Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Border line Turkey

A full moon rises over the fuel dock at Didim marina

It's the brute functionality of Turkey which hit us between the eyes. So much ugliness spreading around the gulf just south of Didim, our port of entry. Ugly resort developments spreading over the hillsides of Bodrum peninsula like some hideous skin disease, a rash of fish farms turning the waters of Gulluk gulf murky green, the colour and consistency of liquid pea puree. For a few days after our arrival in Turkey our spirits took a dive, and came up clogged, as did the filter on the water-maker.

A development gone wrong in Gulluk gulf near ancient Iassos 

Fish farming in Gulluk gulf (and below)

This is a country which values the things we in the so-called west have made such a virtue of in the past 30 years - efficiency, progress, growth, upward mobility. All conspicuously absent across the water, and what a price the Greeks are now paying for the scant attention they've paid to the fine print of the prosperity gospel. So the surprise to us, coming back to Turkey, our de facto country of residence, is how foreign it feels after Greece. Something has shifted for us, and we're not quite sure yet what that something is. We're hoping it will click back into position soon.

Enki moored for the first time at a restaurant jetty

Looking back from the jetty at Cokertme

A lot has happened in Turkey in the three months we've been in Greece. There was the boil which burst in Taksim square just after we left in June, releasing a big septic build-up of anti-government resentment. That's not finished with, but we've had a spattering of conversations over the summer with people who know Turkey much better than we do, and the consensus is that Turkey won't blow apart...not now anyway.

Cokertme beach

A couple of nights ago we met a man on the pebbly beach at Cokertme whose opinions on Turkey's future, had he offered them to us, would have been seriously valuable. He approached us as we sat at a dinner table by the water drinking Efes (Turkey brews good beer). He was dressed as a conservative gentleman dresses in the summer, in light slacks and an ironed short-sleeved shirt. His English was precise and correct. He was full of smiles. He apologised for interrupting us, but said he'd noticed the boat on the quay, and had to say hello. His good friend Geoff Brown was head of the Australian air force. In April, he and his wife had visited Geoff in Australia. He glowed as he told us about what they'd been shown - the military museum in Canberra, of course, but most of all they'd enjoyed Sydney harbour, which they'd cruised in the company of a naval frigate.

Peak hour rush for the anchorage

The man who pulled up a chair at our table on the beach was Mehmet Erten, recently retired and now renovating his house in Cokertme which is about as small a place as you could want to live anywhere and about as far away as you could hope to get from Ankara and still enjoy some of the benefits of modernity. Less than a month ago he was General Mehmet Erten, commander of the Turkish air forces, but as those of you who are alert to Turkish politics will perhaps recall, in early August the Erdogan government cleaned out the top brass of all four sections of the Turkish military, and General Erten was amongst those relieved of their responsibilities.

Look at me! I can swim now

He did not tell us this, but it wasn't hard to put two and two together. Retirement comes in all manner of forms, and his would have kept us talking far into the night, but it was our retirement he was interested in. He showed such admiration. "We Turks are not really seafaring people," he said. He had bought himself a Zodiac and was getting to know it. He wrote his name, his wife's name and their phone number on a piece of paper and invited us to find them when we next visit Cokertme and "drink some wine". We'd be delighted.

The flinty soil of Turkey

As well as feeling our way back into Turkey, we like everyone else are wondering what "the world" is going to do about Syria. My morning routine is to check email, the marine weather forecasts and the BBC, in that order, but these past few days I've been looking at the BBC before the weather.

We are not blase about the potential for a military "intervention" to force a change in our plans. Last winter the nightmare in Syria was possible to talk away as we sat comfortably in a marina in the south west of Turkey. This winter, there may be civil war in Egypt as well as Syria, and Turkey is hardly a passive bystander in this region. Interesting times.

Sailing down Gokova gulf
And in case you think we've lost the plot and our life on Enki has become one long public radio background briefing, be assured that we continue to pull off some very fine sailing exhibitions, unwatched but massively enjoyed nonetheless. Our days are determined by a) how my finger is healing - soon to be struck off the agenda (yay!); b) the working order of boat machinery (currently a small glitch with the watermaker, but since that item is a luxury we'll say no more); c) the direction and force of the wind and d) the search for a desirable anchorage which still has room for us. This last is the most taxing thing we do, believe it or not, it still being August and there being far too many people on boats rushing (literally) for the best spots and some of those not what you'd call Turkish gentlemen.

