I checked in to Gatwick with my anticipation rising at the prospect of my summer sailing holiday in far away Turkey.
My flight to Dalaman on the Turkish south coast took off at 3 pm and arrived some 3 hours 40 minutes later just as it is getting dark. I quickly exited the airport climbing into a taxi for the 20 minute ride to Gocek where my friend Chris Higham has arranged to meet me with his yacht, a Morgan 44 sloop called ‘Moonraker’.
The driver explains there are lots of marinas in Gocek but he will drive around them all until we find the right one with me anxiously peering in to the darkness hoping to catch sight of my friend.
‘There he is!’ We are in the right place first time-the driver looks a little forlorn at the tip I offer on top of the fixed price negotiated at the airport.
The evening’s heat is pleasantly oppressive. Sand is under my feet and a cool drink in my hand. The sizzling of aromatic pleasures to come. Across the plaza from where we are seated purple and pink neon lights herald a disco bar reputed to be the haunt of rich Russians and their cortege of beauties. Heady, exotic and enticing.
Soon we are on board and Chris savours the fresh teabags I’ve brought with me.
“Nothing beats an English cuppa.” He sighs.
Moonraker is stern moored onto a wooden jetty. I have the fore cabin all to myself. Every hatch is open and covered with mosquito mesh held in place with strips of Velcro. My bedding is a simple sheet with my jacket on top.
Gocek is at the western end of a bay with the larger town of Fethiye about 15 miles to the east. The open sea is some 10 miles distant to the south with numerous creeks, islands and headlands to explore.
In the morning Chris buys fresh provisions from the local market stalls with the cash from our kitty. It’s the last week in May and the temperature is 32 C by 9.10 am. It is also my first encounter with local toilets.
Toilets were going to be a problem as the yacht doesn’t have a holding tank and the Turks are really strict about discharges overboard.
With no tide and crystal clear water anything visible immediately below an anchored yacht can lead to a £3,000 fine.
Our plan is to cruise around the extended bay with its outlying islands anchoring near restaurants and their onshore toilets.
It was a while since I was last afloat and it took time for my ankles and calf muscles to adjust to the movement of the boat so initially I was cautious moving around the deck even though Moonraker is thoughtfully designed with plenty of handholds.
After casting off we motor a short way out before hoisting the mainsail and off we go for my first sail in Turkish waters!
We anchor off some small islands for lunch in about eight metres of water where we couldn’t quite see the bottom. We swim. The water is pleasantly warm.
Disaster strikes when I lob my mask and snorkel into our dinghy which was tied alongside. I miss, and they sink into the gloom.
It’s my first day and I’ve already lost something. Chris kindly offers to get out his scuba set and go and look but I don’t think it is worth risking a life diving alone into the gloom for something which can be replaced at the next town.
Besides Chris has a spare which will do for now. Good old skipper!
We sail across the bay in light afternoon airs towards our next anchorage where we will stay overnight. On arrival we look closely at the shore.
It reminds me of the English Lake District because there is no tide and the trees come right down to the water’s edge and some of the large boulders have short mooring posts set into them.
Having taken the sails down we reversed under power towards our chosen onshore bollard deftly judging the distance before lowering our main anchor from its normal position on the bow with the chain clanking out around the electric windlass as we edged slowly backwards.
At the appropriate moment I was expected to hop over the side into the dinghy and furiously paddle ashore with the kedge warp paying out behind me.
Then whilst holding onto the dinghy with one hand and the warp with the other I scrambled ashore with Chris advising from the cockpit;
“Quick Now!” and; “Mind scratching the dinghy on the rocks!”
The warp had a chain loop at its end so it was simply the case of draping it over the post and shouting; “Made! Secure!” It left me a little breathless although by the end of the week I was getting rather good at it.
After another swim and freshwater deck shower my able skipper lit the on deck barbeque. I’d always thought smoke billowing from a yacht was an emergency situation. I’ve now learnt that if this occurred at mealtimes then it is a barbeque.
‘Sundowners’ is the time of day we crack open the gin and start the evening on a good note, and leads on to a traditional evening before the digital era with card games of cribbage played with match sticks.
