Tucked into the northeast corner of Church Bay and enclosed behind substantial breakwaters, the harbour provides good shelter and protection from all winds northwest through east to south-southeast. The harbour provides safe access in all reasonable conditions at any stage of the tide by a well dredged entrance channel supported by leading lights. The direction and velocity of the tide should be the central feature of any navigation planning in this area. With the exception of the deep and well marked wreck of the ‘Drake’ the Bay is absent of offshore dangers.
Keyfacts for Church Bay
SummaryA good location with safe access.
LWS draught1 metres (3.28 feet).
Today's tide estimates
|LW 22:10 (0m)||HW 22:10 (0m)|
|LW 10:35 (0m)||HW 10:35 (0m)|
Position and approaches
Haven position55° 17.503' N, 006° 11.658' W
This position is at the southern end of the deep water pontoon. This pontoon lies inside the outer breakwaters in the centre of the harbour.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- Pass the 'Drake' Wreck South Cardinal 200 metres off on either side and proceed to the harbour.
Not what you need?
- Ballycastle - 5.3 miles SSW
- Murlough Bay - 5.6 miles SSE
- Ballintoy Harbour - 6.5 miles WSW
- Torr Head - 7.5 miles SE
- Cushendun - 11.2 miles SSE
- Portballintrae - 12.8 miles WSW
- Cushendall - 13.9 miles SSE
- Red Bay Pier (Glenariff Pier) - 14.4 miles SSE
- Portrush Harbour - 16.6 miles WSW
- Coleraine - 18.7 miles WSW
- Ballycastle - 5.3 miles SSW
- Murlough Bay - 5.6 miles SSE
- Ballintoy Harbour - 6.5 miles WSW
- Torr Head - 7.5 miles SE
- Cushendun - 11.2 miles SSE
How to get in?
Church Bay is located in the bight formed southwest shores of Rathlin Island, between Bull Point and Rue Point, and has its little port at its head protected by two outer breakwaters. Rathlin Island is situated five miles off the northeast coast of Ireland, opposite Ballycastle Bay located on the mainland between Kinbane Head and Fair Head, and is the largest and only permanently inhabited island off Northern Ireland.
Composed of 133 metres high tablelands the island is surrounded by precipitous cliffs that mirror the appearance and structure of the opposite mainland shore. There is a lighthouse on all three points of what is best described as a truncated ‘7’ shaped island.
Rue Point Lighthouse - Fl (2) 5s 16m 14M position: 55° 15.533’N, 006° 11.474’W
Rathlin East (Altacarry Head) Lighthouse - Fl (4) 20s 74m 26M position: 55° 18.111’N, 006° 10.313’W
Rathlin West (The Bull) Lighthouse - Fl R 5s 62m 22M position: 55° 18.052’N, 006° 16.815’W
Vessels approaching from the west or northwest will find few hazards west of Sheep Island as far as the entrance of Lough Foyle. The mainland coast is composed of a rugged broken shore that is subject to a heavy surf. The predominant feature of this coast is black basaltic cliffs alternating with limestone, and inland hills rising to heights of 180 metres in places. There are some outlying rocks, but there are no hidden dangers beyond a quarter of a mile from the shoreline.
Rathlin Sound is then clear of dangers with the exception of Carrickmannanon off Kinbane Head, located two and a half miles southeast of Sheep Island. This rock is visible as it nearly always breaks and dries 0.3 metres. From here Ballycastle Bay commences, stretching between Kinbane Head and Fair Head, facing opposite Rathlin Island four miles across the sound.
The upside down Rathlin West, or The Bull Lighthouse will be seen high in the island's western cliffs marking Bull Point. Church Bay is located in the bight formed by the southwest shores of Rathlin Island, between Bull Point and Rue Point. Head for the initial fix set in the leading light alignment midway between the cardinal and the shore to the east.
Vessels approaching from the south will find no local outlying hazards north of Hangman and Maiden Rocks situated twenty five miles to the southeast. Four hundred metres out from the slopes of the rugged Antrim Mountains, which push out almost vertically to the coast in the vicinity, clears all dangers.
The Antrim Mountain range terminates at Fair Head, a vertical 191 metre high precipice, around which Ballycastle Bay is situated.
The southern end of the island is situated two and a quarter miles north by west from Fair Head. It
gradually declines in height towards its low rocky southern extremity of Rue Point with its black and white striped lighthouse.
