We came upon a traffic stop, with cones narrowing our approach and were flagged to a stop by uniformed officers with berets on their heads and machine guns in their hands.
I stopped and rolled down my window. A large, dark-haired Jandarma, or national guard, approached and looked at me silently.
“Hello,” I said.
And with that, he waved me on.
We assumed this was connected to heightened security following the recent hijacking of a Turkish ferry by a person alleged to be a member of the radical PKK or Kurdish Workers Party, which is not a political party of Turkey but an revolutionary organization seeking an independent state for Kurds. My American “hello” was all he needed to know I was not the terrorist he was on the look-out for.
Following a few more mountain turns, we saw a small sign to Karacasöğüt. We turned down a windy road and began a twenty-minute descent toward the bay.
Coming around one corner, we braked for four goats. Besides bells around their necks, they also had long ropes; maybe some twenty feet long. I suppose they are not easy to catch when you need to.
They passed in front of our car and climbed an impossibly steep embankment on the uphill side of the road.
It was drizzling when we finally arrived at a small village of some dozen houses with scraggly gardens. We got out and strolled along the single, aging boardwalk dock to look at the 20-odd boats in this cove. Some nice gulets, but mostly live-aboard yachts. The boardwalk ended in a larger square, the size of a small living room or kitchen. And it was outfitted exactly like both, camping style. White-painted letters on the boardwalk just in front of the booth announced: "China Town."
We ambled back to the small store at the parking lot which had a covered patio. There were a few tables. One had the remains of a freshly attacked Turkish breakfast. Plates with bits of bread, bowls of yogurt, honey and olives. Empty tea glasses.
As we sat in the chairs looking out on the dirt parking lot, a goat wandered up and started nibbling on the leaves of a rose bush next to the patio. This one, just like the others was dragging a long rope.
“That’s gotta hurt her nose to pick those leaves off that prickly stem,” I said to Jennifer.
“Oh oh,” she said, “Now he’s eating the rose! No, please, I was enjoying that rose!”
From somewhere an older woman had appeared. Dressed in Turkish village style with headscarf and robe. She started clearing the table with food. Then saw the goat and shooed her off, chasing her clear across the rainy parking lot.
Jennifer and I returned to fantasizing that perhaps we could buy one of the gulets docked here, sail it back to America and start that kind of business. Gulets are a style of Turkish sailing boat built high and wide to accommodate as many staterooms as possible, often about four to ten. Guests are fed great food while toured along the coast.
Our fantasizing was interrupted by the old woman who was now giving us each a glass of tea, set in the traditional mini-bowl of a saucer.
Once again, we were stunned by Turkish hospitality.
We practiced our Turkish “thanks” which is Teschekür Ederim, a word that took us four days to learn. Everyone was correcting us in the beginning. At least now we have it down well enough that they just smile.
Just as we were enjoying our tea, our man, Kemer, came out of the store. He pulled up a chair and soon he too had a glass of tea in his hands from the woman who moved silently and wordlessly but with a smile.
Kemer is a handsome, tall and typically Turkish looking man, which is to say, it is hard to make out any distinct ethnic background. Our small talk progressed to our plight and then onto to Turkish culture, and after a while he invited us back to his boat, anchored in the cove.
We walked the few hundred meters down a path along the water, climbed down some rocks into his dinghy, and, using one of his teather lines from boat to shore, pulled ourselves out to his boat.
An odd sensation coursed through me. As if a ghost was somewhere just behind me. In my mind, I turned and looked in all the corners of my being to identify who or what was there. Then, without thinking, I said it out loud to Jennifer and Kemer:
“This is the first time I’ve been on a boat since the night of the fire.”
Then, as quickly as it came, the ghost of life aboard Dolphins dissipated and we were hoisting ourselves onto Kemer’s boat.
On board, we were greeted by a friend of Kemer’s. Another sailor. And as we chatted more about Turkey, sailing, our voyage, and our search for a new boat, Kemer’s friend made us Turkish scrambled eggs. It had some sausage, some tomatoes, goat cheese and hot pepper sauce.
Besides always enjoying meeting other sailors, our purpose in meeting Kemer was to ask him to join us in viewing a boat in Marmaris.
It was our dream boat. It was a Hans Christian 41 ketch. In 2006, after I had just owned Dolphins for a couple of years, I happened to come upon a HC ketch and was able to visit her down below.
“I have always believed that Dolphins is the perfect boat,” I told the owner. “But if I ever had to choose another boat, then I have to admit, this boat is a bit nicer.”
