The Black Sea is to the north, the Aegean to the west and the Mediterranean to the south Annabel Finding on the pleasures to be found cruising Turkey
For the last five years we have wend our way from the Channel Islands to the crystal waters of the Eastern Mediterranean. Our 56-footer Kytra is registered in Guernsey so we have always cruised with the knowledge that every 18 months she must leave the Schengen area and spend at least one day outside the EU to avoid incurring VAT. So far we have spent time in Gibraltar, Albania and now Türkiye (formerly spelt Turkey).
In addition our personal limit as non-EU passport-holders restricts us to 90 days in any 180-day period in the Schengen zone, hence spending time in Türkiye allows us to cruise for longer. (As a cautionary measure we return home at least a week before our 90-day limit is up in case we need to make a mercy dash back to the boat for any reason.)
This routine suits our semi-retired lifestyle well as we can enjoy the shoulder months in warmer climes and spend the summer at home in Alderney. For full-time liveaboards there are possibilities to gain residency in Türkiye if you have an annual marina berth; this must be reapplied for every two years.
Türkiye is a huge country surrounded by sea on three sides with over 4,000 miles of coastline. The Black Sea is to the north, the Aegean to the west and the Mediterranean to the south. There is also the internal Sea of Marmara, between the Bosphorus and the Straits of the Dardanelles, connecting the Black Sea with the rest of the world.
There are cruising grounds on all these coastlines but the most popular area for both charter fleets and private owners is what is often referred to as the Turquoise Coast or Turkish Riviera, along the south.
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The Aegean and Mediterranean regions are synonymous with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The notorious northerly Meltemi winds that plague the Greek Aegean islands during the summer are far less strong along the Turkish coast and yachts aiming to go north in the summer will often do so by crossing to Türkiye and following the coast up as far north as time allows before heading back west to the more northerly Greek islands.
Diurnal effects are noticeable: the wind gets up in the afternoons and drops again in the evenings allowing a comfortable night at anchor. We are also careful of katabatic winds off the steep mountain sides.
We arrived in Bodrum as our first Turkish port of call, having cruised through the Cyclades and Dodecanese after over-wintering in Messolonghi in western Greece. The majority of visiting yachts arrive from the west having visited some of the myriad enchanting Greek islands on their way. Those visiting the area for the first time are often surprised how far east the Greek islands run: something to keep in mind as frequent border crossings between the two countries can become expensive. Many choose to visit the more eastern islands by ferry leaving their boats in a Turkish marina for a few days.
Checking in to Türkiye has to be through an agent and they require passports, ships papers, insurance papers, and a captain’s certificate (ICC or equivalent, depending on the boat’s country of registration). Officials also require details of any tenders and outboards (make, horsepower, serial number, and size). The cost including customs, immigration, light dues and agent’s fees for us was €200 (as of May 2023).
Once checked in, the boat is entitled to remain in Turkish waters for one year on this transit log and this can be renewed annually for a maximum stay of five years. We recently renewed in Datca for €180. In both cases everything was dealt with swiftly and proficiently and we felt the agents’ fees were well spent.
Bodrum is an attractive bustling city that is also rich in history, with a fascinating marine archaeological museum in the 15th Century castle which features Bronze Age shipwrecks. It is also home to Alizé, the most enormous chandlery we have ever visited – we were like kids in a sweet shop! Alizé is next to a giant Migros supermarket so a great place for provisioning.
We were fortunate to find a secure mooring to leave Kytra for the summer on the Bodrum peninsula through a contact on the Med Sailing Facebook page. There are a number of very good marinas along this section of coast, including Didim, Turgutreis, Fethiye, Kas, and Finike, which are popular with foreign yacht owners. All marinas have excellent facilities including supermarkets, restaurants, showers and even Turkish baths. Further east, south of Antalya, Kemer comes highly recommended as a lovely town with a secure marina.
Due to Türkiye’s high inflation rates, marina prices have risen steeply over the past couple of years. Conversely there is no monthly cruising tax, unlike in Greece. There is likely to be increased demand for Turkish berths due to yacht owners moving in response to the introduction of the Greek tax. As a rule of thumb the further east you go the cheaper the marina. We asked for recent marina recommendations on the Med Sailing Facebook page. Google Maps is also very useful for gauging the size, pontoons, haul out facilities etc.