Church Bay is located in the bight formed by the southwest shores of Rathlin Island, between Bull Point and Rue Point. Head for the initial fix set in the leading light alignment midway between the cardinal and the shore to the east.
The initial fix is set in the leading light alignment midway between the cardinal and the shore to the east. Vessels approaching from the west who do not need leading light support may ignore the initial fix. In this case pass the buoy 200 metres to starboard and continue on to the harbour’s breakwaters.
The Church Bay initial fix is approximately half way between the 'Drake' Wreck South Cardinal Pillar Light Buoy and the island’s western shoreline. The shores of Rathlin are clear of hidden dangers beyond the distance of 300 metres and have plenty of depth all round.
'Drake' Wreck South Cardinal - Q (6) +LFI 15s position: 55° 17.093’N, 006° 12.488W
Track in from here on 024°T, or within the white sectors 023° - 026°, for half a mile to the entrance to the outer harbour. This is situated between the arms of rock armoured breakwaters that project south by southeast and northwest from the shores at the head of the bay.
At night time the initial fix is within the white sector of the harbour’s sectored light. This light is positioned within the village near the Manor House Hotel Oc.WRG.4s, Green 020°- 023°, White 023°- 026°, Red 026°- 029°. The light at the end of North Breakwater (The Bow), Fl R 2s 5.3m 3M whilst the South Breakwater: Fl (2) G 6s 3.5m 3M.
Pass between the pier heads, where a maintained LWS depth of 3.5 metres will be found, and enter the harbour.
Once inside these substantial breakwaters a vessel may elect to berth at the pontoon immediately within, lay alongside the pier or anchor off.
The outer and southernmost end of the pontoon has 2.8 metres progressively reducing to 2.4 metres down either side. Vessels berthing on the southeast side should keep close to the pontoon as it quickly shallows 20 metres to the southeast of the pontoon. The inner section of the pontoon and the two inner fingers have reduced depths and are only suitable for shallow draft vessels.
Provided permission is granted by the harbour master it may be possible to come alongside Manor House Pier for a short period but do not impede the island’s ferry. Likewise it may also be possible to use the 30 x 100 metre long 1.7 metre MLWS inner harbour.
It is possible to anchor in the northwest section of the harbour, behind the north breakwater, but beware there may be insufficient depth at LWS. In all case Harbour dues may be levied. With winds anywhere to the northward or eastward a good summer anchorage can be had outside the harbour. Anchor as convenient in 6 to 7 metres of water with good holding ground.
What's the story here?Rathlin Island, derives its name from the Irish Reachlainn, pronounced ragh-lin, also often called Reachrainn or Reachra. Many Irish islands use this name but the origin of the word remains obscure. It has been suggested that the name comes from the Celtic word rhygnu meaning ‘to rub/scrape’, and this could relate to the island’s ‘rugged’ nature and or the ripping tides that race past it.
Rathlin’s history of habitation goes back to ancient Mesolithic and Neolithic periods in which it played a significant part. Brockley, situated about halfway towards the west lighthouse, was the site of a remarkable Neolithic Stone Age axe factory. Similar to Tievebulliagh mountain near Cushendall, the geology here features an extremely tough porcellanite rock that was capable of taking a keen edge. This made it the preferred Neolithic material for arrow, spear heads and above all axes employed in the forest clearances at this time. More than 10,000 beautifully polished and highly distinctive Antrim porcellanite axes have been discovered to date throughout the British Isles, Europe and as far away as Greece. A rich example of these axes uncovered near Malone Road in Belfast can be seen in the cities Ulster Museum. Called the ‘Malone Hoard’, the collection consists of 19 polished Brockley or Tievebulliagh porcellanite axes that were uncovered inserted upright. These axes were too big and heavy for practical use and it is thought they were used for ceremonial purposes.
To the north of Brockley there is an ancient earthwork known as Doonmore. The name is derived from the Gaelic words Dùn Mòr meaning "great fort" which indicates that it was the site of an ancient defensive settlement. Rathlin’s presence was noted in Roman times. Pliny referring to ‘Reginia’ and Ptolemy to ‘Rhicina’ or ‘Eggarikenna’. In the 6th century, a monastic site was established by St Comgall at ‘Church Quarter’ somewhere near the harbour but the exact location of which remains uncertain. The island was certainly a haven for monks at this time as is evidenced by the Knockans remains of a ‘sweathouse’ that was an early type of sauna. But Rathlin was not destined to be a safe abode for the monks and a few others who sought sanctuary here.
