Today's local tide estimates
LW 01:33, HW 07:46
LW 14:04, HW 20:25
WSW Force 2, Partly Cloudy, 14°C
Direction N, height 0.0 metres, period 2.6 seconds, significant wave height of 0.1 metres.
Summary* Restrictions apply
A tolerable location with attentive navigation required for access.
3 metres (9.84 feet).
Shelter See it »
Sheltered: SE, S, SW, W
Unprotected: N, NE, E, NW
Anchorage, village, scenic, drying, edifying.
Slipway, toilets, walks.
Haven position? See it »
54° 50.874' N, 005° 43.666' W
Where is that position? See it »
This is the position of Portmuck’s pierhead.
What is the initial fix? See it »
The following Portmuck Initial Fix waypoint will set up a final approach:
54° 50.970' N, 005° 43.860' W
This is located 300 metres northwest of Portmuck’s pierhead just inside the 4 metre contour. A course of 138° (T) for 100 metres along Islandmagee shore leads into the anchoring area that is the small bay north of the car park.
Why visit here?
Portmuck derives its name from Muck Isle or Isle of Muck itself a translation from ‘Inis Muc’. 'Muc' means 'pig' in Irish. It is believed to have acquired its name from earlier inhabitants by appearing to resemble a sleeping pig.
The little bay of Portmuck has been adapted to many roles through history. It hosted at various times a monastery, fortress, revenue station, coast guard station and was well known for smuggling. The harbour of Portmuck was built to facilitate the industrial role of Islandmagee limestone export. This trade fell into terminal decline by the 1920’s and with it the harbour. In the 1980s restoration works took place to support local fishing activity creating the beautiful small harbour that exists today.
The National Trust owns and manages both The Island Of Muck and the coastline for a mile or so either side of the harbour. In the case of the coast they have set in place a northern and southern linear trail to enable visitors to enjoy Islandmagee’s dramatic views and coastal scenery. The northern route is accessed from the car park cross the picnic area; go through the wooden swing gate, turn left and follow the path up the slope. The southern route may be accessed by ascending the steps beside the harbour. Follow the path to the rocky shore and continue to where the low water ridge over to the Isle of Muck exposes itself, then follow the trail up the slope to the right. The terrain for both paths is mostly grassy with occasional uneven rocky surfaces, steps, swing gates and stiles throughout the walk. The northern walk offers a particularly attractive opportunity to photograph your yacht at anchor in the bay. Here the cliff provides an elevation of almost 40 metres. With Muck Island residing in the backdrop and the sea out beyond, it makes for a spectacular photo opportunity of a vessel at anchor.
Muck Island, despite its name, is technically not an island. Although located 300 metres off the mainland an ever shifting ridge maintains a connection to Islandmagee. This dries at low water springs and is scarcely covered at neaps making it possible to walk out to the island over a mixed sand and shingle bar. At high water springs however it has up to two metres of cover. The island itself lies north to south and has an overall length of about 1000 metres plus there are three small rocky stacks off the northern end. The islands height increases west to east presenting attractive steep 30 metre high basalt sea cliffs to seaward.
With a combination of the east facing cliffs and coastal grasses in the central part it provides an attractive mixture of wilderness habitats to a wide variety of seabirds. Kittiwake, Razorbill, Black Guillemot and Guillemot all breed here and it is Northern Ireland’s second largest seabird nesting colony. Hence, unlike the costal walks, the National Trust has positioned mainland information signs that actively discourage visitors.
Portmuck is a hidden gem that many cruising boats overlook. It offers an excellent stop-off point for coastal cruising boats north or southbound or crossing from the Western Isles of Scotland. Access is immediate and straightforward as it is non-tidal and available all day plus free of off-lying dangers. It also serves as a highly convenient tide wait location to allow mariners to take full advantage of favourable tidal streams that are the dominant feature of this area of the coast not to mention a highly useful half-tide eddy to the north of the island. Those who visit will be treated to a stunning little harbour with beautiful coastline to be enjoyed a few strides from the pierhead.
