Sea Kayaker
Sandy Robson

3 Seas Expedition

In June 2012, Sandy travelled to Turkey with Serbian kayaker Jugoslav Rudovic'.  The pair was planning to cross the border into Iran and paddle in the Persian Gulf.  Unexpectedly this plan was halted when the pair went to the Iranian Embassy in Ankara to collect their expedition authorisation, permission for the expedition was retracted with no further explanation and from this; the Three Seas expedition was born. 

The Three Seas expedition began in the Black Sea and passed through the Sea of Marmara to finish in the Aegean Sea.  A highlight was paddling the two historic straits that connect the three seas.  The Istanbul Bosphorus runs through the middle of Istanbul and connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara.  The Dardanelles (also known as the Çanakkale Bosphorus or Gallipoli Bosphorus) connects the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean Sea and on its western shore is the Gallipoli Peninsula, a place of pilgrimage for Australians and New Zealanders exploring the site of the 1915 ANZAC landing and the World War 1 battle. 

A major focus of the Three Seas expedition was gaining expedition experience in a folding kayak and road testing the sponsored boat, The Nortik Argo, as well as a second-hand Feathercraft K1 kayak.


Route Notes:

June 5th & 6th, The Start:  Riva, also known as Cayağzi is on the Black Sea Coast quite close to Istanbul.  In Turkish the Black Sea is called Kara Deniz.  We were very grateful to be assisted to reach our start point with a vehicle shuttle from the bus station by Volkan Kaya of the Bodeka Sea Kayak Club (Istanbul's Sea Kayak Club).  On arrival when I assembled the Nortik Argo I discovered that there was a puncture to the sponsons somewhere...probably from packing it up in the harbor in Kas recently.  I had to find the leak and patch it before we could set out.  Contacts from Bodeka Sea Kayak Club really helped us with member Tarkan coming to our rescue with a place to stay at his home, a place to make the repairs and expertise and tools provided too.  All of this support was so wonderful and we were so pleased to be able to meet and get to know Tarkan.  THANKS SO MUCH TARKAN!

June 7th, Day 1 Riva to Istanbul Sailing Club near Fenerbahçe Marina, 39.6kmBlack Sea, Istanbul Bosphorus & Sea of Marmara

This was a major highlight of the trip.  I was pinching myself to paddle from the Black Sea into the Bosphorus Strait.  Dolphins greeted us and this was unexpected in a major shipping channel and approaching a city of about 15million people.  I always feel like dolphins are a good reminder to breathe and enjoy the journey.  The current in the strait runs with the prevailing winds from North to South and we were pushed along fast.  In some places near the bends in the strait, it is like paddling a whitewater river.  We had lunch early at the sheltered Poyraz harbour.  This straight is the junction of two continents.  On the western shore is the edge of the European continent and paddling on the eastern side we followed the Asian continent.  We were advised that this shore is quieter and has less boat traffic so we thought it would be safer and more peaceful.  There are some military areas that you must not go too close to and some places where you have to watch out for the ferries and large boats coming out of the docks.  The views of the castles and palaces with marble docks make this a fabulous way to see the magical Istanbul.  Once Sultans admired the view from the palaces and were rowed across from Europe to Asia in boats dipping their paddles like we were today.  Now the sultans are replaced by the well-to-do who can afford a luxurious property on the Bosphorus shore and lounge in a deck chair in the sun with IPAD one hand and imported beer in the other.  There were still plenty of ordinary folk though who were fishing, jumping in for a swim and drinking Raki in the sun.  I'd jump at the chance to do this paddle trip again. To enter the Sea of Marmara you must paddle past one of the icons of Istanbul, the Kız Kulesi  (Maidens Tower).  Then our mission was to find the place where we could get off the water in this big city.  We were lucky that the Istanbul Yacht Club have a decent boat ramp and they were obliging when we arrived and enquired if we could perhaps leave our kayaks in their secure complex on the lawn overnight.  So we had a fresh shower there and wandered off to meet Volkan again.  You can't camp in this busy city, and who would want to when you can sample fine Turkish mezes and stay with fellow paddlers.  THANKS for a great night out Volkan and for showing us your part of the planet.

