2020 - Loch Altan Lockdown

Pictures from Iwona Bielinski, Phil, the Lord and 'the guy with the cocker spaniel' aka Ross Ezak




Windsurfing in Donegal in 2020 was like no other. There were momentus changes making it hardly recognisable as our normal September bash on the water. Clearly, and by a country mile, the biggest change was ....

...the introduction of the Loch Altan Korma! For many years we've feasted on the legend that is the Loch Altan Burger - but modern times have eventually had to catch up with the Gaeltacht and yes the korma has hit the Loch Altan.

Oh yes, and then there was something else called Coronavirus...


Phil flying past Pawel - who is looking suitably amazed.


And the other big change was that someone turned up with a drone, hence this excellent photograph of one of the busiest days at Magheroarty we've ever seen, but more of this later.


Of course it was all very different. First of all we could get parked at the beaches. Really sadly and after 30 years of running courses in Donegal, Peter Hart had to cancel all three of his courses. The problem was that most of these are filled by his loyal English fans and so 2 weeks required quarantine would have ruled this out for almost all of them.

However the resourceful Hobbits had a cunning plan - and it worked. They came over 2 weeks early and quarantined - a real hardship in Donegal. And they put on a big push to get lots of Irish on their courses. So, brilliantly, the two wave weeks and the flat course all ran. They even put on an ironing class (foiling) at Cultra for Minger's mates.


This is how Hobbits quarantine in case you didn't know


Now it was a bit different of course. No video feedback sessions, no organised nights out in various restaurants with Phil, Danielle and of course Ella. And great care about social distancing at all times, but it still worked really well. And we were so lucky, as shortly after the last course, major lockdown measures were put into place in Donegal which, had they happened earlier, would have killed the courses.

Baffled - how do you drink a pint with a mask on. In Wookie's case, only after you've wiped down the glass!

From left to right, Fanta, Wookie, Lord and Ming


Now you ask yourself what about the poor old Loch Altan, our traditional windsurfing hotel. The loss of the Harty courses would surely leave it empty? Well no, it was full pretty well every night as clearly more Irish people decided to holiday at home. And it must be said that their revised operations were really well organised with lots of sensible precautions making you feel really safe as you sipped your Guinness and tucked into your Loch Altan Burger/Korma.

Week two with Lord, Jarlath, Phelim, Michael and Minger. By now we'd figured out how to resolve the Guinness drinking/masks dilemma.


Now the big question every year is what wind did we get? Well those on the first week course got a lot of good wind which culminated in the big weekend. And those on the second week didn't. Actually we got zero wind, like no windsurfing on any day.


Maurice on his SUP.


A few years ago that would have been a distaster. Sun tans and Ming would have been (ob)scene in his tight Speedos. Not a pretty picture.

But these days Sups have changed all of that and so we actually made great use of the (for normal people) lovely weather.

I wasn't there for the first 3 days of the first week, but I understand that most of the sailors were pretty much wave beginners. I found that amazing because when I rocked up on the Friday they were all out on the reef and giving it some.


 Out on the reef featuring Cathal


Pawel was sailing while Iwona spent what seemed like every waking hour on the beach with a tripod and serious camera. The result was many of the great pictures you see here.


This is Pawel, secure in the knowledge that we would be caught on camera.


 Out on the reef - this time featuring Roman


Roman, a bit clearer.


Nearly all of the week one people were complete wave beginners. By the time Ming and I arrived, you couldn't tell though - they were already out on the reef and cutting it up. In the words of Phil "Watch out the regular gang, this lot are gonna try and catch you up!"


Blondie aka BP


One particular oddity was Phil II, we'll call him Blonde Phil to distinguish him from Phil 1 (who is of course blonde - sometimes). BP was in fact terrified of waves - bit of a bummer when you are on a wave course. However Phil 1 loves a challenge and fortunately BP is a pretty good sailor, so somehow this slight hiccup was overcome and BP sailed waves. We think it was the Guinness what cured him of course....

 Phil mastering his fear of waves


And again!


Seraina like most girls doesn't need a large sail. However her problem was that her smallest sail was a 4.7 and there was much speculation about how on earth she manged to hold on this on the windy days. But she did!


