Groomsport, County Down, Ireland
Summary* Restrictions applyA good location with attentive navigation required for access.
Forecast to be exposed on Tuesday and Friday.
LWS draught1 metres (3.28 feet).
Today's local tide estimatesLW 01:41, HW 07:45
LW 14:13, HW 20:28
We are now on Neaps
Swell todayDirection N, height 0.0 metres, period 0.0 seconds, significant wave height of 0.6 metres.
Local weather outlook
Haven position54° 40.650' N, 005° 37.040' W
Where is that position?This is the seaward end of the pier situated at the eastern side of the enclosed bay.
What is the initial fix?
What is the story here?Groomsport Harbour is located on the northeast coast of Ireland. It is situated immediately inside Belfast Lough and upon its southern shoreline, two miles east by northeast of Bangor. The small, shallow harbour is home to the Cockle Island Boat Club and, via prior harbour master arrangement a single mooring is available for visiting vessels no larger than 7.5 metres (25 feet) that draw no more than one metre or can take to the hard.
The bay provides good protection from southeast through south to northwest. Although open to northerly quadrant winds, a great measure of protection is provided against these conditions by the harbour’s enclosing Cockle Island and its surrounding rocky shoal; particularly so at low water. Access is tidal restricted and requires half tide for entry plus attentive navigation to pass the Cockle Island shoal. Although supported by lit transits, daylight entry is advised for first-time visitors.
Please note, larger vessels should proceed 1 mile westward to unrestricted Ballyholme Bay in offshore winds. Local moorings are braced by a grid of heavy mooring chains laid across the inner harbour so vessels should not anchor here. 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?
Chapel Bay - 2.7 miles E
Donaghadee Harbour - 3.6 miles ESE
Copelands Marina - 3.8 miles SE
Ballywalter - 9.3 miles SSE
Bangor Harbour & Marina - 2 miles WSW
Helen’s Bay - 4 miles W
Cultra - 7.1 miles WSW
Belfast Harbour - 11.2 miles WSW
Why visit here?Groomsport derives its name from the Irish Port an Ghiolla Ghruama that was partially anglicised to Gillgroomsport meaning "port of the gloomy servant". It is a picturesque and sleepy fishing village that has developed to become a water and shore-based recreation centre. Although there is a single visitor mooring there are ninety local moorings alongside making it a hive of sailing activity.
The harbour was originally thought to host a small Viking settlement in the 9th or 10th century. Nestled in behind the two small rocky outcrops, known as Cockle Island, the natural harbour makes for an ideal base. Although Cockle Island is tiny at high tide the extensive surrounding reef that uncovers at low water provides the bay with excellent shelter. Moreover the enclosed area south of the island is always separated from the shore by at least 0.4 of a metre making it ideal for Viking longboats. In later years fishermen took advantage of the naturally sheltered bay and a row of fishermen's cottages grew to fringe the harbour. Today one of Groomsport’s main visitor attractions are a vestige of this fishing heritage the ‘Cockle Row Cottages’.
These are two seventeenth century fishermen's cottages situated at the water edge, close by the root of the pier and made obvious by the innermost cottage’s traditional thatch. Although 300 years old both have been restored to illustrate the abode of a fishing family at the turn of the last century. Furnished with great care to depict a target year of 1910 they offer the visitor an opportunity to step into a little piece of history. Within the building there is a Tourist Information Centre, a heritage center, shop, craft demonstrations plus frequent art exhibitions. Admission is free and they are open daily June through August. Paintings propped up along the external walls are typically for sale.
During the 17th century Groomsport harbour activity was significant enough for the construction of its own Customs House. Indeed at this stage Groomsport narrowly missed out on New World fame when on the 9th Sept 1626 ‘Eagle Wing’ set out from the harbour, with 140 men, women and children, to attempt an early trip to North America. After enduring eight weeks of bad weather at sea the company returned defeated. Groomsport’s place in history was to be marked by Marshal Schomberg, commander-in-chief of the Williamite War in Ireland. Here on the 13th August 1689, he landed with ten thousand men to defend the Williamite cause against the Jacobite supporters of James II.
By the mid-19th century a relatively large fishing fleet operated from Groomsport and a lifeboat station was established for their protection. In 1865 the coming of the railway from Holywood to Bangor made the village much more accessible and it became a popular destination for visitors. Fishing, agriculture and loom weaving continued to be the mainstay throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods until the 1920s.
Today Groomsport is a holiday spot with a number of caravan parks situated around the village. Yet it retains its small harbour village identity and character. The layout has a clear focus around the anchorage and pier with the Main Street extending off it together with its historic street pattern. The hall is situated in the historic boathouse that dates back to 1884 and it is here that the 35 years old ‘Cockle Island Boat Club’ has its home.
Throughout the summer months, June through August, the Cockle Row Cottages host a variety of entertainment every weekend afternoon including live music. Activities range from teddy bear's picnics to wildlife road shows and craft activities where you can try your hand at craft making.