June 8th, Day 2 Fenerbahçe to Cam Limani on Heybeliada Island in the Princes Group of Islands, 22.7km  Sea of Marmara

This day could have been made a bit shorter, but we paddled down the coast for a while and then I saw how industrial the vista was, so decided to change our proposed route and cross via the Princes Island group for a much nicer campsite option.  We checked out the campsite that Bodeka often use on Burgazada Island.  This would be a great place to camp with a group I think, but the landing was not ideal for the folding kayaks and there was a noisy crowd there for Friday evening, so in the end we decided to camp in Cam Limani (means Port or harbour).  There was nobody else camping there, but there were several boats and yachts moored in the sheltered anchorage.  The beach had a lot of garbage, but there were sun chairs on which we could sleep, so no tent was required.  A bunch of tourists from Spain were exploring there when we arrived and they donated to us about 4L of bottled water that they did not want to trek back to their ferry with (bonus).

June 9th, Day 3 Princes Islands to 5km East of Esenköy, 35.6km, Sea of Marmara

Our first open water crossing of the trip was paddling on a bearing from the Princes Islands to Çinarcik on the other side of the Izmit Korfezi.  Çinarcik was a good place to stop for a break and a swim. We initially checked out the harbour for good landings before deciding to make our stop on the small stony beach to the west of the harbour wall with nearby shops for buying lunch supplies.  I should mention that we are using the, ‘Turkish Waters and Cyprus Pilot’ book on this journey.  It has excellent diagrams of each of the ports along our route and notes places where water and resupply are available as well as a host of other local information like GPS coordinates for the major points along the route and sheltered anchorage locations.  It is an excellent planning tool.  About 5km East of Esenköy there is a Fener (lighthouse) on the point.  Just prior to the lighthouse is an ideal camping site with lovely grassy areas for relaxing on the shore.  We landed there initially and shared watermelon with a couple that arrived by motorbike, but our basking on the grass in the sun was interrupted when the sea conditions began to change as the wind from the north increased and the waves started to break on the rocky beach and adjacent reefs.  The wind and swell were due to increase overnight so we had to get out of there or we may have a tough time in the morning getting off the rocky shore in folding kayaks with a risk of damaging the boats or capsizing.  It was a good decision to go - even in the small waves it was a tricky launch.  We paddled around past the Fener and landed on the more sheltered beach there.  The place to camp was adequate for two kayakers to lay next to their kayaks overnight, but no wider.  After sunset the police arrived and demanded to inspect our passports.  We think a fisherman may have telephoned them.  They told me, "Madame, a hotel is just 5kms away” I liked the million star hotel better though.  Our documents checked out ok and they left us to our overnight refuge under the stars.

June 10th, Day 4 Esenköy to Kapança, 41.6km, Sea of Marmara

What I love about Turkey is how you can land on a small beach, get out of your kayak and before you know it a complete stranger has produced a cup of Çay (sweet black tea) for you!  I am going to have to take this on and make a habit of carrying extra cups for strangers when I venture out.  We had set out early and stopped for breakfast in Esenköy.  A guy with a restaurant across the street magically turned up on the waterfront with two cups tea for us, so the day was off to a good start.  Jugo looked after the kayaks while I went shopping in Migros for a food resupply – they have everything!  Later we continued to the western point of the peninsula and took a bearing south across the Gemlik Korfezi.  An excellent tail wind came up and we were able to use the Flat Earth Kayak Sail on the Feathercraft K1 and the Wind Paddle on the Nortik Argo and compare these different methods of sailing.  Sailing always puts a smile on my face and I was paddling along with the string of the Wind Paddle wrapped around the back of my head and the sail billowing and blasting in the gusts, all the while watching Jugo getting used to the Flat Earth Sail as he zig zagged across my path.  The Flat Earth Kayak Sail proved superior, as it was possible to paddle across the wind, whereas the Wind Paddle made it difficult to stick to our bearing because it required the wind directly behind the paddler in order to be effective.  It was important that we stay together and watch the horizons as a shipping channel came through this area.  We were undecided about where we would reach by late afternoon, but as we approached the land again after the big crossing my attention was drawn to Kapança harbor and a large ship wrecked in the small shallow harbor, along with the nice beaches that were sheltered behind the rock groyne.  As it turned out it was a perfect campsite.  There were several locals camping there and as soon as we paddled in we were invited to dinner aboard a boat moored in the harbor.  I recommend this camping site to any kayakers on this section of the coast.  A big THANKS to Cavit Unal and his family who entertained us and provided us with a barbeque feast on the back of the boat.

