“As an idea I believe in peace…”
…explains Captain Ilkin from across his busy desk. I’m questioning this Turkish Cypriot about the current political situation in Cyprus. His eyes twinkle, framed by his designer specs, studded ear-ring and distinguished hair that’s gone white before its time. His striking good looks remind me of a lead from ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ but the conversation is far from trivial. “I was twelve years old when the troubles started in 1974 and many people like me want unification. We are optimistic and the positive attitude of Mr Talat and Mr Christofias, the current leaders of North and South Cyprus, is encouraging”.
It’s an exciting time for the manager of Delta Marina, who has doubled its berths to 80 in the last few years. With the borders between northern and southern Cyprus now open, hope for relaxation of trade restrictions and loosening of prohibited areas, the cruising scene is set to expand very quickly. “The Minister of Trade [who, incidentally, spoke at the rally reception we attended] has stated that tourism is Northern Cyprus’s number one priority. Key to this is sailing, which is one reason why they are building a new marina up the coast from us”. Surely a new marina is direct competition to Delta Marina? “Not at all. Different sailors want different things. The new marina will be targeted at the upmarket boat owner looking for a self-sufficient location away from everything, whilst Delta marina is based in town. We offer the visitors a chance to discover Girne, a town with great history and beauty. Besides, a new marina can only be a positive thing for the tourism trade here in Northern Cyprus”.
If this all sounds embryonic and new, it is. Liz and I were delighted to discover that we were the first foreign boat, along with Dragon Song, to attend the annual Kuzey Kibris Rally around the ‘pan-handle’ arm of northern Cyprus. “This rally is significant to the positive changes in northern Cyprus. The Minister of Tourism made of point of dredging the fishing harbour of Yeni Erenkoy to accommodate the sail boats on our rally.” Without this neither Dragon Song nor Esper would have made it into this tight spot. I commented on the fact that half the rally was made up of motor boats. “It’s impossible to find 20 sailing boats in Northern Cyprus! There are only a few sailors here and so one of the aims of the rally is to give the local sailors confidence and encourage more to participate. Foreign sailors add another dimension to the rally, which is why we were so pleased that you sailed from Turkey to join us. This is one reason why we support and host the EMYR: it gives the local, inexperienced sailor something to aspire to and helps put Northern Cyprus on the map”.
And on the map it should be! Liz and I thought we’d be here for just a few days before returning to Turkish mainland. Our copy of Heikell’s pilot guide shows a great big “prohibited zone” drawn around half of Northern Cyprus with no reference to any anchorages, and whilst the latest addition has addressed the changes we suspect many yotties just don’t see this as potential cruising territory. What a shame, because it really is a beautiful country with plenty of anchorages and miles of deserted sandy beaches. The east coast boasts consistent, gentle south-easterlies with a very small fetch. It’s just a shame that a boat entering northern Cyprus can’t sail beyond Famagusta, the beginning of the UN buffer zone.
It’s important that a person like Ilkin, in this significant and high profile position, remains positive. He feels that despite all that has happened in the past it is vital that the island looks forward. “As you know the island has a severe water problem and one solution that Turkey has put forward is to pipe drinking water from the mainland to the island. That’s the level at which the peace talks have reached. I’d like to think this will be completed around 2011”. One has to admire his positivity.
Perhaps this positivity has earned Ilkin a number of accolades within the cruising world. He is the official Cruising Association representative for Northern Cyprus, as well as the Little Ship Club. He recently visited Stockholm for talks with the Swedish Cruising Association to encourage Swedish cruisers to visit the island, and last year he attended the London Boat Show as a representative of the East Med Yachting Network. He is close friends with Hasan Kaçmaz, organiser of the EMYR, who joined us on the Kuzey Kibris Rally. Yet despite all these responsibilities Ilkin still finds time to tango! “Every Wednesday eighty Greek and Turkish Cypriots get together to learn to tango. We host dances and workshops either side of the border”, he explains with an air of indifference to the physical boundaries an organisation like this must pose. It’s encouraging to talk to this self-taught accountant. Here is a man with a key position at a significant moment in the history of Cyprus and it’s refreshing to see him looking forwards, planning for the future, with the one clear goal of establishing a cruising area around a united island.
“One day the Kuzey Kibris Rally will sail all round Cyprus. Currently it’s only a three day event but wouldn’t it be great if we were encouraging local and international yotties to take a week or two off work to sail with us around the whole island?”
Wouldn’t it indeed!