An account of unforeseen rowing pleasure

Andrew Blit and Kayhan Yalçın posing for a photo in front of a Turkish rowing club.

For many years, now, my wife and I have longed to go to Istanbul. A city of immense depth of culture that remembers empire, sultanate, republic and still forms a bridge between Europe and Asia. Now a modern metropolis, pulsing with people, it combines faith, commerce, history and mad, mad, traffic into one gorgeous pot of touring pleasure – I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Be that as it may….. before leaving I had left a message on Facebook (other social media platforms are available) asking whether anyone could help me get a paddle while I was in Turkey and, very quickly, I had a reply from a lovely gentleman by the name of Kayhan Yalçın. Kayhan volunteered to arrange a paddle for me at a local club and by the third day of our visit I had completed a bucket list item I did not know I had – I have rowed on The Golden Horn, the sheltered inlet of the Bosphorus that has been the harbour for Greek, Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman trading vessels and is still very much a live waterway.

That would have been enough but to my surprise (shock, well-hidden dismay) Kayhan announced that he had entered me in two races at the forthcoming Greater Turkey Championships (Büyükler Türkiye Şampiyonası). It should be pointed out that I have only been sculling seriously for about 18 months, whereas Kayhan had been Turkey’s representative at World Championships as a Junior and then as a Lightweight sculler and had the vests to prove it. However daunting the prospect seemed it would have been dastardly rude to have refused so generous a gesture and I was also excited to witness and take part in another country’s races. Thus, with my wife Diane’s eager encouragement I agreed to compete.

The venue for all Turkish competition is Lake Sapanca, some 2 hours drive from Istanbul. It is a beautiful piece of water with tall hills to the North and the Köroğlu Mountains to the South. Three times the surface area of Lake Windermere and with small towns and villages dotted on the shore it is a destination for city dwellers who wish to enjoy quiet and generous nature. The rowing course of 6 lanes is permanently set into the Southern side of the lake with the Finish in a country park with pathways and café (very good ice cream!).

Saturday, race day, was, simply, glorious. The sun on our backs gave me some mediocre confidence and more to be had from the familiar bustle of crews rigging their boats, stretching, greeting their friends, and racing running a little late owing to wind (a gentle zephyr by UK standards). I supplied the race Doctor with a statement of my fitness to compete (“don’t die in the boat”, “OK, no I wont do that”) and was set…

As we boated for our double sculls race I did feel that buzz, tension, excitement of racing, though also some pressure to succeed as we had discussed tactics for the race in the car on the way down, as you do. I may have mentioned that Lake Sapanca is a big piece of water and it seemed a good long way from shore to shore at water level, but we found the Start and lined up with our competitors. I am still not certain what “Go” is in Turkish but, by heck, we went and very quickly did I regret saying to Kayhan that he should shout words of encouragement while we raced, there is a limit to how much faster I could “go Go GO” after all. And so my first side by side sculling race went, rapidly and with much pain and adrenaline.

Then, then it was my turn to single scull. Kayhan had arranged to borrow an Empacher (expensive German boat builders) of indeterminate age. It had low saxboards and a skinny cockpit. If I have not already said it, Lake Sapanca is really quite a LARGE expanse of water and I felt, well, daunted would be one word, until one of the event launches came up to me and gave me a good shouting at for being in the wrong bit of water. Turns out that launch drivers speak some sort of universal language that is the same on the Thames and in Turkey, ah I felt so much better. The race itself was fine, I even got used to the boat and since I was rowing back towards my lovely wife and the ice-creams I did not lack motivation.

Results? Well this is 2019, darling, last is the new first (Kayhan managed to pull us to 4th in the double), but we had a tremendous time, in a lovely spot, making new friends and taking part in a sport I love. Thank you to Kayhan for arranging it, making me do it. Now all I want to do is go back!

Andrew Blit