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This page is
excerpted from:

Cruising the Wild Atlantic Way

SSCA Cruising Station

OCC Port Officer

Trans Ocean

Cruising from Galway along the Wild West – a healthy dose of seamanship

The weather is always a matter of primary interest in the west of Ireland, but never more so than for the cruising sailor. The best months in recent years have tended to be May and June as well as September. The need to read the weather oneself becomes quite apparent when one considers that there is no dedicated weather channel on VHF radio; the weather service only provides a marine forecast once daily on the coast guard station which is re-broadcast in its original form throughout the day.

The western coastline is home to some of the most spectacular, remote, and at times treacherous waters in the world. The cruise around Slyne Head, which juts out north of Galway Bay, is heavily weather dependent as the North Atlantic Ocean can be fierce in a storm, this is a lee shore, and weather can change very quickly. It was at first hard to understand, but communications are a little difficult here. To use VHF radio the operator must have a costly radio license. This involves taking a course and passing a proctored exam. As a consequence, very few people here actually use the VHF radio, even if they happen to have one aboard. Most foolishly rely on cell/mobile phones for communications and emergencies. And, as one might expect, mobile phone coverage could best be described as spotty.

To confound matters, charts for these regions are to a great extent based on admiralty surveys from the 1800s. So your position on the chart plotter based on the GPS coordinates often does not match up to actual features. It is not uncommon to see your boat crossing a headland on the screen. Added to this there are few navigational aids and some of these are private and thus not on the charts. The shores are subject to seas breaking on shoals and rocks that lurk unmarked below the surface on calm days. Careful navigation ‘the old way’ and experienced seamanship are required for safe passage. But this just adds to the beauty and charm of cruising here.

Not unlike the old conundrum of the chicken and the egg, there are few facilities and even fewer cruisers in these parts. Certainly this is in part due to the rugged coastline, but it is also attributable to the fact that sailing only really took off here in the last 20 years. In the Clew Bay area, there are no marinas or shoreside facilities for visiting yachtsmen. In the Galway Bay area, there are a few more amenities but still few yachts venturing far afield. Passing any of the major headlands such as Slyne Head and Achill Head, Ireland’s westernmost point, tends to be a mite daunting. Nevertheless, cruising here is absolutely spectacular, although on occasion the conditions can be as fierce as rounding the Capes.

With warmth and sunshine and a few incentives, we started to venture out early this past spring. When we heard the Volvo Ocean Race was coming to Galway, we immediately volunteered for on-the-water and in-port support. Our trip to Galway gave us a chance to explore on the way there and back. We had digital and paper charts. We had reviewed each anchorage using Google Earth, an invaluable resource when cruising to remote destinations. And we had the sailing instructions from the Irish Cruising Club (ICC) for the south and west coasts of Ireland. The weather was spectacular. Our adventure along the coast could begin.

There are many fine harbours to visit within a stone’s throw (or a day’s sail) of Galway. Here is a sample itinerary for a two-week coastal adventure like the one we experienced.

Cruise itinerary

The cruise below outlines a 14-day adventure from Galway Bay to Clew Bay and back. Naturally, the schedule is weather dependent. Shorter cruises are, of course, possible by reducing the distance travelled and the number of destinations. An excursion to the Aran Islands with stops at Inishmore, the largest and most populated of the islands, and Inishmaan with its new harbour are easily accomplished in a bank holiday weekend. Five days can extend your cruising territory to include Roundstone, a picturesque harbour and artisans village surrounded by the mountains of Connemara.

  • Galway to Inishmore, Aran Islands – dinner and music ashore
  • Inishmore lay day – island history biking exploration
  • Inishmore to Roundstone – arts & crafts village
  • Roundstone to Clifden – shopping excursion
  • Clifden to Inishbofin – beach and spa excursion
  • Bofin Harbour lay day – historical excursion
  • Inishbofin to Clare Island – natural environment
  • Clare Island lay day – Granuialle exploratory
  • Clare Island to Killary Harbour – spectacular setting
  • Killary lay day – hiking/adventure center
  • Killary to Inishturk -- only in settled weather; scenery and people
  • Inishturk to Inishmaan – new harbour exploration
  • Inishmaan to Cashla – relax at anchor
  • Cashla to Galway




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