Sail the Greek Islands and the coast of Turkey

The frontier between Turkey and Greece

When you come out of Marmaris and turn right you have the Turkish coast on your right and the Greek islands of the Dodecanese group on your left. Over the centuries Greeks and Turks have faced each other with great hostility across these waters but these days it’s all peace and light and on with business.


On one recent visit to Vathi on the island of Kalimnos, on one of our Mariner rallies, we had with us our Turkish engineer Metin Cakir whose great grand-mother coincidentally was Pontic Greek from the Black Sea shore of Turkey. We had engaged two Greek musicians from the main port of Kalimnos for our dinner function and during their opening song Metin said to me, “this song is not Greek, it is Turkish”. “Do you know it?” I asked. “Yes” he replied, so I asked him to sing it for us after the first break.

Metin sat on a chair in front of the guitarist and the violin player and sang the song in Turkish! The tragedy of the song, called “As We Cry” in English or Agladikca in Turkish, was immediately apparent and with Kurdish origins I suppose it could hardly have been anything else. Play the version by Ahmet Kaya on You Tube and you will hear what I mean.

You could have heard a pin drop as Metin sang that night and there was more than just a tear or two as people realized the significance of this moment! In the end it doesn’t really matter where you come from.

Bozuk Buku and the ancient city of Loryma

Bozuk Buku

Back to our passage west from Marmaris and your first stop could be Bozuk Buku – with the word Buku by the way being the Turkish word for bay. Bozuk means castle and sure enough perched above this bay are the remains of an ancient Greek fortification. The blocks for the walls easily measured 2 x 1.5 x 1 metre, begging the question; where did these blocks come from and how did the builders get them up onto the walls of this castle? There was no quarry in sight!

Another ancient Greek city, Loryma, is only a few kilometres away and all along this coast such discoveries are frequently made to fuel the imagination while pondering the past. Your pondering may be interrupted by a couple of delightful your Turkish women who in their lilting mother tongue will offer a range of garments and trinkets, which you will have absolutely no need for but which you may not be able to resist.

There are three restaurants in Bozuk Buku but the one nearest to and with the best access to the castle is the one I always use. There is a rickety metal and wooden jetty there that you can moor stern-to with lines that are provided I think. When you look down into the emerald coloured transparency of the water you might swear the depth to be no more than a couple of metres but your depth sounder will soon tell you it’s more like 5.

Sogut Village, Turkey

Sogut and the lady with the goats

Around the corner and into the Hisaronou Gulf is Sogut, Bencik, Datca and a hand full of anchorages over which the spine of the Datca Peninsular towers. In Sogut at the eastern end of the gulf there is just the one restaurant and a really good one at that, but you must take the walk up to the village where a woman herding a cluster of goats, with their fodder bundled on her back, may cause a two car traffic jam. A coffee will cost a few cents and the men playing Tavla in the shade of the Mulberry tree will beckon you to join them, at least for a coffee.

A touch of Greece in Simi

Right in the middle of the Hisaronou gulf sits the Greek Island of Symi and on the eastern side of Symi is the bay called Thessalona, which can only be reached by boat. The cliffs soar to a height of 200 metres and the water clarity once again is such that you might think you could stand in it but I suggest you check the depth sounder before you try.

If you want to visit Symi Harbour you really should check in to Greece, which means you will have to check out of Turkey in Datca, a bit of a bureaucratic bore, but Symi will be worth the effort.

Simi Harbour

Datca by the way is quite a big town where you can replenish the larder and/or eat ashore at one of the many good restaurants. Datca by the sea has little going for it, historically or architecturally. The merchants are fun though and one of my clients once played “spoof” (an English game of bluff ) for the difference between the price he was offering for a carpet and the price being asked by the merchant. He lost and happily paid the merchant’s price, who then just as happily, split the difference with him and was probably still well in front. Turks and Turkish merchants in particular have a terrific sense of humour and seem to identify readily with the Australian way.

Once in Istanbul the same client was standing characteristically with his arms folded peering piously through half closed eyes at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul. The palace resembles those of the Hapsburg kings in Austria but it nearly broke the bank when one of the last of the Ottoman Sultans built it. A Turkish merchant seeking to engage my client crept quietly up beside him and said, “Don’t even thinking about it; for you is too much expensive”. Now please you coming to my carpet shop”?

