Saturday, 28 December 2013

Turkey watching season

Christmas tart - and a Turkish bird

I love reading the news from Australia. Nothing much happens there. I check the ABC website each morning. Occasionally a story punches hard and the old me gets worked up (I'm still convinced, for example, that out-of-control drinking and the violence it spawns is worse in Australia than most other places, though Alex disagrees) but more often than not a quick glance reassures me that all is well downunder. Read about the two fishermen who spent a night in the water clinging onto their cooler box after their boat went down? What about the tourist who walked off the end of the St Kilda pier while she was checking her Facebook page. Gold. And now, between Christmas and New Year, I get cricket and crocodiles (of course) and news that the Sydney to Hobart race has been won, yet again, by the octogenarian Bob Oatley's maxi-yacht Wild Oats. Wonderful stuff. You couldn't hope to leave your children in a better country to get on with their young adult lives, I tell myself.

Look what they dragged up from the sea on the Sunday before Christmas

In this part of the world, people enjoy their quiet routines - a Sunday barbecue at the beach, for example - as much as they do anywhere else. But the news tempo is completely different. Headlines are rarely comforting given Turkey's proximity to Syria and the Middle East and, for that matter, to a flailing, ailing Europe. Turkey no longer feels as secure or stable as it did a year ago. There's still money in the country, that's for sure, but there's a watchfulness in the air, a sense that fortunes might be changing, that established systems might be breaking up.

Southerly winds gusting 40 knots whip up the sea inside Marmaris bay

The marina gardener wrapped in red paper and cottonwool
We popped into a shop in the bazaar last week to buy a couple of Christmas gifts. Tea was ordered and, as we were not in a hurry, we sat and chatted a while with the owner. Ali is an urbane and well-travelled Turk whose English is polished enough to engage in a level of discussion we are rarely admitted to in Marmaris, opened up about Turkish politics. "Did you hear about the mess we're in?" he asked. Yes, we'd read the headlines. Three sons of cabinet ministers and the CEO of the state bank arrested, among others, as part of a sweeping corruption investigation. The prime minister was not informed beforehand apparently. Next day, police chiefs were dismissed, as were the investigators, but the damage was done. The cat was out of the bag. A clear fault-line in the ruling AKP party has been exposed. People like Ali are now keenly waiting for the local government and municipal elections at the end of March. The results, while not directly affecting national government, will show if Mr Erdogan's tight grip on power has been weakened by the events of 2013 (including the summer of protest which began in Taksim square) or whether he has held onto his support base.

Liquidambar orientalis (or Turkish sweetgum) trees in the forest behind Marmaris

 As foreigners, and as guests of a country which is now the only place in the Mediterranean (excluding North Africa) where those of us with non-EU passports can winter over with our boats, we tread carefully where politics - even at a neighbourhood level - are concerned. But if you're interested in Turkey and its political dynamic (which you can definitely not take at face value), it's worth taking the time to read this background briefing which was posted on the Marmaris Bay Cruisers website by an anonymous cruiser. As far as I can tell, its source, a private intelligence company with a confidential subscriber list (who is this cruiser?), is credible. Combined with bazaar tea and talk, it gave us more insight into what's happening up in Istanbul and Ankara than we can possibly get from inside the gated community of the marina which, by the way, is owned by the Koc family, mentioned in the above despatch. It also reminded me I should read more by Orhan Pamuk whose cryptic novels so beautifully lay bare the Byzantine heart which beats under the deceptively smooth skin of modern Turkey.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The rite stuff

Marmaris puts on her best Christmas weather

The new Yanmar drives Enki around the bay

Christmas has been and gone for Enki. The lucky girl has a new engine, and during her sea trial earlier this week it  worked like a bought one. That's all I'll say, because if you look at the blog page titled Engine Swap, you'll learn all you want to know, and possibly more, about our Great Engine Experience. Alex has out-done himself, again.

Just because our pillowcases will be empty on Christmas morning doesn't mean we're not throwing ourselves into what passes for Christmas in Marmaris.

What do their parents tell them about Santa?

Food and fashion at the annual pre-Christmas ladies bazaar

His mum did the felt work 

We're eating our way through a dozen of Susan of Bolton's Christmas mince tarts (Susan is an ex-pat who bakes from home). The pastry is very short, and thicker than I'm used to, but I can't fault her fruit mince. A couple of days ago I joined a few friends to make Christmas crackers and crepe paper hats for the Big Day. The crackers won't have any bang (can't bring gunpowder on an aeroplane from the UK) but I'm assured by the mistress of ceremonies, Karen, that the jokes will be really bad.

Jane (left) and Mary on DIY Christmas cracker and hat detail

Gwen makes Sailors Point sparkle 
Last Sunday's potluck dinner at Sailor's Point, presided over by Netsel's Good Fairy Gwen, was just the opener of a veritable whirl of social activities. These include a Christmas Eve barbecue followed by live music at Scorpio Bar (the preferred waterfront hang-out for old salts who have no firm plans to go to sea again) and a full English dinner on Christmas Day at the Missing Link restaurant in Aktas village (hosted by Karen and Paul, a couple of liveaboards who've been waylaid by the hotel business). On Boxing Day there's yet another Christmas lunch proposed by the marina management.

