MAGAZINE - Cruising the Med by Gaynor Schoeman, Multihulls, Nov/Dec 1989

 Sailing the Mediterranean SeaTowards the end of May last year (1988), I flew into Rhodes, Greece, to join American Enterprise, our family owned charter boat in the Aegean Sea. The charter season was about to begin and we were quite excited about our prospects. My sister Ange, the resident skipper of the 76ft catamaran and my parents, Eric and Kim, had just sailed from Palma to Turkey in a record seven days. My parents then flew to Athens, leaving us girls, or ‘Amazons’ as we had become known in Turkey and Greece, in charge of the charter boat: heaven help the Turks and Greeks!

Our first charter was a surprise last minute arrangement, as Osman Tours had booked a client with us, giving us only 24 hours notice. It’s just as well that we are always prepared. Our guests were Turkish and would be sailing with us for three days. That, at least, was how we were briefed and we were expecting four men and their wives. However, after welcoming drinks on-board, we suddenly realised that they had never intended to bring any of their many wives. Ange and I raised our eyebrows…ilker, Turner, Mehmet and Hooshit were going to make for an interesting charter!

To our relief the Turks turned out to be good company and we had a lot of fun. That evening, American Enterprise slipped her lines, causing a buzz of excitement among the usual crowd at quayside that invariably showed up to watch two blondes skipper a massive catamaran. We felt quite at home with this – and secretly enjoyed it. The AE crew are predominantly female: Ange in command on the flying bridge; myself as First Mate; Sharon Williams also a South African and a novice on arrival, but who by now was very capable of laying and retrieving anchors and was an efficient housekeeper; Elana of Italy who assisted Sharon with housekeeping; and Nigel of Britain, an invaluable crew member, experienced in yacht maintenance and charter and also the only male member of the team.

 

Gaynor checking the sail setting on American EnterpriseTwo hours later, after a gentle motor-sail, we dropped anchor in a little cove called Kumlubuck (Sandy Bay), still in the huge bay of Marmaris. Our guests considered themselves cordon-bleu chefs a-la-Turkish-delight style and together we cooked up a scrumptious dinner, talking long into the night about our different cultures and customs. We finally ended it with a raucous sing-a-long and I found it quite unusual to see men thoroughly enjoying themselves – singing and dancing with such gaiety. Finally, in the early hours of the morning, the rest of the crew and I begged off, leaving our guests to continue partying by themselves.

 

Next morning, crew and passengers of the AE were still recovering up on deck. It was a glorious day, the sun up and the sea was like a mirror – not a breath of wind. Nigel was making coffee for the crew and we decided to let our guests continue sleeping.

At last, everyone surfaced and we weighed anchor. There was still no sign of any breeze so we motored to one of the many coves in Turkey, south of Marmaris. The anchorage our guests chose was very beautiful, secluded, with crystal-clear water and a shoreline of fir trees.

Preparing dinner - Skipper Ange Schoeman on leftHooshit and Mehmet could not swim, so we pulled out the lifejackets and with some gentle coaxing, got them into the water, bubbling like schoolchildren with wide grins at their own daring. The day passed quietly: swimming, snorkelling, exploring the cove, playing backgammon (a Turkish national pastime) and enjoying a leisurely lunch.

A charter cat with a bubble bath on deckAs the sun began to set, we pulled up anchor and motored farther down the coast to Ikenchick. I remember hoisting the main sail while Mehmet lounged in a foaming Jacuzzi on deck…..Such are the joys of charter life.

Gaynor cooking up a stormThere is no marina in Ikenchick, so we dropped anchor(twice because of fouling in the weeds) and backed into the shore. I tied tow warps around my waist, dove into the water and swam to the rocks where I tied the line around some huge boulders. (Actually, I was just showing off. It looked more impressive than taking the line via the dinghy and added a bit of excitement for our guests!) As we tied up, nestled between two Gulets, which are big pine Turkish yachts, we picked up a future charter off one of the Turkish boats…always good to mix a little business with pleasure. They had never seen such a huge catamaran and were quite impressed with the ease with which we handled it.

