Riding a mild breeze along Turkey’s rugged Mediterranean coast, a charter sailor doesn’t have to be a poet to wander freely as a cloud
Fortunately, the people in the French charterboat had so much trouble anchoring that they gave up and went away. Unfortunate for them, I suppose, but we set our hook, swam a line to shore, and settled into what I regarded as the kingpin spot on the whole Turkish coast: farthest from Tersane Island’s rustic outdoor restaurant and open to the view through a narrow passage to broader waters beyond.
That was Sunday, the first full day of our charter with The Moorings. Come Thursday, facing our last night out, it was fortunate that we failed to get a hook down in our own first-choice spot. I made three tries at deep-water anchoring in a crosswind. Then, after the embarrassment of dragging Lourdes behind the boat—she was swimming a line ashore, and in my haste, in failing light, to re-coil and redeploy a 150-foot line, I didn’t give her the slack she needed—I gave up and headed for the shallows of a nearby cove.
Some free advice: It is not cool to drag your wife.
Plan B, while sacrificing something of the view, placed us close to a friendly fisherfamily who, for 10 Turkish lira (about US$6), provided the makings of a splendid dinner. The new setting was spectacular enough, so we agreed that fortune had smiled again. And if you believe in eating locally, you can’t do much better than grilling up a fish that surfaced three first-downs away.
We felt worlds removed from The Moorings base at Gcek, though 7 miles is closer to fact. In the post office in the village on the day we arrived, nephew Justin, with a confident hello (merhabah), encountered a clerk who mistook him for Turkish and then, amused by the mistake, assigned new names to each of us. With a sweep of his hand he transformed Justin, Lourdes, and Kimball into Ahmet, Fatushe, and Mustafeh. That was the true beginning of the voyage.
Guidebooks call the Turkish coast “indented” for good reason. Mountainous peninsulas jut into the Mediterranean or (farther north) the Aegean and then retreat, sheltering the Turquoise Coast of the tourist brochures. Even in narrow channels you could be looking at figures of 110 on the depthsounder and forget that readouts are in meters. Steep, rocky shorelines are part of the challenge of setting an anchor; you tie to a tree or a rock ashore rather than swing, and so many boats lie close together that swinging would be antisocial. On the Turkish coast you can’t get away from “it all”—but you can get away from everything except people who like water and boats.
Dawn, however, we had all to ourselves at Tersane Island (Tersane Adasi to the locals) to hike ashore among Byzantine ruins and scrawny chickens as the light crept over the mountain. Back aboard, our Fatushe bargained with the baker in the pastry boat, spread an idyllic breakfast, and took a break to sketch the scene. Then we were under way on waters so benign it might have been Walden Pond. You could spend a relaxed week here, daysailing to occupy the time between nearby destinations. Or you could venture farther. We did.
On the chart this is the Gulf of Fethiye, with the towns of Gcek and Fethiye occupying opposite inside corners. We never made it to Fethiye, the Telmessus of ancient times, but we did round the corner and head up the coast for Ekincik, to hire a boat and guide for the Dalyan River. We had planned to go “tomorrow.” Then, nosing around, we cleared the protection of the headlands and found a breeze building. What better opportunity? A few hours later, the barometer skyrocketed and the breeze died.
How to say this…motoring was no hardship. We were only one border removed from Iraq. On the trip over, in the airports, I watched young women and men in desert camouflage, avoiding eye contact, and here I was, going sailing.
As far as we know from Homer, his Odysseus never wandered this far south, but the high, jagged peaks changing color with the light and the cruelty of the equally jagged rocks on the foreshores were a constant reminder of epic voyages lacking the luxuries of a multiburner stove, an upholstered settee, and GPS.
We cleared the tip of the peninsula, Kurdolu Burnu, set a hook in the shelter of tiny Baba Adasi in the afternoon, and figured Why not? when the local who swam our line ashore announced himself as a restaurateur and—in limited English to match our limited Turkish—promised to come back at 1900 in a panga. Later we had doubts, as The Man in the Speedo took us on a rough, short crossing to the mainland, landed on a remote beach in gathering darkness, and marched us a distance toward the lights of the town, then along the back-alley service corridors of a resort, then into a taxi for a ride to—his house.
And the meal was fabulous. Gulsen, the wife of The Man in the Speedo, Recep, trained in the tourist industry before they settled on the main street in the plain but charming town of Sarigerme and painted Jazz Caf on the front of their home. Fish, vegetables, and savories were served on the terrace by two shy daughters. Then Gulsen gave us ice (there was no other source). Recep took us shopping for supplies and returned us to the boat feeling like savvy travelers.
