Sailing in Turkey

Sailing the Aegean

 

The Aegean Sea: Sun, sand, warm breezes and clear blue waters, or, as Homer
more accurately described it, "The wine dark sea."  Throw in
some ancient ruins, modern cities, phenomenal food and a welcoming crew that
cater to your every need and that was our perfect sailing adventure in Turkey
with Azure Odyssey (www.azureodyssey.com). 

 

Matt and I, along with our friends Todd, Donna, Nadine and Ted, started and
ended our adventure at the Su Hotel in the bustling seaside resort town of
Bodrum on the southwest coast of Turkey.   We were picked up at the
Bodrum airport by the hotel van for the 30 minute drive into town.  Our
excitement grew as we passed palm trees and resorts, crested the hill into
downtown Bodrum and wound our way through narrow streets and dark alleys. 
Our excitement changed to concern when our driver parked and we proceeded on
foot down a bustling, narrow side street and into a dark alley.  Where was
he taking us?  When we opened the gate into the courtyard of The Su Hotel
(www.suhotel.net), we knew –
paradise!

 

The Su Hotel is a group of beautiful, bright white Mediterranean-style
buildings just a few blocks from the waterfront, but hidden away from
everything by vine-covered walls.  It’s an oasis of tropical vegetation –
hibiscus, bougainvillea, golden trumpets and palm trees.  The hotel cat
greeted us and led us into the main courtyard, where the invitingly lit pool
sparkled and begged to be swum in.   The buildings and rooms are
trimmed in bright, primary colors.  Turkish mirrors, plates, pictures,
amphorae and urns line the walls, enticing you to explore every nook and
cranny.   The dining area is a large courtyard with comfy cushioned
seats and benches around long white tables.  The delicious aromas coming
from the kitchen were fully matched by the great food that followed.  The
staff made us feel right at home, except Matt doesn’t get service and food
quite this good at home!   

 

There are great sites all around Bodrum.  We explored the bazaar for
spices, clothes, plates, tapestries and beautiful materials, pillow-covers and
bedspreads.  Vendors sell fresh seafood along the waterfront, and there
are loads of treasures to be found in little shops down all the twisty
alleys.  The bright, intricate designs of the pottery drew us into Vivaldi,
a shop specializing in pottery and ceramics using traditional techniques and
designs, as well as exploring new methods and patterns (www.vivaldiceramics.com).  The
Bodrum Castle sits prominently looking over the harbor and we spent most of a
day exploring its collections on history, culture, shipwrecks, and art. 

 

As great as the shopping and sightseeing in Bodrum are, the focus of our
trip was our cruise.  Azure Odyssey has a fleet of four traditional
Turkish sailing vessels (gullets) ranging in size from 19 to 30 meters that can
comfortably accommodate 12 to 18 people (2 per cabin), depending on which
vessel you choose.   Our fantastic crew – Captain Yavuz, Sailor
Mustafa, and Cook Comhur – welcomed us about the Azure Dolunay, a 22
meter gullet with six passenger cabins (each with its own head).  Once
aboard and settled into our cabins, we headed out to sea.

 

Azure Odyssey has a helpful and detailed web site that lets you plan out
your own itinerary, selecting archaeological and historic sites, natural areas
for snorkeling, swimming or hiking, or whatever your interests are.  We
weren’t that motivated, so we let the crew know what we were interested in (a
little bit of everything, but not too much of it), and left the planning up to
them.  We were lucky to have the boat’s owner, Darlene, with us. 
She’s from Endwell, NY (small world!) and we worked together at NOAA in
Charleston for a while.  She’d told me about Turkey back then, and I’ve wanted
to go on this cruise ever since.  She answered
all our questions about history and culture, food, language, people, the boat,
shopping, sightseeing and everything else we could think – a real bonus for us!
 

 

Our five day cruise took us around Gökova Bay.  We visited secluded
coves at Oraklar Island, Tekerek Harbour and Tuzla Bay for snorkeling and
hiking, a small island with ancient ruins and a white, sandy beach (Sedir
Island, also known as Cleopatra’s Beach), and a tiny harbor town (one store and
a few houses) that served as a departure point for an overland trip to the busy
port town of Marmaris for shopping and sightseeing.  We kept up a relaxing
daily schedule of eating, snorkeling, eating, hiking, eating, swimming, eating,
occasional dancing, and more eating.  Each morning started with our
wonderful crewman, Mustafa, bringing us coffee, followed by breakfast. 
After only a day or two, we were plotting ways to lure Comhur back to Germany
with us so we could continue to eat the great meals and snacks he
prepared.  What a cook!

 

Although the snorkeling in this area doesn’t offer the abundance of marine
life found in the Caribbean or other sailing destinations, we did see a variety
of fish, eels, urchins and lots of fried-egg jellyfish (Cotylorhiza tuberculata)
These jellyfish are a yellow with an orange circle in the center, thus their
name.   Unlike most jellyfish, they don’t have stinging cells and are
active swimmers, moving to sunny areas to keep the algae that live in their
tissues happy.  We also spotted a brightly colored Kingfisher (Alcedo
atthis), yellow wag tails (Motacilla flava) and other common sea birds (gulls,
cormorants and heron), and a flock of geese that made their home along the
docks in one harbor.  Sadly, the most abundant thing we found snorkeling
was trash – newspapers, cans and bottles and potato chip bags.  Darlene is
on a single-handed mission to clean up the waters they sail and returned from
each snorkeling trip with a bag or two of garbage she’d collected. We
occasionally tore ourselves out of our food-induced lethargy and picked up a
can or two in support of her efforts, too.

 

Our best wildlife spot of all was Badem, a Mediterranean Monk Seal, one of
the most endangered mammals in the world.   Badem was found along the
coast in December 2006 when she was 4-6 weeks old.  She’d been separated
from her mother, she was rescued and cared for by Underwater Research Society –
Mediterranean Seal Research Group (SAD-AFAG, in its Turkish acronym).  A
local businessman, Mustaca Koç, and his family, covered most of the
rehabilitation cost of the orphaned seal and have led efforts to ensure
residents, boat crews and visitors help ensure the future of Badem and the
remaining monk seals in the region.   The Turkish Coast Guard and
SAD-AFAG monitor Badem’s movements and try to minimize interactions between
Badem and people so that she’ll more quickly adapt back to her natural way of
life.  Badem has other ideas.  She’s decided that people have better
sleeping accommodations than rocky beaches and frequently jumps into the
dinghies of anchored boats for her afternoon nap!  She also likes to play
with snorkelers.  The boat crews help the protection efforts by letting
their passengers know not to approach or try to touch Badem, she is, after all,
a wild animal and will bite if threatened.  But, she has no qualms in
going for a ride as she showed us when we met her in Tuzla Bay where she was
napping in a neighboring vessel’s dinghy.  The captain rowed her over to
our boat so we could ooh and aah and take pictures while she slept on. 
It’s illegal to approach her, touch her, feed her or harass her in any way, but
she sure makes it difficult not to!   (For more information on Badem,
go to:  www.monachus-guardian.org/news/pdf/badem_brosur.pdf)

 All in all, we had a fantastic time and learned many valuable
lessons.  Todd won’t drink his bourbon starting at 9 a.m., Lynne won’t
drink turkish coffee ever, Matt won’t dance with Comhur, Ted will get a bigger
lens, and Nadine and Donna will try to avoid men with big lenses!  And
we’d all HIGHLY recommend a blue cruise with Azure Odyssey to all of our
friends!

 

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