Stuart (blue sail) looking like he's always been on the waves


And I would remind you back to the halcyon days of these Donegal trips regarding hospital cases. We've had broken hands, feet and various other wounds which needed stitching. However this year the damage was pre-done in that Nakisa arrived with an already broken foot. Did that stop her sailing, not a bit of it. This caused much speculation that she was somehow related to Chris Ming Loughridge - but clearly not, she's much better looking....

It was good to see Ash again, having escaped from his family in the west.





Cathal enjoyed his sailing but he seemed to take social distancing rather seriously as he often preferred to sail alone way down Magheroarty beach. At least there were no party waves to be had.

Cathal, way on down


Cathal, on his own but having fun!


I arrived on Friday morning to find the crew assembled at Magheroarty. And it was windy - 5.2m on my 116 quad for me. Some familiar faces appeared, gearing up for what they believed would be big Saturday. One noticeable absentee was Ming who apparently preferred to play golf instead of enjoying near perfect Donegal conditions - maybe he's mellowed in his old age. Or more likely he couldn't resist the chance to beat up other dentists.

And it was good to see Mr Pants as in Nigel, Fanta Pants, up early for some good action in the waves.

And so finally Big Saturday arrived ....


The view down the beach to the reef, what did we do before drones?


Frankly all the windsurfing spots in Ireland (north and south) must have been empty on the Saturday. Because every dodgy van and trailer was at Magheroarty. We've been up there for years, but we've never seen it like that day - and that's even without Harty's crew. Hern Dog and Big Robert (no, we still don't know why - but he's got fit, eating healthy and lost a lot of weight so we're getting worried about him) were amongst the many familiar faces.

To give you a great idea of what it was like, someone we don't really know but who was described 'the guy with the cocker spaniel' had a drone. His name is Ross Ezak and his photographic skills are only matched by his great editing and choice of music. Feast your senses on this :

Magheroarty Big Weekend Video

You know it's a big weekend when not just one but two Mullens turn up! Finn and Timo were both there ripping it up on the water and also giving it some off the water. And the wing foil was out, on an ironing board. A sight we'll all get used to soon enough, but right now very new to watch.

The video features a number of familiar faces including John Adrain and of course Raptor. The nearest I got to featuring was a nice shot of car and trailer.... I know my place.


Just to prove that the Lord was with you ...



Another familiar face was Paddy Lyner. We're used to see him blasting on his Fox (not a euphemism in case you were wondering) so it's bit of a shock to see him playing in waves. We, I say playing, he certainly got close to some waves :

But we're not sure if any actually caught him -


Wookie was up and really nailing it out on the reef. However he's being very careful about the virus and so didn't take any lodgings, choising to sleep in his van. It's sort of reassuring as you snuggle down in your warm comfy bed in the Altan to think of him curled up in his van in the car park.... But at least he joined us for the odd pint around dinner.

Fortunately Magheroarty is a big place and so it never got too crowded. The conditions however were not as forecast, I was out on 5.3 on my big quad. And then around lunchtime it dropped a lot and got cold and wet. The trickle of leavers was steady and basically no-one got to sail again that day. Still the craic was good.




Quite a few stayed on for Sunday in the hope that the forecast wind would come back and it did. In fact it was windy enough for me to drop down to 4.7m on 104 and we all beat our way out to the reef. However conditions were difficult as the wind was slightly offshore and being affected by the shore.

Minger wanted to go our on his Moo. If you haven't seen it, here it is - you can make up your own jokes here, but trust me it's another great way he can make a teat out of himself.

According to the ever reliable Chris, this has the same plan as his 104 Goya quad ie not too big. However it is an incredible 130 ltrs. This Tardis-like arrangement is because it is very thick, comparisons with its rider are obvious. He says it sails like a small board but has great float for when the lulls appear. You can make your own guesses about the weight.


Ming Mooing


Whatever, Chris loves it and has sailed it in some pretty big winds. Today he wanted to sail it again, but Phil said no - take a proper board. Mind you, the same Phil told me to take my 104 when Chris said it would be super gusty and I should take the 116. Turned out Chris was right as I had a really difficult sail in what turned out to be super gusty, on/off conditions. I got so fed up that I had to come in and move to the bigger board.


Ming, continues to milk it


After lunch the wind dropped a little and moved even more off shore. So Phil got us all to sail down the beach and move 'round the bend' a bit so that it was more cross shore. He was right of course and we had a good sail down there, I having moved up to my 5.3. We got some good waves and got some really got tips from Phil before the wind went mental. Mid Sunday afternoon and the promised Big Saturday finally arrived late.