For our first full season in Türkiye, we cruised along the Turquoise Coast from Gumusluk in the west to Kekova in the east. We covered just over 200 miles in each direction in a very leisurely two months over October and November. Friends and family joined us, flying via Bodrum-Milas and Dalaman airports. After a season in the Greek islands when we had struggled to pick up crew it was a delight to be on the mainland where coaches run frequently, and taxi rides are cheap.
Turkish check-in requirements state that crew lists must be amended via an agent each time you have visitors (€50), the coastguard patrols do come and check that your papers are correct. They are always polite and courteous but insist that everything is completely in order.
The main theme of our trip was exploring the ruins along the Lycian Way, a long distance hiking trail stretching from Fethiye to Antalya. In truth we mostly explored by dinghy rather than by foot but we enjoyed some excellent walks through beautiful scenery. Knidos stood out as a beautiful anchorage right among the ruins which we had virtually to ourselves in November. Another favourite is Gemiler Island, close to Oludeniz. Three ruined Christian churches perch atop a tiny island inhabited only by very friendly goats, not far from the impressive turquoise lagoon.
The absolute highlight was our visit to Kalekoy in the Kekova Roads. This tiny village has a magnificent ruined castle complete with amphitheatre and stunning sea views. We moored alongside the restaurant pontoon, filled our tanks with fresh water and ate wonderful local fish under the starlit sky. The village children have to go by open, wooden dinghy to the larger local village to catch a bus to school and there are no shops in Kalekoy, which is only linked to the outside world by boats.
All over Türkiye another delight is visiting the weekly market. I drew up a list of which day each town or village held their market and spent many wonderful mornings bartering over fruit, veg, cheese and eggs. The stall holders embraced my rudimentary Turkish and even gave me cookery tips on how to use various herbs and spices.
Türkiye is also dotted with small harbourside restaurants, which are often excellent. It’s worth always carrying enough Turkish lira in cash for a meal ashore in more out of the way places as card machines often do not work, and restaurants are taxed heavily on card payments.
Gulf of Gokova
This spring we returned to the Bodrum peninsula to explore the Gulf of Gokova with its towering mountains, steeply sided cliffs and clear waters. We enjoyed a few days anchored off Kale Ada (Castle Island). Apparently, it is heaving with visitors in the summer, but we were there in March in splendid isolation. I swam off Cleopatra’s beach, which reportedly has sand imported from North Africa by Cleopatra for Mark Anthony to sunbathe on – or vice versa, depending on which guide-book you read.
This season we also returned to a number of our favourite anchorages. We rank them based on the numbers of donkeys, goats, turtles, tortoises and birds, with negative scores for the numbers of humans. Out of the main season of June to September all were very high scoring.
I spend a lot of time snorkelling, spotting a triton in Knidos, rays in Bozburun and lionfish off Gemiler. Although there is some rubbish underwater it seems far less than the Ionian. Türkiye has strict anti pollution laws, including a law that holding tanks must be used and emptied at least once a fortnight (although we’ve noticed many shore pumps seem to be broken post-Covid). During the summer, pump-out boats will visit many anchorages. We have heard of €1,000 fines issued to yachts for non-compliance.
Bozburun, just south of the Bodrum Peninsula is home to three large gulet boatyards, and was the ideal place for us to have work done on Kytra’s decks. We also replaced canvas locker covers, expertly made by a young canvas worker whose skills were learned from his father. There are various chandlers, two laundries, a good weekly market and a bus to Marmaris via Selimiye and Orhaniye that takes you through breathtaking farming scenery. Dolmus (minibuses) are an excellent way to travel around Türkiye for shorter distances and give you a candid view of local life. Surprisingly you can pay by card which is cheaper than paying cash.
Türkiye offers great cruising grounds, magnificent ruins, beautiful flora and fauna, both above and below the water, and always a very warm welcome. Inflation is sadly raging and the value of the Turkish Lira is dropping, hitting the economy hard. Many businesses get around this in the short term by quoting fees in Euros but be prepared for inevitable price rises. For us it is a price worth paying for the privilege of visiting such an interesting country.
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