June 11th, Day 5 Kapança to just past Kurşunlu, 42.2km, Sea of Marmara

The beaches with sand begin!  East of Kapança there are great places to explore and I would have liked to spend more time looking around the interesting small coves dotted with fishing shacks and holiday houses. Most of the beaches that I have camped on in Turkey are formed by small stones, which you get to like after a while, but I do prefer sand, so I was looking forward to this section when my friend Gokhan mentioned that the Marmara has sandy beaches.  We paddled a long stretch of sand today and a highlight was lunch at a beach shack built from stuff that had washed ashore, the residence of three beachcombing men who invited us for coffee.  We had the most hilariously adventurous conversation in which I spoke mostly English, Jugo spoke mostly Serbian and they spoke mostly Turkish, and a bit of German was thrown in here and there…but somehow we managed to communicate to them what we were doing and where the journey would take us.  Finding campsites is always fun in a place you have never paddled before.  I had looked on Google Earth and put ticks on my maps in places where it looked like there may be a nice beach to camp on.  When the day is getting late we start looking and deciding which camp is the finest.  This site I think has to go on my top 10 places to camp. Beautiful vista, white sand, rocks overlooking the beach, 5 star sunset and we laughed because Jugo came across 3 local women spying on me from the top of the hill as I cooked our dinner on the camping stove.

June 12, Day 6 Kurşunlu to Bekir Limani on the Kapıdağ Peninsula, 43.3km, Sea of Marmara

The Kapıdağ is what the Turkish refer to as a Yarımadası or ‘half island’.  The peninsula is best described as an island connected to shore by a thin strip of land.  I was looking forward to going there because the locals told us about its great campsites and villages.  After filling up our water containers at the mosque in the village of Yenice we took a bearing out to the offshore islands (Hali Ad & Fener Ad) that we wanted to explore and then crossed to the north of the Kapıdağ. Cavit had suggested Kestanelik might be good for us to camp, but we kept going and found a great spot in Bekir Limani.  Here on the Kapıdağ mussels are abundant and I went snorkeling and collected several mussels to supplement our pasta meal.

The sea of Marmara translates to mean ‘Marble Sea’ and takes its name from Marmara Island, which is almost entirely marble.  Today we began to see distant islands that looked totally white where marble has been mined and cut away from the islands.  The ancient Greeks would have sourced their marble here and transported it across the Aegean.

June 13, Day 7 Bekir Limani to Avşa Island, 37.1km, Marmara Islands

We paddled around the rest of the Northern Kapıdağ coast and met some friendly folks in the village where we had lunch – they wanted to take us home, but we had to say no and continue to Avşa Island.  The weather window is giving us PERFECT weather, but we have the ‘YILLIK FIRTINA CETVELİ’, an ancient Turkish fishermans calendar and it is telling us that our perfect conditions will only last until Haziran (June) 19th, so we want to do our island crossings in this magic weather. I love beachcombing and this afternoon my fossicking was rewarded by a message in a bottle! … Well actually a message in a little yellow container that was thrown into the sea by a young woman as a prayer to bring her good luck in love and also in her exams!  The prayer is in Turkish, but we had it translated so we would know what it said.  I hope she got all she wished for.  Maybe one day she will read this and say ‘Hey, that’s my wish that I cast into the sea’ & then maybe I will find out how far the wish travelled.  We only travelled 37km today in the dreamy conditions…mmm and we saw dolphins too.  Tonight the port on Marmara Island to our north is sparkling like a jewel on the sea and I am putting it on my list of places to come back to.

