Sailing from Turkey to Greece on the Aegean Sea: A new spectacular view every day

I'm on a gleaming 54-ft yacht, Turkey to portside, Greece to starboard and the Aegean Sea disappearing beneath the hull. A day ago I was exploring the ancient ruined city of Ephesus. Today I am sailing with the Gods. Pull! Pull! Grind! Grind! Release! Release! Ropes fly, the boom swings and the great white sail buffets against a blue sky before refilling with Mediterranean air. And we're off again. Just like the ancient Greeks, through whose waters we are passing, we're travelling with the wind and the wind alone.

Now, I am not nautical by nature and you wouldn't find me dead in a pair of deck shoes, but I do like an adventure, especially if I can involve a bit of photography (a personal passion) along the way, followed by a glass of ouzo, a bouzouki player and a Greek mezze feast.

When I heard about a yachting trip flitting between the Turkish coast and the Dodecanese islands of Greece, it was the allure of visiting remote islands that only a small yacht could access that first enticed me. But the sailing aspect of the trip grew on me pretty swiftly.

Our Sun Odyssey Jeanneau 54 provides a moving hotel en-suite, with a different seaside panorama to await us each morning as we emerge for breakfast on the deck. Hassle-free travel: no hauling of suitcases, no daily check-ins, no traffic, no tourists. And access to some of Greece and Turkey's most well-hidden secrets.

Yet photographing from a yacht at sea can be challenging. It requires a bit of tenacity and a good sense of balance, all worth it for the wonderful aspect to the landforms and the ever-changing, brilliant light. Sometimes the water contrasts spectacularly with the yachts, other times it appears surreal and glassy, indiscernible from the sky.

But this trip is a great chance to hone photography skills with a great variety of subjects: landscape photography (should an ancient castle on a cliff come into focus), street photography, or on a good day, some action-packed sailing shots. If it's your first time shooting from a boat, you may wish to opt for the stability of a traditional Turkish sailing boat called a gulet (see sidebar story)

As the Turkish coast fades from view, the sleeping figure of Samos comes into focus on the horizon. Our first port of call is the village of Pythogorion, named after the mathematician who was born there. After crossing the invisible ocean border that runs between Turkey and Greece, we pause for a sailing ritual.

"Who wants a swim,?" says Metin, our gregarious Turkish skipper, and we leap off the stern and into the big blue. The Aegean Sea has the clearest water that I've ever seen. Opening my eyes beneath the surface, I am surrounded by shafts of sunlight and a brilliant sapphire sea.

In the classic Greek village of Pythogorion, we moor Mediterranean style, stern to quay, just a gangplank away from the best cafes and bars in town. As the sun sets, I explore the labyrinths of whitewashed houses that cover the hillside, their woodwork painted cornflower blue, their gardens abundant with roses, geraniums and prickly pear. Down a cobblestone street, a group of old men in tattered suits sit together in the dying sun, sharing a watermelon.

Advertisement

Our flotilla of three yachts is crewed by couples and solo travellers, seasoned sailors and novices. And then there's me, the most inexperienced of them all. For the first week I rely on our skipper Metin to show me the ropes (reef knot, bowline, clove hitch) and to teach me how to read the texture of the water for signs of oncoming gusts.

Arki, one of the least travelled Greek islands, is accessible only by smaller boat, the lapis bay is too small for monster cruise liners to enter. When we arrive, we have the place virtually to ourselves, aside from the 200-odd goats that live on the island, their collar bells clanging as they run for the hills. The goats of Arki are said to produce the best feta in the world.

After stepping onto the jetty, a small yacht appears around the volcanic cliffs. Travelling by yacht is like being an only child: you rarely have to share. "Go away!" I think. "This is our bay!"

That evening we head for Tripas Taverna, where Manolis appears in a loose pink patchwork shirt, dancing as he serves us salad and then a multiple-course dinner. A few ouzos later we're all up dancing with him, the crew of the small yacht included.

