Sail Away, Sail Away

Merlin heads for The Mizen

Merlin heads for The Mizen

Many years ago I did a lot of sailing in Vancouver but for various reasons I haven’t been sailing for years. This week I was thrilled to have the opportunity to take to the water again!

I went with Chris Forker of Carbery Sailing out of Ahakista. Chris has a beautiful yacht, Merlin, a 42 footer with room for eight. There were five of us – Chris, his wife Aideen, a young couple Conor and Ellie, and I. Robert decided that the better part of valour that day was dry land, but he took photos of us as we left and arrived and even drove up the Sheep’s Head mountains to capture us in full sail.

Ferrying out to Merlin

Ferrying out to Merlin

It was a fabulous day (but then, it always is, around here) and we got underway quickly after Chris had given us a tour of the boat and showed us on the charts where we would be going. He was an amazingly relaxed captain: once the safety instructions were over he invited us to do as much or as little hands-on as we liked.

Merlin on Dunmanus Bay

Merlin on Dunmanus Bay

We sailed almost to the mouth of Dunmanus Bay and back to Ahakista. There was a brisk little breeze, so the conditions were excellent and as soon as the main and the foresail were up the boat settled into a close haul, heeled over, and bowled along at a merry pace. Chris pointed out all the points of interest, introduced us to Henry the friendly seal and recounted the history of the bay. 

Great day for a sail!

Great day for a sail!

Chris is a born teacher (he does RYA training courses aboard Merlin) but in the most unobtrusive way, so I felt comfortable asking all the basic questions – stuff I had learned but forgotten. There’s so much vocabulary to sailing! Within an hour I felt emboldened enough to offer to take the helm – and there I was sailing a 42 foot yacht, calling the change of tack, adjusting the course to catch the wind. It was, in a word, heaven. The Sheep’s Head to the north, the Mizen Peninsula to the south,  incredible scenery, sunshine and a Caribbean blue sea skimming past our bow – what more can life hold on a warm September afternoon?

At the helm!

At the helm!

And just when I though it couldn’t possibly get any better, Aideen appeared with a cup of tea and a plate of Ummera smoked salmon on thinly sliced brown soda bread.

Robert and I have explored the Sheep’s Head and the Mizen extensively, but seeing it from this angle brings a new perspective. We were unaware, for example, that there are sea arches along the Mizen coast – dramatic bridges reaching out over the ocean, with the sea thundering underneath. There are several islands in the Bay. We sailed between Carbery and Furze Island. Rumour has it that the house on Carbery is owned by a wealthy Sultan who visits with his wives occasionally. Gannets plummeted into the water around us and, although we didn’t see any that day, dolphins often swim and play around the boat.

Conor, who had never sailed in his life, took the helm as we headed home, while Chris and Aideen dropped and stowed the sails.

Connor takes charge

Conor takes charge

As a re-introduction to sailing I couldn’t have had a more perfect experience. But even just lounging around the deck, soaking up the sunshine and the scenery, feeling the wind on my face and the gentle swell beneath, chatting in that companionable way that seems to happen like magic with shipmates – well, it all added up to a marvellous and memorable day that will ensure that I get out on the water again soon.

End of a perfect day

End of a perfect day

Pigs and Ponds in Ahakista

The Garden Trail is declared open at the Heron Gallery Gardens

The Garden Trail is declared open at the Heron Gallery Gardens

The West Cork Garden Trail takes place in the second half of June and this year the opening ceremony was held at the Heron Gallery Gardens in Ahakista. The gardens are a natural extension of the gallery, cafe and gift shop that Annabel and Klaus operate, with a satellite store in Schull and an online shop.

Welcome to the gardens!

Welcome to the gardens!

Annabel and Klaus have only been developing these gardens for nine years, although it’s hard to believe that this was wilderness so recently. Every year brings innovation and new plantings and trails. Although we kept our shoes on this time, we explored the barefoot trail, an invitation to experience the sensual pleasures of texture underfoot and squishiness between the toes. Along the trail we met friendly pigs (say hello to Fuchsia, Fern and Fay!) and climbed the hillside to a bench situated to enjoy glorious views of Dunmanus Bay. 

Robert makes a friend

Robert makes a friend

On the way back down we lingered by the pond, where wild flowers have been left to blow enthusiastically on a small hillside.

Wildflower meadow

Wildflower meadow

The more formal parts of the garden are a joy, with colourful herbaceous borders, pools with water lilies, tables and benches for eating or resting, and everywhere delightful, quirky sculptural installations.  

This is the perfect spot to enjoy lunch, or coffee and cakes, before a browse around the gallery featuring Annabel’s captivating images. Having travelled along the Sheep’s Head and wandered the garden, her inspirations will be obvious to you – look out for her oil painting of Fuchsia the Pig, or her many depictions of the Irish hare, two of which feel right at home at Nead an Iolair.