Sun, Snorkels and Sailing in Turkey
Thoughts of Homer’s walled cities, epic battles and tragic heroes filled our minds as we prepared for our weeklong charter in Turkey. True, our charter base in Marmaris was over 300 miles south of Troy, but that didn’t keep us from dreaming of ruins and lost civilizations as we made our final preparations. And our first taste of southern Turkey didn’t disappoint.
My husband James and I are recent ex-pats living in Germany, so the trip to Dalyan with our friends Scott and Jana was fairly easy. We arrived a day early to rendezvous with the rest of our crew—my parents and their friends Bill and Jane—and to explore the magnificent city, where we almost immediately spotted a half dozen Lycian tombs recessed into cliffsides a short distance from our hotel. We spent the rest of the day wandering up and down the riverside, taking in the 9th century BC Kaunos ruins, the Sultaniye mud baths and the hot springs. Those tombs, though, stood out as our best find, captivating our eyes and our imaginations.
Next day we got acquainted with the newest addition to the Dream Yacht Charter fleet, the Jeanneau 53 Grande Plaisance II. Serkan, who conducted our boat and chart briefing, was a man after our own hearts, pointing out the best ports in which to appreciate Turkey’s culture, food and sights. His dinner recommendation for our first night in Marmaris was perhaps the best meal of the trip. At Cihan Ocakbaşı, we ordered a combination of traditional mezes (appetizer salads and dips) and kabaps (grilled meats and vegetables), which we ate family style, rounding out the experience with fresh fruits and sweet baklava.
The next morning, we took some time out for a visit to the town’s Sunday vegetable market. The olives, fresh tomatoes, eggplant and cherries were well worth the detour.
The winds were picking up as we returned to our boat, which rested at anchor just outside of town. Once everything was stowed and settled, we made our way south out of the bay then veered west along the rocky shoreline to Ciftlik. Nestled in a small cove, Ciftlik would have been an idyllic spot if not for the enormous hotel on the beach.
Nevertheless, half the crew set out to snorkel along the craggy wall that descended to the seafloor from the mountainous coastline. Though not the colorful menagerie one finds in the tropics, we discovered a host of neons, black spiny urchins and what appeared to be a smaller variety of parrotfish. We returned to the boat to the smell of Turkish spices wafting up from the galley.
The next morning brought freshening winds from the southwest. We beat into the wind at 8 to 9 knots with the rugged Turkish coastline to starboard and Rhodes on the horizon to port. The approach to Bozuk was barely visible from the east of the harbor mouth, but as we made the turn past a small island at its entrance we were instantly drawn to the walls of the Hellenistic citadel on the promontory above us.
Once in the harbor, we headed for the docks at Ali Baba Restaurant, where we undertook our first Mediterranean moor. In almost every harbor the local restauranteurs run the docks, which means that docking is free if you dine where you park. At Ali Baba, the proprietor and his two sons waved us into position and threw us some lines. There was confusion as to which line went where as we were handed a long line at the stern which threaded up from the seafloor and was to be led to the bow—our first experience with the Mediterranean “lazyline.” We had barely secured our lines when a small flotilla of rowboats appeared, piloted by souvenir-laden women selling shawls and jewelry.
After a refreshing dip, the first order of business wasto explore the citadel. We walked up the dock and through the restaurant to what could barely be called a path. Working our way along the rock-strewn game trail, we passed a herd of donkeys grazing on the scrubby undergrowth. As we reached the rounded tower at the summit, topped with a Turkish flag, we felt like conquerors, gazing down at the azure harbor dotted with miniscule boats.
The ruins extended into the Aegean, and we followed the citadel walls a ways out, overlooking the stretch of water that would have separated this outpost from the Grecian enemy in Rhodes. We encountered stone walls and doorways in remarkable condition, stone basins used for crushing olives into oil, and one small inscription (Trojan graffiti, we speculated). Within these rarely disturbed ruins, accessible only by boat, it was easy to imagine life as it once was in the time of the early civilizations that are now shrouded in myth.
