Gulari was born in Istanbul in 1975. His parents were active 505 sailors in Turkey, and named their son after the northern wind that sweeps the Aegean Sea. He immigrated to the States as a small child when his parents both professors landed jobs in academia. While the young Gulari would accompany them—Bassinet style—in their 505, his forays into singlehanded sailing didn't come until age 5, when his dad set him up with a modified windsurfing rig. It didn't take long before Bora was hooked on the thrill of white-knuckle speed.
Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, Gulari sailed out of Grosse Point before attending the University of Michigan, where he earned a degree in aerospace engineering. While he sailed in school, his career didn't take flight until post graduation when he became active in the 49er class, narrowly missing an Olympic berth. Given his windsurfing background, he considered an RS:X campaign, but fate intervened when he discovered YouTube videos of Moth legend Rohan Veal flying on foils. A purchase was made, sight unseen, and Gulari never looked astern.
Road to the Podium
For some sailors, the road the podium is obvious; for others, it's a journey. For Bora Gulari, the 2009 Moth World Champion and the 2009 US SAILING Rolex Yachtsman of the year, the layline to success took some hunting. But this search has brought him more than just podium finishes. It also led him to a boat that suites his need for speed, a group of fellow competitors that push him hard, and a class that's open and receptive to new ideas.
For Gulari, 2009 was a watershed year. He became the first Moth sailor to break the 30-knot barrier, he won the Moth Worlds, and he was named 2009 US SAILING Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. According to Gulari, time in the boat is the number one factor for his success; in 2009 alone he estimates that he clocked 4,000 "Moth" miles. Interestingly, Gulari uses his aerospace-engineering expertise to build custom bits for his Moth. He also uses the class's open nature to freely share information with his competitors, a philosophy that's aimed at raising the skill level of all U.S. Moth sailors.
Singlehanded and Crewed—Differences
Joy Dunigan photo
Do you actively practice on both singlehanded and fully crewed boats?
I actively practice on both, but obviously the easiest one is the Moth because it's [just] my training partner and I, and we can rig up and we can go yachting. With the Melges—We just recently got our own boat between [my friend] George Peet and myself—We have scheduled training sessions with Blue Moon. But once again, it's [a matter of] gathering ten people to go sailing versus just the two of us [Moth sailors] saying, 'alright, let's go sailing'. Logistically, it's more challenging.
Which experience do you enjoy more and why? And which is currently more challenging?
It's a tough call. I definitely enjoy singlehanded sailing, but the feeling of being with a team and succeeding as a team and being able to celebrate as a team is quite a bit better than the singular success.
I think fully crewed [sailing], in my mind, is more challenging because you have to rely on everyone. That's part of the game: everyone is a part of the team. It's not all you out there—you are a team and you have to have faith in your team.
[Fully crewed sailing] can be rewarding and it can be very disappointing, but it's much more fun [than a singlehanded victory] when it's rewarding. The thing that I like about having a multi-person boat is being able to sail with other people that you couldn't sail with on a singlehanded boat. It's a great way to sponge knowledge and experience while working together.
What's the most rewarding aspect of fully crewed one-design sailing for you?
The team camaraderie. I love the learning experience and being able to learn from your teammates is absolutely great. It's like having your own little army and going into battle [together].
Liz Davies photo
What do you enjoy most about sailing alone?
Simplicity, and the pureness of the whole event. You don't get stuck with a lot of logistics. You show up and it's a make-it-happen yourself deal—you don't really need to rely on a whole lot of other people.
Singlehanded one-design sailing is... it's where you get the blurry-eyed purists who talk to themselves more than they do anybody else. You're kind of out there, chasing something...
We oftentimes will rig up our Moths right before a storm hits to find the best breeze possible and see how fast we can go... you're not going to do that on a one-design keelboat, but when you go out on a singlehanded boat, all you're responsible for is yourself, so game-on!
If you were headed out to the starting line of a competitive regatta, would you feel more comfortable if you were alone or with your team?
Depends on the team. If it was a team that I had been sailing with for a while and we had a lot of faith in [each other], then I would feel just fine. But I always feel polished when I'm sailing by myself so I always feel comfortable doing that.