In the 16th century, Rathlin came into the possession of the MacDonnells Clan of Antrim who attracted horrendous massacres to the island. In 1575 the clan were at war with the English in Ulster and they sent their women, children and elderly to Rathlin Island for safety. In July 1575 Sir Henry Sidney the Earl of Essex sent Francis Drake and John Norreys to confront Scottish refugees on the island. They slaughtered the entire Clan MacDonnell population of 600 mostly women and children. This included the entire family of Somhairle Buidhe, better known as ‘Sorley Boye’ MacDonnell, the clan leader. Essex boasted in a letter to Francis Walsingham, the queen's secretary and spymaster, that Sorley Boy MacDonnell watched the massacre helplessly from the mainland and was ‘likely to run mad from sorrow’. Sorley Boy later captured the English stronghold of Carrickfergus castle and its town in revenge for the massacre on Rathlin Island.
Later, in 1642, the MacDonnells were back on Rathlin Island only to be butchered by their Scottish enemies, the Campbells. The Campbells were at war with their arch enemy the Clan MacDonald in the highlands of Scotland. Encouraged by their commanding officer Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck they decided to take the war to their Antrim near relatives. This they did with ruthless efficiency in Rathlin throwing scores of MacDonald women over cliffs to their deaths on to the rocks below. The number of victims of this massacre has been put as low as one hundred and as high as three thousand. Rathlin was deserted for many years afterwards and the cliff face where it took place was known as the ‘The Hill of Screaming’ since that day onward.
Being at the head of the North Channel the seas around Rathlin were lively during the two world wars. Some 40 sea wrecks are to be found in its surrounding waters with the most famous being the HMS Drake. HMS Drake was one of the fastest and heaviest cruisers of her time. Early on October 2nd 1917 whilst escorting a transatlantic convoy from America to the United Kingdom, Drake was hit by a torpedo from the German U-Boat U-79 off the north western tip of Rathlin Island. Nineteen crewmen were killed in the explosion but the Drake managed to limp into Church Bay. It was possible that she was going to be beached in Church Bay but the damage caused her to list considerably and she sank in some eighteen metres of water albeit not taking any more crew with her to the bottom. The Drake south cardinal buoy marks the location today and the vessel is too deep to be a danger for leisure craft. Not so for commercial shipping, as on the 4th November 1962 while leaving Rathlin the 595 ton 170 ft trawler 'Ella Hewitt' hit the wreck and sank adjacent to her.
Today Rathlin is the most northerly inhabited offshore island of Northern Ireland and one of forty-three Special Areas of Conservation. A hundred people from 33 families reside on Rathlin where they have come to enjoy a very peaceful existence these days. Some are farmers, maintaining good herds of cattle and sheep; whilst others fish for lobster around the island's coast. All are serviced by environmentally sustainable mains electricity thanks to the erection of three wind turbines called the three ‘Children of Lir’ which are locally maintained by two islanders. The island's permanent hardy souls are boosted by its many annual visitors of divers attracted by its legacy of wrecks, birdwatchers, botanists and sea-anglers. All come to explore the island’s rich history and traditional culture, as well as its stunning landscapes, seascapes and diverse wildlife. Most of all it is a place for those who just want to enjoy the peace and tranquility of island-life.
From a sailing point of view this a very special island to visit. Moreover it offers a safe harbour with a pontoon berth on one of the key corners of Ireland. This makes it a must visit for the coastal cruiser.
What facilities are available?Water and electricity are available on the pontoon but there is no reliable source of petrol or diesel and if obtainable it would be at a premium. There is limited shopping plus a post office catering for the islands population of about 100. A pub and restaurant is available to while away a few hours in the evening
A daily ferry crossing operates from Ballycastle from Easter to September, and for the rest of the year there is a crossing three times a week. The six mile journey takes 45 minutes: phone +44 28 2076 9299
Any security concerns?Never an issue known to have occurred to a boat off Rathlin Island.
With thanks to:Terry Crawford. Photography with thanks to Rossographer, Colin Park, Keith Ruffles, Van Helsing, Tighe, Jane Dickson, Urbancowboy, Brian O’Neill, Bob Jones, Robert Ashby, Paul McIlroy, Anne Burgess, Jim Williamson, James T.M.Towill and Notafly.
The above plots are not precise and indicative only.
The following video presents a quick Rathlin Island historic overview.
This video presents a taste of local island life.
This amateur video provides a feel for the island and harbour area.
This photo montage provides a feel for the island's sea cliff approaches.
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