As I lie in my bunk listening to the yacht rocking gently at anchor I can’t believe how lucky I am to be afloat again at long last. I get a wonderful glow run through me as I dream of the thrills and adventures to come.
Next morning there is not a breath of wind. The air is heavy and oppressive. We discuss open water sailing and going over to Rhodes some thirty miles distance.
Chris doesn’t think it is worth it if we have to motor all the way there and back. Besides there is plenty to do around here.
In fact, as soon as we get going a fine breeze springs up and we glide through the wine dark sea with ease.
The snow capped mountains in the far distance make a wonderful backdrop. The days melt into one and another. This is the land of ancient civilisations, Hector and his Trojans among them, although he lived a bit further along the coast towards Greece.
The shore, although lined with trees is sparse. When having a run ashore we regularly come across old ruins of failed cultivation where a simple stone wall had been erected to act as a wind brake around a patch of windblown soil as some poor souls tried to scratch an existence from this unforgiving land.
The mountain goats were however in their element eating everything that grew. Climbing up the hillside would quickly turn into full scale mountaineering with both of us nearly getting stuck.
The restaurants ashore ranged from organised businesses to one man bands. At some we would be greeted by a RIB and helped onto a mooring then ferried ashore to a purpose built restaurant with good toilets and a varied menu. As we weren’t in the Euro zone it was cheap and good value for money and we able to pay by card.
Another evening we tied up to a rickety jetty and the restaurateur lit a cooking fire made from freshly chopped brushwood and sat beside us swapping stories. This is how it would have been if we had stopped for the night on Robinson Crusoe’s island in the 17th century.
We alternated our days between civilisation and the wilderness. One day we sailed out of the bay and around the eastbound headland to Oludeniz, a town fronted by a long shingle beach where we left our dinghy only to return a short while later to find the wind has risen and waves had swamped the stern.
We had real difficulty getting off and were thoroughly soaked by the time we were safely back on board Moonraker. Chris owns a 3.40 rib with a 15 HP two stroke outboard. Full of seawater and with our feet sinking into the shingle it was too heavy to lift. My old inflatable of a similar size weighting in at 39 kg would have easily turned to bow launch.
Fethiye is a substantial town with a sheltered anchorage and an ideal overnight stop where the dinghy could be left on the marina’s jetty while we enjoyed a drink in a waterfront café. Bustling with activity the variety of things both afloat and onshore made for plenty to see. It was all too easy to sit in the warmth of the early summer sun and watch life pass by.
All to soon my week was up and we were heading back to Gocek. Of course the wind obliged by getting up and providing the best sailing of the trip. I was starting to get fit and had finally found my sea legs which meant I was moving around the deck much more nimbly. And then trouble hit- I got hurt not once but twice in the final day’s sail.
The first time I was helping the headsail around the baby stay during a tack. The headsail sheets tore across, the knot joining them catching the back of my hand and instantly breaking the skin leaving a ugly weal that took several weeks to fade. I should have had my gloves on.
Next after filling up at the fuelling pontoon we moved across under power in gentle airs to stern moor to a marina pontoon mooring. What could possibly go wrong now? Chris wanted me to pull on one of the fixed mooring lines and secure it to the bow cleat. I called out it was too heavy so Chris rushed up and tried to get the line around the windlass.
He later said how he got that sinking feel as he watched my ankle bend to an odd shape as it was drawn between the anchor chain and the revolving drum. I remember thinking; ‘Oh no! I won’t be able to get on my flight with a broken ankle’ just before the pain hit.
I screamed at him to press reverse and my poor foot popped back out again. I fell to the deck and had a little squeal.
The marina staff were suddenly on board and expertly tied the boat off for us. Chris, formerly of the Royal Army Medical Corp, concluded I needed neither an x-ray nor narcotic painkillers so I was helped across to a wonderful yacht club complete with a luxury pool where I rested on a deluxe sun lounger while he tidied up the boat.
I gently tested putting weight on my ankle in the pool and guessed it would be OK although later it swelled up on the plane and getting through Gatwick was a struggle.
I bought Chris the best meal I could find within hopping distance and toasted his long suffering sense of humour with a last chilled beer before taking a daylight taxi ride through spectacular scenery back to Dalaman.