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Travel & Discovery

Cold Turkey

When you mention Turkey to most people they instinctively think of warm evenings and baking sun, and whilst generally, that’s about right for Bodrum and further south it’s certainly not true for Istanbul in winter. I learnt this the hard way, on a passage I had long planned; sailing White Dragon from Tuzla Marina, Istanbul to Bodrum.

We waited and waited for the cold snap that had enveloped Istanbul to ease but it held its grip on the city, right into mid-March. By now the first sign of spring has usually appeared, but, due to the topsy turvy weather patterns we are all now witnessing around the world caused by climate change, nothing can be considered certain. Although it was still really freezing, I decided to make a break for Bodrum and the sun.

White Dragon seemed reluctant to head out into the icy Marmara Sea. A stern line caught and clung onto a pontoon cleat as we cast off and even her dingy made a last grab at a neighbour’s bow line as we departed the dock. 

For over two years White Dragon’s worldly wanderings had been on hold due to the rigours and restrictions caused by the Covid pandemic. Turkey had been firmly on Boris’s red list, despite the infection rate being 50% or less than the UK’s for most of that period, so I had to leave her, as if abandon, until my return was permitted.

Now at last, we were free again I thought, as we shook off the first chills of a Meltemi wind that was soon to freeze us to the bones. Within a couple of hours the fiercest of Mediterranean winds began hurling ice crystals in our faces as it’s
first seemingly benign breezes built to a wintry tempest.

The forecast told of a northeasterly gale for our crossing of the Marmara Sea, but I shrugged it off without concern. 40 or 50kts of wind, from behind the beam would be nothing to White Dragon, and with her interior forward saloon pilot station, where the crew could keep a full watch (with the heating on if necessary) I considered us impervious to the bitter wind that blew across the cockpit. Little did I know what was soon to follow.

I smugly replied to the enquiring messages from friends asking how the trip was going with ‘’it’s freezing outside but I’m in a Kraken, so who needs be out there?”, but, less than half the way across the Marmara, the Raymarine autopilot threw in a 90 deg turn then dropped out! I have had ongoing reliability issues with the Raymarine electronics White Dragon is kitted out with, and the autopilot has been the worst offender, so I wasn’t exactly surprised, but the realities of standing out in the cockpit helming manually dawned on me quicker than the icicles forming in my moustache and beard. My god was it cold.

Erkin, my trusty crew and I, stood just 30-minute watches. We couldn’t take anymore, despite hats, gloves, thermal underwear, two pairs of socks, scarves and full offshore sailing jackets and dungarees. The bitter cold Meltemi wind pumped itself up to 50kts and more, and then it started to snow.

As I stood my watch with the desperately cold wind blasting right through me, I started thinking about the poor wretched souls in Ukraine, who must be out there night and day, freezing in this most bitter of winds which actually emanates in Russia and Ukraine. No heating, no food, no shelter, their lives torn apart by the bloody hands of Vladamir Putin.

Hand steering was made even harder because the low temperature had thickened the hydraulic steering oil so the helm was heavier than normal (White Dragon is the only Kraken to have hydraulic steering) and the compressed nitrogen in the boom vang depressurized with the low temperature, so the boom dropped lower than usual and had to be restrained by the topping lift.

Finally, we dropped anchor in the shelter of Marmara Island, the largest of the islands in the west Marmara Sea. Erkin and I rushed below deck and kicked the heating on. Soon the saloon was up to 22 deg and we peeled off the multiple layers of clothing that had kept hypothermia at bay, just.

The next morning it was another early start as we had 95nm to run. Sailing overnight was a non-runner from two aspects; at night it was even colder, and as daylight had faded we discovered that our port nav light had failed. All had been checked and were working before departure.

The lights are Lopo Lights with sealed bulbs, so it was disappointing, as they are never supposed to fail, but this was actually the third Lopo I’ve had to replace in 5 years. Not good. We install a second set of Nav lights at the masthead on all Krakens now but White Dragon’s mast doesn’t have them.

After sitting on a dock in Tuzla for more than two years it is inevitable we would have gear failures, especially with the howling Meltemi wind testing everything to the full. When the nav light failed I confess Erkin and I were not heartbroken, now we had a legitimate reason for not sailing overnight, not only cowardice!

Our route that day took us out of the Marmara Sea through the infamous Dardanelles Channel and out into the Aegean Sea. I was headed for a sheltered bay on the south side of the Turkish wine Island of Boscada, but as we sailed west in the Dardanelles outgoing shipping lane, the reason for the surprising lack of commercial traffic became apparent. Turkish Coastguards intercepted us just a few hundred meters from the new 2.5 billion Euro Cannakkale Bridge, they told us very clearly that passage under the bridge was forbidden for the whole day because it was being ‘opened’ by President Erdowan. Zeus*, my god of screw up’s at sea, had thrown in another curved ball. 

