Lycian Coast of Turkey: A Blue Cruise

09/12/2013

TL;DR for our Blue Cruise Post:

  • Photos from the gullet cruise
  • Favorite Moments: Leaping off the boat to cool off, kayaking, sea turtles, sleeping on deck, exploring Kalekoy
  • Walked:
    on the cruise: 74,202 steps / ~37 miles
    in Total: 1,813,330 steps / ~906 miles

Turkey is a huge country compared to the places we’ve visited so far, but many of its popular destinations are packed along the Lycian coast– with good reason.

It offers beautiful water, a dramatic coastline, and so many archeological treasures that the locals all but ignore them (hey, I’m just going to drop my Winnebago next to this ancient tomb, kay?).

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Our trip to date had been pretty dense- lots of destinations and exploration. So we were looking forward to this chapter of our Turkish experience– a “blue cruise”.

Alex and I are decidedly not “cruisers”. We’ve been on one proper cruise and it’s probably our least favorite style of travel. A Blue Cruise is something different– it’s a gullet (a sailboat, usually 70-100 feet long), some crew (a captain, a handful of helpers, and a chef) and 5-10 staterooms for travelers.

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It turns out that virtually none of these sailboats even have sails on board– they motor from place to place. This made us sad, but with the blue cruise experience, it was pretty hard to stay sad for long.

All of a sudden, the bulk of the work/effort of traveling melted away. No more researching destinations, getting lost in the heat, trying to find specific restaurants, or stiff-arming touts and pitchmen on the street. Our meals were planned and cooked for us. The bar was always open. Our daily destinations and activities (all optional) were already planned and locked in. Don’t get me wrong– we love a lot of the mystery and pain of travel, but it can be taxing.

For 7 days, our lives were utterly on autopilot. We’d get up in the morning and have breakfast at 9 (always the same– tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, eggs, bread, jam, coffee). We’d hang at whatever little bay/anchorage/town we happened to be at (usually shared by 1-5 other boats of various flavors). Oftentimes we’d swim, leaping off of higher and higher parts of the boat as we built up the courage to do so.

We’d then motor somewhere else to hunker down for the rest of the day (the trip there would be 2-5 hours). One of my favorite sights was two of the youngest crew-members leaping off the back of the boat every day with big lines that they’d tie to boulders on the shoreline.

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After that, more swimming or kayaking for us. Some reading. Lunch at 2. Dinner at 9. Rinse, repeat. It was lovely.

But it was damn hot. Africa hot. 100F/38C or more. The heat was rarely a big deal, though. When we were on the move, there was plenty of breeze on the boat. When we weren’t, the Mediterranean sea was available to cool us off— just leap over the rail and you’re there.

Surprisingly, the nights were where the heat was most difficult to deal with. The boat only ran AC from 7-10PM (and calling it AC was generous– it was more like an anemic fan), so most everyone chose to sleep on deck. This was actually pretty nice when there was a breeze. But sometimes it’d be hot no matter where you tried to sleep… And it’d almost always be chilly in the morning– we’d generally do a migration back to our stateroom early in the morning.

A Gas Station in Florida
The more we travel the more I realize the difference between a good restaurant/activity/hotel and a mediocre one is the degree to which the proprietor loves where they are and what they do. If you’re throwing a plate of eggs in front of people to make a few bucks, you probably didn’t care enough to make me a great breakfast. If you love the town you live in, you love food, and you love people, I’m going to be able to see that in your product.

Our Captain and his crew were very clearly in the “there to make a buck” category. They’d been doing blue cruises for 25 years and had done well. But if they ever had it, they had lost their love for the beauty of the coast, the romance of boat travel, and the joy of meeting with new people.

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Our captain’s dream was to sell the boat, buy a gas station he’d been looking at in Florida (“Which town?” I’d asked. “Florida,” he insisted) and buy a used BMW (“Very cheap in America!”).

Still, they were largely pretty solid– the meals were tasty and on time and the crew were pleasant.

Your Shipmates on a Blue Cruise
Who you’re sailing with can make or break a small cruise like this. Unless you bring your own friends, you don’t have a lot of control here, but you CAN ask a bit about the demographics of a particular voyage before you book. And certain companies cater to particular demographics (I think we were more terrified of getting on a boat full of hard-partying college kids than a boat full of octogenarians). We ended up with a nice mix– 1 other youngish couple, 3 families with charming teenagers, and a few semi-retired folks… Every single one of them hailing from the UK (just 3 hours-ish away by plane, Turkey is a handy place for a holiday).

Highlights
Most of the places we anchored were pretty similar to the last: quiet rocky little bays and inlets with great swimming (note: near-zero places were worth snorkeling). A few places stood out as interesting/noteworthy in our run between Fethiye and Kas.

First, Kalkan. Kalkan is a little town just 30 minutes away from Kas. You’ll see plenty of people online asking whether they should stay in Kalkan or Kas. Both are charming, but we ultimately preferred Kas (it was slightly less touristy and had less of a British influence). Kalkan is an adorable town that spills down a hill into the water. It’s chock full of Brits– both ex-pats and travelers, which gives it less of a Turkish feel. We spent an afternoon there, which is plenty to explore the town itself, but it’d be a great place to base a trip or spend a few days relaxing. The beaches of Kalkan itself were pretty weak (similar to Kas), but there are cheap boat trips to take you to nice beaches if that’s your thing.

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The big highlight for us was the day we spent near the village of Kalekoy, which featured the sunken city of Kekova and a ruined castle above it, which was absolutely the neatest little village we experienced in Turkey (if it had a swimmable beach it would be a perfect low-key destination). It featured a fairly intact castle above the town that was worth hiking to for the best view we experienced in Turkey.

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On our way back from the castle we hunted up a tomb that someone had put in the water that we had seen from the Castle (these Lycian crypts are literally littering the landscape in Turkey).

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As we walked down the dock, a boat full of veggies pulled up and the local ladies swarmed. What had been a quiet dock was now a frenetic supermarket that we could barely wade through.

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The sunken city had melted into the shorelines quite a bit, but you could still see foundations and stairways along the coastlines as we cruised around the various little islands in a hired boat. The charming driver (who had his wife and young daughter aboard) had converted the boat to be a semi-glass-bottom affair, and it was amazing to see intact pottery along the shore. Because it is a protected area, there were very limited areas to swim (snorkeling and diving aren’t allowed).

Would we do a Blue Cruise again?
Absolutely. It was a pretty glorious and seriously relaxing way to experience Turkey. Many/most of them are 4 days/3 nights– we were glad to have picked one that was 8 days/7 nights (though 2 of those days were in the marina on either side, which none of the passengers were thrilled about). For a more extensive holiday, there are plenty of wonderful towns to tack onto the end/beginning of a cruise including Kas (where we ended up staying for 4 days after the trip), Kalkan, Dalyan, or even the tiny village of Kalekoy if you want some serious peace and quiet.