Today's local tide estimates
LW 02:42, HW 08:48
LW 15:04, HW 21:20
SSE Force 3, Clear/Sunny, 12°C
Direction N, height 0.0 metres, period 0.0 seconds, significant wave height of 0.1 metres.
An exposed location with straightforward access.
3 metres (9.84 feet).
Shelter See it »
Sheltered: N, W, NW
Unprotected: NE, E, SE, S, SW
Marina, sailing club, urban, scenic, strong tides.
Tap, fuel by jerry can, laundry, supermarket, toilets, showers, hot food, public houses, cashpoint, post office, doctor, pharmacy, bus, rail connections, airport within 25 km, walks, family recreation.
Haven position? See it »
54° 45.135' N, 005° 42.480' W
Where is that position? See it »
This is position of the yacht club slip.
What is the initial fix? See it »
The following Whitehead Initial Fix waypoint will set up a final approach:
54° 45.000' N, 005° 42.100' W
The initial fix is 500 metres out from the yacht club slips on the 10 metre contour. A course of 280°(T) from here will lead into the anchoring area off the club slip.
Why visit here?
Whitehead derives its name from the pre ‘Plantation of Ulster’ name ‘Kinbaine’ derived from the Irish ‘an Cionn Bán’ meaning "the white head". Located at the foot of Muldersleigh Hill, between the limestone cliffs of White Head and the black volcanic cliff of Black Head, it is a very pretty seaside town with a highly attractive seafront.
Walkers may know Whitehead for being the start point of the popular ‘Gobbins Path’ seaside walk - derived from the Irish ‘An Gobain’, meaning 'the points of rock'. Victorian entrepreneurs realised the leisure potential of the new moneyed middle class. In 1902 a Railway company constructed a narrow three mile long series of cliff walks, complete with iron bridges and tunnels cut out of the Islandmagee cliffs, that in places trailed as little as a metre above the waves. An advertisement proclaimed a “new cliff path along the Gobbins, with its ravines, bore caves, natural aquariums .... has no parallel in Europe as a marine walk” and one of the most popular sites in Ireland was open for business. In its day the Gobbins cliff walk had more visitors than the now hugely popular Giants Causeway. The Second World War however caused its closure after which it fell into disrepair and finally closed 1962 for safety reasons.
The remains of the cliff walk may still be followed today, if with some difficulty. Walk past Sunshine House, around Blackhead Lighthouse and along the Irish Sea cliffs of Islandmagee. Those who venture out will find unchanged magnificent panoramic views across the North Channel from Islandmagee’s Gobbins cliffs to the Outer Hebrides in the north, the Lake District and Isle of Man in the south. The original derelict and inaccessible walkways are not open to the public but some parts may be seen by coastal cruising boats. Photographs of the walkway in its heyday are on show in Belfast’s Ulster Museum. Although The Gobbins may have fallen into disrepair Whitehead’s Victorian railway is a preserved conservation area, including a railway village. It is home to the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.
Whitehead may not be the most protected anchorage in the area. However the very pretty seaside town and coastal walks make it highly appealing stop if an auspicious weather window presented itself to a passing boat.
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’.
FOR A NORTHERN COASTAL APPROACH
Those approaching from Larne Harbour and 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 and the little harbour of Portmuck will be seen on the starboard bow.
The Isle of Muck is 37 metres high and is a bare, green island presenting perpendicular sea facing cliffs to the east. The island is attached to the shore by a narrow neck of shingle beach. Round the eastern seaward side of the island and keep at least a hundred metres off the north-most point. 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.
South of the Isle of Muck to 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 to Black Head. There Blackhead lighthouse resides marking the northern extremity of Belfast Lough.
Blackhead Lighthouse - Fl 3s 45m 27M position: 54° 46.016’N, 005° 41.338’W
South of Black Head the entrance to the Lough opens 6.75 miles wide between the headland and Orlock Point on the south. Its navigable area is free of dangers with an average depth of 11 metres.
