Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi


By Tom Morkin

Keci Bucu, Turkey, and Simi Island, Greece
36 36.9N, 27 51.7E

Sailing in Turkey in late October has a couple of advantages over the summer prime time. Not only are there fewer boats, the persistently strong northwest winds that plague Greece and Turkey are finished. This Meltemi and much of the strong northwesterlies experienced in the eastern Med in the summer, result from the usually large Azores high in the eastern North Atlantic, and the predominantly lower-pressure system that takes up residence in the regions of Pakistan and India. The clockwise flow from the high produces northwest winds in the Med that are amplified by the counterclockwise flow around the low. This makes Turkey and Greece the ham in the ham sandwich.

The beautiful pine-clad anchorage of Keci Bucu, where we’d rest for a week

Come the northern autumn, both the high and the low break down as does the Meltemi. The down side of this for us is the lack of predictability of the wind direction. The truly strong winds in the fall and winter actually come more often from the south, a fact Liz and I have to keep in mind when seeking an overnight anchorage for Feel Free.

Keci Bucu is a pearl of an inlet. Running from north to south, its steep, green, pine-clad shores are a rarity in this otherwise grey and rocky region of southwest Turkey. Almost halfway down the length of the inlet is the centerpiece, an ancient Byzantine fort perched high on a small island. Strangely, this little island is home to hundreds of rabbits and not much else -- certainly no people. The locals seem quite happy about the rabbit infestation as daily we see charter boats stopping on the island's shore with food scraps. In addition to the ubiquitous droppings, the countless holes dug by the rabbits make walking around this rabbit ranch an eyes-wide-open activity

Feel Free rests at anchor near the dramatic Byzantine fort built on the island that is the centerpiece of Keci Bucu

Since getting back to Feel Free from Canada, Liz and I wanted nothing more than to spend a week or two just being peaceful on the boat. For three months, our motorcycle trip across central and eastern North America kept us in perpetual motion -- six provinces, four states, about 45 campsites, homes of five sets of friends and family members. It was a fantastic trip but a lot of time was spent packing and unpacking, making and breaking camp, and moving. Now we so wanted to be still. At the end of the summer, cruising friends in Turkey asked if we wanted to share a rental car and travel together around the country upon our return. “Thanks,” we politely replied. "Thanks. But no, no, a thousand times no thanks!"

Immediately after the hook was down in Keci Bucu, we knew this would be home for at least a week. As if this glorious natural setting were not enough, we had the amenities of a modern marina, Marti Marina, half a mile away with its small chandlery and grocery store. But the real piece de resistance was discovering that we could connect to their wifi hot spot, catch up on our email, and surf the net from the comfort of our own boat. A British family of four was to be our very convivial neighbors while in the bay. Caroline and Richard were home-schooling their precocious 13-year-old Christopher and 12-year-old Henry six months of the year aboard Mianda and then they spent the rest of the year in their home in France.

Liz on our motorbike in Newfoundland, with an iceberg in the distance.

Days went by as we sanded and painted the side decks, rebedded a leaky port, traipsed through the old fort, daily circumnavigated the small island with mask and fins, and most enjoyably got in some serious slumper time in Feel Free’s boat slumper. A gift from fellow cruisers years ago, this hanging chair is hung from the arch on the stern or with the spinnaker halyard at the bow, has proven to be one of the best alpha-wave generators my world has ever known, and has been dubbed the Number One comfort station on the boat. As I constantly tell Liz, "Slumper time is not wasted time and certainly isn't counted against me when my allotment of days in this life is assigned. It may even increase them."

Tom relaxes in his slumper chair, hanging from the main halyard – the best seat in the house.

We experienced our first Turkish gale in Keci Buku. The weather forecasters totally missed it and only by luck were we not on a bus trip and hours away from the boat when it hit. While waiting for the bus to take us to Marmaris, we met an Irish couple from the marina. I confidently explained that my two favorite weather websites – and -- both predicted southeast winds to 20 knots. "That's interesting," said the couple. "A local charterboat skipper just came into the marina because the local Turkish radio report is forecasting a gale in a couple of hours." So, who to believe -- a computer-generated weather model created thousands of miles away, or the locals?