The invitations to this third event were issued only yesterday. We'd all given up hope, there being is a fair bit of disgruntlement towards the marina management over its badly-handled decision to introduce a charge for electricity from January 1, and at a stiff rate too. So will anyone turn up at the Boxing Day do? There is mention on the invitation of "surprise gifts" which might just rally sagging seasonal stamina. This may not strike some of you as exciting, but last year I drew (the gift-giving is run as a kind of lottery) a free hull polish, donated by one of the marina's tenants Guven Marine. Now that put a big smile on the skipper's face.

Christmas cheer to you all then, from a place where headgear sorts the believers from the non-believers in a variety of settings.

Girls outing

Can anyone pull off crepe with panache? 

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Transplant complete

Look, honestly, what is there to say about an engine?

Here it is, arriving on the back of the truck, the same flatbed which took the other one away.

Waiting on the back of the truck

All right, I can't pretend I wasn't just a little bit excited. A new engine. Wow.

At 9 am,  Mohammed came by our berth to make sure we were ready to move and I asked him how he was (Nasilsiniz?). He flashed his lovely smile and said, "Bomba". My Turkish hasn't made much progress, and I obviously looked confused. "Strong", he said, in English, and flexed his biceps. When I checked in the dictionary, bomba translates literally as "the bomb". Young men. Where would we be without them? I think he might have been excited too.

Master "marinero" Ahmet guiding an engine-less Enki's 20 tons single-handed from berth to dock

We had a perfect day for it. Usually, so the old Marmaris hands say, you can take that more or less for granted in December, but not this year. There's been more flooding in the town, bigger hailstones ripping up canvas-work and just these past few days, more bitterly cold days in stretch than anyone can remember. There was snow in Fethiye last week, I heard. A cargo ship sank by the dockside in Rhodes harbour. Strange times. But as I say, we got lucky that day.

A mirror surface in the travel lift dock
We were in and out of the travel lift dock within an hour. Such a smooth operation, with Ishmail as the choreographer, directing the crane operator and the movements of his muscle team. The Yanmar is a 4JH4 HTE model developing 110 hp. It's 80 kg lighter than the Volvo, at 217 kg, and slightly smaller in bulk (it's only 4 cylinders instead of 5), so inserting it through the gap between the hard top and the binnacle (the wheel stand) was marginally easier than removing the Volvo by the same route. Marginally.

Alex cushions the hard-top edge against the pressure of the strap

In the bucket, without a scratch on the boat

Mohammed (in the red overalls in the photos above) and Mehmet (he's down in the companionway guiding the engine from the front) are the two young Turks who worked under Ishmail on Enki's engine for three days after it lowered into position. They are hotshots from Marlin Marine. Their work is meticulous. They are proud of what they do. You can tell that. But they're also obliging, they don't play music while they work and they always leave their boots on the dock, without being asked, ever. They spread protective covers everywhere inside the boat. There wasn't any place for me to go while they were on board - the weather turned bad, and there was no lolling about outside, so I found a spot in the saloon and stayed put - but I'd have them back any time.

They wouldn't do this in Australia

The engine's not got a lot to do for the next few months, but all the boxes will be ticked - very carefully. Alex opens the door from time to time to purr at it. It's less convenient than the Volvo in terms of routine owner maintenance. The oil filter and dipstick as well as the fuel filter are on the OTHER side of the engine, and whilst the Volvo sea water pump was idiotically designed to sit on top on the alternator, Yanmar put it underneath, almost out of sight. A different, yet still a silly design? Changing an impeller will largely be a do-it-by-feel exercise, not ideal at all, but then neither was the Volvo pump dripping salt water on to the alternator.

Back at our berth, adjusting engine alignment

New hoses to the siphon break

Meanwhile, the gourmet season is upon us. I'm not talking about Christmas, though there's that too in a smallish way. The produce which we can buy in Marmaris is bogglingly good. Today is Sunday, Beldibe market day. Good for persimmons, and these gorgeous pears which are so unlike the homogenous varieties grown for mass consumption back home. Pine mushrooms too.

Field and pine mushrooms fried with garlic, tomatoes, herbs and village bread

There was frost on the top of the hard-top again this morning and in the folds of the beanbag. The pontoon was a bit like a skating rink. But there are still boats coming and going. Someone once told us that in the northern hemisphere you should not consider wintering above the citrus line. But this year, the citrus is getting frost bite. Good to have the engine bedded down before Christmas, we think.

Not for the careless on the early morning trek to the ablution block

Think twice before lounging in this frosty bag

Christmas wrapping everywhere

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Diminishing returns

Enki's winterised cockpit set-up - pot plant replaces chart plotter, lentil soup replaces Greek salads

There are fewer liveaboards in Marmaris this winter. The pre-Christmas social calendar is hectic - tomorrow night we "decorate the tree" in the common room at Netsel marina called Sailors' Point. It's BYO everything, as usual, but the point with these gatherings is first the camaraderie, then the catering. Last year the place was bursting at the seams, but recently we've been just a small crowd, about 20 max, flushed out from a handful of British and American boats, one French, one Canadian, one Australian. We're the ones left standing after the summer shouting has died down.