Problem was that we were all miles down the beach ie away from our vans and so changing kit wasn't exactly easy. After a few hanging on by the teeth runs we gave up and did a mass walk of shame. Ming and Adam tried to sail back, but were soon dumped back on the beach and walked up like the rest of us. Tired out by the day's exertions most of us stopped. Oh and then the wind dropped again - in fact not to return for a week.


Phil of course showed us the way - he had no right to get out of this, but he did, somehow. 

Not quite so lucky below though...


Monday was a day of rest as course 1 changed to course 2, so a couple of us headed off to Dooeys. There was a hearty 10 knots so I quickly rigged up my 6.2m on my SUP and charged out to get some of the lovely waves in the blazing sunshine. Actually I had a ball, catching a lot of waves until I felt something wrong on the outside. And then my rig lifted off the board as my base had come out of the mast track. I spent a lovely 10 minutes trying to get it in before having to take the base off the extension and fit it to the board. But when, in the waves, I couldn't fully get the rig back onto the peg. By now I was drifting over close to the rocks, still on the outside, so I jammed the rig half onto the peg and sailed in gingerly (sorry Nigel). It was rather ironic that I had to carefully avoid all the lovely waves otherwise I would have been literally winging it.

And as soon as I got in the wind, such as it was, vanished.

The course restarted with a largely new set of people including Maurice Owens, Jarlath (the other one), Liam and Phelim Darby. We already had Ming, mini-Ming (Adam), Michael and myself.

Phil was his usual bundle of enthusiasm and energy and did some great sessions on tacking, waves vs wind direction and how to uphaul a wave board in light winds. This last one was a particular disaster as I swear we took wave kit out at Magheroarty in 5 mph of wind. Still, our tans were by now coming on nicely and the sun never stopped shining. Oh and that huge 5 mph of wind I talked about - it vanished to zero after 30 minutes. Even Ming couldn't find a forecast which promised any wind anywhere.

Phil obviously has spent too many hours playing with Ella's toys as he insisted on constructing this work of art. It's actually his wave model and worked better than it looks (and certainly better than Ming looks) to explain wind directions relative to waves.

We spent one morning at Falcara with SUPs. It was hard work but the right time for the tide and there were some really nice sets coming in - but with big gaps. Out we went in our Summer wetsuits to improve our tan again. Actually we got some good waves and I got the biggest wave of the day - in the water and not from a passer by on the beach before you ask.

I also got the luckiest wave of the day. I was still kneeling on the way out when a rogue big wave came in. It hit me, turned me and my SUP around and the next thing I knew I was riding it all the way into the shore. I'd like to say it was good timing and skill on my behalf, but it was of course pure luck.

For our 'rest day' we did a tour of various beaches looking for something to sail or ride. Magheroarty, Ards, Falcara and eventually Ballyhiernan. None of us are quite sure where this spot is as we passed the signs for a village of that name about 10 miles before we made the beach. Eelburn Caravan Park right beside it. Ming and Maurice went out.


This is Maurice.


And this is Ming... Honest. Spot the difference?


The most exciting part of the day then followed as Maurice had a mast jammed together. And I do mean really jammed. So first of all we tried the standard multiboom approach.

Then that failed, we tied the end of the mast to a tow bar and then five of us swung on the booms.

We were defeated.

A bigger group of us tackled it again back at Magheroarty with at least 10 booms attached. We also played tug of war between two cars! We did eventually pull it apart but the wrong part came out ie the end that should have come out remained stuck. Maurice seemed happy enough though.

As you might expect, various people gave up and headed home each day. By Friday, we were down to Jarleth, Ming, Maurice and me.

We were however all cheered up to hear about some particularly annoying jet skiers. They had been causing some tut tutting around Downings and Ards by their thoughtlessness on the water. However there is Karma (as well as Korma) in Donegal and so it was they got caught out by a particularly high tide at Downings.


 It might be a while before we see them again.


And so the zero wind continued and we moved to Dooeys where we witnessed a couple of strange things. The first was the annual disappearance of the toilets. One day there are 3 portaloos and life is good, we came back literally the next day and they were gone.

And other thing was the shattering of the Phil and Danielle's domestic bliss....

We had a couple of days at Dooeys with good coaching from Phil. It must be good because, after he'd put me  through a number of drills, I was suddenly catching loads of waves.


