Sailing in Ballycastle

There’s a bit of the multitasker about Ballycastle, and the pretty harbor appeals to sailing enthusiasts and holidaymakers alike

Ballycastle is a picture-postcard harbor. Host of the annual Auld Lammas Fair (think teeming streets, pony shows and the tooth-challenging Yellowman toffee), and resident on one of loveliest stretches of Antrim coastline.

Multicolored houses and ancient legends

The town itself is a one-street affair. It’s dappled with multicolored houses and traditional pubs (traditional music favorite, House of McDonnell, we’re looking at you) that may prove hard to leave. 

The harbor is about as cozy as it gets, and the view of Fairhead to the east is exactly the type of inspiration sailors need.

Rathlin Island lays its great bulk out on the horizon and, according to legend at least, the Children of Lir – turned to swans by an evil stepmother – ended up in Avaragh Cave there. A modern sculpture of the four dazzlingly white swans, soaring into the sky, is a feature of the coast.

Dramatic, yes, but that kind of goes with the territory here in Ballycastle.

American travel writer Rick Steves described this stretch as “one of the most interesting and scenic coastlines in Britain and Ireland”.

Chris Cartin of Causeway Coast Sailing knows the area like the back of his hand and it still manages to impress him: “From our main sailing departure point at Ballycastle harbor we've a number of fantastic sails available to us. 

"We can sail to Rathlin Island, east along the coast past Ballycastle beach and up to the dramatic Fair Head cliffs. Or we can go west right past Kinbane Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. It's a great way to see these well-known locations from a totally new perspective and to feel part of the landscape.”

Unexpected whale-watching

Some parts of the landscape, however, are not what they seem: “We sailed past Kinbane Head one day and I was pointing out the large rock that lies some distance off shore. At some states of the tide, it's quite shallow there and you can see the rock from the boat. 

"On this occasion, the rock seemed very close to the surface and when we got closer we realized we were looking at a basking shark! It was nearly as long as the boat itself! 

"It must have been floating around the rock to feed. These sharks are harmless, but it was quite a surprise all the same.”

Only seen from the water

Chris has a favorite trip: “My favourite spot along the coast is Kinbane Head. The cliff itself is very dramatic and sitting on the cliff clearly visible from the water is Kinbane Castle. 

A lot of people don't even know the castle exists and are quite surprised when we sail right past it!”

Don't forget to drop your anchor with us in Cobh, Dun Laoghaire and Strangford Lough, too.