I looked at Turkey a short mile or two across the Straight of Samos from our yacht anchored in the bay of Pathagoris on the Greek Island of Samos. Green, lush, mountainous and mysterious, she called to me. It truly is where the east meets the west. Turkey is a land of contrasts, traditional and contemporary with regard to culture, fashion, religion, food and sailing. I was really looking forward to exploring this land as it abounds with archaeological ruins dating from the dawn of civilization. A country once inhabited by various Anatolian tribes, was conquered, and occupied by Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and finally established independence in the 1920s under Ataturk.
We planned to leave Samos and sail to Yalikavak Marina, a port of entry on the north eastern side of the Bodrum Peninsula. We provisioned at the mini market at the marina that somehow always seems to have everything you need. The first mate and I planned our route to arrive the next afternoon in Yalikavak. As we neared the coastline we lowered the Greek flag and raised the Turkish flag with the yellow quarantine flag above it. Ashore were steep inclines stacked with white houses featuring gardens with flowers and bougainvillea everywhere. Minarets of the mosques came into view as we sailed into the harbor. We hailed the marina on the VHF and found our way in to our dock where we med moored bow to the quay.
Yalikavak is a beautiful modern and upscale marina with restaurants, markets, boutiques and of course a full service ship yard for all your yachting needs. It is also the home of Aura Yachting, a company which offers a selection of bareboat charter yachts, all flying the US flag. Apparently there is a tax break in Turkey for US flagged yachts, so they are visible everywhere.
We thought we were back in the US until we heard the afternoon call to prayer being piped out of the local mosque. No, we weren’t in Kansas anymore! The Muslim is called to prayer five times a day. Beginning at dawn and ending about two hours after sunset, this would become a familiar sound that we could set our clocks to over the next 6 weeks. We checked in with the marina and hired an agent to handle all the various paper work required when entering Turkey by sea. Five hours and 200€ later we were legal, it included a 90 day visa and a mandatory transit log which is required for both private and charter yachts.
The Turkish coast with over 5,100 miles of shoreline is a treasure chest of gulfs, coves, bays, inlets and beaches. It is also a journey back in time, with many archaeological sites, castles and temples that reflect Turkey’s importance in ancient and medieval times. The coast is divided into four yacht charter areas. In addition to private yachts and charter boats one can see the traditional wooded gullets everywhere; ranging from 40’ to 150’ and used for the traditional blue cruises through Turkish and Greek waters.
We started our cruise from Yalikavak and made our way south to Gumuluk, built on the top of the ancient city of Myndos, one of my favorite places on the Bodrum peninsula. Gumuluk has retained its identity as a village, and offers fisherman restaurants that feature the freshest of everything right from the sea. We had an amazing fish dinner with all the accompanying mezza. It was the start of a 6 week love affair with Turkish cuisine! The next morning we found our way past the touristy restaurants to shaded table where we sat among the “old men.” I had my first real Turkish coffee and then had to try the tea because it looked so interesting. The waiters quickly materialized tea served in small glasses on silver trays and each glass was accompanied by two sugar cubes and a petite spoon. Turkish chai (tea) would become a daily ritual for me while in Turkey.
That morning we weighed anchor and headed south toward Bodrum the first yachting center in Turkey. Surrounded by a wild mountainous area, it offers history, mythology and spectacular scenery. Tourism has made the city prosper. Today Turkey is picturesque, friendly and slightly westernized with a strong Venetian influence. There are amazing markets that sell everything from the freshest just picked produce to designer extravagances. One experience you don’t want to miss is the Bodrum Hamam, a traditional Turkish bath. Today as in the past the hamam is more than just a place for bathing. It is a popular social institution, a place where rich and poor, young and old met to mingle and gossip.
Over looking the port is the medieval Castle of St. Peter, which houses an interesting museum with an important collection of ancient glass and marine objects. The city is also home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the tomb of Mausolus, a grave built by the widow of Mausolus who ruled Halicarnassos during the third century (BC). Today Bodrum is primarily devoted to the more hedonistic pleasures of boating, bronzing and boozing, and has therefore been nicknamed “Bedroom”. It houses an outdoor discotheque “Halikarnas Hotel”, where the jet-set can be seen dancing late at night among ancient pillars and laser beams. With its abundance of pubs and clubs Bodrum is a party town. Just remember to bring your earplugs if you anchor in Bodrum harbor. Music blaring from competing clubs continues till the wee wee hours of the morning!
We left the frenzy of Bodrum mid-morning and headed east into the Gokova Gulf with the wind behind us. One can easily spend a week or two here. Plan your itinerary accordingly. The winds are quiet in the morning and pick up in the afternoon and always blow from the west or northwest.
We sailed into Cokertme where a small boat came out to greet us; we chose to moor at Kaptan Ibrahim’s restaurant. The docks in the small villages and harbors are owned by the restaurant owners and one can stay for free with electric and water, but you and your crew must dine at their restaurant. This did not present a problem because the food was always fresh, and cooked to order in these large outdoor wood burning ovens. We tried the grilled fish, the kefte (spicy grilled meatballs) and the kebobs along with the various mezza that Turkey is famous for. After dinner Kaptain Ibrahim himself came over to our table to see how we were enjoying our meal. He looked at my friend and asked “is this your wife?” He answered no. The Kaptain said with a grin “I have three wives and 12 children and they all work for me!” I was rather amazed, but hey, when in Cokertme! We spent several days here exploring ruins, trying the different foods and wines and sipping tea in the outdoor tea room perched on the side of a cliff while sitting on cushions over looking the sea and watching the traditional gullets sail by. This was a magical little village.
From Cokertme we headed east to Akbuk, green, lush and surrounded by mountains. A fresh water stream runs into the salty bay which makes for some interesting sea life. This is an area where many Turks vacation in the summer so there are caravan parks, camping and restaurants as well as small shops where one can pick up provisions. It was hard to leave Akbuk, the beauty of our surroundings were mesmerizing.
Next stop was Degirmen Buku known as English Harbor ‘ because British torpedo boats hid here during World War II. It’s a popular venue with plenty of sheltered coves to accommodate yachts and gullets. As we sailed in we meandered into and around the entrance into what seemed like a lake, the water was flat the wind was blowing and it was incredibly beautiful. We made our way in and moored at Kaptain’s restaurant. It was just another delightful village with friendly people and marvelous food. Once we walked up the dirt road and past the cows grazing near the waters edge we found a little place for tea. They had fresh veggies from the garden and local white wine we could take back to the boat. The owner, a retired captain also had a gullet for sale if I was interested!
It’s hard to relate all the experiences we encountered during the six weeks we spent in this paradise. Turkey is a budding location on the charter’s radar and a long known place for the Mediterranean cruising sailor. The sailing is varied. Brush up on your med mooring skills and when at anchor be ready to run a line off the stern to shore in order secure the boat. The water is deep and you will be anchoring close to shore with other yachts and gullets so there is no room to swing. The weather offers exciting as well as predictable sailing conditions.
Being sup-tropical, Turkey enjoys cloudless blue skies and pleasant warm weather from April through October. Turkey’s currency is the Turkish Lira which makes it a very affordable cruising ground. Try to visit before Turkey is admitted to the EU when prices will inevitably go up.
For more information on cruising in Turkey and the Greek Islands contact Captain Valerie Weingrad of Custom Sailing, Ltd. at email@example.com.