Our next destination is Patmos. After lunching on fresh fish, octopus and saganaki at a beachside restaurant where our chairs sink into the pebbles, I explore the island with Metin by motor scooter. We travel through a tiny village where each house has its own walnut grove. We pass an old woman leading a donkey up a hill, crossing herself as she goes. Patmos is the birthplace of the Greek Orthodox Church and is rich with remains of the ancient story of St John. We chat about plans for tomorrow. "Another day in Patmos or would you like to see Lipsos?" Never have I been on a tour where I get to decide on the itinerary.

After a few hours of smooth sailing, the cliffs of Kalymnos open to reveal a tiny inlet. Hidden in the cleft of the jagged fjord is the little town of Vathi. The rocky wilderness above the inlet is rich with the scent of peppery oregano, wild thyme and sage. They say that the goats and sheep that graze on these herbs make for fragrant meat. We snorkel in the clear turquoise water and spot schools of glinting fish. I search in hope of discovering an ancient Grecian urn on the sea floor.

At Poppy's Taverna there is a flurry of shrieks and kisses as Sylvia, the owner, comes to greet her Australian seafaring friends. She has been cooking for us all day. In the courtyard a pair of musicians bring us the sorrowful harmonies of Greek folk songs. Metin knows Turkish versions of the same songs and hums along.

Isolation often leads to eccentricity and that's just what these tiny, seldom visited villages have on offer: wonderful characters and quaint traditions, delightful details that vastly enrich the Mediterranean experience.

The following morning we race. Sailing conditions are perfect and there is a buzz of anticipation among the crews. Maggie does the countdown over the radio. "Pull! Pull! Grind! Grind! Release! Release!" The sails fill and we fly along at nine knots, our hull heeling over majestically as we jostle with the other craft. Like those who crossed this sea with the blessings of Poseidon many thousands of years before us, we are at one with the elements. It is magnificent.

The weather-beaten faces of fishermen welcome us back to Turkey, to the village of Palamut. Bathed in the golden hues of the day's last rays, they sift their nets for knots and debris. After a seafood dinner the restaurant owner spins some Turkish dancing classics and reveals his eccentric collection of hats for all to share. A wiry fisherman, his work done for the day, leaps from his tiny tirhandel boat and can't get his rubber boots off quickly enough to proposition all the women in the group for a dance.

Between Palamut and Datcha the sea is like a dreamscape. Windless, the water a crisp mirror, we furl the sails and motor. A perfect time to put my feet up and have a siesta under the shade of the canopy. Early the next day I take a walk to the old town on the crest of the hill where classic bucolic scenes await.

This is the Turkish coast at its most pristine and traditional; villagers still grow much of their food in gardens by their houses and make their own dairy products. I meet an old man with a geranium behind his ear, herding a humble flock of four sheep up the hill. Our crew sails together for the last time and as the islands fade from view our seafaring camaraderie is apparent. We travellers are strangers who have become friends, landlubbers turned to sailors.

MORE INFORMATION

marinerboating.com

GETTING THERE

Mariner Boating holidays trips sailing the Aegean Sea leave from Turkey and Greece. Singapore Air and Malaysian Airlines operate several daily flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Istanbul, Etihad and Qantas fly to Athens from Sydney and Melbourne, via Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively starting at $2100 return. See singaporeair.com; malaysiaairlines.com; etihad.com; qantas.com.au

If visiting Turkey, you will need to apply for a visa before departing on your trip. To apply for an electronic visa for Turkey, see evisa.gov.tr/en/Greece issues visas upon arrival.

SAILING THERE

Mariner Boating Holidays leads several yacht rallies in the Aegean Sea departing from both Turkey and Greece, including the 16-day Clique Greek Island Photo Odyssey departing on September 11, from $4195. See marinerboating.com/tour/2015-greek-island-photo-odyssey. Phone 1300 131 724. If you prefer to explore on your own, they also charter private yachts or gulets

The writer was a guest of Mariner Boating Holidays

Comments