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Bosphorus Cup 2023: Modern race in an ancient city

by James Boyd / Sailing Intelligence 12 Sep 16:02 UTC 21-24 September 2023
The Istanbul skyline provides a memorable backdrop for the Bosphorus Cup © Pedro Martinez / Martinez Studio

If venues make a regatta, then competitors in September's Bosphorus Cup are in store for a treat.

In the maritime world, there are several renowned stretches of water - the Solent, the Straits of Dover, Gibraltar, Bass, Le Maire, Hormuz, Messina, to name a few. But none have held so much significance for so long as the Bosphorus. This 17 long by 0.4-1.8 mile wide corridor of water holds huge strategic importance being the sole exit of the Black Sea into the Mediterranean, via the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles. But among the world's famous straits, none has a city of a size and with the immense history of Istanbul straddling it. Over the last 2500 years this great city has been known as Byzantium, Constantinople and up until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 was Turkey's capital. Geographically it represents the physical meeting of Europe and Asia, west and east, and for millenia it has been a melting pot for differing cultures, customs and religions.

Thanks to all these attributes, plus its numerous landmarks many visible from the race area, the Bosphorus Cup is one of the most remarkable fixtures in the yachting calendar.

Based out of Setur Kalamis Fenerbahçe Marina, this year's 22nd edition will have its usual four day format, taking place over 21-24 September. Event organiser Orhan Gorbon anticipates around 80 yachts will be on the start line. These will be divided into IRC classes, which represent the majority, plus others for ORC, sportsboat and cruising.

The top three boats in each class will receive an award, while the perpetual Bosphoris Cup Grand Overall Trophy will go to the best scoring yacht with an IRC Endorsed certificate in IRC 0, 1 or 2. Other trophies will be awarded to the top Sportsboat and ORC finishers.

The event begins with an on-line skipper's briefing held on the evening of Wednesday 20 September, followed on Thursday 21 September by a windward-leeward practice race off Caddebostan, roughly five miles south of central Istanbul, just into the Sea of Marmara. The three official days of racing over 22-24 September will comprise windward-leewards held off Caddebostan-Kalamis on the Friday and Sunday with the event's famous race around the Bosphorus scheduled for the Saturday. Highlight of the event, the Bosphorus Race is set within the confines of the Bosphorus itself, thanks to special permission granted to the event by the local authorities, who uniquely close this major maritime thoroughfare for the duration of the race.

For the first time this year, racing at the Bosphorus Cup will be run by Israel's Nino Shmueli, a World Sailing International Race Officer, Instructor and Judge, of more than 40 years' experience including the Olympic Games, working with a local Turkish race management team.

While the majority of entries in the Bosphorus Cup are Turkish, others herald from countries bordering the Black Sea and the organisers are keen to attract yachts from further afield. The most high profile international entry this year will be Swiss sailor Francois Bopp, who, has a long history competing on Lake Geneva, but today is mostly based in Burgas in Bulgaria, from hwere he runs his Chocolate Racing Team (named after a brand of cigar he imports from the Dominican Republic).

This will be Bopp's third participation in the Bosphorus Cup. "It is a beautiful event," he says. "You have windward-leeward races for two days and then you have the race in the Bosphorus on the Saturday, which is the nicest part by far, but also the most frustrating part by even more! We always top the Farr 40 ranking while out at the sea, but then in the Bosphorus we lose everything, because it is super tricky. You can have 3-4 knots of current and you have to know the geography of the current. This is our third year and both times previously we thought a lot about how to do it and both previous times we have been unlucky. But I am not giving up! This time I am trying to find a local tactician for that, because even if it is super beautiful and unique, but if you go 50m too far [the wrong way] you can lose 100m."

This year Bopp has entered two yachts in the Bosphorus Cup, his regular Farr 40 Chocolate 2 plus the Farr 52 One design Chocolate 3 (ex-Optimum 3 - see photo below) he acquired just prior to the Rolex Middle Sea Race two years ago. The reason he is entering two yachts this year is commercial: "I am buying a company in Turkey which makes shoulder implants (because I work in orthopaedics). I am just finalising the majority purchase of this company so we will have big ads on the sails. I will sail with 10 people, including four or five surgeons that I will invite." Meanwhile the Farr 40 will be raced by a friend.

Organiser Orhan Gorbon, a former pro sailor and Admiral’s Cup competitor, commented of this year’s Bosphorus Cup: “We are looking forward to this latest edition of the Bosphorus Cup and welcoming our competitors. For international sailors the Bosphorus Cup provides a unique opportunity to enjoy strong competition in a unique venue, on waters with which they will be unfamiliar while being close to the centre of our remarkable city and all it has to offer.”

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