The waters of Gocek Bay became the site for the seventh Autumn Gocek International Sailing Regatta and as our correspondent, a novice sailor, explains it was full of thrills and spills.

The waters around Fethiye are probably one of the best sailing grounds in the world. The warm sea, sheltered bays, fantastic mountain backdrop and winds make it a popular place for mucking about on boats.

Having such a fantastic resource on my door step was one of the reasons why I just had to learn to sail.

So a couple of years ago I hooked up with some friends with a 37 foot yacht and took my first steps into the world of sailing. It was a great experience. So there wasn’t much wind, but that’s great for your first week on the water. Since then I have been on a few more voyages and my skills have improved so I think I can at least term myself as competent crew now. But in the world of sailing experience is everything. The more you do the better you get and racing is a great way to build on those skills.

So when I had the opportunity to join with local Fethiye Face Captain Mike Mitchell on his boat “The Mandolin Wind” to take part in the Seventh Autumn Gocek Regatta I jumped at the chance.

The yacht is a 47 foot Beneteau, not an out and out racing yacht when compared to the latest designs but a solid cruiser that is capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean according to one of my crew mates Bernard. He should know not only because he owns the same model yacht but he has also sailed around the world as part of the Clipper Race. In addition he plans to do the Arc Race from the Canary Islands to St Lucia in the Caribbean on his 47 foot Beneteau yacht next year.

We joined Mike’s yacht on Monday along with our other crew members Peter, Bernard, Suzanne and Isil and sailed over to Gocek. That gave us ample time to get to know each other and get in a bit of practice at the same time. But with light winds our progress was slow. Mike our skipper said the previous year’s race has been mostly in light winds so this weather was helpful. The first race started on Wednesday so we still had Tuesday to get in some more practice.

So the next day, after registering our boat for the race and handing over wedges of cash, we went out for another days practice again in light winds. Getting the sails set property and changed over quickly was our main task as crew and I worked on one side of the jib sail making sure it was pulled through cleanly, quickly and set properly.

This day also gave us the opportunity to try out a new sail called a parasail. At 157m2 it’s a huge and its multi colours really stand out. The makers claim you can use it in a 30 knot wind – something our other crew members think would be too scary.

Mike Mitchell with our glamorous bar maid at the Seventh Gocek Regatta

One thing sailing regattas are famous for is their evening do’s and that evening the Gocek Regatta held an opening ceremony in Port Gocek. We crammed in to the small venue with the other crews, chatted about strategy, the weather forecast and other things. Our crew stayed close by the Carlsberg free beer stand for most of the evening for obvious reasons – see picture.

The next morning we awoke early and prepared ourselves for the first of the two races that day the first of which began at 11am.

We cast off and headed for the start line a short distance from the marina. The start line for the race was between a brightly coloured buoy and the race committee boat. A good start is very important but a great deal of skill, experience and luck is required to cross the line at the right time especially as we are now at the mercy of the winds (engines are turned off 5 minutes before the start). Added to that around 20 other yachts in our class are also trying to position themselves to cross the narrow space just as the race whistle is blown. Some yachts are going up and down the line, some are tacking around and other just sitting waiting. It seems congested and I wonder just how we are all going to cross the line without some form of collision.

Just as the race was about to begin the wind began to build and build. Great for racing said Peter, one of the crew. The one minute whistle sounded and it was all hands on deck as we made a final tack and headed for the start line. The final whistle started and we were off.

The course took us in a clockwise direction around Gocek Island and the finish line would be near to where we started. Such a route tests the sailing skills of the skipper and crew as they have to sail upwind, downwind and bits in between.

The broken sheet (rope)

But as we beat up wind and tacked from side to side the winds started gusting to 35 knots and the waves grew bigger and bigger. An hour into the race both the ropes holding the foresail snapped under the immense pressure of the wind. Luckily we had spare ropes on board so were able to re rig and continue. But in the strong winds it was a tough job. Some boats found the going too tough and headed back. Another boat limped passed us with their foresail ripped.

The sea was now full of white horses and the waves grew bigger making an exciting backdrop for the main event of seeing all the other yachts tacking and cutting through the rough water. Keen crews were seen sitting on the high sides of their well heeled over yachts, legs dangling towards the sea to help the boats gain more speed.

I’m sure on a calm day with few other boats around this stretch of water between the island and the mainland would seem big. But on a day such as today with yachts tacking so close to one another and the big seas everywhere ‘Hurricane Alley’, as we would later refer to it, looked very small, congested, even dangerous. But no collisions occurred – these guys know what they’re doing.

Once around the island the winds dropped a little and we crossed the finish line. We weren’t the last to cross the line but leaders had been significantly faster than us. If only those ropes hadn’t broken we thought, but then that’s racing.

The second race took us around the island the other way – anticlockwise. Bernard took the helm for this race. We got off to a good start but soon we were neck and neck with a smaller yacht on our starboard (right). I was then introduced to a new term ‘luffing up’ when another yacht ‘gently’ forces you off your desired course so you lose the wind. Well this guy next to us was doing a good job because we were both approaching land and needed to tack soon to avoid running aground and he wasn’t even getting ready to tack. Our skipper gave the command to prepare to tack – Ready was the reply from the crew. I said to our skipper “I’m waiting” which prompted a rather curt response from the skipper of our by then close neighbour “You have plenty of water left!”. Maybe with your keel but not with ours. The tension was soon relieved when he tacked and so did we.

We rounded the island now well ahead of the guy who had ‘luffed’ us up and returned to ‘Hurricane Alley’ again. Tack, after tack, after tack was needed to make our course requiring a great deal of effort from the crew. By now my arms are aching from all the pulling and turning of the winches and I’m glad this is the last race of today. We finished the race and headed back to the marina for a well earned beer and a ‘wash up’ review of that day’s performance.

Could day 2 be any more exciting I wondered?

Check out part 2 here.