I knew that it would take a few days to adjust from being on the trip and living aboard before I could reflect on the circumnavigation and on what Mike and I achieved over those sixty days.
The plan was always to sail around Great Britain’s coastline without pausing other than for rest days and to sit out bad weather (we called these ‘weather’ days). We are both single-handed yachtsmen in yachts of roughly comparable performance, certainly so under sail, and we both shared exactly the same vision; the purpose of this trip was to ‘get round’. For both of us the trip was the fulfilment of a long-standing personal ambition.
The coastline of our island is astonishingly varied and predominantly very beautiful. It is blatantly obvious that by not pausing to sight-see we missed out, but the purpose of the trip was always just to ‘get round’.
Our route was simple to sail with the mainland of the island of Great Britain to port. We did not aim to stick close inshore, so we sailed straight across the bays such as Lyme Bay and many others. We made no attempt to circumnavigate the United Kindom because then one is into all sorts of confusion; to include Northern Ireland means including the whole of Ireland which is a big challenge due to the exposure to the Atlantic. When it came to offshore islands such as the Isle of Wight and those in Scotland, the principle was simply to keep the mainland of Great Britain to port, so we passed either side of the islands with indifference, though typically we passed close inshore to the mainland. So, for example, we were content to sail through the Solent, leaving the Isle of Wight to starboard, because we were sailing with the mainland to port.
Many circumnavigators, including the majority of those we met en route do not pass ‘over the top’, i.e. over the north of Scotland. Instead they take the short-cut through the Caledonian Canal. This is understandable given the challenges of the exposed north coast, but in our minds a true circumnavigation of the island of Great Britain should pass around the entire coast of the mainland. In the same spirit we passed around the Mull of Kintyre and did not use the Crinan Canal.
Our plans could be fulfilled without too much difficulty because we enjoyed generally good weather so none of the major tidal gates were particularly difficult for us. Our experience and our overall statistics could have been very, very different had we faced severe, or less-suitable weather conditions.
THE TIMING AND THE DIRECTION
An April start, sailing anticlockwise, was chosen for a couple of reasons. Weather is one (see below) and by starting in April and sailing anti-clockwise we would reach the south coast before the summer season was at its most frantic. We would reach Scotland in June, when the days were at their longest. We would enjoy the magnificent but challenging west coast of Scotland last, and that would serve as a grand way to end our adventure.
We were lucky with the weather, but the luck came not entirely by chance. Research was done to select the three-month period (we expected the trip to take three months) in which storms were likely to be fewest. This meant mid-April to mid-July. We experienced no storms and only very infrequently had to endure or sit out winds of force 7 or a touch more. There was little rain. For much of the first half of the trip the winds were very light and the weather fair. This was delightful, and it made some of the tricky tidal gates, such as the Bill of Portland, very easy but it meant that our yachts consumed a lot of diesel. The weather was much less settled in Scotland, especially on the west coast; this was a shame as the coastal scenery there was utterly spectacular for day after day.
Of our 60 days away, only 6 were weather days.
Far and away the greatest expenditure was on diesel. Bubble consumed well over 400 litres. Yachts are, for some reason, allowed to use red diesel which is cheaper than road diesel, although prices vary greatly when purchased, as was inevitably the case for us, from marinas and harbours. I must have spent not far shy of £800 on diesel. We rarely ate out and Mike doesn’t drink so costs in that area were far less than they might have been had we gone to town with our eating and drinking every evening. Anchoring was in every case for us free of charge. Some popular anchorages on the south coast charge for anchoring but we had no need to anchor in those places. Marinas on the south coast were the most expensive at up to £40 or a little more per night; elsewhere we paid from around £25 to around £35 per night. Electricity was usually, but not always, included. We used mooring buoys a few times and these, where chargeable, were cheaper than marina berths, ranging from around £15 per night. We shared one in Salcombe because the buoys there are suitably specified for that. Even the most expensive overnight charges were tiny compared with land-based accommodation. Notwithstanding the enormous cost of owning a sailing yacht, the additional costs associated with our circumnavigation were modest when compared with those of a conventional holiday.
