A Traveller’s guide to Sailing – the Greek/Turkish chapter


Whoever heard of Dalaman? Fortunately, the travel agent had, and she duly sent me off into that long dark night of the soul that is the airport/terminals/plane trip from Sydney to Turkey, there to find a huge deserted conglomeration of hopeful buildings apparently ready and waiting for an international airborne invasion.

Instead, there was I, alone except for one official, watching an empty baggage carousal rotate. Eyes glued to the swinging rubber strips that refused to bring forth my luggage. What more desolate moment is there than realizing that sheer will power was not going to make my bag appear? Well, perhaps the slaughter of Greeks or Armenians could come close.

‘Oh it happens all the time’ said the little man in the lost and found office. And he took the address of the marina saying my bag would be delivered. I remained sceptical. John unexpectedly appeared, arguing with security and I knew it was alright. We were off and away and amazingly even my bag and I were indeed reconciled.

A taxi drive through beautiful countryside with rugged mountains and lush valleys with orange orchards and pine forests, to Yat Marina, Marmaris on the lovely Turkish coast. And thus to begin my real journey, not to the ancient Turkish or Greek civilisations but to that strange and mysterious land of Sailing and Tainui, that little sea borne pit pony from Sydney. There she was, with a shiny new bottom, stranded on sticks, cheek by jowl with huge shiny Darth Vader type vessels owned by Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs who visit for a day a year, presumably to frolic in the on-board spas and ride the helicopter or the jet skies. Staff swarm over them, polishing and buffing and changing the sheets in anticipation of the big annual visitation. Meanwhile the economies of small Baltic nations sink deeper into the mire and revolutions simmer, yet again.

In dusty corners of the huge marina, yachts similarly perch on high, apparently stranded. A knock on the hull causes heads to appear, somewhat put out, to peer down like the Faraway Tree Folk. Some, it seems, have been here for years. Perhaps mistaking this for Mt Ararat, awaiting the great flood to send them on their way back to Blackpool.

Not for Tainui, itching for water. John agitated as a flea as the huge cranes lowered her into the water and afloat, at once, all was right again in the world.

To digress in this travel guide I suggest that a good preparation before entering this new world is to spend some time in remote indigenous communities of the Australian outback. As preparation for an inevitable culture shock.

As I contemplated Tainui’s unreconstructed interior, I remember my first impulse of being in one of those communities. It took all my effort to restrain an urge to pull on the rubber gloves and grab a garbage bag and clean the place up. With time I settled right down and mostly now don’t try to make different people the same as myself. (Note to self, apply this to relationship also).

However, there is a minimum of comforting rituals before sinking into other worlds. For me in Tainui country, this involves a certain amount of bleach and Wettex and dustpan and broom. The vacuum cleaner (thanks Farida) tells a similar tale. In times of stress, John sneaks out the back for a cigarette, I sneak in a quick scrub with Ajax knowing it is my very own Aegean stable for sweeping. Promising and hopeless all at once.

Another travel tip – an anthropological approach can somewhat ease the disturbance of being out of one’s own comfort zone. I pretend in my head to be writing a report on Tainui, this new country that I am observing. The strange habits of the people which seems to involve a lot of artificial substances, sinks peppered with coffee grounds and tall tales and true about journeys and boat parts. Sustenance is taken predominantly in liquid or inhaled form and whilst I pathetically hang onto the belief that humans need 5 food groups I recognise that is a leftover from a left behind world which seems to the incumbents to be a quaint anachronism.

Pleasure activities involve endless disgruntled contemplation of the ravages of time on bilge pumps, radars, computers and knee joints. The skipper and his old boat merge into one – stubborn, generous and railing against age. Because I have read Lynne Segal’s book on aging, I have a smugly complacent attitude to these inevitable decrepitudes and have given up the fight. Almost.

My report would sadly have to also mention the discouragingly low glass ceiling. As I lie on my belly in the forecabin among the bags and ropes and spare sails, being ‘flakey girl’, the lowest of the low jobs, receiving the anchor chain and laying it in the little cupboard neatly. The reason for this escapes me, but I am aware of the captain standing on deck above, probably sneaking a cigarette, but definitely on top and watching my style with the same disdain as my rope throwing and knot tying. Whilst I don’t yet veil up, there is a distinct power imbalance which strategically I accept for the moment, as my life depends on it. I know nothing, and I do as I’m told. There is value at times in submission and this is one such time. So I chop and cook and heave and clean. I leap into action as called upon and stumble my way through the intricacies of mooring and anchoring and folding ropes. It gives a certain purpose and meaning to a life which in many ways involves the same activities that we do at home but with a degree of difficulty of about two hundred. But who am I to question why?

Meanwhile my anthropological pursuit continues.

Just as I stand on Turkish and then Greek soil contemplating those many fragments of these layered histories – Amazonian, Greek, Roman, Venetian, Byzantine and Ottoman – so too beneath my rocking feet are clues to previous inhabitations and journeys. The inhaler with Russian instructions, the dozens of Dutch (?) packet soups, the instant pudding mixes with expiry dates in the early 2000’s, the tins of Spam and luncheon sausage, the packets of nicotine replacement patches sadly abandoned. Who belonged to the Nivea and the blue T shirt? Are the contents of this bottle for cleaning or eating, its instructions in Cyrillic or Arabic?

There are other reasons to recommend a stint in the desert as training for a trip into this world. There too one sits contemplating time and space (and water, albeit the absence of). Daily rituals of sleeping, washing, cooking, eating, make a shape, however illusory. For days here too we sit, watching the water, the straight horizon, hoping for a sign of the half dozen remaining fish in the Mediterranean that have managed to survive climate warming, Chernobyl and over-fishing. Or like today we sit for how many days who knows ,as the wind rattles and rocks us, safe in a sheltered mooring in a little town on Paros. We wait for the weather to ease.

I walk up the hill picking wild flowers, wending my way down cobbled alleyways, deserted for the moment except for cats slinking past and little old ladies in scarves. It is amazing how it looks like all the postcards of Greek islands.The tourist season is a month or two or off but the town lies in wait. I’m glad we will be well away.

John stays and fixes things and then joins me to go to the bakery for fresh bread and baklava. Just like in the desert as you watch the big sky and the change of colours on the ranges, it’s not too bad I think. Could be worse.

I know that my acclimatisation to this new world is nearly complete as I stand in the showers (for 2 Euros) at the jetty and the room sways and rocks. Soon I will have to scoff Kwells just to survive dry land.

Equally I know there will come a moment when I bang my head one time too many, and suddenly pumping out the toilet and spraying away the coffee grounds signals the time has come, enough is enough.

But not yet awhile. There is still Kithnos with the hot springs, the church of the hundred doors at Paroikia. the lunch with feta and glasses of white wine as we look out on the harbour.

The harbourmaster needs to blow his whistle several more times before we finally up anchor and head for Piraeus and the flight to New York.


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