Volkan aspiring to be the first solo round-the-world Turkish sailor with Black Betty – In search of sponsors

1/27/2023 – by Alper Günoral – Global Solo Challenge – Volkan Kaan Yemlihaoğlu is an energetic soul with a friendly smile and a love for the sea.

He began sailing as a child in Yalova, a Northwestern Turkish city on the Marmara Sea. He competed in optimist and laser races until high school and went on to take part in keelboat races. Then he went to Vienna for high school which put on pause his fondness for the sea.

After his return to Turkey after high school, he went to college and continued with his lifelong passion: sailing races. He raced onboard his cousin’s yacht and won many events. In time, he became tired of winning local races and aimed for foreign adventures. He raced with Marc Thiercelin on an IMOCA and with Ian Walker on an Extreme 40.

Volkan Kaan Yemlihaoğlu is an energetic soul with a friendly smile and a love for the sea. However, his lifelong dream has always been to sail solo around the world, and this brought him to enter the Global Solo Challenge.

When it comes to sailing races, this 60-year-old sailor is serious and determined and wants to finish first whilst also having a good time at sea.

Volkan, you began sailing at a young age. Can you tell us the story of how it all started?

I was born in Moda, a seaside section of Istanbul on the Asian side. My twin brother and I would watch the boats of the Istanbul Sailing Club sailing around all the time, dreaming of sailing on one of them one day. Our father bought us an optimist and we began sailing at the beaches of Yalova, where our summer home was. He was overly protective and wanted us to be under his gaze all the time when we were at sea. In the end, he didn’t want to stand in the way of our dreams.

Sailing is one aspect of the story, but you have been interested in racing since your youngest days. Can you tell us about your racing career?

I began sailing as a child, but my racing adventures started at around 15 years old, on board my cousin’s boat. (Note from the writer: I also learned to sail and raced on the same boat twenty years later. The world is small.) I participated in several yacht races until I went to high school in Vienna. After returning, I continued to race on weekends.

After college, I started working as an electronics engineer and saved enough money to buy my first sailing yacht, a Benetau First 29 named Barbie. The team consisted of me, my twin brother, my sister, and two cousins. We were successful in winning many races with that boat.

Then, I decided to buy a racing yacht and I purchased a Farr design One Toner and brought it to Turkey with two friends who were not sailors. I told them “If we don’t die on this voyage, you’ll have a hell of a story to tell,” and we did have an exciting story off the coast of Corsica with winds force 8-9 and many bruises. We managed to make it to port in Corsica, but I was so drained that I slept for 48 hours.

I continued to race on my One-Tonner. In the 2000s, I participated in Open 60 races in Istanbul with Mark Thiercelin and then went to France to experience ocean navigation on Open 60s and received technical training from Marc LeFevbre. It was there that I realized I wanted to pursue solo offshore sailing. I also participated in an Extreme 40 race in Istanbul with Ian Walker.

Eventually, I purchased Black Betty, an Open 70 from Portsmouth, and competed in offshore and IMA Rolex Cup Races. I also try to be involved in the administrative side of the racing world. My brother and I founded the Istanbul Offshore Sailing Club and organized a Black Sea Cup on the unique route of Odessa-Constance-Istanbul. We have also organized the Turkish Presidency Yacht Races for the last three years.

The story behind your purchase of Black Betty’s is quite interesting, tell us more.

I was looking for a new boat to enter offshore and ocean races. I saw an open 70 in Istanbul and touched its coffee grinder winch in the cockpit. I believe that touch was serendipitous in my decision to buy Black Betty. I learned that that magnificent racing yacht was for sale and that a Russian team had already put down a deposit. I told the broker, “if they don’t buy her, then I will.” I waited for a week that felt like years, and one day my phone rang. The broker asked me if I was still interested. I took the first flight to the UK and paid a deposit. I wanted to have a sea trial.

