Portaferry, Strangford Lough, County Down, Ireland
Summary* Restrictions applyA completely protected location with careful navigation required for access.
LWS draught3 metres (9.84 feet).
Today's local tide estimatesHW 01:00, LW 05:59
HW 12:03, LW 18:13
Now approaching Springs
Swell todayDirection NNW, height 2.1 metres, period 4.0 seconds, significant wave height of 2.6 metres.
Local weather outlook
Haven position54° 22.720' N, 005° 32.850' W
Where is that position?100 meters south of the ferry slipway in Portaferry
What is the initial fix?
What is the story here?Portaferry is located on the northeast coast of Ireland, upon the eastern shore of the head of Strangford Lough’s narrows, and leads into the magnificent sailing area and marine natural reserve. It offers a marina plus moorings and the possibility to temporarily come alongside the quay at high water.
Although the entrance and ‘Narrows’ are well marked, access requires careful navigation owing to exceptional currents. Consequently an approach should be timed to be around slack water, in daylight with a vessel that has adequate and reliable power. However although the entrance and narrows are challenging they are well marked. If the tides are respectfully worked, Strangford Narrows are easily managed by day and Portaferry Marina provides complete protection.
Please note that Strangford Lough should be avoided in any strong onshore winds. Heavy breaking seas will be encountered one and a half miles southeast of the entrance. Worst of all is a southeasterly on an ebb or rise where furious standing waves and overfalls will result. A notably dangerous situation can occur if exiting into these conditions as it will not be possible to turn back against the tide to regain safe water and a vessel will be pushed out into the overfalls. Special attention should also be paid when approaching the car ferry crossing from Strangford to Portaferry. With strong currents carrying the vessel it is difficult to judge relative paths and closing distances.
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Why visit here?Portaferry (from the Irish: Port an Pheire meaning "landing place of the ferry") dates from the 12th century when a row of fishermen’s cottages was built beside an Anglo-Norman castle.
Today it is an attractive seaside town with traditional shops, pubs, restaurants and fine Georgian buildings in the town square. Tourist attractions include Exploris, the Northern Ireland Aquarium with its displays of the local marine wildlife, and it has become well-known for the annual Galway Hookers Regatta.
More importantly, Portaferry and Strangford Harbour (across the ‘Narrows’), are gateways to Strangford Lough that provide a boatman with magnificent cruising in unspoilt surroundings.
The sea Lough (lake) is a marine nature reserve of unparalleled beauty and, at sixteen miles long, four miles wide, covering an area of 150 km², it is the largest inlet on the east coast of Ireland. Fringed by beautiful coves, inlets and drumlins, plus dotted with seventy islands along with attractive towns and villages, it is a perfect cruising destination. Indeed the name ‘Strangford’ originally only applied to the narrows, while the area beyond bore the Irish name Loch Cuan "calm Lough" or “Lough of haven or harbours” describing the still shallow waters and numerous anchoring opportunities in the lee of its host of islands. With little commercial traffic and considerable areas of unobstructed waters it is also a popular location for yacht racing.
Visiting boatmen are scarcely alone in Strangford Lough. The countless tidal rocky outcrops, called pladdies, littering the Lough and mudflats, along with marshes, rocks, bays and headlands provide a unique natural environment for a huge variety of marine bird and animal life. The Lough hosts common seals, basking sharks and Brent Geese and three quarters of the world population of Pale Bellied Brent Geese winter here. It is also an important winter migration destination for many wading and sea birds. All of which make the Lough a conservation area and its abundant wildlife recognised internationally for its importance.
How to get in?Small vessels cannot enter or leave Strangford Lough against the tide and for a first time visit it is advisable to approach on slack water. As slack water only happens twice a day, and most likely once in daylight (local knowledge is required to negotiate the Narrows at night so a first visit should be in daylight), planning the approach to work the tides is essential. As a minimum you should plan to enter with flood and leave with ebb.
We describe the approach to the East Channel that is the principal approach into Strangford Lough. It is east of Angus Rock Lighthouse and approximately midway between Killard Point and Ballyquintin Point. Although there are other channels and short cuts they are not covered here and not recommended for strangers to the area.
The Strangford Lough Initial Fix is approximately two miles out from the Angus Rock Lighthouse, white tower with a red top, and approximately five miles from Strangford Creek.
Angus Rock Lighthouse - Fl. R. 5s 15m 6M position: 54° 19.843’N, 005° 31.520’W
It is just over half a mile southwest of the Strangford Light buoy (safe water marker) and leads into the Lough’s East Channel.
Strangford Light buoy - L Fl.10s position: 54° 18.626’N, 005° 28.689’W
From the initial fix you may come straight in upon the 323° leading line provided by the tower, in-line with the Cross Roads anchorage beacon that is a grey stone pillar, situated approximately a mile and a half behind upon the western shore – please note Angus Rock tower obscures the Cross Roads beacon when the transit is directly in line.
The route takes you past St Patrick's Rocks, half a mile away on the port side, marked by a red beacon (that is unlit at night).
St Patrick's Rocks - Red Beacon position: 54° 18.584’N, 005° 30.937’W
Then past Bar Pladdy South Cardinal, 400 metres to starboard, off Ballyquintin Point.
Bar Pladdy South Cardinal – Q(6) +L Fl. 15s position: 54° 19.344’N, 005° 30.501’W
When the north end of Portaferry town comes open to the west of Bankmore Hill, located at Rue Point, you are in the East Channel. The route then turns slightly eastwards taking a north by northwest direction. This aligns the 341° leading light beacon off Dogpoint (front; Oc(4)G.10s, 2 metres high red beacon) and Gowland Rocks (rear; Oc(2)G.10s, 5 metres high white stone beacon, green top). Take this new bearing and leave Angus Rock Lighthouse, 300 metres to port, and Pladdy Lug, upon which stands a large pile beacon made up of glazed white tiles, 500 metres to starboard.