We scrapped the Marmaris trip. Three hours later, just as we were thinking we should’ve believed the computers, the southeast wind filled in and down went the rest of our 300 feet of 3/8-inch high-tensile chain connected to the 66-pound Bruce anchor along with a 40-pound kellet, or "angel" as the Brits call it. Basically, it's a weight secured to a line and attached to the chain in such a way that it can slide along the chain to rest on the bottom. Before the force of the wind can even straighten the chain, it must lift the kellet – this is handy also when anchored in close quarters because it limits the boat's swinging room.

Sure enough, as dusk approached, we were looking at gusts to 51 knots and spume lifting off white water. After seeing a dinghy and outboard on the boat behind us turn turtle from the wind, we quickly ballasted ours with two five-gallon jerry jugs of water. Reports from the marina where boats were breaking free and pounding against the concrete docks, and chaos reigned supreme, made our lot easier to take. In total, the storm lasted no more than six hours and by 10 p.m. there wasn't a puff of wind. We caught the 10 a.m. bus to Marmaris the next morning.

Tom sits back and surveys his world, after a day of boat maintenance.

Our plans for two months of cruising through October and November may have been a month too ambitious. Already it was hard to see how to fit in everything we wanted to do. Definitely first on our agenda was to go back to Simi for the Greek Independence Day celebrations, meander the streets, visit the museum and, last but not least, do a final stock up of cheap Greek wine. Within days, we set out.

The spectacularly picturesque island town of Simi wraps around the protected harbor.

The first matter of business after the hook was down in Simi was to go wine shopping. We purchased 50 liters of boxed red and white wine at 6 EP (US $1.68) per liter. One of the 10 cruiser commandments is: “Thou shalt buy in quantity whenever thou seeest a deal.” Making the deal even better still, the dealer delivered the wine to the dock so there was no schlepping!

In the Med, it’s critical to watch the weather, and we get our information from several sources. One is the Med Net on SSB 8122, which is cruiser-maintained and among other services provides weather information for the entire Med. The five-day forecast is given for no less than 10 regions. The five-day forecast for southwest Turkey sounded benign so we decided to take our time returning to Marmaris. So, our plan for that day was to do 20 laps around the boat, visit the museum, attend the Independence Day parade, have lunch, head back to the boat, take another swim, splash some black paint on our two opening ports on the hull, listen to NPR and BBC on our World Space satellite radio, get started on that now-substantial amount of wine on the boat, have dinner, read, sleep. And people ask, “What do you do all day? Don’t you get bored?”””

Seriously, many people, almost exclusively nonboaters, do wonder why we don’t go bonkers. “All that time on your hands,” they say, “how do you spend it? How do you keep entertained?” Well, for starters, we don’t have as much free time as many people think. Unfortunately, many of the same regular chores cruisers and land dwellers must do tend to take much more time for the cruiser. From an efficiency point of view, cruising isn’t.

No more whining about not having enough wine aboard. Now the problem will be where to put it all!

Take shopping, for instance. We usually need to take buses. We often don’t know where the bus stop is or where to go to shop for whatever it is we want to buy. We often have trouble getting directions. We often don’t have the right currency and have to go to a bank and we usually don’t know where the bank is. When we get to the grocery store, we don’t know what to buy because we can’t read the labels. Two weeks ago I was sent out for a liter of milk for our morning cereal and coffee. I returned with buttermilk. Close but no cigar! Once all the questionable food has been purchased, often bags and bags of it, you’ve got to get it back to the boat, usually via a bus that stops way too far from where you’ve tied your dinghy, which may be way too far from where you anchored your boat. You get the idea. It’s not just a matter of jumping in the SUV and slipping over to Safeway and back. It all takes so much more time.

Taking on water can literally take hours. In Aden, Yemen, last March, it took us over six hours to take on fuel over a two-day period. Just checking in and out of a country can absorb the better part of a day. A good friend of ours spent four days checking into the Andaman Islands of India, and he wasn’t allowed off the boat the entire time. And of course, dealing with breakdowns in foreign countries can be incredibly time consuming and frustrating. Occasionally though, it’s uniquely satisfying. Chasing down a welder or a machinist to fix that all-important widget takes you off the tourist track and puts you in the real Mazatlan, Papeete, or Phuket. Your interactions with these folks are a whole different ball game from the interactions you have with the server at the beach bar on hotel row -- different, and almost always more satisfying. However, it usually eats into your day.

So, let’s just say we don’t have as much free time to get bored as many think. Speaking of time, it really does fly, and I’d better go. Liz and I are here in Simi to see the Greek Independence Day parade, and we don't want to miss it!