independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Adventure at puffin island

The highlight of my summer holidays in Ireland is always a boat trip with friends, preferably with someone else doing the hard work.

It brings me back to childhood holidays spent fishing for mackerel and diving into the heart-stoppingly cold waters of the Antrim coast. Halcyon days when the sun always shone, we never felt the cold and holidays were like a story from an Enid Blyton Famous Five book.

My travelling companions on this trip were an intrepid bunch who jumped at the chance of a day's adventure at sea.

We boarded the Brazen Hussy at Derryinver Harbour, near Letterfrack. The plan was to do some fishing, see the wildlife and find the perfect place to swim. Shane Bisgood is an expert skipper and knows all the secrets of this magical coastline. His knowledge of and enthusiasm for wildlife and the great outdoors is infectious.

The twin-hulled Brazen Hussy is perfect for touring. She was designed to accommodate fishermen and divers so there was plenty of room for us to sit down or walk around and enjoy the breath-taking views of the Connemara coast.

The on-board technology is state of the art, which proved very useful when we wanted to fish. Display screens show the composition of the sea floor and the rock formation on the sea bed. The various species of fish can be found on different types of sea floor including rock, gravel and sand. With this technology, you can actually see the fish on the screens.

As we headed out to sea, on the look-out for dolphins, Shane spotted the unmistakeable tail-fin of a basking shark off the port side. It was a thrilling start to our Connemara adventure.

Our first stop was the west coast of Inishark to see the colony of puffins. As we approached the vertiginous cliffs, where the sea birds have nested since the beginning of time, puffins, guillemots and razor bills flew overhead and greeted us noisily.

Thanks to the boat's shallow draught we were able to get in so close that we could almost touch them. Amazingly, they weren't disturbed by our presence.

Some of us had forgotten our glasses, but under Shane's patient tuition we learned how to distinguish between the different species. Guillemots have long, thin black beaks, razor bills have a hooked bill, and fulmars are the fat ones floating around watching the action.

But the star turns were the puffins, with their brightly coloured bills and little red feet stretched out behind them as they swooped and dived, landing gracefully in the sea. These little amphibious flying-machines are sometimes known as the Clowns of the Sea because of their distinctive colouring.

A few feet away from us a pair of dark glittering eyes, undoubtedly belonging to a seal, eyeballed us from the depths of a dark cave.

This beautiful place is wild-bird heaven, and we were having a David Attenborough moment, cameras clicking away furiously to see who could get the best action shot of a puffin in flight. Who knew that twitching could be so much fun?

As we cruised past Inishark Island, Shane pointed out the deserted village, once home to a fishing and farming community of several hundred people. Over the decades, numbers dwindled as families gave up the unequal task of battling with the elements on an island that was often cut off from the mainland for weeks on end.

The last remaining 23 islanders were resettled on the mainland in 1960.

When we arrived at the fishing grounds off Inishark, fishing rods were produced, and soon we were reeling in mackerel, pollock and sand eels.

There's a visceral thrill about that first tug when you feel a fish biting. Even if it's only a mackerel, it's still exciting.

Shane and his crew-man Aaron were at hand to tie flies, attach bait and untangle lines, or in my case to untangle knots that inexplicably kept appearing on my line.

My friends were like a bunch of happy kids enjoying the moment, as they concentrated on landing their fish.

Later, we cleaned and gutted our catch and even tried a few slices of mackerel sushi.

The best part of my day was still to come. Did Shane know of a sandy beach with warm, shallow water and no seaweed? No problem.

A few minutes later, we dropped anchor off the idyllic East End Village with its row of white-washed cottages, lone palm tree and sandy beach.

The boat's hydraulic diving platform was lowered, which made getting in and out very easy. Sadly, none of my intrepid friends could be persuaded to join me.

The turquoise sea was deliciously refreshing as I struck out for shore. The swimming conditions were perfect -- warm and sunny with a light breeze. Holidaymakers lunching alfresco waved encouragingly as I emerged on the white sandy beach.

This place is paradise, and definitely worth a return visit to stay in a cottage on the beach.

I have enjoyed memorable swims in tropical paradises, but Inishbofin on a sunny day beats them all.

All too soon it was time for the Brazen Hussy to head for home as a sumptuous feast of lobster and crab awaited us at Oliver's pub in Cleggan.

But on the way there was one last treat for us, when we spotted a colony of seals sunbathing on the rocks. As we approached they slithered into the sea and swam towards us, their whiskery snouts bobbing up and down comically in the waves.

It was another magical moment and the perfect end to our Connemara sea adventure.



Getting there

THE Brazen Hussy, Derryinver Harbour, Letterfrack, Co Galway. Phone: 086 279 5118, email: skipper@brazenhussy.ie. Facebook: The Brazen Hussy Charter Boat, Connemara. The boat can be used for angling, (fishing rods are provided), birdwatching, scuba diving and touring the islands. Tea and coffee making facilities on board. The price for the whole day (eight hours port to port is €650, inc VAT). Accommodates 12 people. Oliver’s Pub, Cleggan Phone: 095 44640. www.oliversbar.com

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