Bosphorus Cup 2023. Istanbul, Turkey.Credit: Sailing Energy23 September 2023.

Saturday’s Bosphorus Cup race took place on the famous strait after which Turkiye’s leading regatta is named, the ribbon of water that geographically separates Europe from Asia. Remarkably to hold this race event organiser Orhan Gorbon annually manages to persuade various key authorities to shut the intensely busy shipping channel for five hours (from midday until 1700 today).

Among international yacht racing venues the Bosphorus is unique. Straddling it on both sides is the ancient sprawling metropolis of Istanbul and its world famous landmarks such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace on its Europe side and, on the Asian side, the Beylerbeyi Palace and the Grand Çamlıca Mosque (currently the largest mosque in Turkiye) all visible from the water. Meandering for 16.5 miles in places, the Bosphorus narrows to 0.6km, giving it the feel of a mighty river, while in fact being a strait; the sole conduit through which the Black Sea can escape into the Sea of Marmara and then into the Mediterranean.  

The start line was set up off the majestic Çırağan Palace Kempinski; originally an Ottoman palace built in the 1860s and now a five start hotel. On the very shore of the Bosphorus, the VIP area was set up in its grounds, with a spectator party attended by prominent figures including the Mayor of the Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu and his wife.

PRO Nino Shmueli’s job was made harder by the forecast northeasterly wind being nowhere evident. Fortunately instead a light, but consistent, southwesterly was blowing as start time approached. Thus the original plan to send the smaller classes off upwind were scrapped and with the classes divided into two groups, both were sent off downwind. With spinnakers hoisted moments before the gun went there was much start line excitement, but fortunately the flotilla was being helped north by a counter-eddy and everyone got away on time safely.

Bosphorus Cup 2023. Istanbul, Turkey.Credit: Sailing Energy23 September 2023

Both groups passed beneath the Bosphorus Bridge and continued downwind to the leeward mark set close in to the Asian shore just short of the Sultan Mehmet Bridge, before returning upwind. However while the smaller classes worked their way upwind out of the Bosphorus towards their finish, the bigger classes sailed to a weather mark just south of the start line, with the roundings and hoists easily viewable from the Çırağan Palace.

They sailed three such laps with a total race distance of 25nm. This went without a hitch until the third lap when the forecast northeasterly finally filled in but only towards the Sultan Mehmet Bridge. Thus, there was the novel sight of yachts approaching each other from different directions – all under spinnaker. Competitors found themselves running, their spinnakers collapsing and when they got to the new breeze were on the wind to get round what was now a weather mark. They then repeated this in reverse on the way back.  

Aside from working the Bosphorus’ numerous back-eddies, negotiating these transitions was key. Francois Bopp, whose Farr 52 Chocolate 3 spent the afternoon locked in contention with Zeynep and Ayşe Atabay’s Farr 55 Orient Express VI explained:  “We were looking for the place where the transition was smallest.

That, combined with the current, made the difference because we were maybe 300m behind the Farr 55 and we managed to catch them and then leave them behind at that moment.” Ultimately Chocolate 3 won IRC 0 and was third overall.

In fact in today’s combined results, the podium overall is held by the yachts from three different classes: Yaşar Doğa Arıbaş’s Coca Cola İçecek – DAS won IRC Two and is the current leader – the Archambault 35 on form having won the Bosphorus Cup outright in 2022. Holding second place overall is Oğuz Ayan’s One Tonner Game Changer, the current IRC One leader.

Bopp was delighted with his race having this year recruited Bosphorus and Bosphorus Cup veteran Orhan Tüker to his team for local knowledge. “He did great – his knowledge of the place made the whole difference.”

During their race, there were numerous lead changes with Chocolate 3 ultimately winning on the water despite having ripped a jib at one point. “Downwind they [Orient Express VI] are a bit faster and catch us up easily, but upwind we are more or less the same. In the end we managed to leave them behind in the transition,” recounted Bopp.

For the smaller classes, the wind ran out before all the fleet could finish so the results were taken from Moda Point, to the west of where the Bosphorus Cup fleet is berthed at the Fenerbahçe Marina. Here another A35, Nissan-Zacapa, skippered by Cenk Tekkaya, won IRC 3, Sinan Sumer’s Gorbon 26 RC Alize Zig Zig prevailed in IRC 4 while Sancan Çokacar’s Dufour 34 MY Sailing Team PuFF won the Cruiser Class.

Competing in the Cruiser class today was Esra Kahraman’s all-female crew on the Azuree 33 Denizanalari/Jellyfish. Kahraman enjoyed their race: “The downwind start was not easy, but we started in a good way with good wind, but after that, our effort was not good enough. There was not too much wind, but it was okay, we could handle it. The main thing is to be part of this wonderful event. We are happy and satisfied. Inshallah tomorrow we will do better things!”

For Sunday’s Bosphorus Cup grand finale, IRC 0, 1 and 2 are scheduled to race windward-leewards from 1200 local time (UTC +3) while IRC 3 and 4 and the Cruisers will sail either windward-leeward or coastal courses.

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