Carefree And Far From Home


It’s the classic question but I can’t help but ask. How did you get interested in the sea?
I was a lucky kid who was born and grew up in a house on the seashore at Izmir Çeşmealtı. While my peers played in the evening in the streets and parks, I used to secretly untie the boat, unbeknownst to my mother and father, and sail along the coast at night.

Usually I only went as far as Foça, where I would chat with the fishermen and come back. During the daytime I would go to the Aegean coves, unmatched in the world, where I would swim in the magnificent waters, loll about and catch fish. Going to the island known as Arap Adası was particularly fun.

One day while I was admiring the beautiful view there, I decided to sail around the world. So, when I was still young I braved the English Channel and then the Atlantic. I was espcially attracted by stormy seas, and I wanted to sail more in that kind of weather. Before I set sail around the world, I first navigated the Aegean in every kind of weather and in a hundred different kinds of boats.

Was it hard to learn the sea?
It is difficult but pleasurable. Actually today it’s easier than it used to be because there are plenty of written sources, and the internet. I know I struggled very hard, with my limited English of the time, to learn to use a compass I got my hands on at age twelve. There weren’t many books available in those days, and we had to figure everything out for ourselves.

Weren’t you ever afraid? After all, you were only a child at the time and your boat could have capsized and sunk.

No, believe me, I was never afraid. As long as you obey the rules of the sea and master the art of navigation, the sea offers you a far safer and tranquil world than land. I have an incredible love of the sea. When the waves swell in stormy weather, I feel a special excitement.

Why have you made all your voyages alone?
There are several reasons. First of all, I wanted to get to know myself. Secondly, I wanted to view the world from the sea, to see what’s going on, what’s happening. Thirdly, I didn’t want to take responsibility for anyone but myself.

Regardless of how compatible you are, a second person can addle you. And fourthly, being on your own and becoming one with nature is a fantastic feeling. When I’m alone I always concentrate on the task at hand harder than ever. I might not be able to do that if I were concerned with another person.

And what did you find in the middle of the sea in your solitude?
On land, even if you’ve been brought up to be self-sufficient, when you have troubles in your normal life your friends and family come to your rescue and give you support. But on the sea you have to do everything yourself.

You become your own doctor, your own repairman, your own cook. There is nobody else. It doesn’t matter how much money or property you have, it’s good for nothing at that moment. And that is precisely the test of self-sufficiency.

Why do you not use modern navigational instruments like radar or any electronic positioning devices on your voyages?
The first reason is pure romanticism. I wanted to experience that. We have become such a materialistic society that everything nowadays is done by some electronic gadget.

I want to return to the bare essentials. It’s a great pleasure to find your way by the height of the heavenly bodies so many millions of kilometers away, to wait with excitement for such-and-such island to suddenly appear before you and then to finally see it.

Not only that but I wanted to emphasize to my colleagues who have trained themselves on electronic navigating instruments that they will never develop their skills as long as they use those devices. Your self-confidence is different when you can sail by estimating the direction of the wind on your skin, finding your direction by the North Star and judging the depth of the sea by the blue of its waters.

Did you ever go hungry ?
There is no shortage of food in the sea. It’s all teeming with fish. If I wanted I could catch forty kilos of fish a day without even using bait. In fact, sometimes flying fish and little squid will jump right into your boat without your having to do a thing.

You can preserve your food by a variety of methods. For example, if you smear eggs with vaseline they will keep for months, ditto for fish if you cover them with olive oil.  I make my own bread and my own yoghurt and cheese using powdered milk. When I feel like eating vegetables I make do with a few soybean and alfalfa sprouts. With an intelligent stock of food, you’ll never go hungry.

How badly are the world’s seas polluted based on your observations?
Pollution constitutes a growing threat. And unfortunately Turkey also has a share in that pollution. The Aegean is seriously threatened. One of the Aegean’s most important properties is its crystal-clear waters. Last year I examined the area between Knidos and Ayvalık inch by inch, even into the delta of the Menderes River.

I have never seen the Aegean so polluted. Everyone has to be more aware of this problem. Another of the world’s most polluted countries is Indonesia. Unfortunately there is no concept of garbage collection there.  They throw their garbage directly into their diamond-bright seas. Some of the most careful places on the other hand are Australia and New Zealand.

What in your view are the reasons for the lack of concern about the sea in Turkey?
Yachting and sea-faring require individual skill, self-confidence and a fighting spirit. We are a little Mediterranean in our ways here. Families are a little too solicitous of their children and coddle them too much. That attitude doesn’t develop a person’s self-confidence and ability to be self-sufficient or strengthen his ability to make his own decisions.

I studied in England. Believe me, the people there went around in shorts and T-shirts even in icy cold weather. What I mean is that here we are fond of warmth and comfort. Families are very protective. They think it’s good to fatten a child up. Finally, there is unfortunately also an attachment to luxury and opulence. When you put all those things together, it creates a big barrier between us and the sea.

You surely have had some interesting experiences on your travels.
Yes, and how. I came upon a Turkish warship when I was sailing in the Gulf of Oman. I identified myself and boarded the ship, and within a short time I felt I was back in my country. As I was leaving, an officer friend gave me a CD of old Turkish films. So at night while I was at the helm navigating the Indian Ocean, I was simultaneously watching a film called ‘Ah Nerede Vah Nerede’ with Gülşen Bubikoğlu and Tarık Akan.

Some of the most interesting things that happened were when a bunch of flying fish trying to escape from some big fish jumped onto my yacht, or when I collided at night with a giant whale that was resting on the surface of the water. Or when migratory and marine birds landed on deck to rest while flying far out to sea thousands of miles from land. These are the first things that come to mind.

A book about Özkan Gülkaynak’s voyage around the world that he made in his boat Kayıtsız III between 2006 and 2009 is coming to readers soon, sponsored by Turkish Airlines. The book tells the story of how the author developed a love of the sea as a boy and how this influenced his personality and his entire life.

‘Kayıtsız’ stats
Total nautical miles covered:    30,000
Longest stretch out of
sight of land:    25 days 3,000 nautical miles,  Pacific Ocean
Number of countries visited: 38
Country of longest stay:  Australia, 9 months
Highest wave encountered: 7 meters, Pacific Ocean
Swiftest current encountered:  7 knots, Mopelia atoll in the Pacific.