dolphins jump on that day farther than I had ever seen a dolphin jump before!! Words cannot describe it, so check out the photos and videos. Then again, pictures don’t do it justice. So, your best bet is to decide to participate in one of these surveys yourself!
On the penultimate day, we put diesel in the tanks and left Fenit Harbor. We met “The Fenit Three” almost immediately. Then when we approached Brandon Point the bottlenose dolphins came out to greet us. Maybe even more than on Thursday. We idled for a long time, and they congregated around the CM. They were pretty active; jumping, slapping the water with their tails, jostling one another. They had the feeling of the crowd at a concert waiting for the band to start playing. Eventually, we started moving and it was evident that was what they were all waiting for, as they began to surf in the bow wake. My camera ran out of memory as I took photo after photo. I then relaxed and just enjoyed watching them. We returned to Carrigaholt Bay and anchored for the night.
On the last day we checked out Kildraugan Point and Scattery Island with no sightings, but there were several bottlenose dolphins between Scattery Island and the Moneypoint power plant, and especially around Beale. Not a bad day, but it pales in comparison with Thursday and Friday in Brandon Bay and off Brandon Point. Of course, as everyone knows, dolphins have a special talent for disappearing when you point a camera at them and reappearing when you put the camera away, so it is very nice to take a break from photographing and videoing them, and just enjoy watching them for a bit.
Thanks to all the crew and members who joined us on board! If, like Peter recommends, you would like to join us on a cruise you can find out more about the cruises here.
Celtic Mist Cruise 3 – Sligo to Kilrush
by: Gemma O’Connor
Curious minke accompanies Celtic Mist on our latest cruise.
“How’s this Pat?” I said as I held up my knot for Pat to check, Pat already grinning from ear to ear responded with “It wouldn’t do in a Cathedral”.
Humour, laughs, great food, and a lovely group of people on board got this cruise to Ros an Mhíl in high spirits, despite what the weather was throwing at us. The skipper was Pat Hartigan, Chief mate was Lucia, Marine biologists were Elena and Anna Clare, and seasoned pros were Patricia, Annette, and Robbie. It was my first time sailing on Celtic Mist.
We set sail Monday morning in beautiful sunshine with a plan to sail through the night and reach Inis Bo Finne (Inishbofin) and press on from there to Kilrush before the weather turned nasty. The Sligo coast delivered later that morning. Spotters poised like meerkats with binoculars sighted a few dolphins airborne in the northwest, too far away to ID the species. After a while Robbie spots a minke whale from the stern area.
A little while later I hear a blow behind midships and there’s a minke whale barely 3-4 meters from the side of the Celtic Mist. Whether it was the Celtic Mist itself or the out of tune orchestra of squeals, yays and OMGs coming from everyone on board, this minke decided to check us out for quite a while. The whale repeatedly swum alongside, beside and under the Celtic Mist, sometimes on its side and even upside down at one point.
We then sailed south through the night along the 100m contour which took us well outside the Inis Gé Islands. Although all I could see of Blackrock lighthouse was its light, it was still an impressive yet bittersweet sight as ever, now shining white and not the usual red I see from home. For a while a little phosphorescence sparkled in the water we displaced, and I was still ever hopeful of hearing a blow in the dark, we were in whale territory now after all.
The following morning a few common dolphins graced us by bow riding Celtic Mist. Gannets were noticeably scarce since the start of this trip. The most frequently encountered sea birds by far were Manx Shearwaters, followed by Guillemots, Black guillemots, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Gannets, Sandwich terns, a Great skua and possibly a single arctic term.
The unidentified tern barely got a look in as a small group of juvenile common dolphins were spotted who appeared to be chasing us from behind like pre-schoolers after an ice-cream truck. They were tiny, adorably tiny, and determined to have a bow ride or two.
Due to the looming bad weather, we pressed on and 37 hours after setting sail we berthed in Cill Rónáin, Inis Mór. Here we met the adorable Nela the sea dog, sailing with her owner Moncho. Our next and last passage was to Ros an Mhíl. Surprisingly no one got seasick during the whole trip! With the Celtic Mist safely secured and our sailing finished for this cruise, we all jumped on the ferry to Inis Oírr for some sight-seeing and craic where skipper Pat spots a new dolphin species, the bottlenose dolphin.