That evening, two of the Turks wanted to go ashore to the Taverna on the hill for dinner while the other two stayed on board. No problem. We settled them on the Jacuzzi deck with a candlelight dinner and exotic aperitifs, while the crew went ashore with the other two and were treated to a wonderful meal and plenty of cocktails.

Next morning, Ilker wanted to go fishing. We rowed him ashore and to our surprise, he returned an hour and a half later with a catch of fresh fish for breakfast. Fresh bread and ice were provided free-of-charge by the Taverna – a common practice in Turkey, for they hope that you will bring your charter guests there in exchange. After a late breakfast we sailed to another cove located just a few hours away and in the evening we had a hilarious time playing games, mainly wrestling and arm wrestling, another Turkish national pastime. Yours truly won three out of four.

The following day the wind finally came up and we had an exhilarating fast sail back to Marmaris, racing another yacht on the way. We came into the marina with the usual crowd of Turks watching us ‘Amazons’ and, after a round of farewell cocktails, out guests presented us with beautiful plants that Turkey is famous for in appreciation of a great time, before going our separate ways.

The charters continued throughout the season, mostly good ones, some just okay, but halfway through I decided to broaden my sailing horizons after being asked to crew on the Nimrod of Hamble to the Spanish Balearic island of Mallorca. I had met Mike and Jeanette Rich, the Australian couple who owned Nimrod and they were wonderful, fun-loving people who enjoyed sailing now that their eight children had all grown up. The other crewman was David Craddock, a Brit who had joined them in Bodrum. He was only 21 years old and this was quite an adventure for him. A novice at sailing, he was learning fast.

Sailing aboard Nimrod of Hamble

It was a wise choice and pleasure to be on board with these people. For the next six weeks we literally did not stop laughing…It was just that sort of fantastic trip. We left Rhodes on August 1 on a hard beat to the Greek Island of Kithera which was a three day sail. It looked as though we could expect a bumpy crossing and we were not disappointed, taking the wind on the nose for three solid days.

The island of Kithera was a bit of a let down and quite frankly both Dave and I could think of better places to be. Mike and Jeanette however, loved the quiet and solitude. We spent three days there and after much snorkelling, there was nothing left for us to do but climb the mountain which overlooked the bay. At the top was a lovely old castle and village with rambling walls and a view well worth the sweat.

Gelato feastThe Island of KitheraWe finally left Kithera, with Dave and I barely concealing our enthusiasm to be moving on towards our next stop at Calamata on the mainland, which was the last customs point for clearing out of Greece.

Again we had a rough trip with strong winds on the nose. There were ships passing on both sides of us – far too close for comfort. We ran into a circle of nets marked by lights and the only way out was to travel along until we found the end. They seemed to run on for miles.

At Calamata, we had a brief stop. It is an industrial town, not particularly attractive, so we just stocked the boat and cleared customs. After the lousy journey of the previous night, I really dreaded putting to sea again. We were now heading for Reggio Calabria, Italy in the Messina Straits. The sea had thankfully calmed somewhat, with just a slight breeze blowing to keep us underway. We almost ran into more fishing nets just before sunset, but fortunately were able to avoid them in the nick of time.

The berthing facilities at Reggio Calabria were limited, but the showers were welcome, the officials friendly and I experienced no problems with my South African passport. Dave and I really enjoyed Reggio for one very important reason – the ice-cream was out of this world. Morning, noon and night, for two days we went on an ice-cream eating binge, walking around town sampling the amazing flavours. When the Nimrod left port, she was seemingly sitting a little lower in the water!

Inside the Volcano in ItalyGaynor scrambling up VolcanoNext destination was Volcano, an island off Sicily famous for its mud baths that are reputed to have magical healing qualities. We sailed through the Straits into choppy sea – beating again – which certainly proved to me that August is definitely not the month to be sailing west in that part of the Med. The first thing I noticed was that Volcano had become a lot more popular among the yachties since my last visit there six years earlier. The jetty was chock-a-block full so we dropped anchor among the many other yachts. The ground was not good and we could literally hear the anchor chain dragging on the lava bottom. But the bay was quiet – not a breath of wind so the anchorage was not dangerous. Dave and I fell asleep on the deck under the clear sky, listening to the laughter from ashore and the slap of halyards against the mast. What more could anyone want?