Between Black Head and Whitehead the shoreline presents itself as a vertical black basaltic rock cliff face. Whitehead is located at the base of Muldersleigh Hill about 1 mile south by southwest of Black Head.
FOR A SOUTHERN COASTAL APPROACH
Vessels arriving from the south or east will find the Copeland Islands of moderate elevation and distinguished by a lighthouse on the westernmost Mew Island. The approach options are to either come up outside the Copelands group or through Donaghadee Sound that resides between the mainland and the Islands.
Those approaching outside Copeland Islands should leave Mew Island well to Port and the run into the initial fix is straightforward across Belfast Lough’s open navigable waters that are free of dangers.
Mew Island Lighthouse - Fl (4) 30s 37m 24M position: 54° 41.923’N, 005° 30.824’W
Please note the ‘Northern Race’ and ‘Ram Race’ that occur at various stages of the tide to the east of Mew and Copeland Islands may be highly uncomfortable in strong conditions and should be avoided.
Donaghadee Sound is the normal route for leisure craft making along this coast when tidal streams are favourable. Although the sound is almost a mile wide, between Copeland Island and the mainland to the southwest, foul ground called the ‘Magic Rocks’ extend nearly half way from Copeland Island’s southwest side. Then Deputy Reef, marked by a red buoy, is situated nearly in the middle of the southern fairway. These contract the channel through the sound to a quarter of a mile in width. This however is well marked for vessels entering and exiting Belfast Lough by the buoyed shipping channel. The key southern entry buoys as follows:
Governor Red Can Buoy - Fl R 3s position: 54° 39.360’N, 005° 31.991’W
Deputy Green Can Buoy - Fl G 2s position: 54° 39.513’N, 005° 31.944’W
Foreland Red Can Buoy - Fl R 6s position: 54° 39.640’N, 005° 32.307’W
Donaghadee Sound streams achieve 4.5 knots in places so tidal planning is essential and great care should be taken during the approach. Pass between the Deputy and Governor buoys and from there to the Foreland Buoy. Once inside Belfast Lough pass the South Briggs Red Can Buoy to port as it marks a dangerous reef extending from the shore.
South Briggs Red Can Buoy – Fl (2) R 10s position: 54° 41.182’N, 005° 35.732’W
From South Briggs the run into the initial fix is straightforward. It is directly across Belfast Lough’s open navigable waters that have ample depth and are free of dangers.
Approaching from the south 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.
The town of Whitehead is located at the base of Muldersleigh Hill in a small bay between the limestone cliffs of Whitehead and the black volcanic cliff of Black Head, with the Blackhead Lighthouse on top, marking the entrance to the Lough.
FOR THE FINAL APPROACH
The initial fix is set 500 metres out from the yacht club. The objective of this offshore Initial Fix is to take a northeastern approaching vessel clear of the outlying Hancock Rock, dries to 0.9 metres, and other inshore shallows in the shore area to the northeast of the slip. Likewise there are outlying rocks 100 metres offshore between the club slip and White Head that southwest approaching vessels should avoid.
A course of 280°(T) from the initial fix will lead into the anchoring area off the club slip. Anchorage in 3 to 4 metres with very good sand holding offshore, or closer in to the slip where sand and gravel will be found. The anchoring area is known to be foul so a tripping line is recommended.
What are the tides here?
Today's local tide estimates are based on High Water Belfast +0002
Today's Belfast tides — High water: 08:46, 21:18, Low water: 02:40, 15:02
Today's Dover tides — High water: 08:51, 21:13, Low water: 03:31, 16:02 (From Tide Times)
High Water Dover +0100, as Belfast get Dover tides
MHWS 3.2m MHWN 2.7m MLWN 0.9m MLWS 0.3m
Tidal planning for vessels approaching Belfast Lough is essential. Vessels approaching from the south will encounter tides that run hard in the sounds. Likewise vessels approaching from east, or outside the island group, will encounter races with overfalls as they close in upon the Copeland Island group. At the eastern tip of Mew Island the ‘Ram Race’ initiates and extends 1.5 miles south-by-southeast on the flood and up to 1.75 miles north-by-northwest on the ebb.
