What a difference a day makes! Friday 8 June 2012 was grey, overcast, wet and windy. Met Éireann had a Weather Warning, a Small Craft Warning and a Gale Warning in operation. In total contrast, the following day dawned dry and bright with a warm sun in a blue sky and the wind rapidly falling away to a light breeze as the deep depression that produced Friday’s weather moved away to the northeast.
Very shortly after they were advertised, the two WNFC cruises around the Saltee Islands were booked out. When the waiting list grew to nine names members stopped enquiring as it was obvious that the chances of nine people dropping out were exceedingly slim.
Our boat was appropriately named ‘An Crosán’ (Irish: ‘The Razorbill’) and we were to get exceptional views not alone of Razorbills but of eleven of the twelve species of seabird that regularly breed on the islands: Northern Fulmar, Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, European Shag, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin. The one that eluded us was the Manx Shearwater.
The scenery was spectacular as skipper Declan Bates skilfully manoeuvred his boat as close to the cliff base as was safe to go. Two Shelduck and a cock Pheasant were spotted among the Soay Sheep and Kerry Cattle grazing on Little Saltee. A lone Chough made a brief appearance on Great Saltee. Some people missed the brief sighting but were delighted and were more than compensated when a party of four Choughs put on a wonderful display so close that their red legs and down-curved bills could be clearly seen from the boat without the aid of binoculars.
Grey Seals were plentiful with more than ten together regularly to be seen. They bobbed up and down in the swell providing frustrating opportunities for the photographers in the boat who were also bobbing up and down but out of synchrony. As we edged nearer to them large males slapped the water with their flippers in annoyance at our intrusion into their watery domain.
The wind that had died down early in the day started to freshen and that combined with the slight swell in the sea left by the gale the previous day made the journey home a bit bumpy. Wet feet when the deck was awash with seawater and the odd drenching with spray were taken in good spirits; the inconvenience of getting soaked was a small price to pay for a wonderful day out and the privilege of having such a great amenity in County Wexford.
Cruises around the Saltee Islands are offered by a number of licenced boats operating out of Kilmore Quay marina. Declan Bates, for example, telephone (053) 912 9684, mobile (087) 252 9736, charges €20 per person for a trip around the islands and the experience lasts about an hour and a quarter. Further details about visiting the islands may be had from the information desk at the Stella Maris Community and Tourist Centre, Kilmore Quay, telephone (053) 912 9922. A free, four-page information leaflet about the islands is available in the Stella Maris Centre or by e-mail on request from Jim Hurley at firstname.lastname@example.org.