Thanks to Elena García Martíne for the beautiful Minke whale she sketched while onboard and thanks to the lovely bunch of people on cruise three who’ve set the bar high.
Cruise 2: Celtic Mist sailed from Derry to Sligo
by Darragh Furey
After getting onboard this evening in Derry everyone on board was introduced to their roles and what the expectations were from each other. Mick the skipper has explained the cooking and cleaning regime so that everyone can help. We went out for a meal in the local hotel as a get together and to get formally introduced. Due to weather conditions we had to change plans and instead of heading to Inishtrahull, an island to the north of Derry we motored to Greencastle in order to allow the poor weather to pass. Greencastle was a beautiful little seaside town with lots of fishing vessels.
Next leg was Greencastle to Tory. The weather had improved for the morning, but we had a very early start as this was going to be the longest day in terms of sailing from A to B. As the day went on the weather deteriorated somewhat and many of the crew, including myself were feeling somewhat seasick. However, we perked up after seeing a pair of harbour porpoise travelling into the estuary early in the morning as we exited Lough Foyle. We also saw plenty of bird life including gannets, fulmars, common guillemots, black guillemots, manx shearwater and razorbills. The crew were keen to conduct dedicated watches and it the first time assisting on cetacean watches on the water for many onboard. With challenging conditions, the crew held up very well and spirits were high as we reached Tory Island.
For the sail from Tory to Arranmore we had beautiful weather, with much warmer conditions and less swell. There was plenty of birdlife again, but unfortunately no identified sightings. We had a fantastic view of Errigal from the ocean as we anchored up overnight. Everyone was in good spirits as we sat down for dinner with each meal being better than the last. We have been eating very well on this trip and we even had freshly baked brown soda bread loaves made by the skipper provided by the sponsor Fuschia Bakehouse.
We set sail at a relaxed time to head around the Arranmore island the next morning and made our way further south towards the Slieve Leagues in South Donegal. The weather deteriorated again with swell developing and the visibility reducing, but everyone was left in awe of the beautiful sea which are regarded as the tallest in Europe and twice as high as the Cliffs of Mohar. Our passage to Teelin was uneventful but making anchor early allowed Kirstin and I to go ashore and get some things from the shops in the local town. That night we kept spirits up with more board games and card games.
On Friday morning we got chatting to a Frenchman who was polite enough to offer assistance on our outboard engine. Additionally, a local tour guide had spotted some dolphins off the Slieve League, so after setting sail, we made the decision to revisit the cliffs with the hope of catching sight of the pod. Unfortunately, the tip didn’t pay off and no cetaceans were spotted again. However, Mick, the skipper, asks if there is a certain path or direction in which we should travel to try to improve our chances of catching something. So, I suggest we follow the north coast of Donegal Bay to chase a tip of some that Minke whales had been spotted feeding nearby just a few days previous. Hugging the coast, we made it to St. Johns point and the beautiful lighthouse there. After leaving this part of the bay we made our way south towards our anchorage at Mullaghmore. An hour after diverting slightly towards Bundoran town we started to see of some splashing on the horizon, which were suspected to be cetaceans. We began to see more and more frequent dorsal fins rising and diving as we got closer to the activity. It didn’t take long for us to catch up and a small pod of Common Dolphins (two to three adults and one juvenile) became very interested in our propeller! They then started congregating at the bow and playing in our bow wave, a behaviour known as bow-riding. They were a particularly playful and exuberant group who stayed with us for what seemed like hours. We could even hear them clicking and whistling. The pod grew in numbers as more dolphins came over to the bow. At the height of the activity, I estimated that there were 25-30 dolphins around the boat, with 3 juveniles and 2 calves. Photographs were taken in a flurry and plenty of video footage was taken. After a time, the dolphins swam off in different directions to resume their daily lives. After this encounter we sailed straight for Mullaghmore to make anchor. However, as we were setting up anchor for the night, I spotted a bottlenose dolphin feeding further into the bay.