Hikers may wish to take on the full length of the ‘The North Down Coastal Path’ that commenced here and heads westward along the southern shore of Belfast Lough to finish 21km (13 miles) away at Holywood near Cultra just outside Belfast. The path forms part of the Ulster Way and is well surfaced for most of the way. The duration of the entire walk in one direction is 4.5-5 hours and offers an easy stroll past several harbours, sandy beaches, secluded woodlands and sites of historic interest. In rough sea conditions some sections of the route are awash at high tide, so if a big swell is running it may not be possible to complete the walk. Refreshments are available along the walk in the villages and towns of Helen’s Bay, Bangor and the Woodlands Café offers a wide range of lunches and snacks in Crawfordsburn Country Park.
Excellent public transport links are available along the route so the walk may be completed in its entirety or broken into shorter sections. Likewise the walk is just easily accessible from any of the locations we have listed on the south side of Belfast Lough. It is recommended that walkers take a shortened section around Ballymacormick Point, described in the Ballyholme Bay entry, that is easier to access from Groomsport.
Few coastal villages can compare with Groomsport for scenic charm, tranquil beauty and historical heritage. For those who own vessels lend themselves to the size restrictions Groomsport harbour is a real pleasure not to be missed.
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.
When crossing Belfast Lough the south shore will appear comparatively low and unremarkable except at Grey Point that is a bluff 23 metre high point. Bangor’s harbour walls plus the towns dominating steeples will be highly visible three miles west of Groomsport and likewise Groomsport’s church spire which is also in line with the transits. From the Initial Fix the harbour’s eastern entrance is just over half a mile.
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 to the Initial Fix is just under half a mile to the west. The path is clear of dangers but keep a watch out for Club Racing Buoys, whilst crossing Groomsport Bay to the Initial Fix.
A useful set of routing waypoints for a southern approach to Belfast Lough are available in the route ’Bangor, Belfast Lough - Dublin on 12 hours of favourable tide – both ways’.
FOR THE FINAL APPROACH
The Groomsport mooring is available via prior Harbourmaster arrangement. As only one visitor mooring is available it is recommended that you contact the harbour master well in advance to avoid disappointment; office phone number is +44 28 91278040, or mobile +44 7702587566, VHF Channel 16 for contact, working channel 8. Once again, please note the visitor mooring accommodates vessels no larger than 7.5 metres (25 feet) with a draft of no more than one metre or a bilge keel that can take to the hard.
From the Groomsport Harbour Initial Fix track in on the harbour’s alignment beacons of 207.5°(T). During the day the front marker will be seen to be a red metal post whilst the rear a white mast structure immediately behind on the pier; at night both markers flash green.
The alignment leads into the preferred eastern entrance, clearing the east side of the two Cockle Islets and surrounding rocky shoal that encloses the small harbour. A port hand buoy will be found offshore and port and starboard beacons will be found close in; two starboard and a port markers on the preferred eastern entrance - not to be confused with a single port and starboard marker on the western entrance. At least a half tide is required to support a draft of up to one metre accessing the harbour.
Once inside pick up moorings as directed by the harbour master and land by the pier. It is advised that this is attended to promptly as much of the inner harbour area dries, with approximately 0.4 metre LWS in the centre.
Please note, vessels approaching from the west should keep off Luke's Point and Ballymacormick Point; the adjacent western and eastern headlands of Ballyholme Bay. Reefs extend from both headlands and it is advisable to keep 250 metres off Luke's Point but 500 metres off Ballymacormick Point that is particularly foul.
What are the tides here?Today's local tide estimates are based on High Water Belfast +0020
Today's Belfast tides — High waters: 07:25, 20:08, Low waters: 01:21, 13:53
Today's Dover tides — High waters: 07:37, 19:58, Low waters: 02:06, 14:40 (From Tide Times)
We are now on Neaps, 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.
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?Groomsport harbour is owned and maintained by North Down Borough Council and has two slipway launching points with low tide tie-up posts for boat cleaning and maintenance. Slipway hard-standing areas are available for winter storage, dinghy and trailer storage. Each autumn and spring boat club members organise crane hire for launching and lift-out days - any queries regarding these please contact the Harbour Master.
Groomsport has public toilets, a small supermarket that includes a post office, a pub, coffee shop plus a renowned fish and chip shop in the Main Street catering for a domestic population of less than a thousand, but one that can triple during the summer. The park area overlooking the harbour has a recently refurbished children's play area. A bus service is available to Bangor, which is only a few miles away.
Bangor is a prosperous town that is 22 km (13.6 miles) east from the heart of Belfast City Centre on the A2. It has excellent transport connections via trains and a 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.
For all else maritime Bangor Marina is just three miles to the west. This is Northern Ireland's biggest and most prestigious marina offering all facilities 24 hours a day 365 days a year.
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:
Groomsport Harbour Master Channel 16, Working Channel 8
Phone Direct: +44 28 9127 8040 Mobile +44 7702587566
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
Any security concerns?Never an incident know to have happen to a vessel moored in Groomsport Harbour.
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:Michael Fitzsimons, Groomsport Harbour Master.
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