Leg 6 – Istanbul to Malta – Royal Engineers

DAY 1-2

After an epic journey involving 5 hours by minibus and 4 hours by plane and the inevitable waiting in between, the crew arrived in Istanbul to meet HMSTC (Her Majesty’s Sail Training Craft) Kukri our home for the next 2 weeks in Atokay marina only a few miles from the Airport.

After discovering how little storage space each individual actually has to live in while at sea we made ourselves at home, were detailed into the two watches, received the obligatory safety and equipment briefs and were issued oil skins and life vests it was time to resupply the boat. This meant braving the local supermarket, or a least would if we could find the place, it turns out it is incredibly hard to mime ‘supermarket’ to non English speakers. But never mind after doing battle with turkish drivers we found it, and the next problems started. The initial plan had been to identify the food by the pictures on the packaging or buying brands we recognise from home, this plan came apart rather quickly but we cracked on regardless muttering such things as “it has a picture of a cow on it that must mean it’s cows cheese not goats” or “We’ll just risk it!” Perhaps this was not the best way to go shopping however we seem to have made only one mistake but come on who sells soured milk! The crew were soon weighed down which what seemed like tonnes of food a resembled pack donkeys carrying it all back to the marina, however eventually the supplies were stowed away, this seemed enough to feed a small nation but in reality wouldn’t last 11 hungry squaddies very long at all. After a slap up meal ashore it was back to the bunks to recover from a busy day.

Day 2 was opened by the discovery that we had in fact purchased soured milk and as we hadn’t bought the bread yet, another expedition was sent ashore to find supplies for breakfast and they promptly discovered most shops in Turkey don’t in fact open until after 10 o’clock, oh dear! The lucky discovery of a corner shop selling milk and bread saved the crew from disaster or at least a missed breakfast. Following a slightly late breakfast it was time to become more familiar with the Kukri and what followed was a crash course of nautical terms which baffled the uninitiated (why I ask you would a rope be named a sheet?), lessons on how to actually sail the boat when we get it out on to the sea and tour below deck to identify all the little cubby hole and the kit stored in them.

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Training being conducted aboard before leaving port.

Another trip to the Supermarket to collect the rest of the required stores topped up already groaning selves. Three trolly loads later and nearly 30 mins of packing away the boat was finally provisioned. It was my turn to cook this evening (not sure how that worked but ho hum) chicken pasta with Parma ham, chorizo sausage and a tomato sauce did nicely.

Plans were hatched to leave the marina at 9 o’clock the following day and start our journey along the sea of Mara through the Dardinell straights and out into the Aegean and eventually to Malta via the Greek Islands.

DAY 3 – Istanbul to Marmara Island – NM sailed 65

After awaking bright eyed and bushy tailed (ish) there was time for a quick but thorough lesson covering raising a collapsing the main and fore sails and several of the procedures we would use out on the water, and it was time to leave, berthing fees were paid and documentation collected and it was off! Or nearly so just a 20 min wait for the marina launch to escort us out.

However soon we were out and among the massive oil tankers waiting their turn through the Bosporus to the Black Sea. After motoring through all this traffic we reached the sea lanes and it was time to put into action all the things we had been taught over the last two days, we were assured by the veteran sailors that the sea was smooth but you could have fooled us, each movement felt enough to throw us overboard but eventually we became proficient if not adept at raising the two sails. After practice of the tack, jibe and heave too manoeuvres it was time to raise a No 3 Genoa foresail and crack on.

Almost as soon as we left the marina we saw a pod of dolphins but they kept their distance but they were close enough that we could see them breaching the surface. Once we properly got underway under sail the pod rejoined us and started to play under the bow of the boat, a few of the crew went forward to the bow and they seemed close enough in the clear water to touch.

After consulting the charts it was decided that we would make our way in a SW direction towards the island of Marmara which gives this stretch of water its name. As soon as we were under way some of the crew began to feel the effect of sea sickness and after an hour some of them really began to feel the effects and several individuals could be seen hanging over the side revisiting their breakfasts.

By mid afternoon the wind and sea had both picked up with a NNE wind blowing up to 22 knots and waves growing to between 1-2 meters, while this may sound relatively calm but for novice sailors like some of us it didn’t bloodly well feel that way and for those who hadn’t managed to get their sea legs under them it just prolonged their pain. The island of Marmara was spotted at around 10 past 5 in the afternoon, By 7 o’clock in the afternoon out temporary safe harbour was chosen the anchor and sails were dropped and stowed ready to be raised later.

That evening after a meal of rice and chicken wraps an anchor watch was established and we were briefed that tomorrow was an early start and we intended to be at one of the Gallipoli beaches by the afternoon to early evening of day 4, only Time will tell if we will keep to this estimate.

