On the 22nd July 1996 John and I set sail in our 21 foot drop keel yacht for Inis Oir from the Galway Boat Club in lovely sunny weather with a gentle northerly breeze. On our left, and to the south, were the slate grey hills of the Burren that they ran all the way to Black Head. After we rounded Tawin, the northern vista presented Galway and its sidekicks Salthill, Barna, Spiddal, Invern, and peering out of the haze the towering Twelve Pins. The sea scent and its gleaming, rolling constant movement grows on you as John Masefield wrote “ the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sails shaking” as the boat levered on towards the horizon.
Since we were travelling westwards with a North wind this meant we were sailing abeam which is the easiest point of sail. Sailing is a sport like any other that needs some basic knowledge and a certain amount of caution, we had neither! The fact that we had named the boat Phoenix after sinking it and bringing it back to the surface was a portent for our experiences going forward. We were in sight of our destination when the rudder box came apart leaving us rudderless, just about the greatest calamity we’d experienced to date. Our first action was to adjust sail to port and toss out a bucket on a rope to starboard to try to make way, but it didn’t work. The cliffs at Doolin were getting bigger. Our next action was to take the rudder up out of its box, lash the box and return the rudder. That worked, I hooked one arm around the box and steered with the other as we made our way back to Barna.
Because of my work I knew the only place that could weld aluminium was Rynn’s in the docks in Galway. John took the rudder box on the bus, into Rynns and had it repaired ready for sailing that evening. John the boat’s owner amazingly suffered from vertigo and got very seasick. That happens when your brain cannot juxtapose the horizon but it doesn’t happen at night when we did a lot of our sailing. So we went into Donnelly’s adjacent to the pier in Barna for dinner and a rake of lovely pints of Guinness. Afterwards at about 11.30pm we set sail for Kilronan. On sail alone getting out of Barna is very tight and although there was a North wind our boat couldn’t sail directly downwind. We sailed to port until we were nearly up on the rocks and then jibed to starboard going as we only could very tight to land westward. A rock stood out from shore and we wondered could we make it without jibing. With Dutch courage I decided to plough on and we sailed through its backwash with a clear run toward the loom of the lighthouse on Inis Mór. We had had discussions on which side of the green marker one should sail on going into Kilronan. I argued that since all the green markers on Lough Corrib were on your right going toward Galway you’d have to go the left, but that was the side the reef came out from the Lighthouse so we skimmed the left side and damned nearly ran into it a few times. It was a bit of a come down to find out afterwards that the ferry went well to the right of it. Both warning lights, the one at the head of the bay and the one at the head of the pier, were not working. Our only hope was light on land. There were several strings of yellow lights. I argued for a string of lights well to port and we headed that way. Our keel hit a rock and we came to a sudden stop. Reeling up the keel, we set off to starboard gently until our bow swivelled suddenly to port. We set off to port until our bow suddenly swivelled to starboard. Have you guessed it? Our anchor had hopped out when we went aground! That sorted, we head for Kilronan pier. Appearing out of the gloom as we approached the pier we noticed two ocean going 40 metre trawlers with the crews talking to each other. We had no navigation lights on our boat as we ghosted by. As all of the moorings were taken up, we laid anchor behind the hindmost boat. That left us in a direct line between the outside trawler and the inside pier. Just then at 2am we listened to the commentary of Michelle Smith de Brun win her first Gold Medal in the 400 freestyle at the Atlanta Olympics! A few minutes later I heard the captain of the outside trawler say that he was going to tie up at inside pier bringing his massive boat right over us. “John quickly a light any light!” I shouted. He had a pencil light. Standing on the stern seat, I held it as high as I could and they saw it on the inside boat. They switched on a huge spotlight in our direction. Dum-dum-dum-dum! The trawler changed course in time to miss us!
Next day as John dry retched downstairs in the cabin he shouted “If you’re doing nothing you could blow up the dinghy, launch it, and make sure you tie it securely”. “Of course I will after all I’m an angler I know how to make a good knot” I replied. Later I watched four young lads diving off the inner pier, swimming to the steps, and repeating the process. All of a sudden they had a new idea, they went to the trawler tied alongside, and dived from the bow which was higher than the pier even though that was about 20 feet above the sea. They had a powwow at the top of the steps. Three of them ran down the pier, dived off and kept swimming out, out to a dinghy that was just like ours. I looked to side of the boat where I had tied the dinghy ‘very securely’ hmmm, IT WAS OUR DINGHY!
They rowed it back to the pier and when they spotted me waving, they commandeered a tender with an outboard and towed the dinghy out to us. The youngest lad who didn’t help in the rescue of the dinghy came along and boarded our boat as the others headed for another yacht. In his utter excitement on being on a yacht he asked “Do you have lights and a radio?” he asked. “Yes! Of course we have!” I answered. Yeah right! I thought ruefully…after all we had a pencil light and a small transistor radio.