Mediterreanean Escapade 2020 Preview: Aegean Rally

This is a first-hand account / sneak peek of the route that the Multihull Solutions Mediterranean Escapade 2020 will follow.

Proudly hosted by Multihull Solutions and Mariner Boating from 21 May – 6 June 2020 on board an exclusive fleet of Fountaine Pajot charter catamarans, join this exciting social rally however you like. You are welcome to book per person, per cabin, book a whole catamaran or sail along on your own multihull!

Written by John Brooks, previous client on the Aegean Rally by Mariner Boating

Okay, so it’s not like winning the Sydney Hobart Race, but winning the first race of the Aegean Yacht Rally in our chartered Jeanneau 49DS is a brief moment of glory for us ageing playboy yachties. Brief, because it’s also a huge mistake. Our handicap is savaged after that first result and now the other skippers are gunning for us. Any fool knows you should only win the last race!

We are on a Mediterranean cruise, starting in Turkey at Kusadasi, race/cruising through the Greek Dodecanese Islands and back to the Turkish coast with a fleet of 10 charter yachts, accompanied by the Mariner Boating rally management team. Many of those present are sailing friends, so you know the parties are going to be brutal even if the racing is supposed to be friendly. After the long journey from Sydney via Istanbul a night in an excellent Hotel revives us. We have almost two whole days in the place which includes a visit to the nearby ancient Greco-Roman city of Ephesus.

Some rally people – clearly much smarter than us – arrived several days earlier and toured down the coast from Istanbul, visiting Gallipoli amongst other places along the way. They are de-jetlagged, fluent in Turkish and bazaar, and even know how to operate their digital camera, seasoned tourists!

The first rally leg is a cruise from Kusadasi to the port of Pythagorion on the island of Samos, just off the Turkish Coast, where the efficient Penelope, Minister for everything, clears us through Greek customs and immigration. Yes, this was the home town of the philosopher/mathematician, Pythagoras.

We spend a full leisure day on Samos, a chance to hire a car and tour this large island, exploring beaches, tavernas and some quaint old hill towns. Also enjoying beautiful late spring weather before racing south to Arki which is, in contrast to Samos, rugged, rustic and lacks any vegetation other than the wild thyme and sage which the goats eat and which produces such great tasting yoghurt and fetta. There are far more goats than people, no water, no power, but like the smallest outback Australian town and its pub, it does have a taverna or two.

We’re getting the hang of this now; avoid the Ouzo and Raki – both of which can be lethal – and stick to the wine. However, most of these Greek Islands have their own local wine labels which are not necessarily up to Grange standard – a touch of understatement here – but, thankfully, Trevor Joyce has suggested some of the good ones. The food is all basic Greek fare: fresh salads, olives, kebabs, spit-roasted lamb, grilled fish and etc. We eat ashore almost every night and breakfast aboard on local yoghurt, honey, fetta and marvellous breads. It’s going to be a struggle, but we are absolutely determined not to lose weight on this holiday.

The next day we cruise to Patmos, probably the most striking of the Dodecanese Islands we visited. This is the spiritual home of the Greek Orthodox Church.

It’s a healthy climb up to this edifice.  Two of our companions don’t hesitate and launch straight up the hill path like a pair of mountain goats; my wife and I don’t hesitate – we share a taxi. The monastery contains priceless religious icons and treasures gathered over the centuries, and many visitors of serious religious intent. As a crude yachtie/tourist, I feel a little daunted by this display of religious fervour and escape to lunch at a cafe in the ancient town perched on the hilltop, enjoying spectacular views out over Skála harbour and the neighbouring islands, which alone are worth the cab fare.

After our leisure day in Patmos we motor-sail along the scenic east coast of Kalimnos, ending the day in a spectacular narrow fiord at Vathi.  It’s easy to visualise Greek, Roman, or Turkish galleys rowing into the fiord for a well protected overnight stop. It’s a good overnight stop for us, too. At Poppy’s Taverna a bouzouki band plays and the food and wine flows endlessly. Everyone gets into a dancing mood led by Mama Sylvia who teaches us how to dance Greek style, although few can remember the steps when tested at later events. An amazing woman, Mama Sylvia spent all day preparing the dinner, served it to a full house, then danced until 3 a.m. Next morning Mama Sylvia rides her motor cycle to the water’s edge adjacent to our moored fleet, dives into the water fully clothed, swims a couple of laps and then returns to work to drip dry in the new warm day.

