A WEEK kicking back aboard a traditional yacht on the Aegean Sea provides the ultimate stress-busting break for novice sailor Ashley Davies.
There’s something about watching the land disappear behind you as you float off into the watery distance that dissolves stress in the time it takes to enjoy a full-bodied yawn. And there’s something wonderfully mysterious about how you can spend hours and hours staring at the sea around you as your grateful brain empties itself. It’s like a kind of meditation – one that results in a fabulous suntan, some recipe inspiration and a clutch of new friends.
We spent a week on board Nemesis, a traditional Turkish gulet that’s big enough for 14 passengers and four crew members. When there’s enough wind, the engine is turned off, the sails go up (this is handled by the expert crew members, but if you want to get involved you only have to ask) and all you need to worry about is whether you’d prefer to be on the sunny or the shady side as your vessel bounces gently over the Aegean Sea.
I have to be honest: before coming on board there were a couple of things gnawing at me. The main one was worrying about spending a week at close quarters with a dozen or so other people I didn’t know and, in a way related to that, I was concerned about feeling claustrophobic.
My nerves on both fronts were unfounded. There’s a lot more space on board this 24x6m classic yacht than you might imagine. The highly varnished wooden cabins, admittedly, are understandably snug, though they do have a lot more storage space than you’d think (do bring luggage in soft bags – it’s easier to stow). We were in a cabin with two windows that can be opened, and a double bed. The person sleeping closest to the window has to climb over their partner or get in first. The twin cabins might be easier to negotiate for some, but we got used to our arrangement in no time.
Each cabin has a compact bathroom, with a shower and basin, and a toilet that flushes a little like an airline loo. This noise can be heard by your neighbours, and you can’t flush any toilet paper down there, for obvious reasons.
There is a socket for charging devices but the power usually only comes on twice a day when the generator is on. The same goes for hot water.
On deck there is plenty of space for lounging around – horizontally or otherwise. As well as more than ten padded sunbathing areas in the middle of the deck, there are soft seats at both the bow and the stern, so you can choose as much sun or shade as you want, and you never feel squashed in with anyone. There’s also a dining area inside the boat, a useful spot if you need to do any paperwork or use a laptop (the Nemesis has free wi-fi, which generally works when the generator is on).
We took pretty much all of our meals at the dining table on deck, and the crew members worked miracles to provide a mouth-watering array of fresh food, nearly all with a Turkish flavour. Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, yoghurt dips, olives and leaves complement the hot local dishes that include baked chicken, fish and meatballs, as well as a truly tasty selection for vegetarians. It was all very healthy and colourful.
It was during meal times that we began to get to know our travelling companions, who came from all over the world. I was nervous at first that sharing so much time with others while on holiday might not be as relaxing as chilling out alone with a partner, but it was actually lovely. Everyone was warm, friendly and solicitous, but instinctively knew when to give each other space.
One older woman on board, travelling solo, was on her 22nd sailing cruise with this company, SCIC (pronounced “Chic” and short for Sailing Cruises in Comfort) because she’s such a fan of the friendly, relaxed approach and the attitude that people have towards each other on these trips.
Loes Douze, who runs the company, with its small fleet of gulets, likes to get to know her customers and adapt trips to suit their tastes, so it’s very straightforward to let her know if you’d prefer to be with a quiet or more jolly crowd. Children are very welcome too.
By the fourth day, to coincide with the full moon, our crew organised a “white party,” which meant we all dressed in white (the unprepared improvised with toilet paper head-dresses and togas) and spent hours dancing on deck with people who by now felt like old friends.
My only moment of seasickness happened to be a green morning after the white party, when the combination of overindulgence and some bigger swells of the Aegean made me feel persecuted by the sea.
Once you dive in, though, all is forgiven. Whenever we fancied a swim, the crew pulled a stable ladder down the side of the boat and we immersed ourselves in the refreshing salty water. There are also a couple of canoes on board, and snorkelling gear to borrow.
The route you take depends on where those on board want to go, and what the weather is doing. While our sister gulet (Naviga) sailed to some Greek islands, we visited various spots along the south coast of Turkey, and docked overnight at quiet bays or harbours, including English Harbour, where we dined on land one evening.
We visited the fascinating little island of Sedir in the Gulf of Gokova, where, legend says, Cleopatra had sand from north Africa transported so she could swim at the perfect beach. Locals are so protective of the sand you have to wash it off your feet before you leave to prevent depletion. The island is also home to many very comely chickens, and an ancient amphitheatre shaded by olive trees.
One evening we climbed up a small hill on an island at Yedi Adalar (Seven Islands) to admire the sunset, and when we got back down to the water the crew had set up the prettiest picnic on the beach, with lanterns hanging from driftwood. We all cosied up on fat cushions and tucked into a fabulous barbecue.
Another excursion took us to the ruins of Kinidos, a fascinating ancient city, and a wonderful market at Oren, packed with fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs, plants and nuts.
As well as being a seriously relaxing treat of a holiday, a week on board a SCIC gulet is amazing value. The price includes all meals – apart from two dinners on land – and alcohol and soft drinks, not to mention incredibly attentive service from the crew. The yachts set sail on Saturdays from Bodrum, and easyJet flights from Edinburgh go out and return on Mondays and Thursdays, so you’d need to stay on land for four days on either side of your trip if flying from Scotland. You might be able to negotiate a shorter trip. Chances are, though, you’ll want to stay on board for months.