We pulled into a lumpy anchorage at Gallipoli on the Northern flank of the canal at 11:30 hrs and grumpily sat at anchor for the rest of the day. We watched coastguard ships pointlessly spraying water cannons into the air under the bridge as part of the opening celebrations, which finally took place in the late afternoon. 

This facade added an extra day to the trip in exchange for an uncomfortable night at anchor, as the soon to be redundant Gallipoli to Cardak ferries ran relentlessly back and forth, discharging their cars and passengers running parallel to the new bridge. Zeus had no doubt spotted that if we held to our passage plan the freezing wind would be coming off the land as we ran down the Dardanelles, providing a fragment of shelter. In the morning the wind was due to funnel straight down the canal.

We hoped for better progress as we weighed anchor just before first light, and headed back into the westbound shipping lane under the bridge and headed, once again, for the imagined warmth of the Aegean.

To my surprise and consternation, our passage down the westbound shipping lane was not as one would expect. We had to continually dodge Turkish coastal safety vessels that were going the wrong way up the shipping lane!

* Zeus is the god I blame for everything that befalls the best laid plans of mariners. He’s the one responsible for throwing a spanner in the works at the most inconvenient time. He kept himself very well amused on this trip!

As we approached the passage between Samos and Ikaria the now north wind really built up an awkward following sea as it funnelled us towards the last anchorage of our voyage.

The anchorage I had chosen was just a mile past a very narrow pass between Thymaina and Diapori, but as we approached the archipelago I could see the seas were quite big, as well as very broken and confused, so I chickened out of trying to run through this 60-70m gap with wind and high seas at our stern. My concern was, despite her 45-ton gross weight, White Dragon might start to surf after being picked up on a wave and lose steerageway, so we turned to port and sought sanctuary from the wind in Christomila Bay, Nisidhes, Fournoi.

The bay was much deeper than charted and we needed to drop all 100m of chain and 20m of the octoploid warp I had spliced into the head of the anchor chain several years ago. I’ve often found, in many areas around the world, the only option is to anchor in 35m + depth, so 100m of chain supplemented by anchor warp is needed.

Our anchor held well, far enough out from a quickly shelving shoreline and all was fair and good…… Until the dawn.

I have deployed and recovered the anchor chain/warp dozens of times over the last five years, but Zeus had another plan. 

The heavy octoplait rope warp seemed to have thinned a little, it wasn’t chaffed, but one short section now jammed firmly in the chain groove of the anchor roller as it was recovered. It had never done that before.

We dropped it a little and tried again, but again and again it stuck in the same place of the warp. We tried every manoeuvre to get the warp up past the roller, but every time it stuck firmly.  After exhausting all the easy options, we ran a second rope down over the roller and tied it to the anchor warp with a rolling hitch, we then led the rope back along the deck to the primary cockpit winch and hauled it, bypassing the roller. It worked. We began to haul the warp up onto the foredeck, then, just as we brought the chain up enough to get it in the windlass gypsy, the hydraulic oil high-temperature alarm started bleeping. Zeus hit us again.

I wasn’t sure what was causing it so I hit the emergency stop button for all hydraulics which is on the helm console, and went to investigate. With immaculate timing, Zeus had disabled the hydraulic cooling feed pump somehow and it had failed just when I needed it.

The hydraulic oil had hit 65deg. There was nothing for it but to leave the hydraulics off for 30 mins or so, until it had cooled down. 

Time was ticking on, we had 65nm to go to get to Bodrum and I wanted to get there in daylight. It was already 09:30 and we needed to get going soon.

After half an hour the oil temp was back to below maximum. It would only take 2-3 mins to lift the chain and anchor and we’d be on our way again… right?

Ahh no, unbelievably the warp to chain splice was now jammed in the windlass hawse pipe, where it leads the anchor chain into the chain locker. It was as if this set-up had never been used before, but it had been used, dozens and dozens of times. Perhaps, due to the cold, the rope splice was stiffer than before? I really don’t know. There was only one choice; to cut off the warp. We hooked the anchor snubber into the chain and secured it to one of the bow cleats, so that we could not lose the anchor chain, then we cut off the anchor warp to chain splice, which had taken me hours to do several years ago.

Up came the anchor at last.

We sailed out of Christomila Bay at 10:30 hours and headed for the narrow pass that had spooked me the precious evening (see the chart below). Fortunately, the seas had not built up to the extent it had before and we dropped all sail and motored through without incident 

The temperature was warming up and the wind moderated to a 20kt breeze and we had a great sail through some of the idyllic Greek Islands that sit within a half-day sail of Bodrum. We dropped anchor in just 10m of water in Gumbet Bay, Bodrum, just 5 miles from Iҫmeler and the new headquarters and production base for all Kraken Yachts.

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