How to get in?
Directions are provided for northern and southern coastal approaches plus a final location approach. If coastal guidance is not applicable, skip directly to the ‘for the final approach’ section.
FOR A NORTHERN COASTAL APPROACH
The northern coast is backed by a rocky mountain range attaining a height of 380 metres, and terminating in Park head a distance of nine miles to the northward of Larne. This is a conspicuous headland of a nearly perpendicular 140 metres high cliff near Glenarm.
Closer in to Larne at a distance of 3.5 miles out is Ballygalley Head. This is a round knuckle 89 metres high with a steep cliff; its base is fringed by craggy basaltic rocks. Nearby stands the ruin of the ancient castle of Ballygally. It is possible to wait a tide here and the entire stretch of coast line from Park Head is clear of off lying dangers with good depths close in.
Those approaching from the north or north east or offshore will need to navigate around the Maidens that consist of two clusters of rocks called the West and East Maiden, separated from each other by a deep and wide sound. They reside 4 miles east out to sea from Ballygalley Head, a distance of 4.5 miles from Larne, and are steep-to all round. They are marked by a lighthouse with a white tower and black band on the East Maiden - plus the remains of a West Maiden lighthouse that was taken out of service in 1903.
Maidens Lighthouse - Fl (3) 20s 29m 24M position: 54° 55.748’N, 005° 43.709’W
The path further south may be approached on either side of the 0.8 metre Hunter Rock that lies two and a half miles northeast of Larne Lough’s entrance. Hunter Rock is marked by North and South Cardinal Light buoys and this well marked shoal is the only danger here.
North Hunter - VQ position: 54° 53.046’N, 005 45.114’W
South Hunter - VQ (6) + LFl 10s position: 54° 52.691’N, 005 45.284’W
Those following the coastline should give Skernaghan Point, the northern most point of Islandmagee, a berth of 500 metres to avoid a rocky outcrop that stretches out northward from it. Upon rounding Skernaghan Point, continue southeast alongside Islandmagee’s 3 miles of precipitous cliffs that range from 15 to 31 metres high as the Isle of Muck is seen on the bow. The Isle of Muck is 37 metres high and is a bare, green island presenting perpendicular sea facing cliff to the east. The island is attached to the shore by a narrow neck of shingle beach.
There are no obstructions 150 metres offshore of Islandmagee and outside the 5 metre contour in this area.
FOR A SOUTHERN COASTAL APPROACH
Approaching from the south Black Head lighthouse resides on the northern extremity of Belfast Lough.
Blackhead Lighthouse - Fl 3s 45m 27M position: 54° 46.016’N, 005° 41.338’W
Belfast Lough’s northern shoreline presents itself as a vertical black basaltic rock cliff face. This extends out to the 63 metre high rounded knuckle at Black Head where the white eight sided tower resides. The headland of Black Head however is not particularly noticeable from seaward owing to Muldersleigh Hill standing behind it rising to a height of 128 metres one kilometre inland. However White Head, residing a mile and a half inside Belfast Lough to the south-southwest, is more easily identified by the 90 metres high white limestone cliffs it presents seaward. Deep water can be found here close in and there are no off-lying obstructions.
To the northward of Black Head, the coast of Islandmagee presents a steep perpendicular cliff, composed of black basaltic rocks, that at ‘The Gobbins’ is 45 metres high, again with deep water close in. The Isle of Muck resides close off the black basaltic cliffs of Islandmagee, 5 miles to the north of Black Head. Round the island keeping at least a hundred metres off the north most point and turn in towards the Initial fix.
Please note the island is attached to the shore by a narrow neck of shingle beach that exposes at low water. It is possible to achieve up to two metres at high water springs over the narrow connecting ridge and pass between the islet and Islandmagee shore. However one would need to be paying attention to tides and timing plus a vessels draft to be certain of the requisite depth. Hence we recommend that the island is rounded on the outside.
