Sailing along the Turkish coast on a ketch

Intimacy: Voyagers in groups of eight to 28 can enjoy themselves in the style of the rich and famous.

February 07, 1999|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,Special to the Sun

KAS, Turkey -- The sea of tourists trudging obediently behind their guides' placards marched onto the eight mega-buses that would take them back to the port. Landing craft would motor them -- 40 at a time -- out to their giant cruise ship anchored far off the Mediterranean coast. They looked haggard and sweaty. Long day, not over yet.

We watched the scene sympathetically from an outdoor cafe as we sipped cold beers and munched on salty olives and feta cheese. Then we ambled down a narrow brick street lined with tidy carpet stores and food stalls, exchanging greetings with shopkeepers as we made our way to the little marina where our boat, the Cevri II, bobbed seductively under a softening late afternoon sun. Up the little gangplank, my seven fellow passengers, our Turkish guide and I settled cozily into deep cushions on the aft deck, accepted chilled white wine and roasted-pepper-and-pita hors d'oeuvres from our crew of three and watched the sun set quietly over the distant mountains.

I really hate to rub this in, but ...

My cruise was better than your cruise.

Time and again during my nine-day jaunt aboard a 78-foot gulet (a twin-masted teak motor-sailer, technically called a ketch), I thought how delicious a way this was to go to sea.

There was no room service, no nightly show, dance band or even a pool as on the big cruise ships that sometimes ply this stunning swath of Turkey's Mediterranean Tur-quoise Coast. Our six cabins were on the smallish size -- though each had a private bathroom, windows that opened and a reasonable amount of storage space.

But look at us floating in a crescent cove at Kekova Island, our only overnight neighbors two tiny fishing boats, their grizzled occupants quietly mending nets in the moonlight. And there we are gliding gracefully into the lively village of Fethiye to shop for fresh grouper and piquant spices that our young chef will sizzle with onions, red peppers, tomatoes and olive oil for a deck-top feast under the stars. And every once in a while, when the wind is right, watch us zoom across the water, sails unfurled, dolphins jumping alongside us, the breeze cooling our sunburns and making our eyes tear -- from the salty air, from sheer joy. But why just watch us when you could join us?

Intimate guided cruising adventures -- aboard sailboats, luxury motor yachts, and riverboats are becoming the hottest trend in cruising worldwide.

Tycoons and other wealthy travelers long have indulged in the pleasures of private yachting. Now regular folks in groups of eight to 28 can cruise alongside the swank set in prime waters near and far. The price is similar to the cost of a cruise-ship cabin -- from less than $1,000 per person a week to more than $4,000, depending on comfort and amenities.

* See Alaska's Inside Passage aboard a 12-passenger cabin cruiser that visits small towns and wilderness areas inaccessible to the big ships.

* Venture out in a wooden riverboat along an intricate web of Peru's Amazon tributaries, islands and marshes teeming with wildlife.

* Swim with scores of dolphins while exploring the Bahamas in an eight-passenger schooner that homes in on prime playing grounds.

* Explore the tiny islands, powder sand beaches and coral reefs around Bali aboard a 12-passenger sailboat, joining local festivals and artists in their workshops.

Our nine-day Turkey sail (which was mostly under motor due to limited time and uncooperative winds) was part of a 17-day guided hiking and archaeology-appreciation excursion run by an Idaho-based outfitter. For an extra charge, we added on a three-night excursion to inland Cappadocia, where we hiked through a phan-tasmagoric landscape of rock churches and houses, explored underground cities that descended 18 stories into the earth, and drifted aloft in a hot-air balloon for a bird's-eye view of the area's bizarre geological formations.

Our group of three couples and two solo women, mostly in our 40s and 50s, worked hard to keep our diverse personalities copacetic in close quarters -- a few flare-ups notwithstanding. Our guide, 42-year-old Yasemin Konuralp, is an outdoorswoman who runs an adventure company with her husband, Cemil, out of their home base in coastal Antalya.

During our sojourn, we saw many of the landmark sights the big ships include, but, oh, what a difference our small boat -- and group -- made. Those sorry sack cruise passengers we saw in Kas were crammed into creaky launches blaring Zorba music to buzz by the famous sunken cities off Kekova Island. We, on the other hand, glided over in the Cevri, donning snorkel gear to inspect at leisure the craggy fourth-century B.C. ruins submerged in the shallow turquoise water. Then we hiked the abutting mountain, picking our way around crumbled city walls, before swimming back to the boat for a lazy shipboard lunch -- the only sounds the lapping of soft waves against our hull and birds cackling overhead hoping for leftovers.

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