Modern Day Odyssey

On a 50-foot sailboat, and adventurous group explores the crags and coves of Homer's 'wine-dark sea.'


GOCEK, TURKEY - - As a light breeze propelled us away from the mountainous coastline toward the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, the first real hint about the week ahead came from a grinning middle-aged guy offering us a snack.

It was the ice cream man. And he was on a boat. Here in the Gulf of Fethiye, off a southwestern sweep of Turkey justifiably called the Turquoise Coast, the ice cream man plans his day around a principle adventure-seeking vacationers quickly learn: The best way to enjoy the rocky cliffs, secluded beaches and ancient ruins of this part of the world is by boat.

This place seems wasted on a hulking cruise liner; the Turkish coastline is better enjoyed from the deck of a smaller craft that can tuck into the intimate coves and cave-strewn bays.

"You feel like you're discovering these ruins and little nooks and crannies for the first time," said Sue Lukrich, 60, a retired technology executive from San Francisco on a 17-day floating holiday with 12 friends and family members. "You just pull up in your boat in these beautiful little bays, and it's like you're the only one there."

The most popular way to ply the Turquoise Coast by boat is the way Lukrich did: on a traditional Turkish gulet, a motor-sailing yacht crafted in pine that can accommodate 10 to 40 people. The celebrated "Blue Voyage" aboard one of these boats - which seldom unfurl their sails - offers the easiest and most costeffective way to peruse the coastline.

On a gulet, the crew is included, the itinerary usually set, and meals and incidentals are part of the package, as are extras to keep guests amused. (One of the larger gulets we saw boasted a water park-style slide that disgorged hooting passengers into the Mediterranean.)

But for a yachting experience more evocative of Homer's Odyssey - this is, after all, the "winedark sea" in the classical epic - we chartered our own sailboat, a 50-foot Beneteau called the Trelorna, shared among seven friends, plus a skipper and cook.

Having at least one yachtsmen among us, we considered taking a crewless "bareboat," available through the same yachting outfit for a slightly cheaper rate. But we opted instead for a skipper who would be well acquainted with the crags of the shore and the sometimes unpredictable whip of the coastal winds, and could steer a steady course anytime we felt the need for a cocktail.

We had stocked up on food, planning to pick up fresh fish and produce where we could, and prepared to meander down the coast for the week without a real plan.

We had read about the ancient ruins, turquoise waters and wide beaches that draw millions of tourists each year to the Mediterranean. What we didn't expect were the quieter pleasures of life on a boat off a seemingly unexplored coastline: tying up to a tree at the rocky shore of an island for a swim, munching on produce and gozleme (a Turkish version of crepes) sold off a passing boat, happening upon ruins while on a routine walk or while snorkeling just feet from where we'd dropped anchor.

On a sailboat with no set itinerary, we were never quite sure where we'd end up or what we would find, but we were reasonably sure we'd have fun on the way.

Tourists return

Turkey, a popular sailing destination in the late 1990s, abruptly sank on many tourists' wish lists at the start of the war in Iraq, one of the seven countries with which it shares a border. Now, travelers and industry experts say, it's making a comeback, driven by cheaper deals than are available in Greece and other better-known Mediterranean spots and by travelers' desires to get off the beaten path.

"Turkey has come into fashion again, and everybody wants to go," says Suzanna Pinder, of Top Yacht, a London-based company that charters sailboats and gulets off the Turquoise Coast. "People like it because it's probably the least developed country within theMed."

A yachting holiday, we soon learned, is not all peaceful lounging on the deck and gazing at the stunning landscape. Once our boat cleared the sheltered bay outside the tidy port town of Gocek, with its still water and calm winds, we caught powerful gusts that sent our boat listing thrillingly to the side and kept us bobbing harshly along.

Most of us became nauseated, some downright seasick. After several hours sailing north as we wondered just exactly what we had gotten ourselves into, we arrived in the tiny bay of Ekincik feeling like we'd been through war together. But our recuperationwas quick.

A stunning sunset put things in perspective, casting an eerie crimson light on the shore and sparkling over water that had seemed menacing just a few hours earlier. Before long, we remembered we were here to explore.

Having made our harrowing Iliad- like journey up the coast, we were determined to see some ruins - the older the better. The ninth-century B.C. city of Caunus, best reached by a small motorized riverboat, fit the bill.

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