After three years of intensive sailing I’d still not entered a race, so when I received a phone call asking me if I wanted to enter the Bodrum Regatta for the classic wooden boat event I was quick to say yes. I’d only just returned from a day of forces sixes and sevens so the 0930 start put paid to any lie in I was aiming for. Still, this was an opportunity I could not miss, not least because Orkan, the boat in question, would be the oldest Turkish wooden boat to enter the race. She’s a 64 year old gaff schooner.
I met most of the crew the night before. Roger, the skipper and owner of Orkan, had been racing sail boats all his life and lives in Yalikavak, up the road from Bodrum. His wife’s first question was to ask if I was any good at bailing! Then I was introduced to Mike, an old ex-pat of 25 years or so, who wanted assurance that should I spot him quivering on the floor clutching his left arm I would be quick to respond with the kiss of life!
Next morning it looked like my first aid skills wouldn’t be needed as Mike hadn’t shown up by the time we had to slip the lines and make our way to the start line. Perhaps he was put off by the weather forecast which was N6-8s! Great weather for a modern sail boat but a little intimidating for some of the old wooden boats entering the race, not least ours!
After leaving Bodrum harbour to coast around the entrance to Gumbet and the top of Kara Ada, I was presented with one of the most beautiful sights imaginable: fifty wooden boats sailing in all directions within close proximity to each other. I’d never seen anything like this before (I did say I was new to sailing didn’t I?) and it was quite breathtaking. I tried taking some shots for the website but I was too busy clinging onto the main sheet. Orkan has no self tailing winches of course! With a delayed start we made our way to the start line and who should turn up in one of the rescue ribs but a sheepish looking Mike who muttered something about waking up late. After a bit of ribbing we were under way, making our way in a clockwise direction around Kara Ada. This means that we would be running down wind for the first leg, beam-reaching across the bottom of the island and then hitting the full force of the wind close-hauled for the last part.
We started off well after Roger hoisted the gaff and the stay. There was too much wind behind us for the main but we did attempt to get the genoa up. It was a fiddly affair and twice we failed to sheet the damn thing properly and twice the sail ended up in the water. After soaking the gib for a good minute I ran forwards and grabbed what bit of flapping sail I could and hauled it back in and tied it down. Roger figured we’d be good on just the gaff and the stay and even then it was a little difficult to control. Clearly a number of other boats had made some more serious errors as we spotted a ripped main sail on one huge 30m and a few shredded genoas too. The sail makers in Bodrum were in for a busy week.
As we came round the first corner I learnt about the low pressure one often finds in the lee of the island. Despite being hidden from the direct wind boats were still struggling to contain the amount of wind their sails were taking on but Roger had anticipated this and we trimmed the sails in time. It was at this point that we noticed a number of boats, large and small, had completely furled their sails away and were heading back. Meanwhile ahead of us we could see the white horses whipping up spray across the surface of the sea and we prepared to close haul it away from the island. Unfortunately the sea state was such that the waves were actually pushing us backwards. As more boats furled their sails away and motored on we sailed over to the lee of the island in order to make some progress. It was still too much and in the end we decided to motor sail back. It was a wise decision because there were no more than three boats behind us, including our friend Yener who was having identical problems.
We crossed the finish line fifteen minutes after the end of the race, but as Roger had explained to me the night before, we’d get a round of applause just for being the oldest wooden Turkish boat in the regatta, not for winning!