We both maintain our yachts in good condition and in passage-ready condition, so no additional kitting-out was required for the trip, save for the petrol generator I purchased but never needed to use ‘in anger’.
PASSAGE STATISTICS (‘miles’ are nautical miles. A nautical mile is roughly 1.15 statute miles)
The circumnavigation ran from 20 April to 18 June 2022, a period of 60 days.
We expected that it would take longer – we thought about three months. We did not rush; we had rest-days after many passages and took no chances with the weather. The fact that the light winds allowed long, fast passages under engine helped towards achieving a 60-day total for the trip.
Days when we made a sea-passage: 38
Rest days (days following passages when we chose to have a break): 16
Weather days (days when the forecast weather lead us to decide to remain in port): 6
Nautical miles logged: 1,674 (approximately equivalent to 1,926 statute miles)
Average miles per day of the circumnavigation: 28
Average miles per leg: 44
Longest leg: 75 miles (Day 1)
Shortest leg: 16 miles (Day 57)
Total hours at sea: 289h
Average speed when at sea: 5.8 kts
Hours under sail alone: 99h 15m
Percentage of entire trip (by hours) under sail alone: 34%
Hours under motor, or motor-sailing (there was relatively little motor-sailing): 179h 45m
Percentage of entire trip (by hours) under engine or motor-sailing: 66%
Diesel consumed by Bubble (18 hp Volvo Penta MD2020D): 423 litres
(I calculated that Bubble’s engine consumes around 2.4 litres per hour when passage-making at passage speed of 6.5 kts. To achieve passage speed, especially against the wind, her engine needed to run near flat-out, at around 3,000 rpm. I would normally run the engine at around 2,600 rpm, at which the fuel consumption would be rather lower)
Fastest leg: Portland Marina – Cowes (Day 16): average speed 8.2 kts (greatly tide-assisted)
Slowest leg: Brighton – Sovereign Harbour (Day 20): 4.4 kts (a grind against wind, tide and waves)
BERTHING STATISTICS (the last night, at our home port, is not counted)
Nights berthed on pontoons (marinas and harbours with marina facilities): 42
Nights on mooring buoys: 3
Nights at anchor: 10
Nights berthed afloat against a stone wall or a wall of steel pilings: 4
All overnight berths/moorings were with both yachts afloat. On several occasions we were required to raft together. Sometimes we chose to raft in order to ensure that other yachts would not raft to us, which would have obstructed a smooth early-morning departure.
Loveliest overnight stop: undoubtedly this was the magical anchorage on the Isle of Rona. The windless night under the cliffs at Lundy was special too. Wells Harbour was particularly charming.
Major gear failures: none, on either yacht.
Minor gear failures: Bubble: needed to tighten rudder-stock head nut. Shortly before departure I needed to replace the cam in the seawater pump. The flow of cooling water was very strong then throughout the circumnavigation.
Pagets Lady: replaced damaged seawater pump impeller following engine cooling concerns.
Maintenance: we both changed our engine oil (Bubble’s engine received a new oil filter too) at Royal Quays (North Shields) at just over the half-way point by distance.
Most enjoyable leg: I am not sure that Mike and I could agree on this, as so many legs were a joy.
Least enjoyable leg: without a doubt this was the slog against the wind, tide and waves from Brighton Marina to Sovereign Harbour (Eastbourne) on Day 20. Yet whilst this was terribly unpleasant aboard, the views were wonderful. We saw the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, with its impressive lighthouse.
We avoided night-sailing other than on Day 1. We sailed almost entirely in the daylight, minimising the risk of catching our propellers in the lobster-pot marker buoys which proliferate almost everywhere. As single-handers we could not contemplate passages much longer than, say, twelve hours; most passages were shorter. We tried to arrive at our destination in good time for a relaxing evening. We needed time in the evenings for planning the passages ahead too.