Everyone was still abuzz from yesterday’s encounter as we left in beautiful conditions, with the sun shining for our final leg into Sligo town. Our trip around the headland was pleasant as we reflected on the week and how we had all enjoyed each other’s company. After lunch we were making our way further south along Dots point and Yellow Strand when a very large body was seen lumbering through the water as a pair on minke whales were seen feeding along the shallows of the bay. They were, however, very shy and photos were difficult due to their whereabouts not being revealed until the last second. About an hour later we were making our way slowly towards Rosses point before making our final approach to Sligo town. I had just spotted a few dorsal fins and movement further out in the bay when all of a sudden four or five bottlenose dolphins took an interest in the boat and gave us a fantastic display of breaching, bow riding and leaping out of the water. This pod was small at the start, but again the group grew and at the height of the activity I estimated that 25 animals were present, including two calves. It was interesting to experience their comparative size to the Common dolphin was a fascinating, with the bottlenose dolphins noticeably bigger. Again, the dolphins stuck around for maybe an hour before heading off and getting on with their lives.
Making it into Sligo town was a great end to the week, spending social time with everyone and being able to have such fascinating encounters was such a terrific bonus to the whole trip. Goodbyes were emotional as we all felt we knew each other so well already. The morning was spent cleaning the boat and making sure she was ready to be handed over to the next crew who were taking her down to Kilrush.
Cruise 1: Sunday 22nd May- Saturday 28th May
by Cara Bradley
Sunday 22nd May
Celtic Mist was moored in Derry ready to take on a new crew on its next adventure to the Hebrides. On board we had the Skipper, Pat, first mate, Lucia, biologists; Paula and Cara, along with the crew; Dean, John, Robbie and Uinsionn. After introductions were made, safety briefings completed and the new survey protocol was explained, the crew went out for a welcome tapas meal.
Monday 23rd May
Everyone was up early as we had a long day of sailing ahead. We all had breakfast, took our sea sickness tablets, and packed up ready to set off. It was a few hours of sailing up Lough Foyle before reaching open ocean and we had good view of seals and cormorants.
Once we had left the Lough, conditions stayed calm and bright, and we had not one but two minke whale sightings along the North Coast with one of the minkes surfacing only 50m from the bow of the boat! After 12 hours of sailing, we tied up in Port Ellen that evening. We were very grateful to enjoy some home cooked pasta dishes that Lucia had brought with her.
Tuesday 24th May
It was a favourable day for sailing the next day, but the forecast suggested it wasn’t going to last so we made the decision to head out surveying and return to Port Ellen that evening.
There were reports of a pod of 20 bottlenose dolphins sighted at Port Ellen on the Monday just before we arrived, with other reports saying they were now heading towards the Sound of Jura. Of course, we made the decision to head out and see if we were lucky enough to spot them! (Spoiler, we weren’t).
This came as a surprise after spotting a large area full of bird activity, which would commonly indicate there may be a cetacean or two feeding.
Despite not recording any more sightings, we returned to Port Ellen having witnessed some of the most incredible views sailing has to offer!
Wednesday 25th May
As predicted the condition were less than ideal for sailing on Wednesday. This left us island bound for the day, so we decided to take in all that Islay has to offer… including WHISKY! Following a relaxed morning pottering round the local shops, beaches, and the church yard in Bowmore we ventured into the distillery. After tasting what the distillery had to offer a number of the crew headed back to Port Ellen to experience the Whisky Mile before closing. On the picturesque walk back to the boat we happened upon a 4m prehistoric standing stone.
Thursday 26th May
Another day land bound meant we could travel a little further on Thursday. We went to Port Askaig and boarded the small ferry across to Jura, before exploring the area of Craighouse which has gorgeous views of the Paps of Jura. After lunch a few of the crew went for a quick dip in the sea before we had a nosey round the local shops. When all hope was lost for another sighting any time soon, due to the sea conditions, we were treated to pod of around 10 bottlenose dolphins as we were approaching the ferry terminal for our return crossing. They breached a few times as they travelled up the Sound of Islay. That evening we attended the local trad night in the nearby hotel. Our very own John and Paula were up dancing, with John joining the band on the tin whistle!
Friday 27th May
With the weather still not on our side and the uncertainty of when we could return to Derry, unfortunately, I had to depart via air from Islay to Glasgow and then on to Belfast. The rest of the crew spent the day exploring more of the Island through walks and swims, as well as sorting out bits of the boat for the inevitable choppy sail back.
Saturday 28th May
With Celtic Mist needed back in Derry on the Sunday to welcome a new crew on board, the crew needed to set sail from Islay for the long journey back even if the weather wasn’t ideal.