SALT AND SUN­BEAMS

Brian Patten sets sail on a Turk­ish gulet and finds se­cret trea­sures along the Ly­cian Coast

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays Afloat -

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

Check­list

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

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