At first, I was not allowed to helm the boat, which frustrated me. At some point, I said that I wanted to take the helm otherwise the sea trial would end there and I would go back to Turkey. So, they let me take the wheel and wanted to reef the main as the wind had built to a 20 kts breeze. I didn’t let them, I wanted to see what the boat could do, and what a beautiful sailing time I had.

Black Betty has a canting keel, which can be moved to windward to level the boat’s. At some point the crew canted the keel to leeward to make me nervous, instead, I felt much better then. I saw her speed compared to other 70 foot sailboats around, I knew that I had to buy that boat. I brought her to Turkey with my brother and a friend, visiting A Coruna, Ibiza-Mallorca, Corsica and Patras.

You want to attend the Global Solo Challenge with Black Betty, how do you describe her?

Black Betty is 21.5 meters in length and 4.7 meters in beam. Her mast height is 31.5 meters, nearly as high as an 11-floor apartment building. Her 800 square meters of full sail area can produce up to 400 horsepower. Her spinnaker size is equal to that of four tennis courts. She is incredibly powerful and when it comes to speed, she will be the fastest boat in the GSC. On November 26-27, 2005, during leg one of the Volvo Ocean Race, she broke the 24-hour distance monohull record with an average speed of 22.75 knots. I plan to make a record attempt this year, a Turkish coast tour of 1500 NM between Hopa and Iskenderun. I want to break more records with her.

How do you finance your boat and projects?

I am retired and do not have enough financial resources to fully support my boat and projects. To finance my project, I plan to charter the boat for races and record attempts starting in January. I am currently seeking sponsors and have some ideas for advertisement opportunities. For this type of event, with a yacht of this size, sponsors are crucial as they are for the boats in the Vendée Globe which have budgets in the millions. Unfortunately, I do not have any sponsors yet. I need to make some refitting to make her ready for solo sailing. Every jibe or tack requires several actions to be handled simultaneously. Once the refit is complete, I will be the first sailor to solo sail an Open 70. I definitely need sponsors to be able to use Black Betty in the race, otherwise, I will be forced to use another boat.

It’s not easy to sail, let alone solo sail, and you aim to do that onboard a 70-foot boat. What urges you toward this challenge?

Since I was a child, I have been inspired by Captain Cousteau’s adventures. The idea of adventure has always been a part of my life, and I found that in sailing. There was a series on Turkish television about basketball in the late 70s, which was so successful that it made basketball famous in Turkey. I want to attend GSC, share daily videos online, and in the end, make a documentary. I hope that will inspire many young individuals to search for their own adventures. I want to be a role model. On the other hand, I will be the first Turkish sailor to have attended a solo round-the-world yacht race. The ego of “being the first” and “the pioneer” also motivates me. I will also be the first Turkish solo sailor to pass Cape Horn.

What are relations like among competitors?

There is absolutely no rivalry among us. We are connected in a WhatsApp group where we chat and help each other with technical matters, problem-solving, and planning needs. This is not only a race but also a friendly navigation event, an adventurous trip with friends. I met Pavlin Nadvorni in Istanbul and we got along very well.

What is your plan for the next few months until the start of the race?

I need to put together my own budget by chartering the boat. Then, I need to make some renovations to be able to navigate solo. I plan to start training in March. I try to keep myself fit and energetic, but the most important aspect is the psychological aspect of being alone.

What sort of food and beverages will you have onboard?

I will need about 3000 calories per day. I will have rations, pre-cooked meals that can be heated by tearing the top part of the pouch. I like eating roasted nuts, so I will have a lot of them. 2 liters of water per day, and a bottle of rakı, to be opened when I pass the Equator. I will spill some into the sea, of course, to let Poseidon try some as well.

Volkan believes his circumnavigation should take well under 120 days. As Volkan and I chatted, I looked at his partner’s Katerina, and saw her eyes welling up. She looked very proud and happy with her partner’s dreams becoming reality. She is working on social media and trying to promote Volkan’s efforts. I will keep in touch with Volkan and keep you updated on his progress.

Photos are courtesy of Volkan Kaan Yemlihaoğlu