Foam on the Ocean

Ministransat is one of the world’s most demanding races. let alone crossing the atlantic in a 6.5 meter vessel, just entering this race takes tremendous courage. Tolga Pamir was the first turkish sailor to enter and finish the race.

As Mark Twain said, “Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Tolga Pamir’s life to date would put a Hollywood film to shame. ” You ask yourself how a person could withstand so much. Pamir’s life story is rife with allegories about how a human being can give direction to his own existence along the murky border between mere survival and truly living. As he pursued his dream, Tolga Pamir has had to cope with some of the biggest challenges a man might encounter both physically and mentally.

France on an impulse
Pamir’s story begins in Istanbul. So enamored was he of the art of sailing that he learned as a child that he didn’t give it up even after he embarked on his professional career. He was lucky of course that the boss of the ad agency where he worked was understanding. Then one day he decides to do the thing that would give him the most pleasure in life. Without knowing a word of French, he and his wife move to France. And so begin Pamir’s lengthy, exhausting and intensive preparations for Ministransat.

The first thing Pamir does in France is to learn French and find a job that will earn him a living. The place where he works is the headquarters of sailors who follow all the races in the world. Thanks to that job he is able to learn French as well as keeping close tabs on the races. Meanwhile he needs to get certified to build a craft capable of competing in the races he aspires to.  After getting the hang of French, he applies for a yacht building course but the first opening isn’t until three years hence. Undaunted, and hoping a place might become available, Pamir tries his luck. Lo and behold, a place opens up on the second day of the course!

When he finishes the course, he buys the yacht that will become the Yakamoz (Phosphorescence). Meanwhile only half of the 14 people who started the 11-month course have manage to finish it. In May 2008 Pamir completes the Yakamoz, which he bought in October 2007. With three more years ahead of him before he can enter the Minitransat of his heart’s desire, Tolga Pamir now enters a series of races to gain experience. He also starts looking for sponsors. Although he has little luck when it comes to financial backing, minor sponsorships enable him to at least able to procure the requisite materials, and he qualifies to enter the race even without a main sponsor. Tolga Pamir becomes the only Turk to enter Ministransat.

The start date comes ... and goes
Tolga Pamir’s entering Ministransat is a fascinating story in itself. But what he went through before and during the race is something else. One of those stories to vie with that of Hemingway’s Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea. Pamir describes his own experience like this: “Conditions become so difficult during the race that after a certain point one can’t help but ask oneself why he’s doing this. One begins to talk, and argue, with the sea and the yacht.” And indeed, 18 of the 79 yachts that enter the race drop out before crossing the finish line.

Although Tolga Pamir was one of the lucky ones who finished the race, he says that the race was over for him the minute he entered because he had achieved his goal. Learning that his new wife was pregnant shortly before the race began, Pamir set out with a special excitement. Setting sail with the first ultrasound image of his child in its mother’s womb to spur him on, Pamir says that his wife and the anticipation of being a father were what kept him going during the race. In a stroke of bad luck, his wireless broke down on the second leg and for a while he was unable to get any news of his wife. When he was about to lose hope, by some miracle a Turkish cargo ship called Hanji Istanbul appeared before him on the vast ocean. Establishing communication with the ship thanks to a spare antenna, Pamir had them send his wife an e-mail and then was reassured when he managed to get a reply despite the harrowing conditions.

The adventure began at France’s Charente-Maritime on September 25, 2011 and, fraught with provision problems, difficult weather conditions, insomnia and exhaustion, finally ended on Brazil’s Salvador da Bahia coast on November 9. During conversations with other yachtsmen after the race, the same question kept popping up: “Why are we doing this?” Tolga Pamir says there could be two answers: “Either we are masochists. Or we are trying to give meaning to our existence through a life-or-death struggle, able to experience our feelings most deeply only when we are battling nature.” Among Pamir’s future plans are to repeat the Minitransat experience once more, and to enter the world’s most difficult yacht race, the Vendee Globe, in 2016. Tolga Pamir is an exemplary sportsman for his courage.

A Mini History of minitransat
1977
A fleet of 23 yachts set out from England for the first time and and make the difficult Atlantic crossing in 38 days.

1981
France takes over organization of the event., waits 56 days for help to reach him and is eventually rescued.  

1983
Stephane Poughon breaks a record and goes down in history.

1985
France takes over organization of the event.

1991
Marie-Agnes Peron and Philippe Graber, two sailors lost in the first leg of the race, rejoin the team in the Canary Islands.

1995
Yvan Bourgnon sets a new record.

2001
The race is run between the French city of La Rochelle and Brazil’s Salvador da Bahia, which remains its route to this day.