Early next morning we all went ashore. Dave and I full of enthusiasm, were going to climb the volcano while Mike and Jeanette conservatively chose to explore the village and mud baths instead. The morning began wonderfully except we couldn’t find the path up the volcano. So, after whacking many ‘kays’ around the base, we came to the conclusion that we would never find it and if we wanted to get to the top, we would have to climb up the hard way. It was no Sunday stroll as we stumbled over rivers of lava, deep ravines and crumbling sulphur. Eventually we reached the top, two tiny pin-pricks on a towering, barren, volcanic mountain with yellow sulphur gas hissing from the giant crater and fissures in the walls. I almost expected great balls of fire to shoot up into the sky and red-hot molten lava to bubble in the pit. Instead, although the crater radiated heat, people were casually walking around inside the steaming clouds of yellow sulphur. Yuck! But we really felt pretty good about our achievement and, after that, going down was…well plain sailing. Back in town we downed ice-cold cokes then set off for the mud baths and springs. That’s what the island is famous for, right?

Then it was off to Sardinia: great sailing, the weather was superb and, for once, we had a following wind – surprise! We anchored of Cagliari, an industrial town with many old buildings, predominantly churches. Here we happened to meet Joysea of Cape Town. The owners, Joyce and Jeremy, had sailed up from South Africa on their tough little Miura and were heading for Northern Italy for the winter. We also had time to do a little exploring, but, as there were no cheap mopeds in town, Dave and I got a lift with Mike and Jeanette in their hired car as far as Porto Cervo.

Bathing in mud

There we were, in the playground of the rich and famous, a beautiful marina with sumptuous houses and a mega yacht, the pride and joy of the Aga Khan who had it built. And we, being neither rich nor famous, soon came down to reality with a nasty bump!

After forking out a small fortune for a juice and a coke, we realised Porto Cervo was definitely a no-go area for us on our limited budget. We both had left Rhodes with only $200. So we decided to ‘split’ – and quickly – catch the last bus out of town. The bus took us around barren countryside to the port of Olbia. By now we were growling with hunger after the strenuous day’s exercise and found a quaint restaurant in the back streets – more fitting to our meagre finances. But even so, the pasta carbonara and ice cold water was a meal fit for kings!

Three young friends in the MedOur train back to Cagliari was leaving the next morning at 07h20 and we intended to sleep on the beach as backpackers do in Greece, but after a quick stroll around the place, we soon realised that we were not in happy, easy-going Greece any more. Olbia is a rather seedy port and it would have been pretty dangerous to sleep on the dark beaches. We walked around for most of the night until, exhausted, we ‘camped’ on our towels on the pavement behind the railway station, which was well lit and quiet. However it was cold for me and I was unable to sleep. Dave, a true Limey, didn’t feel the chill and was out like a light. Needless to say, I slept all the way back on the train until we reached Cagliari and rejoined Mike, Jeanette and Nimrod.

The following day we set off on the last leg of the trip to Mallorca. The sea was calm, no wind and it took us three days to reach Palma and to dock at the Puerto Portals, one of the most beautiful marinas in Europe. It was expensive, sure, but quaint with all the facilities one could wish for, including restaurants, fashion boutiques, sports shops, bars etc. The design of the marina is small and exclusive, blending harmoniously with the surroundings. It was a great finale to our journey as the Spanish Balearic Islands are magnificent. But sadly, our voyage on Nimrod was over. She was coming out of the water for the winter and now Dave and I were on our own.

It was a great lifestyle with friendships easily forged across the traditional barriers of race, colour and language. All we wanted to do was to have fun – and that is exactly what we did!

This is what charter-cruising is all about. You see the world from such a different perspective, living close to people and being far more exposed to their cultures than if you were to take the conventional tourist route. And most of all, cruising is about adventure, friends and memories so vivid that they will remain with you for the rest of your life.

 

 


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