I will start this off by admitting that this charter was one of the most challenging to book. I essentially booked three completely different trips in the end; two were canceled, and ultimately we landed in the beautiful country of Turkey—literally, the only country we were allowed to enter as US citizens, without a medical certificate or requiring a COVID test. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and want to share our newfound love for Turkey with other sailors wishing to charter and go sailing. Feeling the wind in our sails, and being aboard, was exactly what we all needed. In the end it doesn’t matter where we are, just that we're together as a family on a sailboat.
The Sunday before we were set to fly to Greece, we found out that we would be banned from entering the EU. Luckily Dream Yacht Charter (DYC), with whom we own a Dufour 382, also had a base in Turkey. By some miracle, we were able to change our flights to Istanbul and secure an open yacht for the same three weeks in Turkey. Four days later we started our three-day, six-flight journey from Hilo, Hawaii to the base in Gocek. We had little time to research the area, but were intrigued with our brief investigation of the area’s great sailing, beautiful beaches, ancient ruins and history, and protected anchorages. After a long journey, we arrived in Istanbul and took a domestic flight about an hour and a half south to Dalaman Airport. A short taxi ride away, we finally arrived at D-Marin Marina in Gocek. It was about 5pm, the breeze felt amazing, and we proceeded to unpack and settle into our new home, a 2019 Jeanneau SO 389.
We decided to take it easy the next day and stay in the marina for another night so we could properly provision at the nearby grocery stores and simply relax after days of travel. Masks are required in Turkey, so we had to wear them in our airline transits and well as in the streets, and in all shops. Once on the boat, or in the more remote anchorages, they were not necessary or required. D-Marin is seriously one of the most clean and accommodating marinas we have been to. I would have swum off the dock, the water was so clean! All of Turkey for that matter was surrounded by exceptionally clean water, with very little trash and litter in the ocean and along the beaches. I was thoroughly impressed. Besides its cute little promenade and town, there is an exclusive club at D-Marin that has a perfect white sand beach, loungers, and a restaurant on the water. It felt super posh, and was a nice treat after all our travel. We spent half the day there soaking up the beach. The food is incredible, 5 Star, and so is the service. It is 200 Turkish Lyra
per person to spend the day and access the facilities. Kids under 7 are free, so it was well worth the money.
The next day we set off north along the coast and med moored, about 20m from the shore, at this cool island in a protected marine park. We stayed two nights before going around the corner to see Tomb Bay, and hiked up to the ancient Lycian tombs just above the shore. We then headed west to spend the night med moored in Kuyruk Buku. In Turkey the meltemi winds fill in every afternoon. Somedays it starts around 11 and can blow until 5 or 6pm, so you need to make any north or westward headway before the winds fill in.
We left in the morning to sail over 20nm to Ekincik, a big sandy bottom bay, which also has a very small two pontoon 'marina' off to the side if you do not wish to anchor. We elected to hire a private dayboat to take us on a day tour up the nearby Dalyan river to the ancient ruins of Kaunos and the Lycian tombs, as well as a stop for lunch and to nearby thermal mud baths and hot spring. We highly recommend this excursion! After a couple nights anchored here, we sailed over 35nm down the coast to Bozuk Buku, an ancient harbor used to shelter from the winds when rounding the headland north. There is an 'ancient citadel' on the hill which is a must see, and the short hike is well worth the incredible views. We anchored one night, and stopped again on our way south, but docked at one of the restaurants for free. They expect you to eat something but do not charge you to tie up, although no power and water are available.
We had intentions in our three weeks to sail as far as Bodrum, but after several days of beating into the wind and washing machine? sea state, we opted to make Bozburun and Kazil Adasi our turnaround point. We are so glad we did, because this area is an ideal place to explore for few days! We find less is always more, especially with two young girls aboard. Turquoise waters and beaches around the island of Kazil Adasi are a must stop, and you can med moor amongst dozens of beautiful motor yachts and Turkish galetes. We also spent a night, dropping the anchor and med mooring in the small town quay in Bozburun. We needed water and provisions and it was a perfect mid charter stop. You can walk along the town, which has multiple grocery stores, cafes, a playground, and public transport to nearby Marmaris and Selimiye. After several nights exploring in this area we headed back to Bozuk Buku, a perfect jumping off point for our planned 60nm downwind sail to Gemiler Islands, just south of Fethiye.
