We had already concluded, after only a few days in Istanbul, that we’d never figure out the Turkish language. Then we saw our Sunsail charter boat. The stern carried a French flag and the boat’s name: UAGIZ. My wife, Kathy, and I have dealt with a lot of foreign languages, but this one truly had us scratching our heads. And asking a dockhand didn’t help much. I heard “Oo-gosh,” and Kathy heard “Ooch-ouch.” Radio check-ins were going to be interesting.
Turkey is a sort of second home to many Brits, but it remains terra incognita to most Americans. The fact that it borders some unstable countries and has a predominantly Muslim population raises alarms among many. But there’s absolutely no reason to be unduly concerned. Turkey is an industrialized, progressive, secular democracy with strong Western ties. And Turks love Americans.
In fact, the hospitality can be startling. One of our taxi drivers stopped for us repeatedly so we could take pictures. While in Istanbul, a young office worker explained the history of the Blue Mosque (a magnificent Ottoman structure from the early 17th century) and then led us on a personal tour, just because he was having a good day and wanted to share it. A hotel owner in Cappadocia took time off to drive us personally to a local museum—and then paid our admission fee.
During our week-long flotilla cruise out of Fethiye (“Fetty-yeh”), on the country’s southern coast, we would find this sort of kindness everywhere we went.
Jerry Wood of the Annapolis Sailing School came up with the idea of the flotilla cruise in 1964. As his chief instructor at the time, I ran the first ones, using the school’s 24-foot Rainbows and Weekenders to circumnavigate nearby Kent Island, stopping at pretty anchorages and ports along the way. We started each day with a class on cruising techniques. Most of crews had had only two days of basic sailing instruction at the school, and for them the flotilla cruise was a chance to get in a week of practical experience. A fleet captain and assistant instructors would accompany the fleet aboard a powerboat to keep everyone out of trouble and help solve problems. That cruising course continues, pretty much unchanged although with larger boats, to this day.
Sunsail’s flotilla cruises are somewhat different. This well-established charter company expects its customers to have a certain level of proficiency, with at least one or two people aboard who are capable of sailing a 30-footer independently. The fleet captain and his assistant (called a “hostess”) provide a morning briefing on each day’s destination and are there to help with docking in the evening. Otherwise, you’re on your own. Unlike the Annapolis program, this is not a class exercise. This is a bareboat cruise in company with a preset itinerary.
So why would I, with over half a century of sailing experience, choose a flotilla? Arithmetic for one thing: I’m not 30 anymore and shorthanding a cruising boat in unfamiliar waters with an inexperienced crew can be a challenge. In addition, my lovely wife of three years is an enthusiastic novice, but she has some physical limitations and I wanted to ensure she had a good time. Finally, I liked the idea of getting to meet the crews from the other seven boats.
Not surprisingly, our companions had reasons of their own for joining a flotilla. One avid British racing skipper loved the challenge of singlehanding and getting the most out of the boat, while his wife liked to sit in the cockpit and catch up on her reading. Three Frenchmen had left their wives in Paris and were batching it for a week. A British family with a teenage daughter wanted to spend some quality time together on their holiday working as a team. Their friends on another boat were doing the same thing as a couple.
Sunsail rates its flotillas from Level O through Level 3. The distinctions have to do with distance, not difficulty. We were on a Level 0 cruise, meaning our average daily runs would only be a dozen miles or so. This permits a late morning start or a chance to anchor and swim or explore islands during the day. A Level 3 cruise, by comparison, covers a lot more territory in a series of 60-mile days. Take your choice: sailing time or shore time. Flotilla cruising is a versatile medium.