A nicely balanced boat making good speed

Friday, 23 August 2013

Goodbye to Greece

Pithagorio faces the coast of Turkey 

Samos mountains to the south west
A month is "long enough" to experience what's on offer in Greece, advises the Lonely Planet in its "trust us, we've picked the eyes out of the place for you" tone of voice. Some Greeks have even said to us, "seen one island. seen 'em all". So why did we feel so forlorn handing in our transit log (the boat's "temporary visa"), obliged by the unfathomable Schengen zone 90-days-in 180 rule to quit Greece just as we were feeling we'd really like to know her better... No Arki or Leros or Symi for us this year though. We've had our quota of lovely islands for this season, though a week ago any or all of these were still a possibility.

The thing is, we got to like Pithagoria (named for the maths whiz Pythagorus, born there in 580 BC) and Samos, very much, and as the days passed, we couldn't find a good reason to leave. Then the wind piped up (i.e. it blew harder than usual) for a day or so, and after that we discovered (thanks to an email from our friend Jane in Bodrum) that Turgutreis, the port where we were expecting to check into Turkey, was hosting a summer music festival to coincide with our intended arrival date. Great at any other time but not when you need to make a quick, clean entry, without tangles of red tape.

So we made another adjustment to the schedule. That's one of the things that happens when you are captain of your own ship, so to speak. It's the best part actually. Instead of checking out from Kos, we'd leave from Samos,

The temple of Hera was once the largest in Greece

What's left of the huge altar on which animal sacrifices were burnt

Fragments of the temple

Technically (in LP terms) we were ready to up anchor and see more sights, do more activities. We'd seen the Pithagorio museum (open and dazzling) and whizzed around the island by car. We'd visited the ruins of the Ireon (Hera's temple), we'd taken the high road through the olive and cyprus valleys and popped out on the lush north-west coast, we'd bypassed the weekend crowds in the mountain village "destination" of Manolates, we'd loitered on shocking pink cushions against a turquoise sea in the Rick-Stein-eat-your-heart-out port of Kokkari, we'd taken a spin around Vathi, the island capital, and marvelled at what must be the loneliest quay in the whole Mediterranean in the summer time (the northerlies blow straight in).

Kokkari beach

Good coffee in the port of Kokkari

Plenty of space on the town quay at Vathi - and the swell never stops

The dingy quay (our outboard in foreground) at Pithagorio
We'd given Samos a lick and a polish, in other words. But we liked the anchorage, and the town was pleasant and each evening as we motored in to join the crowds, we discovered something more we liked about it, and then (as happens) we fell to wondering what it would be like in winter....There's a very good upstairs jazz bar near the temple of Aphrodite ruins called, predictably, the Sacred Way, and we regularly stopped by The Iliad for a beer and free wifi. You are laughing, but Greeks can can use those ancient names for their bars and hotels with a straight face, not that Sandy, the once-was-a-New-Zealander who owns The Iliad, is short of a sense of humour. It was Sandy who persuaded us to stay for the local celebrations of the goddess Hera, full of good cheer as she was also for birth of a grandchild that week.

A quiet ale (Alpha draught) at The Iliad (below as well)

The Duchess (right) and friend wait for the catch

The biggest surprise Samos threw our way was a sharp and invigorating exhibition by an art collective called Slavs and Tatars.  It could have come straight from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and as it turns out, Slavs and Tatars have shown at MoMA. Standing on the quay amongst the tavernas and fishermen, the families on holiday and the young Greeks at play, it was like coming across a new book by Janet Malcolm or Colm Toibin in a marina book exchange. Better actually, because exhilarating new art is such a rare treat when you live on a boat whereas now we have Kindle...on which I can read Homer or the latest Alice Munro, or both at the same time.

Museum pieces - remnants from a more powerful Samos (and below)

The Roman emperor Claudius

I have finished The Odyssey, to my regret, though I sped through the Robert Fagles translation, wanting to keep everything I had seen and learned in Greece in front of my mind as I followed Odysseus on his epic trip back to Ithaca. I knew those helmets made of boar tusks which Homer spoke of, I knew the bronze spears, the silver and gold cups...they were real to me, I'd seen them with my own eyes in the museums in Athens. And so much more I'd seen.

Mycenean gold cups

Zeus in bronze

We're already tossing about where to check in for Greece Part II - Rhodes harbour or Symi? - as if that were happening next week rather than eight long months away. Turkey, on the other hand, we return to knowing the ropes much better than we did at this time last year, and there's some comfort in that.
We sit at anchor now in a bay known as Paradise, its clear warm water edged with pine trees and not a dwelling in sight.  Rod Heikell's cruising guide directed us here through the legion fish farms in the gulf just south of Didim. For that, and much else, Heikell (dubbed Rod the God by some we know) deserves much thanks. Libations in gold cups even.


