Tourist First

Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Turkey: Arranging a Blue Cruise


A blue cruise – a gulet or yacht cruise along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast – can be done three ways. Probably the most popular with Americans is to do it as part of a complete Turkey tour package, such as offered by Overseas Adventure Travel (http://www.oattravel.com/).

A second way is to charter your own boat – with captain (and crew, if the boat is large enough) – and set your own itinerary. Most whole-boat charters are one or two weeks, Saturday to Saturday, so you’ll need to plan the rest of your time in Turkey around the boat schedule. Outfits such as Avrupa Yachting (http://www.guletcharter.org/) can help you find a boat.

Cabin charters are a third choice, and the only choice for anyone traveling alone; they’re also good for couples. My wife and I did a cabin charter in June 2010, a Fethiye-to-Kekova three-day cruise (four nights, but the first night was in the harbor at Fethiye). It was organized by Compass Yachting (http://www.compassyachting.com/), which is based in Fethiye and seems to be primarily a booking agent. Compass put us on a boat run by Big Backpackers (http://www.bigbackpackers.com/), which actually owned the Blue Key, our gulet, shown above in a photo that I took from one of the islands we visited. The cruise was 398 euros for both of us and included all meals; we had to pay separately for all drinks, including bottled water.

We had been told that such cabin charters were “OK for European backpackers trying to save money” but that “Americans find them unsatisfactory.” Other passengers on the boat included an American oncologist and his wife and two sons, ages 10 and 15; a 20-something Brazilian medical student; a 34-year-old Australian backpacker; a late-20's Italian couple; a well-to-do Polish couple and their teenaged son; and a Turkish woman from Istanbul. It was a very amiable group. The accommodations, however, weren’t so great. The cabins smelled of mothballs; my wife and I ended up joining a few other people in sleeping on deck in the area shown in the top photo. The food, however, was surprisingly good, especially fish the first night out, with wonderful salads at every meal. Lunches were vegetarian.

From what we could see of other boats (and these boats pretty much follow each other from one wonderfully scenic spot to another), the V-Go boats (http://www.bluecruiseturkey.com/) were a little nicer than ours. They also had canvas walls that could be unrolled to provide more shade in the aft seating area. We had considered V-Go, but Compass offered the schedule that suited us best. We saw no gulets under sail -- all were motoring. Indeed, our boat's sails stayed in the forward hold. "Light wind this time of year," the captain said.

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably looking elsewhere online and you may come across one traveler’s story of finding fresh rat droppings on the bed of a cabin charter. When we boarded the Blue Key, that was the first thing my wife looked for. “No rat droppings!” she called out. The owner of Big Backpackers, Soner Ayaz, stopped by to say hello, and he said that he thought there were no “Mickey Mouses” on the boat. We saw no signs of any.

Note: we were there near the end of June and the water was still rather chilly – to the point that it took a while for everyone to work up the nerve to jump in. The water was turquoise, of course, and amazingly clear. We were disappointed that we saw few fish; the Italian couple on our boat, however, spotted an octopus, and they harvested sea urchins, cleaned them and gave us tastes. (Sort of like oysters, if you’re wondering.)

We’re very happy we did the blue cruise. Do it again? You bet.