Private Sailing on the Aegean
A weeklong sail on a private charter is a relatively affordable and uniquely idyllic way to experience the Turkish Riviera.
It started out being all about the boat, but in the end, it was the figs that mattered most. The soft travel economy and some last-minute planning led us to an absolutely remarkable vacation in a somewhat unlikely place. I have long had an aversion to any destination in even vague proximity to a war zone and admit to some anxiety about highly religious countries. Turkey qualified on both counts, but reason prevailed and I found myself planning a joint jaunt with another family, continuing our waterborne legacy (we first met while rafting in Idaho) with a week at sea in the Aegean.
I have customarily been a long-range planner, but even starting in mid-April for a late-June trip, I found plenty of space on Delta and Turkish Airlines. I opted for Turkish Airlines’ flatbeds in business class and did not let the officious and unhelpful attitude of its female customer service reps at the airport put me off. We had decided to visit Cappadocia and Istanbul, where we would join our friends and fly to meet our boat. Ah, but which boat? Antony Doucet, the cosmopolitan guest relations manager at the Park Hyatt Istanbul-Maçka Palas (where our friends were ensconced), referred us to a classic gulet—the traditional all-wood sailers that have plied the coastal waters for centuries. I immediately searched the Web for photos and information about the one he recommended, the Carpe Diem, and discovered that successful boats had multiple iterations. The charter prices seemed high but not absurdly so. A week on board for seven people could be had for around $20,000, including almost all activities and food but excluding alcohol. A little e-mail negotiating made the price drop. Intrigued, I began an intensive Internet search to find the best boat at the best price possible.
The late start I had gotten in booking proved a boon. Our travel dates were also somewhat fortuitous, falling a week or so before the start of the highest season, which runs from July through the end of August. The steep decline in travel by Americans meant many boats had openings in schedules that were normally filled a year in advance. Discounts of 40 percent abounded. As a jeweler friend once told me about the Saudi approach to diamonds and yachts, “Bigger is always better,” so we moved up from 24 meters to the mid-30s. I reserved one sleek vessel only for the owner to sell it to another party; her abject apologies about a misunderstanding seemed a bit disingenuous, but then ready money is always persuasive. The agent I had started working with, Erhan Arican of Blue Fun Yachting, would not be denied and proposed a beautiful and rather massive ship, the Queen of Karia I, as an able replacement.
After spending hours perusing blueprints, photos, and postings on charter and travel sites, I reckoned that most larger gulets have two main staterooms: a master and a VIP. They generally feature king-sized beds and larger bathrooms, some even with bathtubs. Despite expert advice that rooms should not be the deciding factor (so little time is spent in them), I wanted to be certain that my wife, a world-class napper, would be comfortable. She also likes a frigid bedroom, so high-functioning air conditioning was a tick. Finally, we are both addicted to light and views (I get claustrophobic). All this pointed toward a gulet with an aft master—placing a bedroom at the back of the boat allows it to span the entire beam, or width, of the vessel—and four large windows above the waterline. Side bedrooms are generally narrower and have much smaller portholes.
Sure enough, the Queen of Karia I had two extremely large master cabins with one at the stern, boasting four wide windows—a true rarity! Erhan assured me the AC was in top working order and could be run all night, as the ship had a powerful generator to supplement its batteries. The growth of the gulet charter industry has led to something of an arms race, so boats built within the last five years are state-of-the-art. As anyone who has ever owned a saltwater vessel knows, maintenance is daunting, which gives newer ships an advantage. The Queen was launched in 2004 and the quality of her construction and crew, I was assured, was unimpeachable. The interior was entirely traditional, with sinuous curves and bulges of highly polished mahogany complemented by elegant fabrics and brass fittings.