Just returned from a long awaited for revisit to the Blasket Islands on 16/18 Mar 2016 . Six ECSKC members made the journey, Tom Ronayne, Lonan Byrne, Tom Maguire, Eddy O'Shea, Gavan Sheridan and myself. We headed off to stay in the An Oige Hostal in Dun Chaoin which was a very comfortable billet for the Wed night.
Tom Roynane and I had driven down earlier in the day to recce launch/landing spots there. Winds were forecast as F2/3 SE on Wed, F4/5 SE on Thu and F2/3 SE on Fri. The plan was to camp on Inishvickilaune island and explore all the islands in the group over the two days. Coumeenole beach was first inspected and discounted due to heavy surf conditions on Thu F4/5 SE. The boulder beach at the hostel discounted also due to difficulties with handling heavily loaded boats over the large boulders. Dunchaoin Pier unsuitable due to the inordinately steep and long climb down and up again later. We selected Clogher beach a short drive from the hostel as our launch point due to good parking and easy access to the beach. The forecasted winds were SE F4/5 for the launch day on Thu. This would be challenging but doable using our route if all went to plan. Up early on Thu morning for a 1000hrs launch to catch the ebb tide at 1037hrs.
Launch time exactly 1000hrs as planned. Note that in W or SW conditions Clogher beach has very big surf too. Nothing is easy about going to the Blaskets. The weather was excellent and our plan was to head for Beginish then Tra Ban on Great Blasket to land for lunch. We made good progress getting some shelter from the SE off the mountainous mainland but it still took 1.5 hrs to reach the Gt Blasket Is a distance of 10 Kms. We had planned to land on Tra Ban beach but as we approached it began to move as a thousand seals swept into the sea. Incredible sight, it was mating time we guessed. We were forced to make a landing on the steep and incredibly slippery slipway. So steep we had to haul boats out on ropes and carabiner the boats to the handrail chain and connect each boat in turn to one another. Pleasant lunch and stroll about the ruined village in the sunshine. The SE wind was a bit chilling so we launched reasonably easily this time assisted by gravity.
Our plan was to head south along the exposed northern coast of the island hoping to get shelter from the SE winds and make a landing on the Oileain recommended pier at Inishvickillaune. As we paddled back up past Tra Ban an amazing thing happened. Dozens of seals came out to meet us and provided us with the most incredible experience as they escorted us all the way around to the north side of GtB. They were mostly in front but all about us diving and leaping and looking back at us. Some following the lead boats failed to see the following boats surfing along and were rammed but this did not bother them. We all agreed that we never saw anything quite like it.
We made reasonable progress along GtB despite strong katabatics which fortunately seemed to come from our rear. We reached Inisvick pier having crossed a reasonably bumpy Inishnabro Sound with loaded boats to discover a small platform with an incredibly steep, narrow and dodgy looking stairway rising up out of sight. The five foot swell and landing loaded boats meant this was not a runner. We headed about through Inisvick Sound to recce the Inisnabro east facing landing which in Oileain had warnings about surges. Entrance is through a narrow archway which had breaking waves across its mouth to a pool wide enough for about two boats. Eddy went in for a look and was followed by two more. The landing onto big boulders was impossible due to surging waves and all but impossible except in the calmest of conditions which we certainly did not have. The building water in the pool suddenly sucked out sending one boat hard down on its rudder and shearing it off. Luckily the three made it out without further mishap. So no landing and a broken rudder we had no choice but to return the way we came to land on Beginish. Tom struggled without a rudder in his heavy boat and we all crawled gratefully ashore after a 30kms paddle. Eventually we found a dry spot to camp on what at this time of year was a very wet island. We had a good night on Beginish with dinner, campfire, whiskey, port, good company and a magnificent moon over the silver sea all night right on our doorstep with the waves rolling rocks throughout the night and the calls from the amorous seal colony on GtB our lullaby. We awoke to a magnificent warm sunny morning with SE F2/3 and An Fear Marbh, our destination for that day, laid out, as in a wake, in front of us. We loaded up our boats after a leisurely breakfast and as the tide had come in to meet us launching was easy if a little behind schedule approx 15 mins.
We headed out to Inishtooshkert in glorious sunshine with the F2 at our backs lathered in sun factor 30/50. We rounded the south end of InisT to explore its wild western world. Magnificent breaking seas and clapotis which in these conditions despite our heavily laden boats were easily managed though bewarned of conditions here in anything from F4 or more or even F3 SW. Tom Ronayne had jury rigged his rudder which worked very well throughout despite it looking very wobbly from behind. The north end of InishT is magnificent with huge dagger like stacks and a tunnel through a hundred metre arch which we looked at for a long time as huge surf pounded through. Don't know what kind of day you'd need to get through here, F0 maybe. We headed around to the east side where Oileain says you can land in someone else's plastic boat onto a steeply shelving rock and scramble up 60/70 metres to the top......feck that, in our loaded fibreglass boats. We had a look and wondered at how they get the sheep on and off the island. We lunched on the water having learned from the previous day about difficult landings in the Blaskets.
We did drift south a bit during lunch and eventually had to face for Clogher Head where our landing beach was tucked inside around the headland. Wind had gottten up by now to a F3/4 NE as we faced into a 12Kms open crossing with wind and tide against us. You work hard for everything in the Blaskets. We made very good time back despite the fairly big sea coming down on us and managed a respectable three knots per hour in the conditions. Clogher beach after two hours of struggling across from InishT looked deceptively calm as we approached. Helmets were advised as our boats were full. Everyone landed safely if rather inelegantly in some cases, easily explained having spent more than four hours sitting without a break paddling full boats in the ebb tide and wind. As we all congratulated each other on our successful trip a huge set of waves proceeded to dump on the beach we had just landed on. Goes to show.
A great trip to tick off so early in the season which should really only be undertaken in settled weather if you want to be successful. Beware of any plan to land and camp on anywhere other than Beginish with heavy boats. The other landings are for lunch stops or emergencies in empty boats or in flat calm conditions. We missed Inish Iaracht due to the prevailing conditions but will be back to check it out later this summer inshallah. A super area to paddle in.
Here is a link to the seals escort at Great Blaskets. This was a fraction of the seals on Tra Ban.
Trips reports submitted by members
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