An Australian-themed local fishing boat caught our eye

Dawn Fraser is parked under the footbridge, in the left of the photo

There are always guys fishing on the footbridge which joins the marina to the town

Things are much quieter at Marmaris Yacht Marina, the "other" marina in the bay. A plaintive call went out over the VHF cruisers' net the other morning asking any other liveaboards at Yacht Marina to please identify themselves - "or are we here on our own?" Waverunner asked. This at a marina which in the mid-2000s was the most lively wintering hole in the Med, with crowds of 200 people plus at its winter parties (of which there were lots). Yacht Marina is apparently full, just not full of people. It's become a giant parking lot.

The suspicion is this trend suits the Turkish marina owners. Over the past ten years, as the country's economy has sped ahead, the middle-class has expanded and as more Turks have become seriously wealthy, Turks have begun buying boats. The Turks are the first to tell you they're not really a seafaring nation, but boats are the new status symbol, according to marine professionals around here (Turks too). Most of the marine money goes into power boats which, like horses, have to be kept somewhere. Up and down the Turkish coast there's been a proliferation of marina construction, some of it legal, but a lot of it not.

This photo was taken in October, but there are still cruise ships coming alongside Netsel marina in December

Netsel marina is one of the oldest and biggest and, for good reason, it's also one of the most popular (and most expensive) marinas in Turkey. You'll know by now that its natural harbour offers shelter from the worst of the southerly gales, plus it's spectacular. The town is provincial, but it's become renowned for its excellent marine services. We who live in the marina end up spending a lot of money here, one way or another. But things are changing in Marmaris and it seems likely that foreign yachts won't be wintering over here in great numbers again. It's not so much that they're being priced out of the market (though there's that too, as the swarming to the discounted marina at Finike attests) but that they're no longer perceived to be as valuable to the business of the marina.

First week of December - I'm wearing an Icebreaker merino tee-shirt, but there's warmth in the sun

Having foreign yachts in your marina was once seen as an advantage - they paid for their contracts in hard currency, and less tangibly but as importantly, they gave the marina international bragging rights. That's still the case, I'm sure. Just to cite a couple of examples, Chay Blyth chose to re-fit his newest acquisition for ocean cruising at Netsel marina (the boat, resplendent in her new kit, sits awaiting riding instructions at the end of K pontoon), and last season Randy Repass, founder of West Marine (a big American chandlery) left his lean, mean sailing machine Convergence here for quite some time between outings.  These names add kudos to a marina, but what about the rest of us?

 Colin and Jane (Hydaway) and Dale (Liz) were at Netsel with us last year too

So were Rick and Mary (Orca)

Gotta have a bike
We're a motley bunch, we liveaboards, but ask around at any gathering and you'll find a pretty impressive range of seafaring experience. Crossing oceans is not all of it, but it's a significant part. Everyone, after all, has come here from somewhere else, and usually more than a day's sail away.  "What did you do in your other life?" we ask new friends. You'd be surprised at the range of experience there too. Lots of engineers, but also people who've built businesses, run for public office, taught, healed, made gardens, etc. Sure, we may look eccentric, old folks who get about on bikes and don't hesitate to turn up to dinner in wet weather gear and sailing boots if conditions warrant, and some of us can be a bit careful with our money (liveaboards do have that reputation, and it's not unwarranted). But we're lively. We're hibernating in Marmaris, but not in our lives. By and large during the winter we've got something on the go, usually a boating project or several, but often something else too. People living on boats hatch all sorts of schemes. And lots of them are smart, like Alex.
The man is always flat out (seen from the companionway steps, tweaking his homegrown fuel-polishing system

Ishmail and Mehmet measure up for the base of the Yanmar
I think it's fair to say that the guys at Marlin, for example, really enjoy working with Alex. He's fastidious, he's dogged, he's always thinking about better ways of solving the problem at hand - and he's respectful of the skills and experience of those he's paying. They can do something he can't, but that doesn't mean he isn't keeping tabs all the way.

Having Alex (and other old salts like Alex) here is - and has been - good for Marmaris. We're beginning to hear rumblings around the traps which suggest that locals are worried about the vanishing liveaboards. Perhaps the town at large will not care too much when the once-vibrant liveaboard culture curls up its toes (as seems possible), but the many skilled tradesmen and business owners who've invested their futures in Turkey's young recreational marine industry certainly will.

Alex gave the engine bay at least four coats of paint (that I smelled)

Our Christmas box

I haven't said much about the new engine yet - don't want to waste a good storyline - but for those who can't wait, we've gone with a Yanmar 110 hp with turbo. I'll let Alex explain the whys and wherefores on his practical boating pages. Put simply, it's got no electronics, Yanmar make only marine engines (i.e. they're generally not marinised car engines as other engine brands are), and it's got a turbo because that's what this size engine has to have to keep the weight down and the power up. We're scheduled to be at the crane again by 9 am on Monday. Alex has the engine bay looking good enough to eat dinner off.