Winter Cruising in Turkey


By Liz Tosoni

Manastir Koyu (Ruin Bay),
Turkey's Southwest Coast
36 38.5N 28 51.3E

It’s only a 40-mile run from our marina in Marmaris along the southwest “Turquoise Coast” of Turkey to one of the prime cruising destinations of Turkey, Fethiye Bay. Unlike Marmaris Bay where Liz and I, along with hundreds of other international cruisers, have chosen to winter, Fethiye Bay contains myriad small islands and bays. Stories of cruisers spending entire winters there without holing up in any of the half dozen marinas in the area enticed us to forego our secure marina slip with its attendant electricity, water, internet connection, and electric heater.

Liz and I were enticed to forego our secure Marmaris marina slip with its attendant electricity, water, internet connection and electric heater, by stories of winter cruising in Fethiye Bay

Feel Free departed at dawn on a clear windless day, skirting patches of fog not thick enough to cause concern, just enough to create a surreal, primordial atmosphere as we hugged the shoreline long enough to exit the bay. The light conditions were welcome as I’d done a lot of tinkering with winches, sails, windlass, alternator, regulator, water pump, and various engine components during our marina stay.

History -- that is, our history -- indicates that the first trip following a lengthy hiatus from cruising, especially when the author has had lots of time to tinker with boat systems, is often fraught with gremlins that leap out to bite us in the butt.

Pretty wildflowers nestle among rocks in the Lydae forest. We craved a reconnection with nature, and so set out – boat gremlins be damned!

Looking back through the annals of our cruising days, recollections of leaking stuffing boxes, broken water impellors, hoses left un-hose-clamped and therefore leaking, wires to or from alternator or regulator not connected, to name a few. So the first hour of any trip following a long haulout, refit or major tinkering or absence from the boat is always a shakedown of sorts and I’m predictably zipping around the boat like a cat on a hot tin roof looking for that disaster that’s about to ruin our day, week, or life.

After two hours of motorsailing, the gremlins appeared to be under the master’s control. Maybe I haven’t lost as many grey cells as my beloved believes thought I. Better still, out of the north came a gift of 15 knots 60 degrees off the bow, and off we and the motor went. Beautiful. We heeled to starboard and were doing the same six knots we’d done with the “boom-boom” on, and at $10 for a gallon of diesel in this country, that’s a good thing.

Feel Free next to Cleopatra’s Baths in tranquil Ruin Bay – an idyllic spot to anchor after our boat dramas

Hmmm, what’s that sound? Uh oh, the bilge pump. Few sounds get my attention like the distinctive drone of our Rule 3000 bilge pumps. Sure enough, there was water in the bilge. Where was it coming from? Within a minute, I checked the below-the-waterline thru-hulls and stuffing box. The only remaining thru-hull was stupidly buried under empty jerry jugs, dive gear, spare anchors and bags of unused clothing under the floor board of the main cabin. It all had to come out. Quickly.

All that stuff got strewn about the main cabin floor by your trying-to-stay-cool-but-highly-motivated author. All the while, Liz was busy rolling up the jib before she did a 180, thinking the travel lift back in Marmaris was perhaps the most beautiful piece of technology conceived by the human race.

Feel Free spent a couple of nights at the dock in beautiful Ruin Bay, as we enjoyed the freedom away from a marina at last.

At last I saw the buried thru-hull and sure enough it was wet and there was wetness all around it. I dove into the bilge to confront the fitting that was ruining my day and adding to my grey-hair count, only to see there was water well above it as well as below it. It couldn’t be the offending gremlin. Instinctively I touched the wetness and put it to my lips and – Hallelujah! -- it was fresh, thank God. I still didn’t know where the leak was but my pulse dropped down into the double-digit range, knowing saltwater wasn’t flowing in.

Without the jib, the boat heeled only slightly. As it did, curiously the flow of water reduced to a trickle. Hmmm… what could that mean? Oh no, it can’t be that simple… Or should I say I can’t be that simple. Yep, so it would appear, yours truly didn’t tighten the inspection cap at the top of the water tank when taking on water prior to our departure. It appeared the loss of brain-cell matter is as bad as my crewmate supposed.

Domed, circular stone reservoirs collect water diverted from streams and catch rain on the domed roofs.

By the time the stuff was stowed away, the wind died, but the sky remained brilliantly clear and seven hours from our departure we were entering the famed Gulf of Fethiye. This roughly square indentation of the coast measures about eight miles by eight miles, the western third is strewn with islands and anchorages and referred to as Fethiye lagoon. About a half dozen islands line the eastern part of the lagoon, and these barrier islands render this miniature inland sea a flatwater sailor’s paradise.