The following morning, a woman in a rowboat came by offering fresh-baked bread. The delicious loaf we bought was still warm from the oven. The winds were light and the water calm as we motored out of the harbor and passed the Greek islands of Symi and Nimos on our way to the fishing village of Selimiye. The village, on the southern end of a scenic bay, is a cluster of quaint Mediterranean houses with terracotta roofs. There is a small mosque and seafood restaurants lining the shore, one after the other, each with its own jetty.
We anchored out for lunch, then a few of us went ashore in the dinghy to search for the famous Sardunya Restaurant that Serkan had recommended. The number of restaurants along the docks was overwhelming, and many had no signage visible from the water. After several inquiries we located the correct jetty, peeked inside and returned to the boat. While we were gone, the remainder of the crew had received a most welcome visitor: a boat selling Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!
By the time we headed toward shore to take a spot on Sardunya’s jetty, the dock was full, so we moved farther down the harbor and pulled in at Kaptayns Restaurant. Before the dock lines were secure the restaurant staff had already begun setting a table at our stern, and we had to graciously explain that we wouldn’t be dining there.
A walk into the village for provisions revealed a whole other side of Selimiye. While the streets and restaurants along the water looked like any beachfront tourist town, with lounge chairs and umbrellas, souvenir shops and restaurants, just one road inland we found the authentic rural village. Walking down the dirt road we passed one house with a calf tied to a tree, a small garden and chickens pecking at the ground. Continuing down the lane a car pulled up beside us, “You shouldn’t walk here,” the driver told us, “take the next left to the waterfront.” It was as if we had wandered into a forbidden part of town that was off limits to tourists.
Passing by Sardunya on our way back from the store, we were glad not to be eating there. The diners in their formal wear sitting in front of their motor yachts were not quite our style. Instead we enjoyed our candlelit dinner of fresh fish, calamari and lamb on the beach at the foot of our gangplank.
As we left Selimiye, we wove between the islands close to shore in search of ruins we’d read about in the pilot book. The small house and outbuildings on the mountainside seemed modest, however, compared to what we’d seen.
The winds were light and variable as we made our way to Bozburun, first on a beam reach, then sailing wing and wing, and finally motoring until we turned into Yeşilova Gulf where the winds picked up again. On our approach we first sighted what appeared to be the remains of a fortress on an island and, as we moved closer to the harbor, a silver-domed mosque. We anchored outside the harbor between two French liveaboards who were clearly wary of charter boats and eyed us suspiciously as we dropped anchor.
Bozburun’s appeal for sailors became apparent as we walked by a variety of chandleries and markets ashore. The harbor was filled with international boats stopping in for provisions, and every café and restaurant boasted Wi-Fi. It was a pleasant town and a scenic harbor. At anchor that night we could hear goats bleating on the mountains. The water was smooth as glass reflecting the stars above.
We made an early start the following day to allow plenty of time for the run back to Marmaris. With no wind to speak of, the crew turned to backgammon—the Turkish national game, it seemed, judging from the games we saw played at Turkish cafes and bars at midday—and a full-bracketed tournament ensued. As the competition wound down, we pulled into an idyllic cove for lunch.
The white sand beach, turquoise waters and solitude attracted us to this spot, but before we dropped anchor, we were joined by another sailboat and three gulets, the traditional Turkish sailing vessels now used for tourist day trips. Despite the crowds, the snorkeling was remarkable, with excellent visibility, and as I turned back to the boat I spotted a bright red sea star.
The afternoon brought 15 knots of wind, and we sailed into Marmaris, where we once again anchored outside the heart of town. That night we had fresh fish on board with the glittering lights of Marmaris’s hotel and nightclub district sparkling in the distance. We spent our final day sailing around the bay before returning to the Dream Yacht Charter base in Pupa Yacht Marina.
Had we known the cruising grounds and local conditions better, we might have pushed harder and sailed further and perhaps might have reached Datça or Bodrum. Who knows what untold wonders they might have held? Nevertheless, the magic of Turkey’s past and present combined to make for a legendary cruise complete with ancient walled fortresses, exotic food and stunning coastlines.
Photos by Rebecca Waters