SAILING ROUND IRELAND - GENERAL
The total distance we covered was 1100 miles. We took just under six weeks, and I would suggest that five weeks would be the minimum. If you can spare longer, do so. We felt rushed when we got to the SW; we very conscious that it was a long way home, so did not linger as long as we would have liked.
Going down the Irish Sea the tide is very significant, and going with the flow is the only sensible option. If you can anchor or pull in for a few hours then leave refreshed as the tide turns in your favour youwill make good progress. South of St. John's Point the direction of the tide is reversed, and there is an opportunity here for a well planned long passage carrying a favourable or nil tide.
On the South coast be prepared for headwinds - you will be heading into the prevailing South-Westerly winds. With our ancient furling genoa we were often at the limit of our ability to make good progress to windward (25 knots over the deck and close hauled has to give way to close reaching). Good windward ability in stronger winds will stand you in good stead here.
The West coast is subject to swell, and a reasonable wind speed is required to keep sailing and stop flapping . . . rolling is unavoidable. WInd on or forward of the beam suits best . . . sailing downwind in big swell with light winds is impossible. The seas off headlands are often hellish and if your course will be downwind after rounding a headland and the wind is not very strong then it might be prudent to take the mainsail down before making the course change. Lazyjacks would be an advantage - tidying the main away when the boat is rolling her guts out is not easy! You will find that motor sailing is often the only way to make sensible progress, and if you do plan to go round without an engine then allow plenty more time.
As regards distances, we only did one night sail, and that was on the East coast. The two long hops from the Dingle Peninsula to Galway Bay and across Donegal Bay can both be done as day sails in June and July.
The Irish coastguard maintain a listening watch on channel 16 and broadcast regular inshore waters forecasts, updated every six hours and broadcast at three hourly intervals. There are no sea areas as such - instead forecasts are given for areas between headlands going clockwise round the country. The further you go the better you understand the weather forecast! As with the UK coastgurad, you are encouraged to file a routinge traffic report - although we mostly didn't. If you do get into trouble the RNLI operate a service throughout Ireland identical to that in UK coastal waters.
A particular hazard round the South and West coasts is salmon nets. These can extend from the cliffs several miles out to sea. There will usually be a guard boat stationed somewhere along the length of the net, and he may call youp on channel 16 - the message is usually preceded by whistling! Otherwise, the guard boat may come and physically direct you round the end of the net. This can be a pain, but boats with fin and skeg can get into serious trouble - we heard several reports of disabled yachts. It's not so bad if you have a long keel like the Vega, but we still went round all theo nets we were made aware of. The season ends towards the end of July.
There are visitors' moorings in many locations, although these may have local boats on them, particularly when you get further up the West coast. In most places they are yellow, no pickuup, reated to 15 tons. In Donegal they are red and spherical, with no pickup or ring - you have to lift the whole buoy on deck. I would caution against assuming you will be able to pick up a buoy - be prepared to anchor and have ground tackle you trust if you want to sleep at night.
There are shops pretty much everywhere, but those on the smaller islands can be very limited. Most towns have at least one old fashioned butchers' shop, and the meat is excellent. That the potatoes are superb goes without saying! Beer in the bars is almost universally excellent and not much more expensive than the UK, but drink in the supermarkets and off-licences is very expensive,so take enough beer, wine and spirits to see you round if possible. The people are friendly without exception. You will enjoy it, and it;s not that difficult!
Well, that's about it. Please note much of this is personal experience based on one trip only. There is lots of other good information on the web - see the links page for details.