BayRaiders’ Circumnavigation of Mull

Graham Wickenden writes about his circumnavigation of Mull in May 2017

In mid-May, three intrepid BayRaiders (Rory & Ben’s BRe ‘Gobhlan-Gaoithe’, John & Linda’s BR20 ‘Ella’ and my BR20 ‘Turaco’) spent a week circumnavigating the Isle of Mull in a clockwise direction, starting and ending on the Scottish mainland at Dunstaffnage, just north of Oban. Chart below.

Rory & Ben took all the stress out of the voyage by finding extraordinarily sheltered, beautiful and remote anchorages each night in what were sometimes challenging conditions. We spent three nights holed up off Bunessan in SW Mull when a Met Office inland waters F9 was forecast to pass right over us. Luckily, it passed to the side but nevertheless produced mountainous seas from the south when we ventured out the following day. We spent a lot of time under just jib & mizzen and still managed to exceed five knots for most of that day. See the “spot the boat” photos below.

Having over-stocked my boat with water, fuel, food, giant anchors and numerous gadgets (the other crews were much cleverer), I now have a clearer idea of what is really needed on a lengthy cruise and what can safely be left behind. For example, I took a Fortress anchor on a weighted rope, plus a 5kg Manson with 10m of heavy chain. The latter was redundant, as Rory chose shallow anchorages (no other boats but lots of wildlife) with muddy or sandy bottoms. The Fortress has very strong holding power in high winds in such locations, as we now know after a nervous night or two. I also took 25 litres of fresh water in one large can, when two 10 litre cans (or three or four 5 litre equivalents) would have been more than enough and much easier to handle and stow. Other lessons included the need to stop up the spinnaker pole hole on the BR20, to avoid wet sleeping bag misery (wind-blown rain and salt spray blasts through the hole into the cockpit); and the fact that it’s possible to sleep under just the sprayhood when at anchor, as the boat is nearly always pointed into the wind and rain.

Here’s a more detailed chart of the Ross of Mull, where Rory led us through Tinker’s Hole (the bit to the left where we appear to sail across rocks).  Also another photo of same.  If it hadn’t been for the weather, we might have been in the Seychelles.

Altogether, we covered about 120 nautical miles and despite some of the weather, had a magical experience, for which many thanks to Rory & Ben for shepherding us safely through. We rarely went ashore and managed to avoid the bright lights and fleshpots of Tobermory altogether. Even sleeping on board a BR20 for eight nights in a row has much to recommend it, especially when waking up to sea eagles on patrol, the honking of pink-footed geese and the calls of the oystercatcher and curlew.

It’s hard to shake off the racing mentality, which dictates that sailing on a knife edge is the only way to go. However, cruising under jib & mizzen with a full ballast tank was for me a revelation – relaxed, still quite quick and extending the range of weather conditions in which it was safe to go out to sea. The furled mainsail should be dropped well below the normal horizontal (if you have a topping lift), towards the aft deck. On Turaco, a wooden bracket extension at the base of the mizzen keeps the mainsail and gunter yard out of the way of the tiller, as in the photo below. The bracket extension is also useful for securing the lowered mainmast when trailering.

We were all impressed with the way our small boats acquitted themselves. Back in Dunstaffnage, we were asked whether we had had a pleasant sail and where we had been. I think the expected response was that we had done a couple of hours faffing around in Dunstaffnage Bay. On being told that we had done a week’s sailing around Mull the astounded reply, with one eye on our little boats and weather reports, was “what, ALL of it?”