The Turquoise Coast” by Marcia Davock details no fewer than 35 anchorages in this idyllic sanctuary. Dramatic rock faces, caves, pine and olive trees, wildflowers, rocky trails dating back well over 2,000 years leading to countless Hellenistic and Lycian ruins, all surrounded by the almost impossibly brilliant, sparkling turquoise waters.


The caretaker at the Hellenistic ruins pointed out Grecian inscriptions on ancient blocks strewn about the site

It’s no wonder that from May to October, people from around the world flock to this part of Turkey to charter bareboats or the immense skippered Turkish gullets to immerse themselves in this exquisite Mediterranean ambiance. Needless to say, things get a tad crowded from June to October.

But when we arrived, it was almost exclusively ours. The restaurants that serve the more popular anchorages were all closed, leaving the place to caretakers, and the farmers and shepherds who inhabit the area.

Our first two nights were spent tied alongside a 50-meter dock in spectacular Ruin Bay, so named for the remains of the defensive stone wall some 1,000 feet long across the peninsula from the Feyhiye lagoon to a bay on the Mediterranean. This wall, 30-feet high in places and 10 feet thick, appeared to keep folks away from the ancient Hellenistic community we were eventually to visit. “Cleopatra’s Baths” are also found in the bay; it would be easy to imagine the famous grande dame of old soaking and luxuriating in this fine spot.

The hospitable Turkish people without fail invite strangers for a glass of tea. Here, we enjoy Turkish cai (tea) with Mutlu and Hanife

Within 30 minutes of our arrival, a 42-foot sloop with a crew of four Turks and two Ukrainians joined us on the dock and quickly invited us to drink raki with them around the open fire after dark. Raki, the anise-flavored national alcoholic beverage of Turkey (sometimes referred to as “lion’s milk”) is to my palate indistinguishable from Greek ouzo. It’s 46-percent alcohol so it packs a punch.

After a couple of glasses of raki and great conviviality, we were about to take our leave when the chicken was put on the fire. “No, no, you can’t leave, you must eat,” Attila, our host, exclaimed. “In Turkey, when a Turk offers you food, you must eat. When a Turk offers a fight you must run!”.

Rustic homes of the local farmers of the area even have satellite dishes

So we stayed to eat, drink, and listen to our well-educated host and his friends tell us about some of the problems of this incredibly diverse country. For example, they explained that diesel costs almost $10 a gallon, far more than any country in Europe. Why? Simply because the government is unable to gather income tax effectively from its citizens, so those items like fuel, alcohol, and cigarettes, which are easily taxed, are heavily taxed. The evening was topped off with two lovely melodies played by the caretaker on his Turkish flute.

The next day, the pain from the excessive Turkish hospitality was displaced by hypothermia after I couldn’t resist a swim around the beautifully clear waters of the bay. One pleasant surprise about the Mediterranean coast of Turkey is that throughout the winter, water temperatures stabilize at around 16-17 degrees Celsius. For this thick-blooded Canadian, that is eminently swimmable and I try to swim every day.

A farmer in the area shows us how to finger weave

Later that day, our good cruising buddies Graham and Karen of the Kiwi boat Red Herring cruised into the bay. This pre-arranged rendezvous meant that Liz and I were about to get some exercise. These two were Outward Bound staffers in their former New Zealand lives and remain fanatical hikers. We knew well that time spent with them meant time walking the hills, and so it was. The next morning when we headed off.

After a couple of hours of upping and downing through the hills of pine-clad forest we were rewarded with a fine, wide, pastoral scene. This broad valley area known as Lydae is now home to some 25 families who live among the 2,000-plus-year-old Hellenistic community ruins. Ionic columns inscribed with the language of the day lay among the remains of the Grecian temples and government buildings.

One of 25 family homesteads found in this area dotted with ancient sites

Domed, circular stone water reservoirs collected water diverted from streams and caught rain on the dome roofs. These reservoirs contained plenty of water for goats, sheep, cattle, and chickens being raised by the present residents. Almost without exception, these secluded farmers invited our foursome for Turkish cai (tea). Mutlu and his wife Hanife’s offer we accepted and Mutlu graciously pulled together what we hoped were unoccupied beehive boxes for our seats. As it turned out, three of the four were indeed occupied, and in Karen’s box lay a two-day old lamb. It was after 5 p.m. when we returned to our heater-less boat. Daytime temperatures ranged from 50 to 65 degrees Farenheit, thanks to those usually clear and sunny Turkish skies. But night time is a different matter with temperatures often residing around the 32 to 40 degree Farenheit range. Our security blankets were always within reach and our multiple layers of clothing were left on until bedtime when we began our dreams about what the next day would hold, and about that diesel-drip heater that occupies a place on our must-buy list

Inside Karen’s seating box lay a two-day-old lamb. We couldn’t resist quipping, “Karen had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow.”