Cast Off the Lee Shore

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off―then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
―Moby Dick

I left some things
with Tuna and Monica at the pension and took an early bus to Demre, about three hours drive from Fethiye and one hour from Olympos. There as the bus offloaded a man cradling a clipboard met me and two others, an American named Jeff and his Istanbullu girlfriend Sinem. He led us at a distance, as we dragged our baggage, to a cafeteria where we ate chicken and rice and introduced ourselves to our shipmates―the South Africans Dave, Zach, and Christopher; and Jeff and Katie, Rhode Island honeymooners. On the shuttle bus across a marsh to the harbor we met two Aussie girls, Nadia and Jennifer.

A dinghy motored us out past various indistinguishable craft to our twenty meter gallet, the Babaveli 4. Of the knights and squires who crewed her, there were three: Soner the burly captain, Ramazan his sleepy mate and deckhand, and Zuzu the cook. These three set about explaining various rules of conduct in a matter not intended to maintain our attention, but only to expel those requisite words as one spits out mouthwash. Ali our guide left on the taxi with his clipboard and nearly with my shoes, one of which fell in the sea as the pilot tried to toss it past a net on the Babaveli, and we thank Tevas for buoyancy. He returned forty minutes later with our last two guests.

“Ah, they are older,” said Soner. “This is bad. Now we cannot play loud music.”

Now Captain Soner rolled out two tattered treasure maps on the table and explained our route, which the reader will soon know from beginning to end in all its deviations from the plan he proposed, which for the sake of confusion we will mention no more. The boat hauled anchor and cast off on the full torque of its motors―if you asked, the sails were broken, or the wind was not right; the masts stood useless for the duration of the trip, holding only a hammock and the two flags, the crimson Turkish and the white of V-Go Tourism.

All of us passengers had our stories. Jeff taught English in Istanbul, Sinem physics in the same. The Afrikaners were partway through a closely budgeted trip. The Rhode Islanders had their honeymoon to savor, and nagging legal work that refused to permit such satisfaction on the bridgegroom's part. The Aussies had five months of travel ahead, before jobs noosed them into an auditing department―“Taxman,” I said; “Taxwoman,” they corrected.

Our older couple, after proving the Captain's prophecy and dimming the volume at which Bob Marley was permitted to wail, said they were from California, from Los Altos even! John worked for Cisco. Joanne was a retired op-ed writer for the San Jose Mercury News, from before their acquisition by the MediaNews fascists! I was fascinated and querulous and probably obnoxious, as only an almost-professional journalist could be, and also learned that Joanne's ex-husband's daughter was the same Meghan who entered Santa Clara at 14 and is about to graduate, at 17, with a degree in Classics.

The Babaveli sailed through a wide strait between hills of sharp white crags with an adolescent peach fuzz of scrub; to starboard the Lycian mainland, to port the island of Kekova. We passed our first landmark, the Sunken City, whose name suggests a more romantic scene than reality confirms, and which I am shortly to deprive you of as well. There were indeed some submerged foundations, and some walls and door frames on the cliff, to suggest where the Roman village had stood before a shattering earthquake, but to call it sunken you must apply that same adjective to a bar of soap you dropped in the tub.

Then we crossed to the mainland and docked at Simena, where the day-trippers outnumber the locals five to one, and crossed the disheveled concrete pier to join them among the old overgrown stone houses and cafés. Cracked stairs rose to the heights of the fortress at a conical peak of the ridge. This costing about $5, I went with Nadia around the side of the cliff, where scattered on the hog-backed hump stood twenty stone tombs in various states. They had boxy bases, most of them with holes punched through, and high sloping roofs, and looked like statues of the thatch roof cottages in some Carpathian village. Everyone arrived at the bottom at the same moment and ate ice cream or drank beer, depending on disposition, before we disembarked once more for the waves.

“I heard you say you're allergic to the sun,” said Jennifer.

"Yeah,” said Dave, vulgar Afrikaner accent measured by years in theater. “It's a rare condition called TK. I was diagnosed with it last year. The sun turns me red and makes me sick, so I have to wear this,”―he held up a bottle of SPF +50 sun cream,―“whenever I go out.”

"That's horrible,” said Jennifer, and I asked scientifically as Doctor Van Helsing, “How long can you be in the sun?”

"Don't know. I've never tested it. I normally don't go out at all.”

