SALT AND SUNBEAMS
Brian Patten sets sail on a Turkish gulet and finds secret treasures along the Lycian Coast
INDOLENCE without guilt: that sums up a week on a gulet. These traditional Turkish vessels, up to 35m long, provide sheer relaxation. The captain and crew not only sail the boat for you, they prepare all your meals while you read in a shady corner, swim to a deserted island, sightsee, party and sleep beneath the stars. To visit monuments or become a monument to idleness? The choice is yours.
Selimiye 36 42’ 05’’ N 28 05’ 06’’ E: My friends and I arrange to join our gulet, Aleyna, in the harbour of Selimiye, a couple of hours from Dalaman in southern Turkey. We are to explore the Bozburun and Datca peninsulas (among the Mediterranean’s most beautiful shores) and take in a taste of Greece, with an overnight stay on the Dodecanese island of Symi. Afterwards, we will sail homewards to the Turkish harbour of Turunc.
On the map our journey covers a small area, but it doesn’t feel that way when we are afloat. With 100 or more islands, many unnamed, lush valleys and rivers, the coast here is certainly different. It’s where the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas meet and has deep inlets and fjords flanked by steeply forested hillsides. It sometimes feels (especially when you’re passing shorelines covered in bamboo) more South China Sea than southern Med.
We arrive in Selimiye the previous night and go straight to our cabins. Waking early the next morning, long before the crew, I tiptoe on deck to discover Selimiye looks a good enough place to stay for an entire holiday. Surrounded by forested hills, the village is a natural harbour that has been used by sailors for thousands of years. A dozen or so cabin cruisers and sailing boats bob in the harbour along with Aleyna and a few smaller gulets, some with people still asleep on the decks and in hammocks. I walk down the creaking gangplank to explore the backstreets of the still-sleeping village and find dishevelled gardens growing meagre crops of peppers, aubergines and vines, beneath which hens cluck and peck in the dust.
The village has the usual assortment of quayside cafes and restaurants, many with faded blue and green awnings and outside eating areas demarcated by tubs of geraniums and herbs. It seems a pity to leave before the village is fully awake, but the joys of a restaurant belonging, so a notice says, to ‘‘ Osman, The Man With The Golden Teeth’’ has to wait for another day. It is after 8am and the crew and my fellow passengers are finally up and eager to be off.
We are lucky in our captain: Ahmet Ozturk has sailed the coast around the Bozburun and Datca peninsulas most of his life, first as a young fisherman and now as the captain of a classy gulet. Coincidentally, his family once ran one of my favourite Turkish cafes, the Duckpond, in Fethiye, a working town that is also a popular coastal resort. Ahmet takes pleasure in outwitting other boats by always finding the best anchorages at the end of each day. He is in charge of his boat without attempting to be in charge of his guests.
The first and last ports are usually fixed on a gulet holiday, but the route between can be negotiated between the captain and his guests. The usual form is to discuss the journey before setting off each morning. Providing you have given a few guidelines as to the main places you want to visit — favourite islands, interesting ruins and so on — it’s advisable to leave the finer details to the captain’s judgment.
Our first day is spent as we intend to go on: after a lazy lunch in a small wooded bay we sail to Kameriye Adasi, or Church Island. Here, while two of us swim, others loll about in hammocks reading. When I reach the shore, the island looks deserted but for a herd of goats. There are olive terraces long gone to ruin, and the remnants of a Greek Orthodox church, probably abandoned during the Greco-Turkish conflicts of the early 1920s.
After tea, we push on to Dilberoglu, a place known as Flowers Bay that Ahmet promises is an ideal spot to anchor for the night.
Dilberoglu 36 50’ 33’’ N 28 O4’ 11’’ E: The rock formations on the hillsides around Flowers Bay are unlike anything we’ve seen: imagine the stumps of gigantic teeth rising from the sides of a steep valley. Another discovery is Bengik Koyu, the narrowest anchorage on the Datca peninsula. The bay extends for a couple of kilometres inland with a series of shallow wooded inlets that are made for good snorkelling. One of the toys on board Aleyna is a canoe in which we paddle along the shore, overhung here with pine and juniper.
We swim from the boat as evening falls. In the fading light our solitary visitor, a donkey, wanders down to the water’s edge to check us out. The sea is deliciously warm, though every now and then someone yelps as they swim through a patch of ice-cold fresh water (the result of streams rising up from the seabed as if from underwater wells). We sleep on deck and count the stars.
Dirsek Buku 36 42’ 32’’ N 28 11’ 00’’ E: At Dirsek Buku, I’d hoped to spend another night out in the open, but the bay is so thickly wooded and verdant that the condensation leaves the deck too damp for my liking. And our cabins are so luxurious that it seems a shame not to make use of them now and again. There are some mornings when you wake and wander out into the world knowing nothing could improve on that moment. So it is here.
The bay is so completely surrounded by hills and jagged promontories of land that I could be in the water-filled mouth of an extinct volcano. The sea is mirror calm and I can make out three or four species of fish. Soon the sun is over the rim of the hills and as I climb down the steps at the side of the boat for the first swim of the day, the cicadas are tuning up for their daily cacophony. The sun’s rays fragment as they hit the water and, looking below the surface, it is like swimming through beams of golden light.