[Ultimately], you've got to have faith in your team. If you have faith, you can take on the world. If you don't, it's tougher, for sure. And faith is something that's developed over a period of time, but you've got to get it right from the get-go. If you don't have faith in the team when you're unpolished, you're never going to have [full] faith in the team.
You've made your name as a Moth sailor, but you also excel in fully crewed one-design classes such as the Melges 24. What's it like to switch gears from singlehanded sailing to a fully crewed boat?
It takes discipline. You're transitioning from where you're the whole show to where you're a part of the equation. It's going from an individual sport to a team sport. It's not hard, but one person occupies a different role on the team versus when you have the whole responsibility to get around the racecourse on your shoulders.
What's the hardest part about this transition for you?
The hardest thing is relying on a team versus relying on yourself. You have to have the social dynamic of a team where everyone is important; you have the logistics of dealing with the team and the camaraderie of dealing with a team.
As tactician, do you ever catch yourself being a bit too quiet on the Melges? Or are the two boats different experiences in your mind?
Sometimes I do have the problem of being too quiet. When you see a situation developing—that's a key role in being a tactician, especially when you're with someone who [doesn't sail] every day—and you know how it's going to play forward, you need to communicate it [to your helm] word by word. It's a challenging thing and people who are good at it are impressive.
So, yes, it's very easy to be a little bit too quiet as tactician. Your thoughts should be the thoughts of everyone on the boat and you need to communicate everything. It's a tough, challenging role on a keelboat, for sure.
Liz Davies photo
Is it hard to establish a good working relationship with a skipper if you spend most of your time sailing alone?
I've had varying experiences. Sometimes you start off great, and then, as there have been mistakes, the level of trust wanders from initially having one hundred percent faith in someone. On the other hand, [the relationship] can also build where [I wasn't] really sure [about] the person [I was] sailing with. Then, over a period of time, I realized that I have full faith that this person is going to do exactly what I tell them to do and they have the ability to do it.
I've also been blessed in the respect that I have not been asking for money to go sail and so it forces [my skipper and I] to have a good relationship?—If there's not a good relationship, it's not something that's worth it to me.
Thoughts on Practice Time
If you've been Moth sailing a lot, how much practice time do you need on a fully crewed boat to feel dialed-in before a big event?
It all depends on the number of new players, but I think it's a matter of if you're going with a big boat like a TP52...you can always go racing, it's usually [a question of] how hard you push the boat, so it's kind of a relative percentage. As a crew gains confidence and competency in themselves, how hard you can push obviously goes a lot higher.
With the Melges, practice time is showing up and doing regattas. It's hard to go practice by yourself on a Melges. It's very important to have a training partner of sorts. If you have local boats and it's easy—where you can convince your friends that [you're] going to go out and sail against each other—it's obviously something that you can [both] use to your advantage.
But if you have a polished crew, it's not as critical... but [then] there's always the benefit of [feeling] well polished versus rusty.
Any thoughts on how long other singlehanded one-design sailors should practice with their team before a big fully crewed regatta?
It depends on the complexity of the boat. On a Melges 24 I think you need to be there at least two to three full days before a regatta and be sailing every moment you can to be making sure that all the equipment is working.
On a bigger boat, like a TP52, you're starting to practice for the last regatta of the season from the moment you first put the boat in the water. It's an ongoing experience—where every time you go out on the water you get better. Every time you improve. You have to view the whole thing as practice.
Any advice on how to keep the mood positive on a fully crewed one-design boat when someone else does something wrong?
You have to realize that you're all in it as a team, and even if something bad happens, you have to move past it and keep on fighting. You've just got to drop it— as soon as [a problem] is fixed, you're off to the next thing. You can't hold grudges. Nothing is ever personal, and everyone is out there trying to [accomplish] the same goal.
I've seen other boats where the yelling gets out of hand. If you look at all the good teams, there's never any negative energy on the boat. They're always united, looking outwards, versus inwards.
Where would you like to take your career? More singlehanded classes or more fully crewed sailing?I'm interested in everything. It's all part of a large sport where every facet is kind of fun. I really enjoy the Moth—I don't think I could go into another singlehanded class except for maybe the A-Cat??
I always enjoy doing distance racing on big boats. And I really enjoy doing sportboat one-design racing because it's much more a game of inches.