Indeed foul vampire, you stick to your night lair since the condition struck you. Were you bit and infected by some Vampire Bat in darkest Africa, or by some carrier of that Undead plague in an urban jungle? Now do you flee brave men that might seek you to anywhere but the world's furthest corner? I watch you and mark well the remark that you have gone through as much sunblock as normally takes half a year to employ. Two things are peculiar: a vampire should balk at the sea, being helpless in the water, and should likewise fear the strong Lycian sun; yet you embrace both.

Yet something interrupts these meditations, for Zuzu strangles passionately a bell and shouts, “Tea time! Tea time!” with a wild grin and energy, an understanding of the scene's comedy, and a joy in its execution.

Over tea and biscuits the Afrikaners laughed at the supposedly dangerous territories they'd visited. They had stories from Johannesburg and Cape Town and their slums of being shot at and robbed, of knife artists who slit you into a dozen pieces before you see the first flash of their blade, of men walking home naked for having been robbed of everything, and would have continued this sensationalism had Christopher, a Pole by birth and still perfecting his Afrikaans, dispelled it by saying, “Come on guys, it's not that bad.”

Is this not true of most dangers―harsher horrors in reputation than reality?

Now the Captain steered us back the way we came for three leagues, or ten miles, to a wide bay sheltered by two weathered peninsulae like mandibles. It was, due to the harshness of the rocky landscape around it, a place only boats could reach. Three galiots similar to our own already anchored there, and we dropped our weight a bit apart near the southern lip, but only after tripping to the northern one to visit a hole. It was twenty feet high and the same width, and pirates once used it for their haven.

The Afrikaners and I, me with borrowed snorkel, dove off to explore. The deep bay shallowed to six feet at the entrance, and inside the cave shot off for fifty feet to the left and right. A further chamber off the left branch held in knee-deep water a rocky island ten feet across, which was the only dry land.

After mooring we swam about the bay and I climbed onto one of its small islets, in spite of the foot-slicing keenness of the jagged and porous rocks. We lounged about and chatted as other caravels pulled in, and Jeff and Sinem fished off the side with nothing but a reel, weight, and hook, with mussels to bait the piratical fish, and caught tiny flounders. At 8 we received a feast of sea bream, potato salad, tomato salad, spaghetti, and bread.

Dark came and a rumbling dinghy followed it closely with an echoing rumble to taxi the eight youngest of our boat and its Captain, to the cove's other attraction: the Smugglers Inn. A bayou sort of dock leads up to the grass-roofed pavilion, the outer terrace with great squares of floor-level cushions and low tables, and the bar and dance floor inside. We got expensive drinks and sat with some people from the other sailboats, who were this remote taverna's only patrons, though the Babaveli was by far the best represented.

The DJ played oldies from the 60s and 70s that girls love to dance to, and which young men tolerate for that reason; but while most of our table left for that I was too much engaged with a couple from Vancouver, discussing travel plans and beer. In our homesickness for hops and cheap sushi we reverted to the fast speech and cheap sarcasm of our territory.

"You guys are very sarcastic in Vancouver,” Dave commented. Josie admitted, “We are very cynical.” “Well I think you're a bunch of dicks," he said,―"That was sarcasm!”

Now Jennifer had made the mistake earlier of talking alone and at length with our Turkish Pasha, and this manifested itself in the Pirate's Inn with Soner, in a green Hawaiian shirt, asking her constantly for the next dance and becoming very drunk between her refusals, so much so that when the dinghy finally returned our merry band to our merry ship, Soner nearly fell overboard reaching for the ladder.

I sat drinking restorative draughts of water with him and some of the Afrikaners on deck, and he said, “I saw you dancing Jon.”

"I saw you dancing, too,” I replied. We had not been more than five feet from each other, and he danced in an erratic, eye-catching activity.

"I saw you are not a very good dancer,” said our Captain.

"I'm better when I'm drunk.”

He laughed and said, turning to an Afrikaner, “Don't you agree?”

"I think,” said Zach, “that Jon dances with inspiration.” This thankfully closed the topic, since the girls started giggling below and Soner wanted to imitate them.

The eight of us who had went to the Inn brought up our wool blankets and pillows and laid them out on the sunbeds of what a very enthusiastic person would call the forecastle. Then the Afrikaners and I jumped into the water. The sea there had phosphorous in it, and when you moved your hand that element made sparks fly out like alchemy. I climbed back aboard, washed the brine off myself, and descended into my nest of blankets. I had turned my mattress around so my head stuck out from the tented tarp, and I lay there watching the night sky, which was particularly fine due to our distance and the absence of the moon, on that final eve of the Ramadan.