Friday, 16 August 2013

Aegean crossing

The bells of St John's monastery
There's an inscribed stone tablet kept by the monks of St John on Patmos which tells of how Vera, daughter of so-and-so, who was born on Patmos but raised somewhere else, crossed the "treacherous Aegean" to return to Patmos as high priestess of the temple of Artemis. Vera and her temple maidens are long gone, but the sea hasn't changed. You've got to respect the moods of the Aegean.

We left Zea marina on a morning when the wind was not so wild, and the seas had flattened out to 1.5 m in between Kea and Siros and we made a fast 65 mile hop to the very safe anchorage of Finikas on the south-west coast of Siros. The next day the meltemi came in hard again, and we rested 24 hours before pressing on. It's another long day across from Siros to Patmos, 90 nautical miles, but the wind was in our favour, blowing strongly and constantly from the north-west almost all the way across. The sun sets earlier than it did a month ago, but there was still light enough to see the sand on the bottom when we anchored at 7.30 pm in Ormos Kambos, a low-key summer playground north of the port. We were happy with that run across the Aegean - an 8 knot average.

An early start from Siros towards the eastern Aegean
The entrance to Patmos harbour with outlying anchorages
To have crossed the Aegean and arrived in the Dodecanese means of course that we have left behind the mean streets of Athens and our routine evenings of people-watching on the grand promenade which stretches in a long undulating loop around the base of the Acropolis. Here are a few last photos of those evenings.

Temple of Olympian Zeus - an also-ran in this city of superlative ruins
The grey stone walls of the monastery bear down on the chora
The monastery of St John dominates Patmos as the temple of Artemis must have done in Vera's time. The monks built their church on top of and around the temple's lovely marble flagstones and columns, which is why presumably the monks can display Vera's ancient CV in their museum, the "grandest in the Aegean", they proclaim. An ambit claim, I'd say, but monks do know how to get their hands on a lot of loot. Parchment gospels and magnificent jewel-encrusted ornamentation, crosses mostly but also stuff you'd never think of them wanting to own - like 15th century Florentine manuscripts of works by"pagan" Greek dramatists and philosophers, copied just in the nick of time before the Greek-speaking Byzantine emperors in Constantinople were pushed out by the Turks... I looked for Homer, but he wasn't in the collection (I've just begun my first-ever reading of The Odyssey, so Homer is my man for a while).

The monastery's 11th century church recycles the temple of Artemis

Frescoes tell the stories

A courtyard where time does not march anywhere

Below the grand turrets of St John's is a smaller monastery built over and around a cave where St John is said to have lived when he was exiled from Ephesus for 18 months or so in 95 AD (he was brought to Patmos chained to the mast of a boat, and the monks display the very same chain in a case next to the skull of St Thomas- do not doubt it)). John is believed to have the apocalyptic vision which resulted in the book of Revelations while he lived in the cave. It's a good-sized cave, if that's indeed where he lived.

Entrance to the monastery built around St John's apocalyptic cave

Someone's got to keep the cave in working order

Procession of chanting monks on
August 14
When you drop down the steep stone track to Skala, the port of Patmos, you can't quite believe that the monks are still going about their business up on the hilltop as if the world had not changed in a thousand years. I pulled back just in time from a contretemps with a pig-tailed and bearded fellow, dressed head to toe in black, who asked us 'what is Australia like?" Young and old, I told him. The cities are like cities anywhere, but in the desert there are people who have been living in Australia for 30,000 years. Oh no, he said to me, you mustn't say that. God created man 7000 years ago....and so he went on, and Alex gave me a look, and we let him talk about the things he believed, like the imminent end of the world (this is, after all, the apocalyptic island) and then left him, this monk who had come to Patmos from Mt Athos, and we went back to the sinners in the scooter-filled streets by the harbour.

Girls just wanna have fun

At the bus-stop in Skala 

If only all water sports at Ormos Kambos were this sedate

He's made of stern stuff

From Patmos we have come north to Samos - call it a circumnavigation of the North Aegean! The winds have been very kind to us, and Enki is a dream boat when she's given 25 knots to play around with. More wind is fine too. She does love a run.

Enki's starboard rail gets a saline sluice

The harbour anchorage at Pithagoria 

Pithagorio harbour on the south-east corner of Samos is so pretty. It's more crowded than we expected, but crowded with people like us, people in their own boats, perhaps thinking like us to get away from the islands popular with the charter flotillas. Last night it also drew in people not so like us, people whose yachts are accompanied by tenders (plural) as big as the usual family day-sailer. They need to get their anchors dug in just like anybody else though.

The mountain belongs to Turkey 

Some of us are bigger than others - and carry our sailing toys on deck