An outing on the ferry to Rathlin Island, the northernmost point of Northern Ireland, gives me an idea of just how rough its waters can be.
The MV Canna is tossed around in waves that crash over her bulwarks as she thumps her way out of Ballycastle harbor. Based on World War II landing craft, the boxy Canna is designed for efficient cargo handling, not comfort.
“You have to be brought up with it to learn the ways of the tides in this channel,” says Rathlin-born Jim McFaul, who has been skippering her for more than 15 years. “If the tide is going west against the wind, it causes a turbulent sea. Then the strange shape of the island [it is L-shaped] turns out another tide against the main tide, so you have two tides meeting.”
I wonder if Jim might ever get tired of making the same crossing several times a day. “No – there is hardly ever two days the same, unless we get a long spell of calm weather like we did earlier this year,” he says. “I’d consider that a bit boring – but it’s a pleasure all the same.”
As we slow for the island’s Church Bay harbor, I can see a crowd awaiting the arrival of this vital link for the 120 people who still live on Northern Ireland’s only inhabited island. The harbor has a pub, and a line of smart new houses.
“It’s amazing to think that we carried every brick, every pipe and every tile for them on the Canna,” says Jim. “We also had to carry these huge septic tanks that were the full length of the deck. You could hardly see over them.”