Arnatlu Bhrno 36 39’ 06’’ N28 03’ 00’’ E: After three days at sea we decide to take a little shore leave in the town that gives the peninsula its name. We moor in Arnatlu, a rocky bay around the corner from Datca, and reach the town in the gulet’s tender. Our captain is meeting a friend called Maradona, who owns one of Datca’s best restaurants, wears a red Hawaiian shirt and once played football (but only for a local team). Along the waterfront there are still a few clinkers, mostly 5m fishing boats with bleached awnings that have seen better days and far larger catches. But there is a buzz in the air, and laughter. Rap music and traditional Sufi folk songs merge with Turkish boy bands, and the harbourfront crowd, smelling of perfume and soap, promenades past the fender-to-fender pleasure craft.
By mid-October the locals will get their town back and 1000 or so holiday apartments will stare blankly once more across the sea towards Symi, a mere two hours from the Turkish coast and our next destination.
Symi, Greece 36 39’ 06’’ N 27 54’ 25’’ E: Late morning and afternoon is spent in the sleepy little fishing settlement of Pedi Bay, then at 4pm we sail around the island into Gailos, Symi’s one port and one of the most photographed harbours in Greece. Symi is picture-postcard perfect, with tiers of brightly painted Venetian mansions ranked like an amphitheatre around a horseshoe bay. As you approach by sea, the harbour’s mock-baroque clocktower dominates the skyline. Built in 1905, this tower is a copy of one across in the former Greek city of Smyrna, now Izmir in Turkey. Sailing nearer, you can see the 500 wide stone steps (known as the Kali Strata, or Good Road) that rise to the church at the top of the town, and you start to make out the rows of windmills crenellating the high rocks behind the buildings.
For this one evening we decide not to seek refuge in an isolated bay and instead moor beside the quay. The waterfront bustles with visitors and is busy with brightly lit restaurants and market stalls. While our captain and crew go clubbing, we are left to explore the town’s interior, a maze of narrow streets and alleys, with tavernas, bars and small shops catering for locals as well as tourists.
Symi was once one of the richest islands in the Dodecanese, the centre of the Greek sponge-fishing industry. Although the port has long been designated an architecturally protected area, it is only recently that many of the beautiful old houses in the backstreets have been restored. Among the boutiques selling the usual jewellery and local art you can catch tantalising glimpses of flower-filled courtyards, a few of which have been turned into restaurants.
That night we retreat to our cabins rather than attempt to sleep on deck. Before sailing back to Turkey the next morning, we take a final look around the town. Symi still belongs to its inhabitants rather than to us tourists: blurry-eyed builders carry planks, Nissan trucks loaded with watermelons come down from the hills, soberly dressed office workers drink coffee in the few open cafes and the owners of the tour boats on the quayside sit chalking up the day’s schedule.
Serce Koyu 36 34’ 08’’ N 28 03’ 00’’ E: You could write a book about the isolated cafes that dot the Mediterranean coastline (if they didn’t come and go so quickly). Here I discover another favourite. We moor around the headland from Serce Koyu in a narrow and secretive-looking bay guarded by two large rocks.
The bay has no formal name but it is known to Ahmet as Pirate Bay because years ago the wreck of an 11th-century Byzantine ship with a cargo of exquisite glassware was found nearby. We spend the afternoon in Bozukkale, an ancient Dorian anchorage overlooked by a hilltop fortress.
It was here we find the Ali Baba cafe: a green hut with a corrugated tin roof, behind which is a water tank and a pile of wood to fuel a primitive cooking stove. Down below the hut, moored to a wooden pier, is a cabin cruiser, a grubby old catamaran and a dinghy belonging to the cafe’s owners. Along the waterfront a couple of cows are grazing. They look fat, as if on holiday from Devon.
Equally incongruous is a huge obsolete satellite dish tied to a rock with pieces of wire and ropes. Something that had once been at the cutting edge of technology is rusting away in the shadow of a castle built over two millenniums ago during the time of the Peloponnesian Wars.
Ince Ada 36 42’ 1’’ N 28 13’ 5’’ E : On our last evening on board the Aleyna we moor at Ince Ada, close to Turunc. From a gulet you get a totally different view of a country. Most operators, including the company with which we are travelling, build places of historic interest into their sailing itineraries. But for me it is the minutiae of history that fascinates. Here on Ince, for example, we come across an ancient church in a forest. We muse about its strange situation but then realise that of course the forest has grown up around it.
Earlier in the day, at the edge of the water, I saw a donkey rubbing its itchy behind against a couple of large stones. The stones were part of a Byzantine ruin; a bird’s-eye view of passing time.
Our week has passed quickly and defines tranquillity: the cool daytime breezes, the multitude of stars at night, the almost imperceptible rocking of the boat, the song of nightingales drifting from woods on the edge of secretive coves, swimming through sunbeams. Pure poetry. The Independent
The 38m gulet motor-sailer Carpe Diem can be chartered by up to 10 people for sailing holidays out of Bodrum around Turkey and through neighbouring Greek islands. It comes with crew and chef, and itineraries can be personalised. Seven nights from $4900 a person for 10 people, with all meals, alcohol and shore excursions. More: Icon Holidays, 1300 853 953.
Slice of Turkey: Traditional gulets are a great way for a small group to spend a relaxing holiday at sea; the captain and crew do all the hard work, from raising sails and navigation to cooking meals and other kitchen duties
Safe anchorage: A secluded spot for lunch on Turkey’s Lycian Coast