Now this is the Lord we are talking about and, as you know, Lords don't paddle. Well that's certainly changed - helped a lot by my lockdown fitness regime where I dug the rower and the cross trainer out from under piles of domestic crap and got fit. So it came to pass that I started to give Ming a run for his money.

Now the thing about Ming (and there are many) is that he is relentless about the number of waves he gets. He wants to be on every good one there is. So, as the rest of us started to get really good about picking the best wave and then getting on it, he started to have competition. Only he doesn't understand the meaning of this - after all he 'owns' all of the good waves. And to be fair he is on nearly every one worth having.

On one particular wave I spotted it and went for it, not realising Ming was behind me and also - of course - going for it. He got on first (and so technically it was his) but he bellowed at me but I was too busy paddling and didn't hear him. We think our paddles hit but not our boards and we both ended up in the drink - laughing I might add.

But it was part of a real pattern. I find I have photos of Ming shall we say ignoring social distancing on a wave with just about everyone else.

Here he is about to kill Phelim :

And here's the outcome. Ming is fending off Phelim's board while the lad himself is somewhere underneath all that.

And he's at it again, although to be fair Ming is leaning forward and it turned out that he got the wave and Phelim leaning back dropped off it. We will never know how it might have turned out if he'd got it too - probably badly!


In fact on the Saturday the afternoon session had one of those magical hours. The tide was just in the right position, the waves were jacking up in a perfect shape and we all had a fabulous, wave after wave, time. And the sun shone. And Phil was up on the rocks with his camera.

It may not have been windsurfing, but it was Donegal magic.

While we were supping, Jarleth was surfing. And I mean he was really surfing well, as these shots show.



And, having recovered from being smashed by Ming, Phelim started to really cut it! And they talk about my toilet stance? Taking a wave and dump at the same time!

And just to prove that occasionally Minger did ride a wave on his own ...


Looks like there might be some competition for this wave, but far enough apart for us both to ride it.


Now back to that bit of Hobbit lack of harmony I was talking about.

The first day at Dooeys - the one with the toilets - Phil came down and left Danielle and Ella to play at Magheroarty. Then he nearly had heart failure when he thought he's locked his keys in the van. It's not just any van and they've fitted extra secure locks on it to protect all the gear they carry.

From the look on his face you could tell that he was seriously worried about having to break the news to Danielle... But the keys were outside the van. Relief.

And then the next day at Dooeys he did it again - only this time the keys really were in the van. So he had to make the dreaded call to Danielle, to get her to bring the spare set out to him. And guess what, she told him the spare set were also in the van. In the interests of their relationship I will gloss over the next bit.

But windsurfers are a dedicated bunch and we set to. Maurice led the way, ably helped by Chris, Phelim, Jarlath and myself. Coat hangers were grabbed, fins were used as wedges to crack open the passenger door a bit. Rigging cord was attached and some most ingenious heath robinson attempts were made to operate the passenger side inside door mechanism.

The vital ingredient turned out to be a sail batten. A coat hanger guided by rope from the other side of the door managed to form a hook on the inside door mechanism. Then the batten was used to push this inwards until the door lock opened! It must have looked very odd, 3-4 dodgy looking windsurfers, some standing on chairs working frantically on a van door.

And here is the proof - the most relieved man in Donegal clutching the offending keys and some of the ingenious tools used to free them.

Domestic bliss was resumed!



Actually, when we say domestic bliss was resumed, we then noticed this photograph on the beach. Here Phil can be clearly seen on his knees to Danielle.

What do you think? Is he begging forgiveness or, as he claims, talking to Ella... Voting will be open shortly.


As you can see, we spent a lot of time (getting a great tan) in Dooeys car park. You could say we really made ourselves at home. Many of us brought out chairs, various bits of food and drinks, but Phelim took this to a whole new level. He had a table and the most comfortable padded chair you could imagine.


Is it Ikea - no, it's Phelim's furniture store. Note Phil and Ella upstairs in the van.

Sunday was our final day and Phil tried to persuade us that Bloody Foreland was calm enough and safe enough to SUP. He didn't succeed and so we headed out at the reef at Magheroarty. Once again cracking sun and some lovely waves until it got so shallow that even Ming headed back in.

So that was it. In summary :

Covid-safe, different but it all worked

Wind one week

Bugger all wind the next

And now Lords can paddle.

One can only wonder what next year might bring!