Colin Mitchell confesses that hanging up his wetsuit at age 30, after an active life on the dinghy open meeting circuit, was a big decision but believes the timing was perfect.
Colin – founder and former Managing Director of FPG Ltd, a fire protection and security solutions company – successfully raced 420s, Ospreys, Fireballs and Lasers throughout the UK, which is how he met his wife Anne. “We met in our early teens racing dinghies on Linlithgow Loch.”
Colin and Anne married at the age of 25, but with a busy career and setting up a home together, inevitably life began to take a different course. Colin continued: “It was then the desire to cross the finish line first and the gradual call for more lead under the keel won through and, at the age of 30, we made the big transition.”
LIFE-LONG SAILORS COLIN AND SUE MITCHELL MET RACING DINGHIES. NOW, AS PROUD OWNERS OF AN OYSTER 565, THEY ARE IMMERSING THEMSELVES IN SAILING ADVENTURES FROM SCOTLAND TO THE CARIBBEAN.
The decision to buy their first keelboat was a big one but their choice of a Maxi 95 at the time was, according to Colin, a good one, albeit slightly daunting. “We had absolutely no experience with big boats whatsoever.
“As dinghy sailors, we knew how to sail but it was things like chart reading and navigation, and the fact we were alone without the support of a rescue boat, that we found most challenging. I suppose it was even more complicated because it was around the time we had our first wee one – Rhona – so we were even more cautious.”
A succession of Jeanneaus followed, including a Sunfizz, SunKiss, and a Sun Odyssey 49, the latter remaining with Colin and Anne, and their three children Rhona [now 31], Peter [now 28], Stuart [now 27] for 12 years.
Colin continued: “It was a good family boat but we still yearned for that luxury yacht so, around 2012, we began our search. We spent ages pondering and visiting all the boat shows. Essentially, we wanted a good, well-proven brand such as Oyster, Discovery, or Swan, so it was a very exciting time.”
Not surprisingly, it was Oyster’s glowing reputation for not only producing quality yachts but also for its renowned customer service that stood out for the Mitchells. But, according to Colin, that was just the start of the decision-making progress.
“After looking at all the other similar-sized options in the same price range, I think the lines of the Oyster did it for us. They always look utterly superb.
“Knowing that we wanted the boat for bluewater cruising, Oyster offered oodles of space below plus, importantly for us, we were able to have a bit of input with the interior design.”
With so much money at stake in commissioning a new yacht, the Mitchells believed Oyster would also offer good financial stability so, in 2017, they commissioned their dream yacht. Colin added: “Oh my goodness, talk about bad timing. It was the exact time Oyster Marine went into Receivership.
“We were well and truly caught up in that, so it was quite an anxious time. I have to say though, how the new company owners dealt with the situation could not have been better. It really did work out absolutely fine. In many ways, it proved wholeheartedly the ethos of the new management team and just how professional the company is.”
Interestingly the Oyster the Mitchells signed up for was the 575 because the 565 hadn’t been conceived at that time. The ownership change from Oyster Marine to Richard Hadida’s Oyster Yachts Ltd meant the project was delayed, which gave the Mitchells time to reconsider their option.
Colin continued: “We had to re-commission her because the mould had been built by Oyster Marine but Oyster Yachts Ltd then took on the ownership, so it was a year later, in September 2018, that we signed the new contract. It then took a year to build.”
Ironically, the delay due to the change of ownership at Oyster turned out to be favourable for the Mitchells because, in the re-commissioning process, they were able to opt for the sparkling new 565 design that had just come off the drawing board.
It was a very exciting time for the Mitchells because they were able to get involved during the build.
Commenting on how much influence they had in the layout design, Colin said: “As always, Oyster could not have offered us more support. One of the options available on the 565 is to have a cabin [seventh berth] either next to the engine room, or have it as a separate utility room housing the washing machine.
“This is where we had other ideas. We wanted to keep the washing machine in that area yet still have the seventh berth for use when we have a crew aboard. We spent a lot of time looking at the design and trying to understand how it could work. We believed there was enough space. The design office re-drew the plans to incorporate our idea by installing the berth below and the washing machine above.