Passage Speed: I was inexperienced in terms of true passage-making voyages, where substantial passages need to be completed day after day. Mike had far more experience here and I soon learned from him that it is necessary to settle on a minimum ground-speed that must be maintained when on passage. We agreed on 6.5 kts. This speed can be maintained or exceed when sailing in good conditions but in conditions of inadequate or unsuitable wind, or against tide, one must not plod on under sail, hoping for things to change, but must motor. This is why on many legs when we could have sailed we either motor-sailed or motored, because under sail alone we would have had no chance of reaching our planned destination.
Planning and plan changes: We spent a lot of time planning each leg, attempting to maximise any advantage from the tide and minimise exposure to the worst of adverse tidal streams. Yet we never hesitated to alter our plans once under way, when that seemed sensible and safe.
Pilot books: I spent a good deal of money on pilot books which covered much of the coastline, but at the rate at which we were passage-making, and because we were unable to visit drying harbours, they were little used. The critical passage-making information, chiefly on tidal streams and contact details for harbourmasters, is available in Reeds Almanac or online, of course.I regard Reeds as essential for a circumnavigation.
Charts: We both have electronic marine chart-plotters networked to our yachts’ instruments. Mike carried a lot of paper charts but they were barely used. Paper charts are inconvenient for single-handed helms and impossible for them to use in bad sailing conditions. We both have Navionics on our iPads, with its vector charts; it was used as a starting-point when passage-planning. The auto-route facility provided at once a figure for the length of the leg in question, for instance. In addition to auto-routing, Navionics has the advantage that in most cases adequate detail for navigation in harbours and bays, even very small ones, is available by zooming in. I also have the Imray Navigator raster charts on my iPad which I much preferred to Navionics, other than when needing the features which are particular to Navionics. I found that neither app was ideal on its own; both were needed. Using the Imray app, the quality of the image is identical to that on a paper (Imray) chart.
Tidal streams: tidal stream information is available within Navionics but I found Imray’s compendium of all coastal tidal stream atlases, which can be animated hour by hour, invaluable when passage planning.
Communications: 4G coverage is surprisingly good around our coasts, even along the remote north coast of Scotland. I found that an unlimited contract was essential if uploading video and maintaining a blog site with photographs. It also allows regular video conversations with home which helped to stave off homesickness. Marina wifi was hardly ever sufficiently robust for serious use.
Both yachts completed the entire 1,674 miles single-handed. Neither of us had anyone sailing with us at any point. I had planned to do the trip entirely on my own but sailing in company with another experienced single-hander was an incomparably more pleasant experience. Mike and I each maintain our yachts ourselves and have, between us, a good deal of experience; we could have dealt with many of the kinds of gear failure that might have occurred using the tools we carried. We regularly discussed any concerns we encountered about the yachts, or about our passage plans, and were able to support each other extremely well. I came to value Mike’s immense experience and practical knowledge very highly indeed.
Bubble is a Bavaria 32 (length 10.3m, draft 1.5m). Fin keel. Volvo Penta MD2020D 18 hp diesel engine with saildrive and Bruntons Varifold folding propeller.
Pagets Lady is a 1992 Westerly Corsair (length 11m, draft 1.5m) with centre cockpit. Fin keel. Beta Marine 35 hp diesel engine with Bruntons Autoprop propeller.
Both yachts have the same Seldén furling mast system and furling headsail gear and in both cases the rig performed flawlessly throughout. Both are equipped with AIS. Each has an electric anchor windlass which, with reasonably-sized yachts such as ours, I would regard as essential if anchoring is to be comfortably manageable on a regular basis, especially when single-handed and in other than smooth conditions.