June 14, Day 8 Avşa Island to Kara Br, 25.4km, Sea of Marmara

We only made a short distance today because we spent a half a day in the town at Turkeli on Avşa Island.  This was a much-needed opportunity to go to the bankomatik (ATM), use the internet café, do some resupply shopping in a large supermarket and visit the fresh food markets.  Turkelli has everything you could possibly want to buy.

Jugo drank a few cups of Turkish coffee and looked after the kayaks whilst I did all the shopping.  At about 3.30pm we were on our way back to the mainland and making another big crossing to Kara Br.  This was another lovely campsite and with our fresh food resupply I was able to make a stir-fry.  I cooked on Jugo’s stove, which has no windshield – so he put it inside a bucket that we found on the beach and this worked a treat.  Beachcombing through the rubbish on the beach here was fun.

I hope to come back to the Marmara Islands again one day. As we pass through in our kayaks we serve as a little reminder to the people here of days gone by when small boats were everywhere in these seas.  Our journey shows just what is possible without a motor.  I certainly found myself wondering why anyone would want to travel any other way.  The kayaks were just perfect for this trip (Of course this is partly because we were blessed with perfect weather conditions).

June 15, Day 9 Kara Br to Çardak (The start of the Dardanelles), 52.7km
The Sea of Marmara & The Dardanelles

The wind came up today as we sailed and paddled our way into the Dardanelles and found a good place to camp in a picnic area near Çardak.  The village close by is walking distance and has a few shops.  I just went there to fill up or water.  The forecast for tomorrow is looking ‘interesting’ and we will aim to be off the water by midday to avoid the rough conditions with the strong winds and currents expected.

June 16, Day 10 Çardak to Kilitbahir, 41.9km, The Dardanelles

We launched by 6.30am and as the strong wind built up in the Dardanelles we paddled on and crossed the busy shipping channel to the Europe side to reach Kilitbahir, a small fishing village with an impressive fort.  My friend Mehmet hosted us in his home and we were able to leave our kayaks safely in the fishing boat harbour.  The wind is crazy now and we are weathered in until it abates.  We had the first capsize of the journey today when a wave caught Jugo unexpectedly.  When he capsized he got the wind paddle wrapped around him a bit, complicated by the fact that he had clipped the wind paddle tether to his PFD.  As I reached for my emergency knife to release Jugo from the tangle, I made some mental notes about the risks of using a wind paddle.  We were glad that we had taken the time to run through and practice rescue scenarios prior to our expedition.

June 17-19  Day 11-13, Weathered in at Kitlitbahir, 0km
The Daradanelles on The Gallipoli Peninsula

Visiting the Gallipoli Peninsula is a pilgrimage experience for many Australians and New Zealanders commemorating the ANZACs. Now I can see why.  To stand on the shore at ANZAC cove and imagine the scene in 1915 is something you should do.  I was lucky to kayak to the Gallipoli Peninsula and I learned about the triumph and the tolls of war.  I was told one in four Istanbul families (a city of 15million) have a relative who died on this land.  The rows of crosses and memorials overlooking the Aegean Sea are a stark reminder of the value of peace. 

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now living in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well." Ataturk, 1934

June 20, Day 14, Kilitbahir to the bottom of the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Aegean Sea, 23.8km
The Dardanelles & The Aegean Sea

After my journey across the Aegean from Greece to Turkey in 2011, the Aegean is like an old friend to me.  This year I paddled out of the Dardanelles and spent a night under the stars on a beach there where the British in WW1 constructed jetties.  I tried to paddle further north but the wind was still too strong, so I spent the day on a nice beach daydreaming about when I might come back here and continue along this coast to Marmaris… but that’s another journey.

A HUGE thank you to Mehmet for being such a wonderful host and showing us his special places.  We will always remember the view of the Dardanelles from your home, and the ships passing by.

I hope that other kayakers will paddle this route and experience what I have on the waterways that bridge the two continents.  I can try to explain it here, but when you paddle it and you hear such things as the call to prayer come across the glassy water from a distant minaret, and then you can really feel the journey.  It is nice to close your eyes and listen with your heart to the sound track of sea kayaking in Turkey resonating around you.  It does seem strange that in a city of 15 million people, only about 50 are in the Istanbul Sea Kayaking Club Bodeka… with all of these wonders right on their doorstep.

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