Love it on a Gulet! (Turkey)
by Jo Robinson
I felt I was embarking on a Homeric Odyssey when I stepped onto the beautifully timbered gang plank connecting the stone wharf to what was to be my new home for two weeks. For a fleeting moment I imagined I could hear the tom tom sound of the war drums and the crack of the whip keeping the oarsmen in time. Perhaps my passion for Sunday afternoon movies would hold me in good stead for our forthcoming voyage.
“Welcome! Welcome!” bellowed a bronzed, heavily-moustached Turk who introduced himself as Ozden, our Captain. Our bags were collected by Memhet, another crew member, leaving us simply to negotiate the narrow gang plank to the large aft deck where our hostess Adelet, had prepared some light refreshments.
We had experienced a bareboat sailing holiday further north in Turkey before, but this was certainly different. On the advice of Charter World’s Brook Felsenthal, we had decided to try the traditional timber-built sailing Gulets which are being revived as charter boats.
This time our group comprised three couples and although the boys were all sailors, my fellow female charterers could see the advantages of a vessel which offered basically inertia sailing. The idea of being waited on, hand and foot, sounded pretty good too.
A modern Gulet (or Caique) is about as comfortable as you can get. At just over 75ft, our vessel Ipek has six spacious double cabins all with ensuites. The cabins are tastefully decorated in traditional lacquered timber with hand made rugs on the floor. Efficient air conditioning, showers and push button electric toilets make the comparison with a bareboat even more appealing.
On deck, mattresses are strewn across the large foredeck for sunbathing and water toys included snorkeling gear, a windsurfer and motorised dinghy. Usually ketch or schooner rigged, the gulets have been built for comfort with high freeboard and cabin area. Despite this, you can still make out the discernible outline of a boat that might once have carried sponges or oranges.
Our return to Turkey some eight years after our first visit was a unanimous choice. Having since explored some of the world’s major cruising meccas we were keen to see whether Turkey still offered the best holiday destination we had experienced, or whether our memories had been exaggerated of our first and most memorable holiday.
Our charter began in Marmaris, the ‘Jewel of the Turkish Coast’. Once a fishing village, Marmaris has quickly becoming Turkey’s centre for tourism due to the booming charter and yachting trade.
With only an hour or two of daylight left when we arrived, we all agreed to get away from the busy main quay and spend the night down the bay in Turunc Buku, a snug anchorage. There were several tavernas ashore but we stayed aboard that night, putting gear away, looking at charts and maps, having dinner and sampling the Turkish beer and wine (both proved satisfactory).
Memhet and Ozden were heavily engrossed in a backgammon bout when we retired early, still tired from our long flights. The next morning we took our first swim. In June, the sea temperature is 22ºC and although the Mediterranean is to a certain extent fished out, it is by no means polluted. The water is crystal clear with excellent visibility.
After breakfast we sailed (but mostly motored) to Skopea Liman, a large bay some 35nm east of Marmaris. This region has numerous safe bays and inlets and two towns, Gocek and Fethiye, with small safe harbours. Here we saw the first of the ancient ruins which literally litter the whole coast, going back well into BC eras. It’s the perfect place to get your snorkeling gear out and explore the relics of the Byzantine and Lycian history.
We dropped anchor at Cleopatra’s baths. When I saw we, I mean we watched Memhet and Ozdan drop anchor! What a difference to bareboating! The waters in Turkey are generally very deep and with virtually no tide, this makes for extremely convenient anchorages. A bow anchor is usually dropped and with the long gang plank erected it is possible to tie the stern off on a pine tree and always have access to the shore. In fact, on our total holiday we do not swing at anchor once.
It is said that Cleopatra had sand shipped from Egypt to create her beach in this cove, and geologists apparently confirm the face that the sand is unique to the area and consistent with that of Egypt.
There was a simple restaurant above the rough store quay where we enjoyed shish kebab, salad and some superb baklava washed down with thick black coffee.
Tyar, the restaurateur, produced a bottle of Raki (an aniseed concoction like Ouzo but far more powerful). We felt compelled to offer some of our duty free booty in return and with Memhet and Ozden keen to accept our offer we proceeded to demolish Ipeck’s two-week rum ration!
