On a normal day, nearly 150 cargo vessels sail along the Bosphorus, the vital shipping route between the Aegean and the Black Sea. But the waterway was closed to traffic yesterday to allow more than 1,700 people to swim about four miles down it, crossing from Asia to Europe.
Standing on the bank where swimmers and their supporters were gathering for the 26th annual Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swimming Race, Dubliner Conor Galvin waited for his wife, Dymphna Morris, 53, to register – she is ranked fourth in the world in her age group. “I’m just the bagman,” he joked, clutching her souvenir sports bag. “She’s been trying to get me in open water for years.”
About 1,000 of the swimmers are Turkish; the rest this year come from 45 countries. A sizable Irish and British contingent also included Edinburgh-based author Alice Greenway, taking part for the second time.
Turkish swimmer Levent Aksüt, 84, is an institution at the race, competing for the 25th time this year. He said: “The best thing is you see the birds, the clouds, the buildings and the wonderful people. I don’t swim for the race, I swim for the pleasure.”
He posed for pictures after the finish with four-time Dutch Olympic champion Inge de Bruijn, in Turkey to promote the event.
Another celebrity visitor this year was Pippa Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister. In Istanbul after finishing a trans-America bicycle ride raising funds with brother James for charity, she turned in an impressive reported time of one hour and five minutes.
The course runs for about four miles down the Bosphorus as the swimmers cross from Asia to Europe, with a strong current helping whisk them down. Turkey’s Hasan Emre Musluoğlu – a four-time winner – logged a time of 41 minutes 26 seconds yesterday.
The route runs under one of the two road bridges spanning the Bosphorus and past Rumeli Hisarı, the historic castle built by Sultan Mehmet II in 1452.
Bettina Rocholl, from Holland, and Jerry O’Leary, from Ireland, were taking part for the first time, after Mr O’Leary read about it and decided to take it on as a 60th birthday challenge.
“I’m not a swimmer at all,” he said. “[But] I like Turkey, and I like Istanbul.” Swimming an hour a day for the past four months as training, he finished in 1:43. Afterwards he pronounced it “enormously pleasant”, and said he plans to return.
Dymphna Morris made it in 55:09, first in her age group, and called it a “gorgeous swim”.
Ms Greenway logged 1:21. She said: “The atmosphere on the boat [taking swimmers to the start] is noisy and welcoming, like a crowded Turkish teahouse, and there are lots of people who know each other from past swims, a nice mix of foreigners and Turks and old-timers happy to give lots of instruction,”