FOR THE FINAL APPROACH
The Portmuck Initial Fix is located 300 metres northwest of Portmuck’s pierhead just inside the 4 metre contour. This is to take a southern approaching vessel well clear of the exposed reef and hidden rocks that extend northward from the harbours pierhead.
A course of 138° (T) for 100 metres along Islandmagee shore leads into the anchoring area. This is the small bay approximately 200 metres north of the car park in good sand holding.
The small pier at Portmuck dries out entirely beyond the pierhead at low water springs. However at High Water Springs a vessel can find as much as 3.5 metres against the wall. Boats that can take to the hard may dry out alongside on sand with some stones.
It is possible to achieve some measure of protection from northerly conditions by anchoring to the south of the drying ridge that connects the islet to Islandmagee. However the northerly protection available here is limited and in such conditions a vessel would be best advised to head to Carrickfergus.
Please note boats that anchor in Portmuck must be certain that the wind will not turn to the north. Unattended vessels have been caught out with northerly conditions and washed ashore onto the rocks at Portmuck.
What are the tides here?
Today's local tide estimates are based on High Water Belfast +0004
Today's Belfast tides — High water: 07:42, 20:21, Low water: 01:29, 14:00
Today's Dover tides — High water: 07:48, 20:13, Low water: 02:25, 14:56 (From Tide Times)
Nearby Larne is High Water Dover +0100, Belfast + 0005
MHWS 2.8m MHWN 2.5m MLWN 0.8m MLWS 0.4m
Tidal streams Isle of Muck
HW Dover -0445 South going; HW Dover +0115 North going; Spring rate 6 knots
A useful eddy runs in a southeast direction along the coast to the northwest of the Isle of Muck during the second half of the main north going stream. Please note that a race and overfalls occur one and a half miles east of the Isle where the north going eddy collides with the main south going stream.
Tidal streams outside of Hunter Rock run in line with the general direction of the coast. Inside Hunter Rock the streams gradually shift to run across the entrance to Larne Lough.
What facilities are available?
Toilet blocks are available on the pier and the harbour has a good slip. Contact the harbour master, who could not be more helpful, any resources required including regarding basic Marine engineering that may be available locally.
The small village of Mullaghboy, one mile away, has basic provisions to service its population of about 300 people and a café that serves good food. Most everything else is available in nearby Larne harbour.
What emergency contacts are there?
Belfast Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC). Operational Area: Northern Ireland/ Irish Republic Border, Lough Foyle to Northern/Irish Republic Border Carlingford Lough. Belfast Coastguard (MRSC) VHF Ch 16, liaises closely with IRCG. Emergencies are worked on 16, 67 and working channel.
Alternatively, or if ashore, phone 999 and 112 and ask for ‘Marine Rescue’. Police, Fire and Rescue are also available on this number. Belfast (MRSC) may be contacted directly on +44 2891 463 933. Auxiliary coastguard stations and lifesaving appliances are maintained at Portmuck and Larne.
Other useful contacts in this area:
Harbour Master: Terence Stitt
Address: 70 Portmuck Road, Portmuck, Larne
Telephone no: +44 28 93382549 (days)
Port of Larne VHF: Ch. 14 'Larne Port Control'
Doctor: +44 28 275331; Police +44 28 272266
Any security concerns?
Never a problem known to have occurred in Portmuck Harbour.
What navigational resources are available for this area?
British Admiralty 1411 ‘Irish Sea - Western Part’ and 2724 ‘North Channel to the Firth of Lorne’ scale 200,000:1 plus 2198 ‘North Channel - Southern Part’ scale of 75,000:1 is a good planning chart for the area. The key detail chart is British Admiralty 1237 ‘Larne Lough and Approaches’ scale of 10,000:1. Also Imray chart C62 – ‘Irish Sea’ Chart C64 ‘Belfast Lough to Crinan and Islay’ plus Northern Ireland Ordinance Survey No. 9 at a scale of 1:50,000 for inland details. OpenStreetMap provides local maps that include relief details plus walking and cycle routes for this locality.
With thanks to:
Terence Stitt, Portmuck Harbour Master.
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