Our itinerary of a recent cruise on board P&O’s Azura took us to the Black Sea. Prior to this particular cruise we had passed through the Dardanelles on our way to Istanbul on three occasions but each time the timing of the transit was often unfavourable to appreciate the full experience of this waterway. As luck would have it on this last occasion everything worked perfectly, the joy being that with no stop at Istanbul, the transit of the Dardanelles, followed by the transit of the Bosphorus, was comfortably made in daylight between the hours of 8.45 am and 6.33 pm.
The Dardanelles Strait is approximately 61 km (38 miles) long with a width varying from 1.200 meters to even 6.000 meters. Water flows in both directions along the strait, from the Sea of Marmara towards the Aegean Sea while the undercurrent flows in the reverse direction. During the Strait of Dardanelles passage, ships are bound to alter course ultimately at the narrowest point at Cape Nara, often more than 90 degrees.
It is therefore obvious that there is a necessity to embark a pilot. Indeed, during the full passage to the Black Sea the Azura took on two separate pilots. We embarked the first pilot when close to The Cape Hellas Lighthouse, positioned on the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsular. This position also gave us our first view of one of a series of memorials that make both impressive and poignant reminders of the Gallipoli Campaign, fought between a joint British and French force to capture the Ottoman capital Constantinople, now Istanbul, and secure a sea route to Russia.
Continuing our passage Azura was soon to meet, amongst many other merchant shipping transiting in the opposite direction, another cruise ship, Thomson’s Mein Schiff 2, as we both passed the fortress castle of Kilitbahir which originally dates back to 1452: with yet another Turkish Memorial, the Dur Yolcu Memorial, on the hillside above Kilitbahir. The Dur Yolcu Memorial is specific to the date 18 March 1915 when Turkey lost 87,000 dead and over 164,000 wounded during a sustained attack by a combined fleet of British and French battleships, shelling the Turkish forts and gun emplacements on both the Asiatic and European shores.
The words at the outstretched arm of the Turkish soldier, roughly translated, read: “Traveller halt! The soil you tread once witnessed the end of an era”. As a mark of respect to the regiment that took the brunt of the losses its regimental number cannot be used anymore.
Once through the Dardanelles Strait we transited across the Sea of Marmara until we first caught site of Istanbul. As we neared the heart of Istanbul we passed the Topkapi Palace, with the Costa Favolosa at the cruise terminal in the distance. The Captain came on the full Ship’s broadcast on a number of occasions during our passage. On this occasion the Captain informed us that the two tugs were indeed to be our escort through the Bosphorus, a mandatory requirement that also found the cruise lines paying their cost, a cool £60,000 per transit direction.
Once past the famous Golden Horn, two tugs in attendance and with our Bosphorus Pilot embarked, the Azura glided into the Bosphorus proper. Past the Dolmabahçe Palace and on to the first of the two bridges spanning the waterway. The second bridge is not as old as the first but both are impressive feats of engineering.
There were also some remarkable examples of Turkish architecture along the shoreline of this 31 Km strait that forms the boundary between Europe and Asia.
We finally came to the point where the Black Sea became a reality and we said farewell to both the pilot and our tugboat escorts.
Next stop, Odessa, but that is another story.