TURKEY IS TOPS! Our 2021 ASA Sailing Trip
After a thirteen-hour long flight from Miami to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, with screaming kids in the row across the aisle from my seat, we arrived in what I would call the hair implant capital of the Middle East.
Nowhere else have I seen so many men walk around with partially bandaged heads following a hair implant surgery. They were at the airport and visiting tourist attractions. They were everywhere. Somehow, I prefer to remain bald… Bald is beautiful and way less painful…
We took a taxi to our Airbnb in the Taksim Square area. The house was located in a small alley at the bottom of some streets from the main drag. It looked a bit like Montmartre in Paris.
Independence Avenue with all the luxury stores was nearby and, although there was a COVID lockdown in effect with all restaurants closed for sit-down dinners, we found one that let us come in for a delicious dinner. Someone must have greased the hands of the local lockdown enforcers.
An adorable little red tram runs from one end of Independence Avenue to Taksim Square on the other end.
The following morning, we visited Taksim Square and took a cab to the Fatih neighborhood to visit the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi museum. As soon as we got out of the taxi, we were accosted by a nice local guy who showed us to the door of the Blue Mosque. He insisted that he was not a guide and did not want any payment but, if we could, please, visit his small store in the nearby bazaar.
The Blue Mosque was a disappointment because they were doing major work inside and we could not see the famous ceilings. When we left the Mosque, our guide was there to take us to his “small shop” which turned out to be a modern and beautiful oriental carpet store with literally hundreds and hundreds of colorful hand-knotted carpets. We were invited to sit down, drink a welcome tea and, about one hour of negotiating later, we were the proud new owners of a gorgeous silk carpet.
Next stop, a rooftop restaurant with a view over the Bosporus and with a huge menu of seafood and excellent wine. After having enjoyed this delicious meal, we headed for the Topkapi palace, historic home of the Ottoman Sultans. They sure lived in the lap of luxury and surrounded by unbelievable beauty and I don’t necessarily mean the Harem…
Last stop of the day was the Hagia Sophia. This used to be the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church, became a mosque, a museum and, recently again, a mosque. It is huge and, when it was a church, must have been stunning inside.
That night, we found another restaurant where we could eat inside. By now, we were getting more familiar with the Mezze or Turkish appetizers, like smoked eggplant bites, marinated seabass, stuffed grape leaves and more. Not much room left for a main dish but enough to eat a few decadently sweet Baklavas.
The following morning, we had to get up at 4:30 AM to get our taxi to the other airport of Istanbul, Sabiha Gökçen Airport on the Asian side of the Bosporus for our flight to Dalaman from where we took another cab to Fethiye where our charter base is located.
It was an hour-long drive from Dalaman to our hotel in Fethiye and we were impressed by the modern infrastructure of the roads and bridges. The road was lined with colorful flowering bushes like Bougainvillea, Hibiscus and Oleander. No palm trees but lots of Mediterranean pines, olive and citrus trees.
We were booked for one night only at the Unique Boutique Hotel in Fethiye but, next trip, we will make sure to stay longer. It was absolutely beautiful with super friendly staff and a great restaurant.
The room was tastefully decorated in a rustic Mediterranean style with an unforgettable view from the balcony of the marina and the bay.
We met our crew for dinner, Arthur and Khristina from Indianapolis, our friends, Casey from Cape Coral and Eric from West Palm Beach. Our last crew member, Julie from Chicago was arriving the following day late, due to some confusion with the airline bookings.
It became immediately obvious that we were going to have a great week together. We immediately sensed a great chemistry among us. Many hours later and after many Rakis, the national drink, similar to the Greek Ouzo and the French Pastis, we retired for a well-deserved rest.
Saturday morning, we went to the marina to do our provisioning and to get checked in on the yacht.
All went smoothly and, in the early afternoon, we sailed to our first overnight stop, Kapi Creek. Winds were in the 20 knots, and we were flying on board of our chartered Bavaria 50. Kapi Creek is a well-protected anchorage with a restaurant that, due to the lockdown, was closed.
There was no docking space available, and we had to anchor out with stern lines to the shore. The dockhands from the restaurant came to help us put the stern lines out and told us that, for around $20.00 per person, they could deliver dinner to the boat. Thirty minutes later the dinghy reappeared with an unbelievable spread of food that we enjoyed on board with plenty of local wine and Raki.
The following morning, Ismael, one of the employees of the charter base, showed up in a RIB to deliver us our last crew member, Julie, and soon we weighed anchor for a second day of sailing. Not too much wind to start and we had to motor sail for a few hours, after which we only needed the genoa.
At the end of the day, we sailed to Göcek, the other main city with marinas in the Gulf of Fethiye. We called on CH 73 and got a dock for the night. D-Marina is a modern, well-equipped place and host to multi-million yachts of Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern millionaires.
