Sailing Women: High Heels on the Deck

by Piril Adanali
Bodrum, Turkey


My father bought his first motorboat when I was 12 and his first sailing boat when I was 14. He learned sailing almost on his own since there were no training available at the time, making a lot of mistakes, scaring us most of the time, not letting us his 3 daughters take a hand or being trained. Girls sailing! Unheard of at the time in Turkey. It was a men’s world and the women were tolerated as guests only.

I was 40 in year 2000, when my husband (at the time) started to join the sailing races in Bodrum, disappearing on weekends. That is when I found out he was one of the founders of the Bodrum Yacht Club, organising races. Men creating a world own their own… again.

I remember the disappointment, the anger I felt, feeling excluded, unworthy.

Team High Heels
Three “amigas” on board
(Photo by courtesy of Piril Adanali)

I met with 3 friends of mine one day and talked about how we could go sailing; whether we could learn to sail as well. One of my friends who had a close friendship with one of the owners of the many Blue Voyage companies in Bodrum, decided to ask him if he could assist us and found out that there was a civilian sailing training ship built by Bodrum seafarers and amazingly it was maintained and chartered by her friends’ company, Era Yachting. It was a 35mt wooden sailing boat, a tall ship designed specifically for sailing training, with some extra sails we do not see on modern day sailing boats.

STS Bodrum was fully booked for the summer, but we could charter it during the winter months. We only needed 12 people. But here was the problem; how to arrange such a venture? We were mothers, wives, businesswomen with responsibilities to others. How could we possibly drop everything and go sailing for at least 5 days away from the city and the shore and find 8 more women to do so as well.

It was a challenge, but we started working on it with a vigour. The four of us formed a group and named these women sailing group, Yuksek Okceler (high heels) and started spreading the word that we were looking for women who wanted to learn sailing. They poured in… By the middle of November, we had reached the required number of 12 but the demand kept coming. It was amazing!

Woman skipper on the deck
Piril the skipper
(Photo by courtesy of Piril Adanali)

We dropped out high heels and sailed off on the first week of December. There were two more groups waiting to go on the training after us.

The boat had only 1 cabin for four and a big mess hall with bunk beds for 8. 1 private bathroom in the cabin and a common bathroom next to the mess hall. There were of course other cabins under the bulkhead for the captain, crew and the designer of the boat itself.

We, 12 women, lived in that one big mess hall, eating, sleeping and learning to sail, taught by the designer of the boat and the captain in the mornings and applied our newly gained knowledge sailing that 35mt ship in the afternoons over Bodrum Bay for five days without any chance of going on shore. We did not have sailing gear, no sailing gloves, no weather wear, no specific footwear. Some wore skiing outfits to keep the cold out, rubber rain boots to keep our feet dry, plastic workman gloves to protect our hands. We endured the cold and the rain. Although the weather is milder in Bodrum during the winter months it does get pretty cold with driving rains and strong winds, even a tornado here and there, which one of the later groups came across.

STS Bodrum training ship
Cabin and hall of STS Bodrum

It was tough sailing. The sailing ship did not have enough winches to work the sails. Only the main sail and the genoa. For the rest we had to use our own power to haul the sails. I remember setting the randa sail (a square sail with two booms) pulling on the ropes to lift the second boom up in the air for 15mt, five of us was barely enough to pull it off hanging on the rope for dear life. We all hated the randa at the time because of the effort we had to put in in order to use it but in time I realised how essential it was to the stability of the boat and came to love it even.

After the two other women groups completed their turn, our group went out on the boat again for the second round to complete the basic training in January. We were more confident, the weather was much nicer (no rain) and did really have nice sailing, learning in shifts to man the sails, trimming them and steering the helm.

I loved it! Riding the wind and waves, the peace and quiet of sailing with no engine sound, becoming a part of the nature and beauty, feeling the power of the elements and learning to fear and respect it.

Graduation ceremony
The Graduation
(Photo by courtesy of Piril Adanali)

It was hard work breaking the prejudice against women sailing in Turkey. However slowly but surely, with the support of the Commodore of the Bodrum Sailing Club the 36 women who were trained on STS Bodrum, started racing along the crews of racing boats, most of them proving themselves worthy and becoming part of the racing teams. Those who could not find boats to sail became referees; a few bought their own boats. Few sailed the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic.

At the age of 57, I went on a sailing challenge of 2100 Nautical miles with two women friends on a Turkish flag sailing boat, starting from Bodrum. Via the Corinth Canal we sailed to Italy and Croatia, sailing the Adriatic and arriving back in Bodrum in 70 days. It was interesting to see there were no solo women crews sailing neither in Greece, Italy nor Croatia, and the attention, the disbelief and the high praises we received from the authorities and the people were interesting and encouraging, to say the least. And to know that you can still do it even though you are not young anymore.

I feel proud and happy that I was instrumental in bringing sailing into women’s life in Turkey. Since because, after our first sailing training, the women in Turkey took up sailing and racing with great enthusiasm and became a part of the sailing world. Throughout my sailing around many seas including the Atlantic, I realised there can be many more women on the seas and I hope the numbers will increase gradually when women find the courage and support to leave their high heels on shore and sail the high seas.

Akinsal’s Reply

Sometimes the rules and expectations defined by the society give us hard time to chase what is in our heart. Following our dreams instead of accepting what is offered and comfortable takes courage because it may lead to criticism and even isolation.
I am glad you have never lost your enthusiasm and determination for something important for you. Hearing all these is truly an inspiration and I would like to thank you for sharing this great story.

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