4th-7th August. Istanbul to Heybeliada (Princes Islands).

Friday 4th August – the much dreaded day when we would complete the clearing in process to Turkey.

It is common practice for yachts in Turkey to use an agent for clearing in, but the charges for this are significant and we thought we would try and do it ourselves.

We have read several blogs outlining how much of a difficult and convoluted process this is, however, our pilot guide made it sound quite simple. All of the necessary offices are located in Karakoy, central Istanbul, and our book said there is a tourist office there who can help.

Armed with this information, we headed into the city bright and early. West Istanbul Marina is a fair way (60km) from the main metropolis and quite a way from public transport. The marina lays on a shuttle bus to the nearest Metrobus station.  The Metrobus stop was packed and bewildering – there were no maps or information available to help. Fortunately, a kind man noticed our haphazard approach and directed us where to get off and connect with the tram; we arrived at Karakoy in the middle of the morning.

The tourist office was nowhere to be found, it would appear it no longer exists, so unsure how to proceed we enquired at the Police Station. After a bit of confusion, the police rang someone and a smartly dressed gentleman arrived who was a container ship agent. He explained that the process was easy, that yacht agents charged for very little work and that his advice was for free! The first step was to visit the Chamber of Shipping to purchase our transit log and then visit various officials in various offices to get it completed.

The Chamber of Shipping was found without incident and our Transit Log purchased. No-one seemed particularly sure about the process for yacht owners clearing in themselves and staff expressed surprised that we had no agent. Eventually, after a bit of discussion, we were advised to take the log to the port of Ambarli, which is the container port reasonably close to our marina.

This was different advice to that received previously, so we thought we should try the offices in Karakoy first before leaving. The immigration building was unmarked and would never have been found without the agent showing us earlier. We were searched and our bags scanned before being admitted. Once again,confusion reigned. The officer explained that because of where we were berthed, we did not fall within their jurisdiction and advised us to go to Ambarli. He then changed his mind and said we should go to Zeyport, which is another container port.

The completion of the transit log basically involves getting stamped by four authorities – health control, immigration, customs and a harbour master.  Zeyport apparantly had the latter three, but when I asked about the first one, health, we were directed to the harbour master in Karakoy.

We duly presented ourselves to the receptionist in the harbour master building, who took us into an office where we were promptly waved away without explanation. The apologetic receptionist directed us to the building next door where the health officials were based (we had popped in here 1st but no one seemed to know what we were there for and suggested they were only for vaccinations??). Approximately 45 minutes and much form filling later, we emerged with our first stamp. Hurrah!

This had taken the entire morning and left us with a dilemma as to whether to head for Zeyport or Ambarli.

Finding a tourist information office and obtaining a map and some info on public transport was a priority so we headed off through Karakoy and towards the spice bazaar. The streets around the spice bazaar were heaving – it was a Friday and the mosques were overflowing so Friday prayers were happening in the streets outside mosques.


Near the Spice Bazaar

The bustle and vibe were amazing, but we needed to get on, so after a quick lunch and visit to the tourist office, we headed to Zeyport.

There is no public transport close to the port, so we got off at the closest tram station and used a taxi to get to the port itself. The port had stringent security and Cy’s passport was held at the gate – this seemed a bit strange as we were going in to see the port police for an immigration check. The usual confusion and amazement attended us, although the police officer was friendly and helpful. Several phone calls later, and a walk back to the gate to retrieve Cy’s passport, the usual round of photocopying documents happened and we received our second stamp. Halfway there!

The customs team were less co-operative, and would not stamp the form without inspecting the vessel. Once again, we were advised to go to Ambarli. Nothing we have read makes any reference to customs wanting to see a vessel to clear in, as they are not based in the marinas, they usually accept a document from the marina. Possibly this is a change based on a recent tightening of regulations, not sure.

The time was now past 4pm. We managed, with the help of some lovely taxi drivers who suggested it would be cheaper, to hail a Dolmus (minibus) to get back to the tram station and headed back to the marina. We arrived back at 7pm having taken the entire day and only completing half of the process. In desperation, we went into the yacht agents office for advice. He explained that we could not get our customs stamp at Ambarli. The only way to complete the clearing in was to take the boat to Zeyport for them to inspect, then return to Ambarli for the harbour master. Due to the distances involved, this would take the whole of the following day, and based on our experience so far, may not even be successful given the amount of incorrect information given and to-ing and fro-ing.

On enquiry, Kadir, the yacht agent, would be able to get it done for us the next day in a couple of hours and would charge half his usual fee as we had already done half the work. We returned to Doris, thoroughly exhausted, to consider our options over a beer.

Later on in the evening, we met Dilek and Ali on their boat Eos. They were really friendly and offered to drive us to a supermarket the following day.

The next day, all things considered, we opted to get Kadir to complete the paperwork for us and we were able to do some sightseeing in the afternoon.

The Grand Bazaar was a feast for all the senses – brightly coloured scarves, jewellery, carpets as well as the ornate decoration of the building itself made for a wonderful visual spectacle. Add to this the general noise and hubbub of a busy market and the fragrance of the spices – it really is quite something.


We found a wonderful little cafe and stopped for baklava and cold drinks.


After the bazaar, we slowly made our way to the Hagia Sophia. It is very popular, the queues are long but don’t be put. Once inside, the vastness of the space makes it easy to see despite crowds of visitors. The Hagia Sophia was a Christian cathedral, and although it had been rebuilt a few times, there was a cathedral on the site since approx 300 AD – this is from memory, so don’t quote me. With the ascendence of the Ottoman empire, it was changed to a mosque. Ataturk changed the site to a museum in the 1930s.

It is remarkable to see imagery of Islam and Christianity side by side in this way and we were blown away by the place.



Hagia Sophia selfie

After this, we made our way back to the marina to collect our completed transit log and meet up for our trip to the supermarket to load up on provisions.

It had been a pretty good day and Dilek and Ali were great company, we decided to open the bottle of Moet which had been with us since we left Wales (a leaving gift). It seemed like a good occasion. Dilek is a very experienced sailor and has done a lot of single handed stuff – she was able to give us lots of advice on sailing in Turkey and Greece. They were interested in our experiences in the French canals as they have a friend who is planning a trip.

The following morning (6th), we had forgotten most of what Dilek had told us, so armed with our Greece and Turkey pilot guides, we headed over to their boat. Some of our canal books would be useful to their friend, so we took those along as well. We had a super morning with them and they persuaded us that we should definitely head to the Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara, which we had not been planning to do.


Dilek and Ali

After a few jobs, we eventually left West Istanbul Marina at around 3pm, heading for an anchorage in the Princes Islands. We found our way to a beautiful bay on the island of Heybeliada. It is a popular spot with lots of yachts from Istanbul and our first experience of anchoring with lots of other boats.


Anchorage at Heybeliada

On completing the logbook that evening, I discovered I had passed 1000 nautical miles (at sea – not including all the inland mileage). Not bad for a beginner!

We spent the whole of Monday 7th at the anchorage. The water is clean and clear, so we had a bit of a swim and spent the day chilling out and doing some passage planning for the next few days. We did have to reset the anchor in the morning, but that was really the only activity for the whole day! In the evening we paddleboarded across to a small, ramshackle cafe for beer and chips.


Doris at anchor

It had been the perfect antidote to the craziness of Istanbul and we even had a plan for the next few days. On y va…




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