Göcek is a vibrant small town with a charming tourist shopping area with plenty of restaurants. As these were still closed, we had again a festive takeout buffet brought to the boat. Wine and Raki were served abundantly…
On Monday morning, after a late and leisurely breakfast, we headed west in the bay of Fethiye again for some brisk sailing and, around lunch, we anchored in the crowded Tomb Bay where we could see antique Lycian tombs carved out from the cliffs. Holding was bit risky, and we decided to sail to the anchorage of Kucuk Kuyruk.
The wind was blowing and after several futile attempts to anchor with stern lines to the shore, we started looking for another place to spend the night. We finally found Cigdem Koyu a tiny bay with a narrow entrance and opted to secure the yacht across the mouth of the bay with a bow line to one side of the shore and the stern line to the opposite shore. Even though we were mostly out of the wind, it made for a rolling night. We had dinner on board, courtesy of our lovely female crew members.
Our participants started emerging from their cabins around 08:00 and we enjoyed a nourishing breakfast while watching the goats climbing over the rocks on the shore. What a peaceful scene. Breakfast over and dishes washed and stowed away, we started sailing again, enjoying the 15 to 25 knot winds, courtesy of the Meltemi.
June 1st and the lockdown in Turkey is officially over. Restaurants are open again for sit-down service and we voted to spend the night in Wall Creek, home of the waterfront Adaia restaurant. We docked starboard to dock, squeezed in between a Jeanneau 469 and a Lagoon 420. Capt. Casey expertly docked our Sail Sirius in between these yachts. We immediately made 8 o’clock reservations for dinner and struck up a conversation with Lola, a Russian crew member on the neighboring Lagoon. She told us about some submerged ruins on the other side of the bay. Five of us set off on a discovery expedition to the ruins but I had to give up when my old ankle injury started acting up. I will try again next year…
Dinner that evening was delicious and the service excellent. The fusion of Mediterranean and Near Eastern cuisine makes for an interesting but tantalizing gastronomy.
Wednesday midpoint of our trip. Let us make the most of our sailing as we only have two days left after this. Fortunately, the Gulf of Fethiye is close to 70 square miles and counts hundreds of small bays, coves, inlets, and islands to make it the perfect sailing playground. We left Wall Creek for another day of spirited sailing with plenty of tacking and jibing and docked for the night at the restaurant in Sarsala Creek. It was not as luxurious as the previous place but the view from the hill above the restaurant made up for it. Spectacular…
That evening we splurged on Mezze and more Mezze and on a delicious lamb dish.
We had hoped to have shore power and water at the dock, but the restaurant did not offer these facilities so we opted to spend our Thursday night again in Göcek where we would also have access to Wi-Fi. The restaurants in town were open, but Eric and Julie offered to cook on board and went shopping for food. They prepared a delicious meal with, again, generous quantities of wine and Raki.
A local cat climbed on board in the hope of getting some food scraps. Needless-to-say, after such a great dinner, we spent a blissful night.
Our last day has arrived and we need to be back at the charter base by 16:00 but, first, a hearty breakfast at a local eatery in Göcek with plenty of Turkish coffee and some more, final shopping. We left the marina and raised the sails but, in between some of the islands and the mainland, the winds were too squirrelly, and we had to wait until we got out in the main Gulf area to really get good winds and off we went towards Fethiye. It made for a very enjoyable sail, and, with a tinge of sadness, we dropped the sails to enter ECE Marina, our base in Fethiye where we pumped out, refueled and got back to our slip. An hour later, a male nurse came on board to perform the COVID tests that we needed to be able to fly back to the States.
A last dinner together is always a bittersweet occasion, but we celebrated it at one of the top seafood restaurants in Fethiye, Hilmi, on the waterfront. This place was amazing. They had an unbelievable choice of Mezze, and the fishes in the cooler counter were so fresh that they still seemed alive. We chose to limit ourselves to a large selection of Mezze and desserts and to skip the main entrees altogether. From our vantage point, we enjoyed a spectacular sunset. With dinner over, we crammed into a taxi and returned to our yacht for a last night aboard.
The “Admiral” and I had to get up at 03:00 the following morning to catch our flight to Sabiha Gökçen Airport. From SAW, we had to take a bus for the one-hour long transfer to Istanbul International.
We had to wait to get our negative test results by email before we could check in and get into the duty-free area. IST is an unbelievably modern and beautiful airport with all the most luxurious duty-free fashion shops. I do not know of any airport in the USA that could compare to this one.
Fourteen hours later, we landed in Miami, breezed through customs, got our car back and drove three hours to our home in Punta Gorda. We travelled twenty-four hours, door-to-door…
Exhausted but with unforgettable memories, we crawled in bed.
We will return next year!