Sojourn under sail – discovering the hidden Aegean
Taking a boutique cruise on a traditional ‘gulet’ schooner offers the freedom to discover the delights of the Turkish coast
It’s the middle of the day and the bright sunlight is making the pristine water in the bay sparkle. As we walk from the timber jetty onto the shore we are greeted by the smell of wild oregano and rosemary, together with the light scent of jasmine.
In front of us, shaded by olive, pine and fig trees is a long wooden table, set for an alfresco lunch and laden with a classic Turkish mezze, served in vintage dishes. It’s quintessentially Mediterranean. From this vantage point on the shores of Bozburun bay, on the south-western coast of Turkey, the view suddenly feels like the best in the world. In the distance is a small Greek island, whilst nearby, anchored only a few metres away, is our home for the week, the 28 metre, twin-masted schooner, called ‘Nemesis’.
Only a few days ago many of the guests onboard were strangers to each other, but now we are all travelling companions and friends, brought together on a classic sailing cruise from the inky blue waters of the Aegean to the eastern Mediterranean. The Greek islands and the rugged, volcanic coast of Turkey’s south west have long been the favourite holiday destination for many, but to have unprecedented access to the delights and treasures of this coast, taking to the water is the answer.
As new members of the sailing community, suddenly we have access to hidden coves, secluded bays, private picnic spots and tiny yacht clubs that are almost unreachable by any other means. Mundane worries and preoccupations of daily life on land are forgotten.
With a crew of four, and up to sixteen guests, the ambiance is friendly and relaxed aboard the chic ‘Nemesis’. In addition to the Captain, the three sailors not only crew the yacht but also look after us. One is the chef, the other the steward, whilst the third takes care of house-keeping, maintaining everything ship-shape. Our double or twin cabins are certainly compact, but all eight have a private ensuite bathroom with shower, washbasin and W.C., air conditioning, and small windows offering views during the day of the intensely blue sea and unspoilt coast, or star filled skies by night.
The generous teak decks of this timber ‘gulet’ schooner provide enough space for each one of us to find our special spot; whether it’s tanning on deck, reading a book seated close to the bow, chatting at the bar or snoozing on the sofa in the wheelhouse. Days are as solitary or sociable as we wished; and with multiple sun loungers and two kayaks and water skis onboard, the days are as active or lazy as we wished.
Each morning, after an early swim in clear bay waters, and a breakfast of fresh fruit, crusty bread, Turkish cheese and freshly prepared eggs, the captain rings the bell in the wheelhouse, announcing the daily briefing. With his navigation charts unfurled and spread out across the outside dining table, this is the regular invitation for guests to help plan the day’s cruising ahead; a flexible itinerary that includes plenty of special and authentic experiences to be enjoyed onshore and at sea throughout the cruise. Activities include onboard cooking demonstrations, onshore lunches or dinners, as well as guided tours of some of the impressive Roman and Byzantine archaeological sites that litter the dramatic coast.
Today’s lunch is onshore and from the table, through the branches of the pine trees the mast of a sleek 40 racing catamaran is visible. ‘That boat has a story to tell’, explains Edhem Dirvana, a competitive, extreme sailor and our lunch host. He moved from Istanbul to return to this family-run yacht club and indulge his passion of sailing. ‘It was the cat used in the famous yacht race scene in the 1999 “Thomas Crown Affair” film’ he confirms. As he continues, his sailing stories seem all the more vivid after our days spent enjoying life at sea.
Each day the crew sail for a portion of the cruise. So when the wind obliged, and the white sails were hoisted, our elegant schooner cut gracefully through the water. Yet lazing on deck, amongst oversized cushions, usually with a glass of excellent local Rosé in one hand and a paperback in the other, it certainly didn’t feel like the competitive sailing Edhem was talking about.
‘Nemesis’, part of the SCIC Sailing fleet, is an authentic Turkish ‘gulet’ sailing yacht. Although she has elegant lines, immaculate decks and impressive rigging, the focus is on ‘chic’ cruising through the wondrous blue waters, close to Turkey’s unspoilt south-western coast. SCICSailing maintains the essence of classic blue cruising since they are one of the few fleets that continue to genuinely sail, instead of continual motoring. Once experienced, it becomes clear that nothing can substitute the feeling of freedom one feels when the motor is off and the yacht catches the warm wind.
Earlier in the week saw an elegant beach picnic under the stars, prepared for us by our friendly crew. Silver hurricane lamps, hanging from twisted pieces of sun bleached drift wood illuminated low tables on the beach, set with china and glassware that had been ferried to shore to create a magical supper. At the water’s edge our captain and his chef barbequed meat skewers, the light smoke flavouring the air, whilst guests tucked into freshly prepared Mediterranean dishes of smoked aubergine, white bean humus, Turkish salads and local cheeses.
It is fair to say that even with the stunning scenery, Mediterranean weather and relaxing environment, food certainly is one of the highlights of the sailing cruise. All onboard snacks and meals, drinks and cocktails are included. Authentic Turkish dishes are freshly prepared by the chef, who before each feast explains the menu. Meal times are a social affair; leisurely moments to get to know your fellow passengers better. This probably explains why this type of holiday is popular not only with couples and groups but with solo travellers too.
Go with the flow
The lunch at the little yacht club draws to a close. As we board the tender taking us back to ‘Nemesis’, Edhem’s mother casts a dish of water and fresh flower heads into the eddies and currents of the sea. ‘It’s a Turkish custom’, explains Edhem, ‘it is one to wish travellers and loved ones a smooth journey and one that will hopefully bring them flowing back here again, just like the sea’.
After such a special week, we all leave wishing it comes true.
SCICSailing offers weekly and fortnightly sailing cruises in the Aegean and Mediterranean, with a choice of itineraries, starting and ending in Ortakent, near to Bodrum on the Turkish Riviera. All cruises are inclusive of airport transfers, onboard food, and beverages, but excluding excursions. Prices start from 1,200 euro for a week.
Turkish Airlines operates 5 flights a week from Malaga to Bodrum, via Istanbul. From June, the service increases to 7 flights per week, with prices from 494 euro, taxes included.
Tourist electronic e-visas for entry into Turkey are 20 US dollars and can be obtained online from https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/
Copyright 2013 Andrew Forbes