Turkish Coast by Yacht
By Godfrey Deeny
Many people don’t think of sailing as romantic, at least not as it’s practiced. There’s too much heart-pumping winching, and disturbing tacks on 45-degree-angled boats. Or being yelled at by the skipper when the inevitable high seas crisis arises. But for me, a cruise on a yacht is the most quixotic way of exploring the world.
Every year or two for the past decade, I have set off with friends, girlfriends, and finally my bride on sailing trips around the ancient world. Last August, my wife and I cast off from the marina in Göcek, Turkey, planning to trace the shores of Asia Minor, which are littered with monumental Lycian sarcophagi, rock-cut Carian tombs, Roman temples, and Byzantine ruins.
Unfurling the jib of our Jeanneau 43-foot yacht, we edged out of the exclusive fishing port, passing a former Bosphorus steam ferry converted into a luxury vessel. By nightfall, we’d reached our first destination: Kapi Creek, the sweetest of small bays in the Gulf of Fethiye. The village’s sole restaurant had its own rock pool, where waiters scooped out our istakoz, or lobster. Grilled and washed down with the bottle of Puligny Montrachet that I had had shipped over from my home in Paris, it made for a fabulous repast beside a starlit sea silhouetted with towering cliffs.
Thus began our "schedule." Morning cruises to turquoise coves for swimming and snorkeling; rambles through woods of pine and olive trees, in search of tombs and temples; light lunches of salad, cacik (yogurt and cucumbers), and soft sheep’s-milk cheese. Wind permitting, afternoons were a broad reach to a sheltered port that offered a pre-dinner swim and shower, and a restaurant where dinners en plein air consisted of the day’s catch.
Most ports where we moored were not reachable by road. These included Gemiler Adasi, where a Carian fort guards a bay dotted with charming Doric tombs. After dropping anchor, we climbed through olive groves to watch a gület (wooden yacht), revamped to resemble a Spanish galleon you’d see in a Polanski pirate movie, sail into port. Everywhere we docked, we were greeted with a hearty merhaba (hello).
With every day, we felt farther away from civilization. At Cold Water Bay, a tiny cove with just a half-dozen yachts, we dined on sublimely fresh barbunya, or red mullet. Here, there was no road, only a tiny mountain path, and the owner brought in supplies on two impeccably groomed donkeys. "I walk one donkey, and my wife rides the other to the nearest town, a half-hour over the hill," he said, motioning to a vertiginous slope that seemed to drop into the bay.
On our final day, we reached an island overhung by a crumbling fortified Byzantine city. Shockingly, not one of our five guidebooks mentioned its existence. Better documented was Kaunos, an atmospheric ninth century B.C. Carian city with an amphitheater that cried out for a performance of Oedipus Rex. We climbed into the acropolis, about which Herodotus once wrote. There’s something uniquely satisfying about standing together at a 2,500-year-old hilltop temple, while your craft lies prettily below at anchor in an azure bay. Even the wily Odysseus never managed that with Penelope.