Permit me this opportunity to exhibit something I wrote on the topic:

What is space? It is no sea, for what makes a sea but containing land? The firmament is an ocean, free and mysterious, bound only by the unknown limits of the Universe, as the circumference of Earth binds its ocean streams. Wonder at its grandness, never to be fully realized; despair at its oppressive spaces; yield to its cosmic courses, uncontrollable by all the might man can muster; for only one so humbled can course safely the stars, and never can a man say, “Here do I belong.”

Justly wrote, O Muse. I lay there considering this and counting the shooting stars, and trying to figure out what was going on next to me, where there was some frantic whispering. I discerned the voice of Jennifer and some man, who I soon determined to be our Captain, for that Torghud Ra'is, that Khaireddin Barbarossa, that Ottoman ravager of Christian seas, had rolled into the mattress next to her in order to inform her, “I have to tell you something. I have to tell you about my feelings.”

"You've only known me for one day,” she said, and, “You're the Captain,” and, “Shouldn't you go to bed? You have to get up early.” I'd heard enough of that, and once I'd swallowed my brotherly instincts, and determined that it really wasn't any of my business, me being a stranger to all those around me, I drowned it out with some moody post-rock from my iPod to match the starscape, which had the advantageous effect of muting the Captain's subsequent yacking.

Let me tell you about my boat.

Seat yourself aft, for the purpose of this exercise, in the quarterdeck. There are blue cushions along the rear of the chrome railing that lassos the ship, and white deck chairs surround a long dining table with bumpers to defend the laps of those dining there in the shade of a blue canopy. Behind stretches the plank―a fifteen-foot wooden board, supported in its erection by one of the two bare white masts by rusted cable―for when the gallet backs into port. A blue and white dinghy hangs from two cranes propped to either side of the stern plank. The wine dark sea foams below with the energy of our passing.

Look forward to a stairway down into the low galley, with the pilot's helm and console to the left, a stuffed minifridge between. On the roof are speakers, a blue mattress, and a water tank. A hammock hangs between the mainsail mast and one of the many spliced-steel guywires supporting those crossed towers, which fly the red colors of Turkey and the white of V-GO Tourism.

Inside the tight gallery: to the right are benches in an L-shape around a table, and to the left a kitchen and bar. Fore of this and down two steps is a hallway, around which are based four cabins with barely more room than the beds, and with closet bathrooms and high windows looking out onto the gunwale; and aft of the galley, above the engine, are two more, enough for twelve people. The crew sleeps in the galley or on the deck; and so, weather abiding, do the other sailors.

From our position in the quarterdeck we can see through slanted windows the forecastle or poop deck above the four forward cabins, slightly lower than the roof of the galley. There in the shade of a canvas tarpaulin, hung over the boom on the foremast, are twelve blue mattresses with headrests and stains from tanning oil. To reach this, walk around the galley on the narrow gunwale. Towels and swimsuits dangle from clotheslines along this stretch, and on the starboard side the railing opens for a ladder to be dropped. All along the railing, miscellaneous ropes and devices and bumpers hang, awaiting some mariner's need.

We lie on one of the blue mattresses and look forward across sailors reading or chattering, around the foremast, to the bow where deck and railing pinnacle in a picturesque pulpit, where the sails are folded and stored. A net and a pair of anchors hang under this ridge. On top can be seen the crank and crane for the anchor that stops our momentum for sleep.

I woke up, as is the misfortune of sleeping outdoors, with the dawn. I watched this celestial show passively, went for a swim, and ate a Turkish breakfast with the rest when Zuzu rang his bell. The Captain, who slept on the roof and had since vanished below, had yet to reappear, despite his plan to sail before dawn to Kaş. We all speculated on his situation until finally he came topside, looking awful, and directed the Babaveli out of the pirate cove and into the strait. We passed the Sunken City of Kekova and Simena town for the second time and emerged from the island's shelter onto the sea's full chop.

Something should be said of the sway. You get used to a rocking boat rather quickly, though night time, when there is no twisting horizon by which to establish your direction, can be disconcerting. The crash and pound of the open sea, especially on a windy day like that one, is random and nauseating. I sat on the roof and wrote while the others slept. I envy those who can nap, as I can only when extraordinarily tired.