“Other ideas incorporated included a specially designed hybrid Bimini to provide more shelter in northern climates where we are based on the west coast of Scotland.”
Bruadarach was handed over to the Mitchells in October 2019. It was with great excitement the Mitchells made their way to Ipswich in preparation for her sail south around the coast to her new homeport at Ardfern, Scotland. They chose to include professional skipper – Iain Hunter – for the maiden voyage, which turned out to be, what Colin describes as, “the best decision they could have made.”
“I remember it clearly,” says Colin. “27 October 2019 when the ideal strong easterlies were due to be replaced by the not so ideal ‘Storm Amélie’. Thankfully we did have a window of opportunity before the storm was due to arrive, so great haste was required to enable us to be well up the Irish Sea before it hit.”
Nothing really could have prepared the Mitchells for the conditions on Bruadarach’s maiden voyage, with winds for the first five days constant at 25-35kts, with gusts into the 40s.
However, in recalling the experience, it is clear that Colin was smitten with his new yacht from the moment he stepped on board.
“Indeed, you may ask who in their right mind would take an expensive yacht out on its maiden sail, in strange waters, foul weather, and alone with no other yachts for company? Not many I suspect, but I have to say it was very exciting in a strange sort of way. The conditions were made worse by the fact it was pouring with rain most of the time, there was no moonlight and dark black clouds were whipping across the sky constantly.”
Chatting about the Mitchell’s baptism of fire and how Bruadarach performed in the extreme conditions, Colin said she was everything they had expected and more. “We were so pleased because she handled it particularly well. We were surfing at 15kts and making steady progress at between 10-12kts.
With their dinghy sailing roots, it is not surprising the Mitchells took great pleasure in the exhilarating maiden voyage. As well as her fine lines and good looks, the 565 is, in Colin’s opinion, an ideal choice for other dinghy sailors making a similar transition into yachts. “Although we don’t intend to race her seriously, it is always good to have a boat with exceptional performance that gives you the option to race if desired. She’s certainly no slouch and, as a dinghy sailor, you still feel that sense of exhilaration when it’s blowing hard.”
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A new chapter in their adventures with Bruadarach has already begun. No sooner had they arrived at their homeport in Ardfern after the wild maiden voyage, than the next ‘hurdle’ appeared.
Colin recalled: “We did manage to fit in some excellent sailing with our family that December  and we had plans for more. However, as is often the case on our coastline, we had a series of storms/deep lows, one after the other, from January to March 2020. Then, just when the weather decided to abate, along came Covid, so we didn’t do much sailing in her first six months.
Thankfully, with Covid restrictions easing mid-2021, the Mitchells were ready to set sail. “It gave us the perfect opportunity to explore our home cruising grounds including St Kilda, Outer/Inner Hebrides plus islands such as Iona, Coll/Tiree, Mull, Rum, Barra, Harris, Skye.”
Commenting on a passage that stood out, Colin continued: “It was our sail out to St Kilda from Berneray on the Outer Hebrides, which was about a 49nm. Owing to another big low in the Atlantic and, with nothing between us and New Foundland, it brought with it big seas and swell.
“St Kilda had just the most amazing atmosphere. We then had a fantastic sail back through the Sound of Harris. Interestingly, although we were cruising, we’d just picked up a new crew from Rum, and found ourselves having a private ‘race’ with another cruising Oyster. It turned out to be Oyster Yachts founder, Richard Matthews’ 82ft Oyster, Midnight.
“We left for Tobermoray the next morning to beat the next band of foul weather and realised Midnight was also preparing to leave for Tobermoray too. In a Force 7 off the west coast of the Isle of Muck,it was very exposed to large seas so we had yet another exciting sail, a beam reach round Ardnamuchan, the most westerly point on the UK mainland. We arrived at Tobermoray and we all had a very pleasant evening, exchanging stories. It was then that Midnight admitted they were secretly trying to race us too!”
Having put Bruadarach through her paces in such a short space of time, Colin was keen to point out how impressed he was with not only her performance but also with the layout and the systems.
Commenting on the piece of equipment or gadget that has impressed him the most (other than the beer cooler of course), a delighted Colin said: “I am totally impressed with the bow and stern thrusters. With twin, aft rudders, it makes manoeuvring in tight spaces easy. It is so different from other boats we’ve had, as with twin rudders on a beamy boat, you don’t get the opportunity to use prop wash to kick the stern one way or the other.