Way off the beaten track in Khalkis

Once you enter Greece in Symi you might as well stay a while and Khalkis to the south west is a really interesting stop. Much of the town is deserted with the population having long ago immigrated to Darwin to make their fortunes in the pearling industry (Paspaley for example). The town, Emborio, is these days making a come-back and the water front is quaint. The Ottoman castle above the town is worth the climb unless you are there with temperatures above 30 degrees.

Khalkis has a close neighbour, Alimia and between and around the two islands there are a number of absolutely pristine anchorages where you might once again fall for the shallow water trick!

Further to the west is a fascinating active volcano called Nisiros, with its tricky harbour, which though protected can still be difficult when the northerly Meltemi blows. Make sure you park again

Sailing Free

st the sea wall facing the town where the protection from the northerly is better. Once when urgently departing on my scooter to rescue my yacht at the quay I managed in my haste to drive my motor scooter straight into a taverna where I separated four startled German tourists from their chairs, their table and their lunch. Just a little embarrassing and not good for Australian-German relations!

Walk into the crater of an active volcano

The Nisiros volcano, which you can drive into, last erupted in 1887 but these days she bubbles harmlessly away even if a little on the nose due to the rotten egg gas that hisses under pressure from the depths of the planet through vents in the crater floor.

Having visited the crater you then need to drive to the town of Nikia on the rim of the caldera and peer down upon the moonscape from a height of about 600 meters. If you have cycled up to the town you might park in the shade for a while, sip on a cold beer and savour some fresh kalamari, chips and Greek salad!

The church in Nikia is world famous so a visit after lunch would pay a dividend if you are into churches.

Kalimnos and Vathi where Metin sang with the Greeks

After Nisiros you might continue in a westerly direction to Kalimnos, to the port of Vathi on the south east corner of the island. This is one of my favourite places in the world. The Fjord-like entrance is narrow and vertical on either side. A goat might welcome you from a precipitous ledge but you won’t see any people until you back into the quay and tie your lines. Try to get a spot at the end of the quay facing the sea so that you can put all of your anchor chain onto the floor of the harbour. The holding is not great.

Poppy’s mum Sylvia

Walk 100 meters to the head of the harbour and you’ll come across Poppi’s Taverna where Sylvia, Poppi’s Mum, will welcome you with her broken English. This is the place where this story started, (with Metin singing) and you must do a dinner with Sylvia who I have known for 30 years. Sylvia is swarthy, grey haired and blue eyed,

Kalymnos Metin at Poppys taverna

suggesting that there is a crusader somewhere in her family tree. Nearby Rhodes of course was the regional headquarters of the Crusaders who ruled this area after they “liberated” Jerusalem at the beginning of the 11th.century.

As you step up the hill into the prevailing northerly wind you will come to Patmos, the northernmost of the Dodecanese Island group. Patmos has the castle to end all castles, which today is a monastery housing Greek Orthodox icons that if liquidated would fix Greece’s current account deficit and then some.

Patmos where everyone goes and Lampi Beach where no one goes

Every time I go to Patmos I rent a car and drive to the beach at the

Patmos Castle

northern end of the island called Lampi and have lunch at the restaurant of the same name. Make sure you try the horta (wild spinach), saganaki (fried cheese) and then follow the mezze with a fresh grilled fish. The tavern is run by the family that owns it and quite a bit of what they offer is grown in the garden at the back of the restaurant.

Pythagorion, Cleopatra and Mark Antony

There is a logical terminus for this cruise, which you could easily spend a month on, and that is Samos with its’ port of Pythagorion. The port used to be called Tigani in Roman times because of its shape – like a frying pan, handle and all.

The history book claims it to be the oldest man made port in recorded Mediterranean history. Mark Antony and Cleopatra certainly had their warm up party here before soldiering off for the battle with Octavian at Actium. The routine apparently was that recruits to the army were attracted with a couple of weeks of alcohol fuelled debauchery before the battle but in this case Octavian reigned supreme and Cleo and Mark had to beat a hasty retreat to Egypt.

Pythagorion, Greece

When Pythagoras came along and decided that the square on the hypotenuse was equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides, to what end I am not sure, it was decided to change the name again. Today we have Pythagorion, with an airport nearby, which you might use to ship your passengers off or welcome them depending on whether you choose to start or finish here.

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