Helen’s Bay, County Down, Ireland
SummaryA tolerable location with straightforward access.
Forecast to be exposed on Thursday and Friday.
LWS draught2.2 metres (7.22 feet).
Today's local tide estimatesLW 03:39, HW 09:40
LW 15:56, HW 22:10
Now approaching Springs
Swell todayDirection N, height 0.2 metres, period 0.1 seconds, significant wave height of 0.5 metres.
Local weather outlook
Haven position54° 40.510' N, 005° 43.925' W
Where is that position?This is in the centre of Helen’s Bay, within the 2 metres contour, 400 metres off the shoreline.
What is the initial fix?
What is the story here?Helen’s bay is located on the northeast coast of Ireland, on the southern shores of Belfast Lough, and immediately east of Grey Point. It offers an anchorage in a picturesque location that hosts a country park.
The bay provides tolerable protection from all westerly component winds round through south to southeast. Although unmarked there are no off-lying dangers in the area making access daylight straight forward at any stage of the tide.
Please note regular fast ferries travel in and out of Belfast Lough. If crossing the entrance to Belfast Lough a good watch must be maintained and a vessel should be prepared to be unexpectedly struck by the wash at all times.
Not what you need?
Ballyholme Bay - 2.8 miles E
Groomsport - 4 miles E
Port Dandy - 6.5 miles E
Chapel Bay - 6.7 miles E
Belfast Harbour - 7.6 miles SW
Newtownabbey - 4.9 miles W
Green Island - 4.2 miles WNW
Carrickfergus Harbour & Marina - 3.4 miles NW
Why visit here?Helen’s Bay derives its name from Lady Dufferin (née Sheridan). She was mother of Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, the 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, who named the bay in her memory.
The estate immediately ashore had been handed down generation to generation of the Scottish Presbyterian Crawford family. It was acquired in the mid 19th century by Marquess of Dufferin and Ava who owned the nearby Clandeboye Estate. The Marquess aspired to develop a luxury holiday resort in Helen’s Bay that would rival the established seaside resorts of Portstewart and Portrush. A Belfast and County Down Railway station was constructed in Helen’s Bay to serve the planned village. Special ‘villa’ or ‘house-free’ rail tickets encouraged the settlements development. These entitled holders to free rail travel for a period of time if they constructed houses within one mile of the station. The locality thrived and now is seen as a highly privileged Belfast suburb.
Ironically today, when developers need little encouragement, it was the wooded demesne of his Clandeboye Estate that protected this area’s natural beauty from overdevelopment. The short stretch of coast immediately inshore, sweeping from Helen’s Bay to Grey Point, is now in public hands and part of Crawfordsburn Country Park. This provides a relaxing natural retreat with a wide and varied set of interesting aspects that makes a shore landing compelling.
The park is fronted by two excellent beaches, that are perhaps the best in the Belfast area, with fringing broad tarmac paths to make shoreline waking easy. Further into the park’s tranquil woodland are well marked walks leading past a pond, river, through dells and deep wooded glens that feature beeches, cypresses, cedars, conifers plus the occasional giant Californian redwood. This natural beauty is surpassed by the wild-flower meadows and the native woodland flowers that have been planted here. This is particularly the case in spring time when there is a spectacular display of bluebells. Amidst this many animals such as squirrels, hedgehogs and badgers make their home. The best of the woodlands are to be found at the head of the glen where an impressive waterfall resides. Coastal stretches of Grey Point provide excellent views of Belfast City and Lough, and south Antrim Hills. At Grey Point a small military museum will also be found.
Constructed between 1904 & 1907, and updated during World War II, Grey Point Fort coastal battery was built to protect the mouth of the Belfast Lough from enemy invasion. Belfast was one of the last ports to be given coast artillery defences in the British Isles and it fired its guns in anger in September 1939. Shortly after the outbreak of the second world war, and oblivious to war footing, a south Wales collier bound for Belfast docks passed in front of the battery. When it failed to respond to a recognition signal a plugged round was fired across the ship’s bows. This was the first and only shot to be fired in anger from the gun emplacement and in 1956 it was closed and became derelict. Its two 6" Mk VII naval guns were sold for scrap in 1957 after the disbanding of the coastal artillery. In 1971 it was passed to the department of environment and put under management of Crawfordsburn country park. The gun site’s centrepiece 12 foot by six inch diameter naval guns were replaced by similar guns acquired from Spike Island in Cork Harbour in 1993 and 1999. Today the site is remarkably complete with the guns in firing order and are replete with their original shields. The site is excellently maintained by the Ulster Environment and Heritage Service and well worth a visit.
For walkers there is a great hiking opportunity on the route of the North Down coastal path. It is also the start of a countryside route to the delightful Helen’s Tower that can be seen in the distance to the south. Situated near Crawfordsburn in the Clandboye estate, on the way to Bangor, it is also named after the Lady Dufferin and should not be missed.