We then race back to the Turkish coast and into the regional centre of Bodrum with its 700 berth marina complete with water, power, showers, laundry facilities – now badly needed – and a swanky yacht club. In town there is a famous ‘hamam’ (Turkish bath), and a bazaar: “Genuine fake watches for your genuine fake friends,” is one wag’s sales pitch. Numerous restaurants and boom-boom bars but more educationally, the home, in 484bc, of Herodotus – the father of written history – and the spectacular St. Peter’s Castle still dominates the harbour, built by the Knights of St. John after they were ejected from Jerusalem. This is now a museum and well worth a visit. One room in particular contains an ancient trading vessel that was literally scraped off the bottom of the sea and arranged in the museum complete with stacked amphora!

Turkey Bodrum and onwards

There are some surprisingly good Turkish wines here and we manage the transition from Greek to Turkish cuisine, which is not such a big leap: a similar treatment of lamb and fish, but more vegetable varieties here; chilli peppers and greater use of spices such as cardamom, cumin and cinnamon. There is also a spiced, rice pudding for which I develop a taste – it’s a staple dessert on most restaurant menus.

We continue the rally in fine weather to Knidos, a tiny ancient harbour and for us a lunch and swim stop before a race to the very simple settlement of Palimut. Here we moor in the small harbour with the local fishing boats and walk across the quay to dinner in the local! Seated outside under the stars we are treated to lamb on the spit with salads and vegetable accompaniments, before a dance party breaks out inside. The hosts are so welcoming and full of life it is impossible to refuse their hospitality – worry about the headache tomorrow!

On to the picturesque fishing port of Datça where, on arrival, we are entertained by a troupe of school boys, in elaborately embroidered national dress. With very serious looks on their faces, they dance a traditional Turkish dance for us which seems to be done in slow motion. The serious looks soon vanish after they invite us to join in and they see the extent of our dancing skills. Datca is a much more established town and a short drive inland is the small old village which is also worth exploring.

However that afternoon we cruise alone to a deserted bay on the western tip of the Datça Peninsula. There is nothing at all here except one taverna, but it’s a good one. A superb selection of Turkish food and good wines puts us all in a party mood. It is possible to take ‘time out’ from the other crews and spend a night alone on anchor.

There’s this old guy eating alone over in one corner of the restaurant, hat pulled down, grim face, looking like a serious member of Corleone family. I ask the manager about him and get taken over to be introduced. He’s the owner of the business, still grim-faced until the manager – his son – tells him I’m from Australia. His face lights up in a big smile and he says “Gallipoli”. Through his son he tells me he was at Gallipoli and when I tell him mine was too, it was like I’d found a friend for life. Clearly, Gallipoli holds a similar place in Turkish legend to our own.

Aegean Rally – to Istanbul

As we head off again we are approaching the next coastal town of Sogut! This is basically a well organised private ‘marina’ in front of a sprawling restaurant with a few rooms on shore and shower and toilet facilities. The actual town we discover next morning is an uphill walk of about half an hour. Not for everyone!

It is a very simple rural village where we discover the men playing a game at tables in the street beside the ‘coffee shop’. We stop to watch and are offered coffee. It was good coffee and the cost was equivalent to about 50 cents.

Our last night on the coast is the rickety jetty in the bay below an ancient citadel in Bozuk Buku. This is the simplest restaurant of the entire rally and again one of the best!  Next morning the boys deliver the pre-ordered hot bread to our yachts before we leave to sail to Marmaris. It is to die for. Pass the honey!

Now we are on the last lap, racing east along the south coast of Turkey with Rhodes in view on the horizon to starboard. The Bay of Marmaris is huge and has unfortunately been ‘developed’ to include cheaper hotels on the seaside attracting many tourists. We make a right turn and head away from ‘downtown’ to the large marina where our yachts reside in Yacht Marina. Our last night is here on board, after a great final night dinner and prize giving in the marina restaurant.

To the airport. We then spent a few days in Istanbul. Here you spend hours wandering around sumptuous palaces and museums full of wonderful Turkish carpets and jewellery, sights which send the average woman into a state approaching Nirvana. Only THEN do they take you to the Grand Bazaar which is, need I say it, overflowing with the aforementioned carpets and jewellery all at bargain prices, naturally.

Here you will be worked over by experts with two thousand years practice at separating unwary husbands from their money in collusion with wives who are, by now, in total shopping hysteria. Did I mention the silk harem pants and leather coats trimmed with Astrakhan? There is probably no need to tell you what happens next: your holiday budget ends up looking like the Australian national debt.

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