The next morning we awoke to headaches and the smell of freshly baked bread drifting across from a restaurant on the other side of the bay. A quick dinghy sortie and we had warm fresh bread with our breakfast of cheese, cold meats and olives. If desired, the crew can cook an English breakfast, however, we decided when in Rome…
The next few days were spent exploring the Gulf of Fethiye, which although only about six miles by two miles, provides some of the best anchorages and restaurants on the whole Turkish coast. The main township of Fethiye was our re-provisioning point as well as the perfect place to enjoy a traditional Turkish massage. The guys assured me that you can also have the world’s closest shave at any of the hundreds of street barber stalls for under a dollar. So far the weather had remained perfect – bright, sunny and high 20s during the day, and T-shirt weather at night.
Heading further east we rounded the Seven Capes to Kalkan. We had a good 20 knot following breeze for most of the day, and although no down wind flyer Ipek, a Bodrum ketch design, was touching 5 knots under sail. Kalkan is a small picturesque fishing village with a harbour protected by a rough stone breakwater.
A mosque and minaret dominate the village. Every four hours the haunting chants echo through the narrow streets drifting eerily over the harbour – the muezzins call to prayer. On our last visit almost every Turk would stop what they were doing and turn off the music in the restaurants. Now life continues, no time to stop in the tourist trade, and it is really only the early hours of the morning when the prayers have their most dramatic effect.
As part of our charter we had elected to take half board which allowed us breakfast and a choice of either lunch or dinner onboard. Most times this turned out to be lunch as eating ashore is one of the highlights of a visit to Turkey. Not having to worry about shopping for food allowed more time to browse for more interesting items, however if you want to buy anything you must be prepared to drink plenty of chi (Turkish tea).
It’s not possible to negotiate anything unless it’s done over chi and a big purchase might involve three or four visits to a particular shop and 15 to 20 cups of chi before you establish a price. Carpets and leather are big business in Turkey with silver tongued salesmen crying poor at your haggling. Like everything though, real bargains are hard to find and while you may leave the shop feeling proud of your haggling abilities, if you meet another Turk he will always say you paid too much!
On our way east we had deliberately leap frogged some of the most highly recommended anchorages although this was a difficult thing to explain to Ozden. You can not bank on your crew speaking fluent English, but pigeon will generally suffice. One of the most memorable on our return was Olu Deniz and Gemiler Island. The former is reputedly Turkey’s most beautiful beach, a barrier to a landlocked bay. The latter is a small island virtually carpeted by BC and Byzantine ruins. The two are about a mile apart.
Our last stop before returning to Marmaris was Ekincik. At night while at the restaurant you make arrangements to have a local boat take you up the Dalyan River. This trip is an all day affair, starting with an African Queen-type passage of several miles to the site of the ancient part of Caunos.
Our skipper for the day, pulled along side in a shallow draft gulet (the Dalyan River is quite shallow) at 9am. The reed-lined river is a marshy setting meandering under the steep cliffs until the Lycian rock tombs come into view at Caunos. Carved into solid rock the site is extremely impressive for there are no ledges or foot holds on which the stonemasons could perch. Archaeologists now believe they worked from wooden platforms suspended from the clifftops.
The inhabitants of Caunos were considered a sickly lot being described as having many fevers and a green complexion. Apparently malaria was so prevalent it drove out all civilization by about 500BC.
After lunch the skipper put on a mud wrestling display with a group of locals in the Dalyan mud pools. None of us took up his offer to join in, however we all made sure that we kept upwind of him on the way back.
Back on board Ipek, Adelet had prepared a mouthwatering feast called ‘Iskender’ – wonderfully tender lamb pieces served over soft Turkish bread with a yogurt tomato sauce. Our final day aboard saw us motoring back to Marmaris on a mirror-smooth early morning sea where Ozden gave us a show of his nautical abilities by manoeuvering and parking Ipek into a berth that looked about half the size of our Gulet.
As the gang plank lowered, I knew that stage one of our Turkish adventure was over. Awaiting us a minibus in which we would venture into the Turkish interior on our way to Istanbul. As we said our goodbyes I was reminded of the special relationship that exists between host and guest in Turkey. “Tanri misafari” the term for “visitor” means “God’s guest”. As you leave the home of a Turk, it is customary to say “Allahaismarladik” (God be with you), to which your host replies “Gule, gule” (Go happily). And happily we went, satisfied that Turkey was still the great destination we had remembered.