From Dover HW +0455 to -0115 (Belfast HW +0510 to -0100) the tide floods southeast. Donaghadee Sound’s spring streams can in places reach up to 4.5 knots in both directions making a favourable tide transit a prerequisite for most leisure craft. Streams largely follow the direction of the channel but it should be noted heavy tide rips in a big seaway may cause overfalls to occur across the southeast end of Donaghadee Sound. From the entrance of Strangford lough however, through to the inner passage, the stream is comparatively weak, not averaging more than 1.5 knots on springs.
Copeland Sound tides are not as strong but still attain rates of up to 2.5 knots with Spring tides. This is however not the preferred channel owing to the two challenging and unmarked rocky shoals called ‘Platters’ and ‘Ninaen Bushes’, the latter with less than a metre of cover situated out half a mile off from the north-east point of Copeland Island. Eddies are very strong elsewhere all around the islands group.
Outside the islands the tides turn about one hour later. On the south going flood a vast eddy forms to the south of Mew Island. This circles back upon itself in the five miles area between the entrance to Donaghadee Sound and Ballyferis Point. Hence the streams off Donaghadee Harbour are 1.5 kn rotary in a clockwise direction on the flood. However when this vast circular eddy of water courses around to collide with the flood tide to the south-southeast of Mew and the ill-famed Ram Race shows its true colours. Thus the area is at its worst after the recirculation on the second half of the flood circa HW Dover -0230 to +0015 or about local HW (HW Belfast -0215 to +0030 or about local HW). Likewise the north-northwest race occurs on the latter half of the ebb from HW Dover +0330 to +0630 (HW Belfast +0345 to +0615 or about local LW).
Northern approaches are less complicated however tidal stream remain very strong running up to 5 or 6 kn off salient points to the north of Belfast Lough.
Between Black Head and White Head tidal streams are negligible with light current, the flood running in and the ebb out of the lough off Carrickfergus. In the middle to outer half of the lough tidal streams rotate and are always less than 1 knot.
What facilities are available?
With a population of just under 4000 Whitehead village is self-sufficient in terms of businesses and services for daily needs, including fuel, shops, pubs restaurants and recreation. It is the headquarters of the Co. Antrim Yacht Club that provides showers, water and bar. Club Opening hours are Sunday at 4.00pm, Wednesday & Saturday at 8.00pm and Friday at 6.00pm.
Whitehead is about 20 miles east from the heart of Belfast City Centre. It has good transport connections to Belfast city and from there on to any location in Ireland. Flights to domestic and international destinations operate from Belfast City and Belfast International Airports. There are frequent ferry crossings from Belfast and Larne.
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.
Other useful contacts in this area:
County Antrim Yacht Club : +44 (0)28 9337 2322 or sail.cayc.co.uk
Carrickfergus Marina listens on channels 37 or M1 (24hrs daily).
Phone + 44 28 9336 6666
Any security concerns?
Never an issue known to have occurred to a vessel anchored off Whitehead.
What navigational resources are available for this area?
British Admiralty 1753 ‘Belfast Lough and Approaches’, scale of 37,500:1, including ‘Donaghadee Sound’ scale of 15,000:1 and ‘Bangor Bay’ scale of 17,500:1. Imray chart C62 – ‘Irish Sea’ plus Discovery Ordinance Survey map 15 (Belfast - scale of 1:50 000) also cover this area. OpenStreetMap provides local maps that include relief details plus walking and cycle routes for this locality.
With thanks to:
Terence Stitt, Portmuck Harbour Master.
Please note inyourfootsteps.com makes no guarantee of the validity of this information, we have not visited this haven and do not have first-hand experience to qualify the data. Although the contributors are vetted by peer review as practised authorities, they are in no way, whatsoever, responsible for the accuracy of their contributions. It is essential that you thoroughly check the accuracy and suitability for your vessel of any waypoints offered in any context plus the precision of your GPS. Any data provided on this page is entirely used at your own risk and you must read our legal page if you view data on this site.