Crunch Time! "I've booked our gulet and need to send a deposit right away. You've all given your okay and I am going ahead on that basis." This red-tagged email from our trip organizer appears in my inbox on a wet November day.
The time for planning over copious bottles of plonk is over. No more what-ifs. Too bad if Fred breaks his leg playing hockey or Jane gets laid off, or the old furnace blows just before the May departure date. All 18 of us are on the hook!
A gulet began as a traditional Turkish, two-masted wooden schooner, an ideal design for fishing, sponging, cargo moving - even plundering the odd Greek Island way back when.
Today, the word "gulet" conjures up images of lolling around on richly upholstered deck cushions, sipping bubbly under a relentless Mediterranean sun and piggingout on delectable meals, served up on white tablecloths by impeccable, unobtrusive staff.
The only stress may come from choosing activities for the day. Perhaps a quiet bay for lunch? A swim? A nice snooze while the captain steams into a small village for a touch of carpet trading? Does that sound like an ad for Freedom 55 or the lottery?
Smart Turkish boat builders from around Bodrum and Marmaris spotted cruising potential back in the early 1970s. With the promise of pristine islands, untrammeled beaches and secluded bays a mere pitcher's toss away, tourists began looking for boats to charter. Before long, master craftsmen were beavering away with hammers, saws and chisels at beach-side shipyards to fill the demand. Monster vessels with shining wooden decks and luxurious en-suite, air-conditioned cabins started rolling from slipways into the sea - each requiring a year or more to construct.
Today, we arrive in the small southwest-ern Turkish port of Gocek in dribs and drabs. Some had chosen to add side trips along the way. To get nine couples to commit to a date for a dinner party is formidable enough, never mind a commitment for 10 days on a boat, seven months previously and thousands of kilometres away. Surely a non-starter? Unless you have a skilled, nononsense, organiser - as we do.
Fast forward to May 24. Our gullet, Cemre 4, all 30 metres of her, sits at the dock gleaming in the sunshine. Her chef is wheeling the last of the supplies up the gangplank. Two boat boys are already fluffing up her cushions and polishing rails. Captain Hayati Arabali has just finished checking the cabins and greets us with a warm Turkish smile.
Two major issues have already been settled. Firstly, a lottery for the choice of cabins. Secondly, following extensive wine and beer tastings at the local supermarket, we settle on the "poison" of choice. After all, cruising is thirsty work.
To avoid total inertia, it was decided we would make two shore excursions each day and spend the evenings at anchor in a perfect bay.
For 10 days we explore the Lycian tombs at Myra; join the pilgrims at the Church of St. Nicholas where the bones of "Santa Claus" have lain since his death in AD 343; sing lustily in the ancient ruins of the theatre in Kas; and buy enough carpets to open scads of stores back home.
We eat scrumptious dinners in deserted bays and share empty white sand beaches with goats. We celebrate birthdays, wedding anniversaries and toast our persuasive leader, without whom this experience would surely never have happened!
The cost for 10 days of living like millionaires? Around $100 per person per day.
The verdict? "Where to next year?"
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