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Sailing into Belfast

After our day trip to Belfast a few weeks earlier we really wanted to explore the city a bit more so we decided to head up Belfast Lough and make our way into Belfast Harbour Marina which is located between the Titanic Quarter and the SSE Arena.

Our Transit up the Victoria Channel

Belfast Harbour is the fifth busiest commercial port in the UK, and Northern Ireland’s principal maritime gateway and logistics hub. According to their website, the harbour handled ‘12,476 commercial shipping movements in 2022‘, so careful navigation is required when entering this waterway!

All shipping movements within the area are controlled by Belfast Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) on Channel 12. Vessels wishing to navigate up the Victoria Channel must radio Belfast VTS 2 hours prior to their arrival at the Fairway Buoy and again prior to entering the main channel. The Belfast Harbour website has a number of navigational and pilotage guidelines which will provide you with all the necessary rules and regulations.

When trying to plan our passage we checked the vessel movements on the Belfast Harbour website which details the incoming and outgoing traffic. This way you can hopefully get a good indication of when marine traffic should be lighter. We had heard from other mariners that if the waterway is busy you will be expected to loiter until permission is granted, and whilst this is ok for a short period of time it’s not ideal if you have to hang about for ages!

On our arrival day we determined what we deemed as a quiet period between 8.00am and 9.00am and decided we would aim for that. At 6.00am we radioed Belfast VTS and advised them of our intentions. We were told to stay north of the Victoria Channel and radio again once we approached Channel Marker Buoy 5.

Approaching Marker 5 in the Victoria Channel

Fortunately our plan worked out! On our arrival at Buoy 5 at approximately 7.50am we contacted Belfast VTS who granted us permission to enter the main channel. However we were told to maintain a listening watch on VHF Channel 12 and not to impede any large ships.

Entering the main commercial area of Belfast Harbour

Once inside the main channel it is a fairly straightforward navigation up to the marina, although the channel is quite narrow. Vessels must proceed under power with no sails, keep to the right and not exceed 6 knots.

The transit up this waterway is quite impressive with the iconic Harland & Wolff ‘Samson’ and ‘Goliath’ cranes dominating the skyline and the Titanic museum glistening in the morning sunshine. Synonymous as the birthplace of the ill-fated Titanic ship, it felt pretty surreal taking our own boat here!

Belfast Harbour Marina

Belfast Harbour Marina is a small marina conveniently situated in the Abercorn Basin at the heart of the city. Within walking distance of the city’s restaurants, bars, shops and museums, it makes a great base for exploring Belfast and beyond.

The marina has 85 berths comprising of finger berths and alongside pontoons. Visitor berthing is on a ‘first come, first served basis’ and payment of £25 a night (September 2023) is made at the ‘pay and display’ ticket machine on the pontoon! Do ensure you keep the receipt as the security access code is on the reverse.

Belfast Harbour Marina

On our arrival the marina was full apart from a reserved space for a local working boat. We temporarily tied up here so that we could contact Belfast VTS once more to notify them of our arrival, as we had been instructed to do. We further spoke with a member of the marina staff who kindly made the boats on the main alongside pontoon move up so we could squeeze in! Apparently it is not common practice here to raft unless both parties agree so we were very fortunate to get in.

VIDEO: Sailing into Belfast

Seeing the sights!

Belfast has a host of attractions and places to see.

Of course Belfast is synonymous with ‘the troubles’ and has a vast amount of murals around the city, many commemorating both loyalists and nationalists victims of the troubles. There are also a number of ‘peace lines’ or ‘peace walls’, the most famous one dividing the unionist Shankill Road and the nationalist Falls Road. There are many sightseeing tours and operators that will take you around these areas, or it’s just a short walk from the main city centre.

The most famous attraction in the city is probably the Titanic Museum, dedicated to the story of RMS Titanic. It is advisable to book in advance as the attraction does get very busy. We booked an ‘early riser’ ticket which cost £19.95 per adult, a saving of £5, which allows you entry before 10.00am. We actually spent 4 hours in the museum; there is a vast of information displayed so do allow plenty of time. The entry ticket also includes admission to SS Nomadic, tender to RMS Titanic and the last remaining White Star Line ship in the world.

There are some great free attractions in the city. Dominating the skyline is the famous Harland & Wolff cranes, known as Samson and Goliath, and although you cannot access the site you can walk up very close to them.

City Hall, one of Belfast’s most iconic buildings situated in the centre of the city, is open daily and offers free guided tours. At night it is impressively lit up so do pop by again when darkness falls.

Another impressive building is the Belfast Harbour Commissioners Office, the headquarters for the Harbour Commissioners for more than 150 years. Inside is an exhibition dedicated to the maritime history of the Harbour and the ‘Titanic Table’, which was built for Captain Smith’s cabin onboard the Titanic but wasn’t finished in time.

And if it’s a host of history you’re after then the Ulster Museum is just for you! Admission is free and along with historical artefacts you’ll find collections of art, natural science and ‘the troubles’.

Queens University is one of the UK’s leading universities, and a walk around the campus grounds is well worth a visit.

Meanwhile in the hills overlooking Belfast is the stunning Belfast Castle. Situated in beautifully manicured gardens with stunning views, the castle is free to enter and is the perfect resting place after a hike around Cave Hill Country Park. The peak, at a height of 368 metres, provides exceptional views over the city, Belfast Lough and further afield.

The famous ‘Giants Causeway’ is a popular day trip from Belfast. There are a number of tour operators that run trips from the city, we opted to go with Allens Tours as they were running a special offer of just £25 per person! Before arriving at the Giant’s Causeway the tour took us along the beautiful Antrim Coast stopping at Carrickfergus, Carrick a Rede rope bridge (though sadly no time to cross it) and Dark Hedges, a beautiful avenue of beech trees which has intertwined over the road, and which has become more popular after featuring in Game of Thrones®.

This is just a snippet of what this fantastic city has to offer. If you get the chance to sail here then we’d highly recommend it!

Belfast Harbour at Night

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