“Interestingly, because I wasn’t familiar with in-mast reefing, I wanted slab and in-boom reefing, as we always had had before but I was advised against that. I am so pleased I listened because it is pretty impressive and I would now never go back to slab reefing. Another recommendation by Oyster was to increase the roach slightly with longer battens. You can really tweak the main to improve sail shape and performance.”
On 1 December 2021 Colin and crew departed from Puerto Calero, Lanzarote for their trip across the Atlantic and, looking at the wind patterns, they decided a direct route to St Lucia was their best option. Colin added: “The electronic systems on the boat are superb and came into their own, especially on our return journey to Horta (Azores).
“We decided not to join the ARC and, other than two cargo ships and a 25m sailing vessel, we were on our own for the whole crossing. The Trade Winds were particularly revved up and our wind speed rarely dropped below 20kts. It was mostly a steady 23-33kts, gusting into the high 30s in the squalls. We completed the crossing in exactly 15 days.”
Colin and the team’s return home from St Lucia to enjoy winter skiing in December and January in the Alps was wrecked by the COVID-19 Omicron variant, so they returned to the sun in January. Colin, chatting about their extra time in the Caribbean, said: “Once our friends had joined us, we set off for Bequia and, after a brief stopover and check out in Marigot Bay, we arrived seven hours later. Bequia is a fantastic anchorage where we spent several days exploring the island, walking the beaches, and enjoying the food and rum punches.
“The Grenadines offered a variety of other islands to explore such as Canouan, Mayreau, Tobago Cays, and Union Island. We had planned to go to the Jazz festival on Mustique and hopefully rub shoulders with Mick Jagger and Daniel Craig, who we were told were on the island, but, alas, time was not on our side.”
With a couple of new friends aboard, they set sail again, this time towards Carriacou.
“We made a short hop over to Union Island and the Grenadines. The high winds made snorkelling on the reefs too dangerous, so we swam with turtles and paddle-boarded. One of our favourite destinations was Mayreau with its fantastic views over the Cays. A stopover in Denis’s Hideaway Bar and Restaurant is a must and don’t forget to take your swimming costume.”
Antigua was the next destination. From there, it was back to St Lucia and then Martinique. Colin continued: “We missed out Dominica and spent several days in the Saintes (Guadeloupe). We really enjoyed our time there and we highly recommend it. It has many high-quality restaurants, shops and narrow streets.”
“We stopped over in Deshaies and visited some of the best gardens we have ever seen. From here, we enjoyed a fantastic 40-mile hop over to English Harbour, Antigua, a beam reach in 25+kts and big seas. If there is something I would do differently is not to be too ambitious with our itinerary, though having the 565 helped immensely.
The preparations for the return journey across the Atlantic involved another crew change. Colin concluded: “Our children left on the 1 May, Iain Hunter arrived on 2 May, George and Lis arrived on 3 May, and we departed Cat Marina on 4 May for our 2,400k mile trip to Horta.
“Brisk easterlies gave us a beam reach for the first 600 miles before the wind dropped off, forcing the iron horse to do some work. One of the benefits of having an Oyster is the generous diesel tanks and with 950lts on board, we had no concerns about running low.
“The electronic systems paid their way, as the grib files showed a nasty deep low heading straight for Horta. We diverted southeast, dropping down 1.5 degrees to avoid the worst of it. We did experience 30-40kts winds in four-five metre seas. A larger Oyster, that did not have the luxury of weather routing/forecasting, recorded winds of 70+kts and 10m waves. They were unfazed by the experience, saying the boat handled it very well, recording 18kts on a surf beating our 16kts surf.
“Arriving in Horta 15 days later, the harbour and marina were chaotic, with boats at anchor and yachts rafted three deep. After a pleasant two days replenishing stocks/refuelling, we set off for home and seven days later we arrived in Ardfern.
“The 565 is an extremely comfortable bluewater cruiser and having lived aboard for five months, we can only commend Oyster for such an amazing, solid and safe package. She is everything we had hoped for and she’s fast.”
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