Going for a gulet in Turkey
Crusing along southwestern Turkey’s extensive and breathtakingly beautiful Anatolia coast
Gulets, traditional twin-masted schooners, above, are the perfect way to explore the coast of Anatolia in Turkey
He was called Gem and certainly lived up to his name. The chef aboard our Turkish charter, Gem (Cem in Turkish) rustled up from his small galley kitchen below deck the most dazzling array of dishes a different menu every day from fresh local ingredients accompanied by crusty breads and a variety of salads.
We were on a gulet (pronounced goo lette), a traditional twin-masted schooner, a familiar sight along the southwestern Turkish coast of Anatolia famed for its so-called Blue Cruises.
Originally said to be used for transportation by fishermen and sponge divers, these days gulets are popular with tourists for sailing holidays. Although constructed with a gaff and foresails, they mostly operate on diesel rather than wind power.
With double cabins, plenty of deck space and an experienced crew, staying on one is a relaxing way of exploring this extensive and breathtakingly beautiful coastline with its pine forests, secret coves and crystal-clear waters.
Irish friends had spoken enthusiastically about these trips – one goes with her extended family every year while others assemble friends to share the fun and cost of private hire. Since there was no way we could rustle up 10 people all willing and free at the same time of year, we decided to join an organised group on a fixed itinerary. If the idea of sharing an enclosed space with total strangers for a week on a wooden boat is an unthinkable prospect, read no further.
We’ve taken the risk for two years running and, al though the groups were different, both experiences were rewarding and enjoyable. The first we shared with 10 others, all British, who included the widow of a famous motor racing champion, a British Airways pilot and his partner, a vet and her friend and a photographer – in all, a lively and interesting group.
Second time around, our only companions were a couple from Germany, twins with limited English. With a crew of four including the captain Salih Eren, the latter experience was more like a private charter, but at a fraction of the cost.
The biggest surprise on both occasions was how good the food was; my notes record aubergines stuffed with lamb and rice, grilled sea bass, barbecued meatballs, courgette fritters, cheese filo rolls, battered cauliflower and seasonal fruit – cherries, apricots, strawberries and watermelon. One night we had fish barbecued on a grill attached to the bow and an afternoon tea on another day was accompanied by a memorable homemade apple cake. Gem was quizzed for the recipe.
The seven-day itinerary, much the same in both cases, took us from the noisy, bustling yacht marina in Marmaris with its tattoo parlours and cocktail bars away along the coast to the town of Fethiye, a journey of several days which mixed tourist spots with quiet, isolated bays accessible only by sea, where one could anchor and sleep on deck under the stars at night.
Successive Turkish governments have protected most of this coastline from development; on one island we saw the remains of a restaurant that had been closed down to keep the cove pristine.
Fethiye is a lively town with a central souk and fish market where you can select your fish and have it cooked on the spot.
Along the route, the Roman remains are awesome, from amphitheatres to watchtowers and abandoned settlements, many in remote locations.
In the Dalyan delta, popular with tourists, the Lycian rock tombs, more than 2,000 years old and cut into the cliffs, are an extraordinary sight and located near some of the main sea-breeding loggerhead turtle beaches in Turkey, a big attraction.
Another time we overnighted in Aga Limani and went on a long trek into the island interior to find ancient Greco-Roman remains overlooking a spectacular valley, where a local family farm and produce honey from the abundant herbs and flowers.
The remains of Cleopatra’s baths are here; the entire coastline was said to be Mark Anthony’s wedding gift to the Egyptian queen.
Other places told stories of human suffering. At Kayakoy, a ghost town, stand the eerie remains of some 500 houses where 2,000 inhabitants were forced to evacuate following the Treaty of Lausanne in 1914, when Greek and Turkish delegates agreed to a comprehensive exchange of populations.
It is now home to an artists’ colony, local women make pancakes for visitors and pomegranate trees flourish in decaying stone houses. It was the setting for Louis de Bernieres’ 2004 novel Birds without Wings and government plans are afoot for archaeological restoration and some tourist development.
Away from land, on quiet moorings, the intense misty, hazy blues of those early summer mornings when sea and sky seemed to merge into one will long remain in the memory as was the sudden unexpected thrill of snorkelling alongside a turtle.
Back in Marmaris at the end of the trip, we continued our journey by local bus to the home of gulet-building in Turkey, the small village of Bozburun, an hour away. You see the boats under construction in people’s back yards or front gardens – one of the biggest yet is currently being constructed nearby in a specially erected hangar, a 140m-long four-masted ship designed in the Netherlands for an Arab sheikh.
Sailing has other associations in the area. The Bozburun Yacht Club, a magical spot on the headland which was the private holiday retreat of a famous Istanbul surgeon and sailing enthusiast Suleyman Dirvana and his family, was opened to the public five years ago after his death. It is now run with great style by his hospitable widow Zeynep and their son Edhem, who studied international politics in the US and is a skilled sailor like his father.
He is also the founder member and skipper of Team Turx, the Turkish national extreme sailing team which competed this season for the first time in the world championships. It is a far cry from the sedate gulet, but on this Turkish coast, all boats have their place whether small local fishing vessels chugging away, posh Dreamcatcher yachts or world-class catamarans like those belonging to Edhem.
That includes the famous one from the 1999 remake of Thomas Crown Affair that now marks the entrance to the yacht club, a sight that on our third visit there is a welcome signal that we’re home.
HOW TO . . . GO SAILING IN TURKEY
We took a direct return flight from Dublin to Dalaman with Falcon (Travelworld, Camden Street) and from there a €90 taxi ride to Marmaris (1½ hours).
The Bozburun Yacht Club operates from May to October (bozburunyachtclub.com) and is only accessible by motor launch from a pier in Bozburun.