Sleep. Wake. Weigh anchor. What a life. With Rhodes somewhere to seaward, the Ekincik anchorage lay off the bow and, close by, the Dalyan River (only guided local boats allowed). Approaching from the sea, the Dalyan plain is marked by a thin horizontal strip of green, seemingly out of context against the grandeur of enveloping mountains. Later we learned that the green comes from the reeds that flourish in the river delta.
With our 40-footer tied stern-to in Ekincik, Lourdes quickly negotiated a boat tour for that afternoon so that we could climb to the amphitheater of ancient Caunus and then move on to view the celebrated 4th-century B.C. Lycian tombs carved into the mountain above the river. There’s much to see in this wonderful country, but history is an intricate study along the border of the Carian and Lycian civilizations. In the last 600 years B.C., Caunus, already centuries old, fell variously under the rule of Persia, Egypt, Rhodes, and Rome. Its amphitheater commands a view of the Dalyan, spreading lazily across the plain before it gathers force for a final rush to the sea.
Ekincik itself was uninviting, so early the next day we set out to return to our familiar bight near Gcek. There Ahmet, Fatushe, and Mustafeh could wander on, continuing in that strange, altered state that takes over when you’re not just away, you’re away.
There’s no magic in saying the word “magic” but we don’t have any other words for this thing that happens on a boat. The changing sense of time. The shifting priorities (“after we tack I’ll make lunch”). The way three American grownups could morph into Ahmet, Fatushe, and Mustafeh and inhabit simultaneously the silliness of it all and the reality, however personal.
And so it went. One day we snorkeled on underwater ruins at Domuz Adasi. Another day, curiosity led us to Ruin Bay, also called Cleopatra’s Baths for the tradition that Egypt’s queen visited here and swam from the beach. We found it a bit too popular for our taste, with a host of large Turkish gulets, the local wooden craft, jammed in. Many were dayboats loaded with vacationers from Turkey and the whole of Europe, and we kept moving along.
On our last night we ended up not far away, at 22-Fathom Cove (Binlik Bay), on the opposite side of the neck from Cleopatra’s haunt. It was here that I had my anchoring woes and here that we encountered the friendly fisherfamily who provided our last meal under the stars of the Middle East.
With the cicadas ashore singing in synch, the fisherman and his young son spent most of the night dropping hooks, laughing, and telling stories. We could hear them across the water, their talk a form of music, and the mother, her head wrapped under a colorful hijab, text-messaging on a cell phone most of the while. Turkey is a very other part of the planet, but friendly and lovely and not to be missed. That was the opinion shared by Ahmet, Fatushe, and Mustafeh at 3638'30.9" N by 2851'49" E. But their voyage was ending.
Add two days and you find the same set of characters piled into a rental car, driving to the ruins of Ephesus. We touched stones where Paul the disciple once walked and where Alexander the Great rode a white charger, and Lourdes sketched madly and bargained for a rug in the bazaar at nearby Selcuk, and from the minarets came the call to prayer, and we smoked a hookah after dinner. But when I said to Justin, “Hey, Ahmet,” that fell flat. We had left Ahmet, Fatushe, and Mustafeh aboard the boat. I guess they’re still out there, somewhere.
Why go: Turkey is a comfortable experience of a profoundly different culture. Most Americans come away loving the place. Istanbul is a must-do stopover.
Cruising Guide: The classic is Marcia Davock's Cruising Guide to the Turquoise Coasts of Turkey (Wescott Cove).
Sailing Conditions: Mediterranean weather is nicely settled in summer. In the Gulf of Fethiye the prevailing meltemi is westerly; it’s from the north in the Aegean. In August we had light winds except where gusts funneled through mountain passes. Tides are minuscule.
I used GPS only as a backup to visual piloting. Most of the waterway is deep, with few surprises. Med-style mooring takes practice; consider going bow-to for control, and to protect the rudder.
Things we learned:
• When we swiped debit cards in Gcek, they were frozen “because of all the fraud coming out of that part of the world.” Know how to contact your bank.
• Turkish lira are handy, but the euro is good everywhere. In the heat of bargaining over prices, pulling out a few Yankee dollars can swing the deal.
• Mosquitoes are a problem in some spots. To discourage flies we crushed mint leaves and scattered the bits.
• Seaside restaurants show menu items under glass; you order from that. But, sometimes, prices inflate before the bill arrives. As a dumb foreigner, you can ask to have prices written down when you order.
The Moorings: www.moorings.com,