HOW IT FEELS
Everyone I have met since returning to Fleetwood has asked ‘How Does It Feel’ to have done the circumnavigation, so I shall attempt to explain. It is easy, with the trip now in the past, to overlook the worries that gnaw constantly at the yachtsman far from home; the constant anxiety about the weather, about where we might stay for the coming night and about the difficulties we might encounter in getting our yachts onto awkward berths in difficult conditions. I worried, when setting out on a passage which would involve two or three stops at anchor, that the weather might change against us when we were far from the safety of a sheltered marina. Some legs were very easy and in every respect enjoyable, but some had moments of considerable anxiety. The weather can change very quickly and when one is some hours from a safe port, with a rocky shore not far away and in worsening conditions, and the yacht is becoming difficult to control, then, whilst there is undoubtedly a sense of exhilaration, the very real danger of the situation did weigh on me. We had little persistent rain but if one starts to get wet, cold and tired and the conditions show no sign of improving then having a long passage to complete is not a pleasant experience.
But the good times, and there were very many, were unforgettable. It is with intense satisfaction that I glanced astern at a notorious headland passed safely. We saw the spectacular coast of this island in all its splendour and we saw it as many never will – from the sea, and close inshore. Our companions for weeks on end were the multitudinous sea-birds – the colourful, charming puffins, the spectacularly elegant and powerful gannets and the guillemots and many others by the thousand. Occasionally we glimpsed the fins of dolphins, of porpoises and even of a couple of orcas, though only once did we enjoy a full-scale display of dolphins playing and leaping alongside our yachts.
To complete the circumnavigation was for us both the fulfilment of an ambition. So inevitably there is a powerful sense of personal achievement and of having safely and successfully completed a passage to which many yachtsmen aspire. Having been successful, I acknowledge without hesitation that we had the weather very much on our side. Things could have been very different had the weather been adverse. I was pleased that we were able to complete the passage across the north of Scotland and around Cape Wrath; if the conditions had been impossible we would have passed instead through the Caledonian Canal. That would, in my mind at least, have left me with a sense of an incomplete circumnavigation.
Now it is the turn of others to see what we saw, to enjoy what we enjoyed and to ponder, as we did for hours, how best to face the next challenge along the route. Others – and we know of several – are sailing in our wake as I write. Others will be just setting off, or planning to next year. They will experience, as I did, the anxiety that grips one when setting out on a voyage on this scale (in our case the 0200 departure did nothing to ease that). Will I be up to what our coastline demands of those bold enough to attempt a circumnavigation? Will the boat be up to the job? Will we face weather that we cannot handle? Will we face unmanageable weather on a leg which comes up after the point of no return? Will one of a thousand possible, but not improbable, catastrophes strike?
This evening others will make their way through the rocky entrance of the perfect anchorage at Rona marvelling, as we did, at is beauty and tranquility. Some will spend a restless night listening to the wind ahead of a passage around a notorious headland. Perhaps there will be one or two yachts at Jenny’s Cove on Lundy this evening, transfixed as we were by the grandeur of the cliffs and the swarming of the sea-birds. Most probably there will be none, but the sea-birds will care not a jot; they will soar and call tonight as on every night in their quiet and unspoilt sanctuary.
From the moment that Mike and I returned to Fleetwood on Saturday, whenever and wherever on the British mainland we stand on a beach, on a cliff or on on a seafront and glance seaward, we will know that in 2022 we were there. For a little while the beaches, rocks and islets were our home. Now it for others others to appreciate and enjoy them.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?
In a flash, yes, but practical and domestic constraints make a repeat in the foreseeable future very unlikely.
The circumnavigation was by a very wide margin the most ambitious cruise I have undertaken. Buoyed by having completed it safely I am keen to cruise further afield in future than the few hundred miles I have attempted in the past. Next year I plan to cruise the Clyde area of Scotland. I would love to visit the Orkneys and, certainly, Shetland. The Scilly Islands hold a particular attraction as do the Channel Islands. For many years I have been fascinated by the remote archipelago of St Kilda; I would love to visit. Bubble is not the right boat for crossing an ocean but I have no particular appetite for that; it seems to be that there is ample to see amongst our own islands for the time I have left for summer cruising.
BUBBLE’S PASSAGE LOG
A pdf of Bubble’s passage log can be seen here.