Turkey to Thailand – Part 1

Part 1: The start of a long voyage...

‘What a lot of experienced sailors’, I muse. We listened to the Rally Leader during the briefing at the start of the rally in Kekova, Turkey. All 20 participants sat in a circle and I appraised everyone. I estimate at least a thousand years of experience is in the circle and see us mainly as beginners. A clear sense of underestimation. Uncertainty creeps into you for sure when you’re faced with a journey like this. For the next 6 months we will be underway, sailing about 5000 miles from Turkey to India. It is a colourful group of rally participants. The average age is above 50, but there are also some younger couples coming along.

After weeks of preparation, we are technically ready to go. We have prepared the boat, our Phillip Rhodes designed 60ft sloop Alondra. After the final provisioning is complete, we are impatient to cast off the lines.

Kekova is beautiful by the way, a lovely bay, very safe and boasts fantastic nature with a small village set against the hills. And of course the “Sunken City” with its Lycian Tombs, all in crystal clear water. 

The first stage is 19 miles towards Finike, a name that you can immediately forget as there is nothing of any note here. From there, we left 2 days later in the afternoon for the first serious passage of 143 miles to Bozyasi. Bozyazi is located east of Alanya and Antalya. If you want to be devoid of mass tourism and get off the beaten path, it starts here. We’re sailing east, at almost 90 degrees. The evening falls and on board and we eat port stew, where we fry the last pork bacon from Rhodes. The wind dies down so we start up the engine and organise our watches. 3 hours on, 3 hours off. We are in front and the rally boats around us can be seen on the radar or, closer, through their navigation lights. Every now and then someone yells something and it gives a safe feeling.

Not long off watch, at half past one, I’m in bed asleep when Edith wakes me up. “Rene! Rene! The engine falters!”. “F**k!”, I think and I jump out of bed wide awake. We really didn’t need that, especially on the first real passage! I check the vital parts in the engine room; water, oil temperature and pressure. Everything seems fine. Edith suggests we may be out of diesel. Diesel? That can not be true. We calculated it so well and we still have at least… A minute later, I notice an empty tank due to a stupid calculation error and switch to our second tank. Edith dives for the priming pump and I try to bleed the engine in a rolling swell. After a few attempts, I closed the bolt just a bit too hard in my enthusiasm. “Crack” goes the bolt and with it the chance to start the engine again as diesel runs out of the vent. We contact the rally via VHF to report our situation and immediately feel guilty. Chris van de Roterik, a 12 meter cutter, offers to tow us. We accept his offer and a little later we are back on course, behind a long line. I dive back into the engine room and try to repair the hole. But it doesn’t work with the leaking diesel. Thus we are towed for the remaining 55 miles and eventually, crippled, we enter the port of Bozyazi. The other rally boats are already there and have reserved a spot for us. Fortunately, we arrived in one piece. Thanks to our compatriot.

Bozyazi is a small harbour with a village 2 kilometres away. From here you can easily visit the Anamur fortress, a ruin of a crusader fortress. It is one of the largest and best preserved along the Turkish east coast. We head to the local “Sanay” (an industrial area) to find a new copy of our broken bolt. We are in luck, it’s in stock. A Perkins engine has its advantages, parts are available everywhere. And the cost…?

Just € 0.75!

Over the following days, we sail along small harbours encountering very friendly local people. We can clearly see that there are few to no tourists in places like Aydincik, Aga Limani and Tascucu. Smiling faces everywhere, good facilities and hospitality. The local lamp post supplies power and water comes from the teahouse through a long hose. 160 miles further we arrive in Mersin, a big city with an even bigger port. It is not recommended to arrive here at night due to the many ships that sail in and out, some of which are small unlit boats. At the time, the new marina was not quite finished, so we had to go to the small fishing port in the northwest corner of the port area, located in the heart of the city.

A large crowd is waiting for us on arrival. It’s the start of the sugar festival and the people are on holiday. The Coast Guard is working overtime to help us and two pontoons have been cleared especially for the rally. Here and there, fishing nets are quickly removed and we make for the pontoons. Mersin certainly did her best to show her best side. In the days that followed, we refreshed ourselves in the last hamburger chain, a large supermarket and filled up with water.

On the evening before departure to Larnaca in Cyprus, the rally leader briefs us about the 125-mile route. Stay away from Turkish Cyprus is the motto. Sailing from Greek Cyprus to Turkish Cyprus is possible, however,  the other way around is not recommended. That is if you don’t want to be locked up for a few days and get a ticket. Greek Cyprus still regards the Turkish as occupiers. 

Finally, the day came for us to leave. We sailed straight into a wild night, crossing with force 4 to 5 from behind. There was a big swell that seemed to come from all sides. We swing back and forth and wondered how the other lighter yachts were handling the conditions around us. My mind thought about, for example, the 10-meter-long Gustavus Vasa.

We had calculated to arrive at Cyprus in the morning and as if by clockwork, at dawn, we got our first sight of Larnaca. If the wind picked up as expected, we would head for the harbour under the shelter of the land at about 8 knots. On channel 16, we called Larnaca Marina and we heard that we were expected. The outer basin of the harbour appeared to be reserved for us because of the overcrowded main marina. We moored with an anchor and the typical Mediterranean stern-to. Later that day, due to a rising storm, a place for everyone is found. It works, with difficulty, so disembarking will be a bit difficult for some in the coming days.

Greek Cyprus is very modern.  To our delight, we could claim another ‘last’ hamburger chain! New hotels, spacious shops and good facilities. In addition, the climate is wonderful and mild all year round. Even in winter, temperatures are around 20 degrees. This is why many sailors choose to spend their winter here. Although this has decreased somewhat in recent years due to the full marinas. At the time of our trip, there were quite a few plans for the port of Larnaca. It was to be expanded by 70 places and 4 new marinas were also planned along the entire coastline to be completed within 3 to 5 years.

Edith and I decided to head off and explore Nicosia for a day. One side of this special city is a vibrant modern metropolis with promenades. We enjoy a cosy old city centre, walking through shopping and enjoying ourselves on one of the many terraces. On the other side, a few blocks away, it suddenly becomes very quiet. We feel like we were in a Fellini movie where time stands still. Just as suddenly, we find ourselves face to face with the division between North and South Cyprus, still guarded by UN soldiers. Behind the windows of some shops, time has literally stopped. Doors that were closed during the outbreak of war in 1974 and never opened again. There were still cars here and there, a printing house, a Mercedes dealer and something that looked like a drugstore. With the right key, you could start again in no time, it was very bizarre! It was hard to imagine that the city continued on even further on the other side of the wall. Just like the idea that Turkish is spoken there and, as we know from our earlier visit two years ago, that there is a lot less prosperity on that side of the divide. 

Back on the Alondra, we prepare again as the rally is planned to leave for Port Said, Egypt in a few days. Our watermaker has broken and we would desperately need it later in the Red Sea. We ordered new membranes online and had them sent to our customs agent in Egypt. Just to be sure, I called him about the costs he would charge for receiving and delivering this package at the port. “Nothing,” he says kindly. That “nothing” would later turn out to be a bit more. Much much more…

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