We left around 10am for our planned full day sail downwind, averaging 6-7kts. We had wind most of the day and it died off around 6pm so we motor sailed the last hour or so to the anchorage. The restaurant Katacaoren, had a couple dozen mooring balls that they generously offered us for the night even though we did not go ashore for dinner. We left early the next morning to explore Oludeniz beach and Butterfly Bay. It was very deep around Oludeniz, and we decided not to anchor as our charter boat only had 30m of chain and then rope aboard, which was not sufficient for many of the deeper bays in the area. After a little pull in and look, we sailed around the corner to Butterfly Bay know as Kelebekler Vadisi beach. We med moored to a rock 30m from the beach and had the whole valley almost to ourselves, that is until the dayboats (pirate ships) arrived around 11am taking over the whole right side of the beach. Hundreds of tourists descended on the beach for an hour or two and then every one of them left and it was again an incredible place to spend the day, but is exposed to the meltemi and swell and not advised for overnight.
We opted to sail back up the coast and tuck into a more protected bay across from Gemiler Adasi, by Kalevezi Koyu. It was abnormally calm that evening, and we anchored in 10m of water all by ourselves. We took the dingy to explore the nearby beaches and the cold water harbor in the bay. That night we made a small fire with the driftwood debris on the beach and took in the rare opportunity to have the whole anchorage to ourselves. Certainly an evening to remember.
After a lovely evening, we left in the morning to sail north to Fethiye harbor, where we anchored off Yacht Classic Hotel, in the southwest corner of the bay just past the marina entrance. The pool and food at the hotel are incredible and if you dock at one of their two pontoons you get access to all their hotel facilities. The girls loved the pool, and we spent some time both days enjoying the amenities, which they were happy to share with us having bought lunch. I would highly recommend a stop here, and to visit their marina if you need a night on the dock. Ece marina is also right there, where you can provision at the Carrefour, and dispose of your trash. They also had cafes all along the docks and nice facilities. We spent a couple nights here before heading to our last evening on anchor, off the nearby island of Kazil Adasi(Red Island), in the second bay. A few dayboats came in, but most med moored in the first bay. Again, we had the whole bay to ourselves that evening after all the dayboats left. It was an idyllic place to spend our final night on the hook before returning to D-Marin in Gocek.
In regards to a charter destination, Turkey checks all the boxes! It by far superceded our expectations and was an ideal destination to sail and explore. Despite the added restrictions and mask mandates, we felt relatively free aboard and in the many remote bays. We feel it's much easier to socially distance on a boat than on land. The food was delicious, and very affordable, as an average dinner out cost roughly $50-60USD for all four of us with drinks. We certainly ate our share of kebabs! Additionally, the beaches and sea are clean with good visibility for snorkeling and diving. We saw many loggerhead sea turtles, which nest in the area. Dalyan River is one of only a few sea turtle nesting locations in Europe. There are so many ruins we could not see them all, but if you love history this place will amaze you. After sailing we spent a few nights in Istanbul before flying back to Hawaii. It is a huge city and definitely worth a stop. Besides DYC, there is E.G.G Yachting out of Gocek, and many other charter companies of Fethiye and Marmaris. All had fleets of modern production yachts from 30-50' available for charter. If you are wondering where you can go amid all the current travel restrictions, I would highly recommend this unspoiled gem in the Mediterranean to your bucket list.
Disclosure: I would highly recommend contacting the consulate or embassy prior to departure to get the most up to date travel regulations. Both the Turkish and Greek consulates in the US wrote me back via email within a couple days. At the time of travel, Turkish Airlines and KLM were both operationg flights to Istanbul from LAX and JFK. There are many inter European flight options as well. You need to apply online for a 90day E-Visa.