Pladdy Lug – position: 54° 19.826’N, 005° 30.812’W
Continue upon this track until Kilclief Castle, upon the western shore, bears 265° when the ‘Meadows Shoal’, an area with just over 2 metres of cover, has been safely passed to port. From then on up, a midchannel route is free of obstructions.
Please be aware that the Narrows’ rocky and uneven bottom can cause eddies and overfalls to occur throughout the channel, particularly when heavy weather collides with the full run of the tide. The most important area to be aware of is the ‘Routen Wheel’ that lies approximately 500 metres south of Rue Point. A ledge extension from the point causes a whirlpool that is dangerous for yachts. The ‘Routen Wheel’ will be a clearly identifiable seething surface rip. As it lies to the east of the Narrow’s mid-channel route it is easily avoided. It should also be noted that the constricted part of the channel, just above the ‘Routen Wheel’ and immediately south of Rue Point, is where the outgoing tidal streams attains its fastest rate of 7.5 kn at springs.
A marine turbine has been located in the centre of ‘The Narrows’ about 500 metres south of Portaferry. The pillar marking this turbine should be given a wide berth by all boat users.
Take care when meeting the vehicle ferry that crosses to Portaferry on the Ards Peninsula as it is challenging to predict the vessels tracking when carried by the swift moving currents. Likewise attention should be paid to steerage when passing from the main tidal streams of the fairway into the comparative slack water making their approach of Portaferry.
The marina resides 230 metres south from the ferry terminal and is situated behind a protective concrete arm that extends from the shore. On the end of the arm there is a sectored RWG light (Isophase 4s). It is entered from the south midway between the head of the breakwater, to port, and two conical unlit buoys to starboard that mark the edge of the 2.5 metre dredged area.
The marina caters for up to 50 yachts with drafts up to 2.5 metres in ‘nose to tail’ berths. Approximately 12 ‘finger’ berths are reserved for visitor use. Berthing is not permitted along the outer side of the breakwater.
There are also four black visitor moorings close to the ferry terminal courtesy of Portaferry Hotel.
The ferry terminal is in constant use and must not be obstructed though it is possible to temporarily come alongside at the south side at high water – take care of an eddy that turns back against the main run of the current alongside.
What are the tides here?Today's local tide estimates are based on High Water Belfast +0152
Today's Belfast tides — High waters: 10:11, 22:36, Low waters: 04:07, 16:21
Today's Dover tides — High waters: 10:10, 22:29, Low waters: 05:06, 17:32 (From Tide Times)
We are now approaching the next tidal event that will be Springs, need more detailed tidal planning information?
High Water Strangford Quay Dover +0147 springs, 0157 neaps
MHWS 3.6m MHWN 3.1m MLWN 0.9m MLWS 0.4m
Local high water is 2 hours 15 minutes after high water at Belfast
Strangford Narrows Tidal Streams
Flood starts Dover -0345, Belfast -0330
Ebb starts Dover +0215, Belfast +0230
Attainable speed: East Channel, in-going 5 kn; out-going stream 7.5 kn at springs. Streams are almost simultaneous throughout the narrows and the period of slack water is very short as the tides reverse. The stream runs in line with the Narrows except to the north of Angus Rock where the flood and ebb run northwest and southeast respectively.
The above image represents the current tidal stream off this haven in local time. Click [+] to advance the estimate by an hour and click [ - ] to step back. Future tidal planning is best accomplished by extracting the date's Dover Tide HW , and clicking [+] or [ - ] based on the presented Dover offset. Do you need information on the tidal graphics?
What facilities are available?Visitor pontoons have electricity supply and water. There is one shower cubicle and one toilet cubicle located near the security barriers. Alternative facilities are available in Barholm Hostel during office hours including a launderette. Also a boat slip and dinghy park alongside the ferry terminal where a local yacht club affords facilities to visitors. Portaferry Square is just a two minute walk up Ferry Street from the Marina. Here you will find local amenities including supermarkets, post office, butcher, green grocer, cash machine, hardware supply shop, credit union, bakery, gas, and minor repairs etc that cater for a local population of almost 3,000. The Health Centre and pharmacy are located in High Street.
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. An inshore lifeboat is maintained at Portaferry.
Other useful contacts in this area:
VHF Channel Ch. M2, 80
Tel: +44 28 4272 9598
Mobile: +44 7703 209 780
Strangford Harbour Master (at ferry terminal)
VHF Channel Ch 12, 14, 16, M
Tel:+44 28 4488 1637
Monday to Friday (9am-5pm)
Police: +44 4461 5011, Medical Clinic +44 4461 3016
Any security concerns?Portaferry marina has secure gated access.
What navigational resources are available for this area?British Admiralty 2156 ‘Strangford Lough’, scale of 37,500:1. The key detail chart for the narrows is 2159 ‘Strangford Narrows’, scale of 12,500:1, including ‘Strangford’, scale of 5,000:1. Imray chart C62 – ‘Irish Sea’. ’Sailing Directions - Irish Cruising Club - East & North Coasts of Ireland’ provides an excellent pilot for this area. Irish Ordinance Survey No. 21. OpenStreetMap provides local maps that include relief details plus walking and cycle routes for this locality.
With thanks to:Charlie Kavanagh - ISA/RYA Yachtmaster Instructor/Examiner - navigation and sail training available - details here: http://www.sailsoutheast.com/
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