Day 4 – Marmara Island to ANZAC Cove – NM sailed 65

At 3 o’clock in the morning the crew emerged stumbling and bleary eyed to set the sails and catch the wind, well unfortunately there was no wind after valiantly trying to coax every last bit of speed out of the wind it was decided that travelling at 1 knot would get us to Malta in time! So the bullet was bitten and the Diesel engine was started and a steady 5 knots was achieved. So a course was set towards the Dardanelles straights. The traffic was light however a Turkish Navy frigate did buzz past at a rapid rate of knots.

After a few hours we past the headland and entered the Channel proper catching our first look at the route the allied Navies tried to force in 1915, consulting period maps we were able to plot Turkish gun positions and approximately where the strings of sea mines had been placed and as we passed. Once we reached the mouth of the channel we could place the resting places of several of the ships sunk during the action.

On the Starboard side East of Helles point the Turkish war memorial could be seen built on the position of one of the few British successes on the first day of the invasion. As we passed the other beaches a running commentary was maintained by the better informed member of the crew.

Including V beach where the ex-collier the SS River Clyde which had been converted into an Assault ship with Sally port cut in the side, filled with troop from the Royal Munsters and the Middlesex regiment. The plan had been to ram the ship ashore and for the attacking troops to charge across and pier constructed from various small craft and assault the Turkish forces defending the high ground surrounding the landing point. The plan went to pot almost immediately as the defending forces cut down any one emerging from the Sally ports even the efforts of the naval ratings manning Vickers machine guns mounted behind sand bags on the prow of the ship. After several attempts to get ashore suffering heavy casualties it was decide to wait until nightfall to come ashore.

We continued to motor along the shore line keeping an eye on the depth. A quick conversation was held and it decided that rather than anchor off the shore at ANZACS cove we would moor up in a small harbour just a mile or so South. As we entered the harbour confusion reigned with several different individuals shouting out completely different instructions all of which turned out to be wrong, the harbour master came running over gesticulating like mad and after somehow managing to breach the language barrier he managed to get across that there were some Naval vessels on there way and we need to shift out of the way. As per instructions we tied up along side a sea going tug and prompted informed that if we weren’t out of the area by 5 o’clock the next morning we would be stuck for several days while the Turkish navy carried out live exercises in the surrounding sea, this put paid to any idea of visiting ANZAC cove the following day so it was decided we would stay the night and the following morning retrace out steps and visit the British and turkish memorials before clearing turkish immigration and start our journey onward to Greece.

DAY 5 – ANZAC Cove to Canakkale – NM sailed. 35

After making our unscheduled early departure from ANZAC Cove at 3.30 in the morning we found yet again that there was little to no usable wind and after several sail changes including taking out the reefs (lines that make the sail smaller therefore more controllable to heavy seas) and fitting a larger head sail all to avail and though it was rather pleasant to amble along at 1-2 knots it doesn’t make for rapid passage making so the decision was made to yet again start up the engine and make our way under horse power rather than wind power.

After a couple of hours we rounded Cape Helles and dropped anchor on S beach where British troops landed in 1915 to support the main British attack on Cape Helles. Once we had the boats dingy pumped up we made our way ashore to visit the Turkish war memorial it was an impressive structure, basically a massive marble looking slab about 15m square and about 4-5 meters high supported 40-50 meters up by 4 columns, on each column is a carved image portraying certain aspects of the operation from the Turkish perspective. The area was very busy, filled with both school visits and coach parties of several nationalities.

Standing on the cliffs looking down at the passage below we could watch the Turkish navy heading out on their exercise this included several frigate sized ships a few smaller patrol sized craft and 2 submarines running on the surface.

The opportunity was offered to walk over to the British memorial on Cape Helle I which took, the walk took about 30 minutes. The memorial was built on the bluff above V beach and looks out to the point where the SS River Clyde came ashore, like most commonwealth war graves memorials this one had stone tablets with all the dead listed by regiment and rank, the memorial itself was a stone obelisk about 30m high with stone plaques detailing the units involved and the ships sunk. Also nearby are the remains of one of the coastal batteries the Turks used to bombard the British ships putting the troops ashore, this one was knocked out just prior to the assault. There were several. Other reminders of the action including a machine gun pillbox and some excavated trenches to give visitors a turkish defenders view of the invasion beach, it wasn’t pretty.

Once I had rejoined the rest of the crew on board we lifted the anchor and set off for Canakkale to reprovision, refuel take on water and clear from Turkish immigration. The opportunity was taken during this time to take those members of the crew sailing for the first time through the modules they require to learn in order to earn their Competent crew qualification.

After attempting to moor up in the marina in Canakkale and finding it to be full we dropped anchor outside the marina but inside the break water and settled in for the night, some of the crew used the dingy to go ashore but were back early. Tomorrow the intention is to get the boat ready to leave turkey and start the passage across to Malt via the Greek Islands.

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