And here we were, five years later, contemplating the purchase of this mythical boat. I say mythical, because Jennifer and I had already searched the internet, browsing through thousands of boats. At first, we started with search criteria for boats that would meet our preference for a heavy, ocean-going ship of character. But when that search revealed just a few boats that were either too expensive or not right for other reasons, we expanded our search parameters to any boat between 33 and 50 feet and within our budget of $50,000 to $125,000. There were thousands.
Browsing through the list was easy for the most part because the majority were Beneteaus, Bavarias, Jeanneaus and similar white fiberglass boats which – perhaps snobbily – are known by sailors of classic boats as “yogurt cups” or “Chlorax bottles.” But page after internet page, we became more and more depressed that we couldn’t find something we both liked and could afford.
Finding such a boat became a search for the mythical. For the holy grail, for Shangri-la, for that ship of Utopian flag.
So when we came upon the HC41 ketch on one of the websites, it was like getting a glimpse of the possibly extinct ivory-billed pileated woodpecker. And yet, instantly, it also seemed to make sense in a fatalistic way. Coming upon this ketch seemed like the natural extension of our river of fate, which had swallowed our boat, tossed us in white water and now was going to calmly deliver us out to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat.
Oh yes, did I mention that this boat was green, just like Dolphins had been?
Of course we were meant to find this boat. Of course, it was already in Turkey. Of course in the area of Turkey where we were planning on wintering.
And thus, mythical.
We thought that having a Turk along with us on our viewing might help. Being foreigners, unable to speak the language, brand new to social customs, and at the mercy of a society of bargainers, we were grateful to have made this connection.
After lunch, Kemer, Jennifer and I clambered back into the dinghy, pulled ourselves ashore, and headed off to the boatyard.
Kemer did indeed prove to be invaluable. The broker wasn’t available and an assistant was showing us the boat. This pleasant woman spoke about as many words of English as we speak Turkish. So while we headed off to find the boat among the hundreds that were up on the hard, Kemer was able to keep up the small talk and translate our questions about the boat’s history.
Finding a particular boat by walking around under a canopy of hulls is like trying to identify a particular person by just looking at knees. We zigged and ducked to get by a bow, zagged and hopped to get over a water hose. The broker and Kemer craned their necks a few times, saying “maybe...”
But I knew what I was looking for. I knew what this hull would look like. Hans Christians and boats similar to them have a distinctive form. And sure enough, from a few dozen yards away, I spied a curve I recognized.
As we approached the boat, I tried to tune in to exactly how I felt.
Anticipation is potential made palpable. You can feel and sometimes even taste the excitement of possibility. At the same time, you feel yourself grazed by the weeds of trepidation.
We found a ladder and climbed aboard.
If stepping into Kemer’s dinghy and onto his boat revived the dead dreams into living memories, then stepping onto this boat was like walking up to a body in a morgue. I knew this might happen. I had warned Jennifer.
“Boats on the hard feel dead,” I had told her. “They don’t move; they don’t respond to stepping aboard. They don’t pull at the docklines. They don’t heave and breath.”
I’ve always felt that way when working on Dolphins during the spring fitting-out sessions. It was as if Dolphins was in an induced coma to allow me to operate on her. Only when she was launched did I feel any return of emotion from her. As if kissed and awoken.
We went down below to inspect the interior of this Hans Christian. Since it was a cloudy, drizzly day, it was dim down below. She did not look as bright as in this photo:
But even knowing that disadvantage of seeing her on a rainy day, even knowing that boats on the hard are lifeless, I couldn’t help myself from sinking into despair.
Jennifer was experiencing it too.
“I don’t know. It’s just not as beautiful as in the photos,” she kept repeating.
Then we began to dissect the exact causes of our disappointment. The salon, though larger than Dolphins’ (because this boat was wider) had an even narrower walkway between table and settee because the settee had this goofy curve. The boat’s compression post (that brass pole you see in the photo which supports the mast) was in the way. On Dolphins it had been designed into a wall so that you didn’t even see it.
The coup de grace were the berths. There was one vee-berth, and two quarterberths. None of them were designed in such a way that we could lie in bed and sit up resting against a wall.
That had become our routine on Dolphins. Every night, we would cozy into our bed, fluff the pillows and lean back in a semi-sitting position to read, work on a crossword puzzle or watch a movie on our computer.
Without a backrest, life aboard is just camping in a tent.
Here’s a picture of the vee-berth, and you can see how crossword puzzling is out of the question.
And with that realization, the “mythical” along with all of its dreamy tentacles wrapped around our expectations shrunk, shriveled and disappeared.
Now, we were standing on just a dead hulk of fiberglass. It was time to leave. Time to start the search again.