Erected by Lord Dufferin in the time of the famine in 1845 it was a relief project that gave employment to many in a time of destitution. Completed in October 1861 Helen's Tower is the subject of poems by Robert Browning and Alfred Lord Tennyson. The following subset of Tennyson's poem are inscribed in the tower:
Helen's Tower, here I stand Dominant
over sea and land. Son's love built me
and I hold Mother's love in letter’d
Finally golfers will find a nine-hole golf course nestled on a gentle hill in the middle of the village. Founded in 1896, the course openly welcomes visiting individuals and groups. Helen’s Bay has much to offer a coastal cruiser catering for a wide variety of interests.
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 Carrickfergus the shoreline presents itself as a vertical black basaltic rock cliff face with three lit jetties associated with Kilroot Power Station. The first is the Cloghan Jetty located to the south of the easily identifiable 90 metres high white limestone cliffs of White Head, a mile and a half inside Belfast Lough to the south-southwest. This jetty extends out from the shore for more than half a mile and is lit at the end Fl G 3s 2M. Beyond the pierhead a green buoy, QG. 0.5M, resides half a mile off the pier head.
Next is the 350 metres long Salt Jetty off Kilroot, with a light Oc G 10s on its outer end. 0.75M W of the jetty is a 198m high chimney marked by red vertical lights.
Finally there is the Kilroot Jetty unloading berth marked by 2 FG (vert) 6m 2M lights.
Crossing Belfast Lough the Fairway Light buoy, L Fl 10s, will be seen to starboard side situated midway between Carrickfergus and Grey Point.
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 across Belfast Lough’s open navigable waters that have ample depth and are free of dangers.
The south shore of the lough is comparatively low and unremarkable except at Grey Point that is a bluff 23 metre high point. From South Briggs keep a watch out for Club Racing Buoys, whilst crossing Groomsport Bay and give Ballymacormick Point half a mile clearance before crossing Ballyholme Bay, the bay immediately east of Bangor Bay. Bangor’s harbour walls plus the towns dominating steeples will be highly visible whilst passing to the north of Bangor Bay. The Initial Fix off Grey Point is just two miles further west from here. A berth of 300 metres off the shore line clears all dangers.
FOR THE FINAL APPROACH
From the Helen’s Bay Initial Fix situated northeast of Grey Point track down 600 metres south by southeast following the shoreline into Helen’s Bay. The bay gradually shelves to the shore with good holding in sand and silt. Anchor in a depth to your preference. Beach landings by dinghy.
Please note Grey Point marks the Eastern limit of Belfast Harbour. A vessel planning to proceed westward from here should advise Belfast Harbour radio on VHF Channel 12 or 16 or by telephone on 02890 553504.
What are the tides here?Today's local tide estimates are based on High Water Belfast +0020
Today's Belfast tides — High waters: 09:20, 21:50, Low waters: 03:19, 15:36
Today's Dover tides — High waters: 09:24, 21:42, Low waters: 04:10, 16:38 (From Tide Times)
We are now approaching the next tidal event that will be Springs, need more detailed tidal planning information?
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.
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?The small town of Helen’s Bay has all the facilities you would expect catering for a local population of 1,300 inhabitants including fuel. Helen's Bay flanks Crawfordsburn Country Park that has a visitor centre which is open 10am - 4.30pm from Easter to end of September –staff shortage may affect opening hours. This features toilets, including disabled facilities; picnic tables and a self service restaurant.
Helen's Bay is about 12 miles from Belfast City Centre via A2 and 4 from Bangor (the entrance is by way of B20 ‘Ballyrobert Road’ through the village of Crawfordsburn, after which a sharp left turn down Bridge Road South). Both Bangor and Belfast are connected to the village by rail and bus services. Belfast City has excellent transport connections via trains and bus service to connect 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. HM Coastguard's Marine Rescue Sub Centre and a RNLI Atlantic 85 Lifeboat are based in Bangor Marina.
Other useful contacts in this area:
Belfast Harbour Radio on VHF Ch 12 or 16 or +44 2890 553504
Harbour Master Office +44 2890 553015
Bangor Marina Tel: +44 28 9145 3297,
VHF Channel 37/80/11 Call sign "Bangor Marina" (24 Hours)
Bangor Police: +44 2890 650222, Belfast Harbour Police on +44 2890 553000.
N.I. Fire and Rescue Service +44 2892 664221 / 999
Crawfordsburn Country Park +44 28 9185 2439
Any security concerns?Never an incident know to have happen to a vessel anchored off Helen’s Bay.
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’. ’Sailing Directions - Irish Cruising Club - East & North Coasts of Ireland’ provides an excellent pilot for this area. OpenStreetMap provides local maps that include relief details plus walking and cycle routes for this locality.
With thanks to:Michael Evans, Deputy Harbour Master, Belfast Harbour.
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