Blind Captain’s Journey

It all started with a little splash of salt water, sounds of the crushing waves, silky sand on my hands, and the feel of wind and sun on my skin. My first memories of the ocean were when I was about 3 years old, around the same time I lost my sight. By then I already knew I was in love with the ocean and everything it offers, fascinating marine life, mysterious creatures, adventures of the pirates, amazing voyages of the sailors, and endless open space. I am still an ocean lover, kayak enthusiast, and have an adventurous spirit. That is why I decided to challenge myself to set up a non-visually operated kayak and paddled solo from one continent to another through the Bosporus Straight.

 Navigating the water as a blind person requires paying great attention to many details as well as using high tech devices like a talking compass, GPS and sensors. The direction of the wind, feel of the sun, sound of the waves crashing on the beach, sound of the traffic coming from the shore, the current and waves transmitted through the seat of the kayak, all offer clues about where and which way the kayak is heading. However, navigating over water in a straight line is not as easy as walking on a sidewalk with a cane. There are no edges or curb to trail. It is very easy to veer off course without even noticing. Therefore, before the crossing I had to improve my orientation skills on the water using all my senses as well as practice the use of high tech devices such as a course keeping device, auto-pilot, talking GPS, compass and a sonar.

I am lucky that I found my passion at a very early age. Everything about water gives me joy, a sense of belonging, and inner peace. The watermelon like smell of seaweed, sounds of seagulls, 3-demensional movement on the water, salty splashes from the waves make me feel like I am home. Thanks to my love and passion for the water, I had an exciting vision since I was a kid, which is to be the captain of my own boat and navigate the ocean with no sighted assistance. Big dreams are born, grown and realized when passion and vision come together and my longtime dream of paddling solo from one continent to another came through on July 21st 2018.

I started kayaking about 11 years ago and immediately it became my favorite outdoor activity. Until last year, I used to paddle in a tandem kayak with a sighted person. Last year I received a Holman Prize from the LightHouse for the Blind and I became the first blind person to paddle solo from Asia to Europe through The Bosporus. Crossing the Bosporus has symbolic value for me. It is where East and West meet, ancient and modern stand together, fairy tales and reality blend into each other.  It is where my role model, high school hero, Greek mythological king, Phineus, the Blind King, guided sailors through dangerous waters and it is where I used to sit on a ferry dreaming about a time in the future when Blind captains and crew will roam through, and nobody will be surprised.

As soon as I mentioned my journey to Werner Paddles, they accepted to be my sponsor and to provide me with two of the lightest, fastest and most beautiful looking paddles I have ever had for my training and crossing. One of the paddles Werner sent me was 2-piece Shuna. As soon as I held the Shuna in my hands, I could feel that it was not an ordinary paddle. The Shuna is a very lightweight and robust paddle. It moves smoothly in the water with no flutter. For someone like me, switching from low angle to high angle paddling was a great choice. After paddling for hours, I never felt shoulder or wrist pain. The second paddle was a 4-piece Camano that I used frequently during my training when I needed a break from the powerful high angle paddling. As a blind paddler, it is very important to have a grip section that feels slightly different from the rest of the shaft. Just like Shuna, the Camano shaft is indexed with a slightly flattened grip section which is very blind friendly. I am sure that sighted paddlers orient their paddle without having to look at the blades as well. When I needed a relaxed low angle paddle was after long hours of heavy training the Camano was became my go to. The Camano’s blade has the perfect combination of width, length, curve, and overall shape. It moves through the water effortlessly with no flutter. When I needed strong supportive bracing both the Shuna and Camano never disappointed me. Werner’s superior design, craftsmanship, care for their customers, as well as their generosity towards social projects like mine make Werner paddles special for me and many others. Crossing the Bosporus on a solo kayak was my longtime dream. Thank you Werner for being  part of my journey. I never saw blindness as an obstacle stopping me from what I wanted to do. With my paddlıng from Asıa to Europe, I am hopıng to change people’s attitude towards blindness and encourage more blind people get into paddle sports.

As a Blind teacher of Blind students, I tell my students that being blind should never prevent them from achieving their goals, although they might need to deal with prejudices, discrimination, and an inaccessible physical and educational environment. I let them know that limits and barriers they encounter are not results of blindness itself; they are just products of prejudice and discrimination in society. Even worse, sometimes they are our own mind's products. I want my students to understand blindness as a characteristic of a person rather than a limitation. I hope that my journey will inspire others to follow their dreams with courage and passion.