When we disembarked the small plane that brought us from Istanbul to Bodrum, in the South-West of Turkey, the question with whom we’d spend the next seven days came to my mind for the first time. Or if we’d have a bathroom for ourselves, or if the bed would be only 40cm wide, if at all. We were on transfer from the airport when I felt a slight nervousness rising in me, was it a good idea to agree to a seven day sailing cruise with complete strangers in the Turkish Aegean?
A couple of minutes later it’s clear that this was the best idea ever. All doubts were washed away when we entered the small bay close to Ortakent – an impressive all-wooden sailboat lay at anchor in the quiet waters, two masts reaching up high into the sky, a big dining table on top of the deck, soft couches at the stern and white sunbeds on deck. As if out of a dream.
After crossing over on a dinghy, we were welcomed with a dinner made by the Turkish chef and met our fellow passengers (from all over Europe) and the crew for the first time. A never ending flow of Rosé wine made it very easy to feel welcome, and the first bites of fresh Turkish food resolved the last tensions. This was going to be great, I instantly knew.
I was invited to join this trip by SCIC Sailing, a Turkish-Dutch joint company with four sailing boats offering trips in the Turkish Aegean and around the Greece Islands. It is run by a vibrant Dutch lady and her Turkish business partner, both of which are eager to create a unique, high-class yet comfortable experience for their guests. This eagerness is not only visible in the beautiful yet never over-the-top décor of the ships, but also in their treatment of the crew, the delightful dinners, the layout of the routes and suggestions for trips and excursions.
The flexible routes are one of SCIC’s greatest strengths, each tour can be customized to the wishes of the travelers – if your first urge is to see as many archeological sites as possible, they’ll map out a route accordingly. And if all you wanna do is spend your days in a lonely picture-perfect bay, this is what they’ll plan for you.
And this is what we did: we started in a bay near Ortakent, Turkey, only to set sails for the Greek islands, going from Kos to Nisyros, Tilos to Symi, Datca and then Bodrum. Our days were just like this: after a refreshing morning dip into the water (if my inner weaker self allowed it), a wonderfully filling breakfast with fresh fruits, eggs and Turkish tea, we began sailing to the day’s destination, where we’d have an excursion, later lunch and then maybe some more water “sports” or reading… I read so many books on this trip.
Sounds like a dream and it certainly is. Especially when the sails are set and we’ve floated on the water without a sound… And then one of the crew would ask if you’d fancy an iced tea or maybe a chilled rose wine?
I am lying on a sunbed, it must have been the second or third day, reading a book and enjoying the light breeze when the captain yells “Dolphins!” and all on board hurry to the bow to take a look. Even the crew is excited to see the five or six dolphins swimming close to the ship, accompanying us for a while. It is my first time seeing them up close in the wild, and what fun it is to watch them frolic in the waters.
When the spectacle is over, the guests retreat to their former spots, while the crew starts to prepare the boat – almost soundless – for entering the bay for the night. While in the beginning I still fell for this weird feeling of being in the way of the crew, they quickly managed to make us feel so comfortable we understood they’d be working (around us), trying to make the most of our experience. This is one big advantage of SCIC: the atmosphere on board, between members of the crew and guests is relaxed, almost amicable, not once we had the feeling of straining or blocking them, not once the atmosphere has been rigid or tense. How terrible it would feel otherwise, as spacious as the boat is, it is still only a boat.
A beautiful, one has to say, 25m long and 100 tons of weight, the Naviga is a classic yacht with seven cabins, each with ensuite bathroom. (The comfort and size of the bathroom was one of the most surprising things – I didn’t think too much about it before, but didn’t expect to have my own shower, neither did I expect to have a double bed with a huge window facing out the rear, making us wake up every morning with a beautiful view onto the water.)
As said, we were in for a holiday with strangers, we spent seven days with them and the crew sailing in the waters between Turkey and Greece, stopping in the most impressive bays, visiting the loveliest cities and eating the best food. And what had made me nervous during our journey there, became a benefit only – not only did we all get along, I am happy to say I found new friends on board.
Going over to Greece meant we were in for some very interesting excursions, we hiked down the volcano crater Stefanos on Nisyros island, later climbed up the mountains to see the picture-perfect white and blue village (they’ve got delicious honey on this island, which is very fertile thanks to the vulcanic soil saving water). We visited the lonely Byzantine monastery of St. Panteleimon on the cliffs of Tilos island and the overly beautiful harbor city of Symi (where we had an almost perfect Greek dinner with loads of Retsina, a Greek white wine, at Catherinettes Taverna in the harbor.)
While this might sound like a stressfull program, it was balanced by a full afternoon in an unnamed bay back in Turkey and crowned by a dinner on a dreamy beach in another lonely bay. And then finished with some kelim shopping in Datca as well as people watching in the busy harbor city of Bodrum. Datca is actually a lot better to shop kelims, kelim pillows, flower embroidered scarfs and blankets from Uzbekistan and everything alike than the over priced Bodrum which is more specialized in fake designer handbags.
When in Bodrum, rather bet on eating in the busy market halls, where you will not only be served great meze (starters), but can choose your fish from one of the many vendors that will be freshly grilled on site.
The sailing company SCIC owns four ships, for eight, fourteen or sixteen guests, that all go on different routes during the season. One can either charter the whole boat and crew, or join a mixed tour for individual guests, like we did.
Between April and late October SCIC offers 14 to 15 different routes and a large array of special tours like hiking, Yoga, cooking or archaeological tours. While most passengers are between 35 and 55, the tours are also booked by many families with children, and many book it year and year again with over 70% of the guests being repeat visitors.
An individual tour during high season (book a year early!) is about 1100,- Euros including all costs on deck, food and drinks, excluding flights, transfer and excursions. To charter a boat is starting at 2700,- a week for six passengers, plus food and drinks (385,- per person). More info here.
You should seriously consider making this next year’s holiday. (Still not convinced? Watch this video.)