The northern shore during this voyage was the same span of white and beige rock and green scrub, only it rose higher into peaks and ridgelines. To the south was the curved void between Lycia and Libya; upwards the sky swirled with frothy cirrus clouds. We sailed towards more ominous cumulus fortresses. In Kaş these clouds banked around the sloped port town in the shielding shadow of a mountain, and their thunder echoed while the rain did not wet us. Yet after a three hour stop―during which time I used the Internet and bought a paper and drank tea, the boat ate a lunch of green beans, rice, salad, and yogurt, and John and Joanne debarked permanently, citing a loose disc―we sailed into and through the storm over rough seas that rocked us side to side.

In Firnas Bay we anchored in a scattered convoy of sailboats and catamarans, most of them rigged for sailing. I tried my hand, or rather lungs, at snorkeling and at diving to the bottom, learning from the Afrikaners how to keep my pressure equalized. Zach was an expert at it and could reach 50 feet―though at that depth his streamlined goggles pushed into his eyes. Zuzu signaled tea time, and at an advantageous moment, for sitting there slurping coffee I witnessed the streak and bloom of lightning on a distant hill.

"Fifteen miles,” I said after counting the seconds. When I explained my methodology, the Australians and Turks were impressed, but Jeff asked, “Isn't that an urban legend?”

"No,” I said, “that is the truth.” There were more booms from the mountains. “At least I hope it's the truth.”

The lightning closed in―ten miles, then eight and two―and a torrent of rain fell, and the wind took on all that intemperate fury that cast away Odysseus. I got dressed and helped take in things from the deck and batten down the hatches, as the Babaveli moved to the middle of the bay along with the whole vacationing armada. We climbed downstairs and sulked in the galley around backgammon games and books.

Ah, the storm at sea! Regaled and shrunk by nature's fury in nature's playground! Diminished at the feet of capricious, jealous Poseidon! What survival skill cannot accomplish, prayers must supplement, and when they fail so doth thy ship. She bounces and jostles her penitent crew, her unhappy inmates, who take every superstitious step toward the guarantee of parole. We can scarcely see the shore, and the pounding rain and howling wind keep us in as well as an electric fence. Then Tempest passes and leaves in her wake the rainbow, and a gyrating mass of recombinant ships, jostling to secure their positions against future aggregates of her wrath. So the day ends in gratitude and beer and grilled chicken and backgammon and words, and so we look up at the sky in newborn wonder.

We ate fried chicken and pasta and salad, all very salty, and Christopher, known to his friends' moms as the Horse, and myself were chief consumers. Then we all fell back to cards and backgammon, and too early to bed in our cabins. The mattresses above were soggy.

A boat at night is a muddled multitude of sound. The wind carries distant noises―calls to prayer, Turkish pop, conversations―across the water and makes its own terrible noise and rattles the boat. The timbers creak, and the bilge water shifts as if someone next door were taking a bath. Sometimes the pump churns to life. Through paper-thin walls you hear all the boat's activity―the clink of dice, the chatter of Zuzu and Ramazan, the whispers of other sailors. The masts and the lines drip water in the fresh wake of a storm. Morning overwhelms these peaceful noises. In the fore, the weighing anchor rattles worse than Marley's chain. Aft the engines rattle your teeth.

This cacophany, and the heat, humidity, and odor of a ship cabin, make sleep a hard luxury of the distant shore; but, for a night at least, you can't really mind it.

I rose at 5:30 with the grinding engines and went top side in a fleece to watch the sun rise golden with Dave and Chris and coffee. The Turks took turns piloting out of Firnaz Bay and along the Lycian coast, and those not thus engaged slept on the galley benches.

Around 9 we anchored in the Valley of the Butterflies, a cleft in the mountains south of Fethiye that opens only to the sea, though some reach it by repelling down a high cliff. In summer this place fills with butterflies and at all times of the year with hippies who sleep in tents and rented bungalows. A boat ferried us in after breakfast for an hour's exploration, and then we swam and left. Two hours took us to Ölüdeniz, which I was not displeased to see again.

Here I went snorkeling to see the strange things that grew on a peninsula's steep slope, which I climbed in flip-flops; and on boarding the ship I listened to the Afrikaners argue about paragliding. This was done under curved parachutes, and under an experienced pilot strapped to your back, as you coasted from a ridge's mile-high peak to the beach, across updrafts and swirling thermals, which could prolong your trip to an hour. Ölüdeniz ranks among the best places in the world for this vertiginous sport, yet phobic Dave was the first to insist on going to the peak, only for a look. When Chris and Zach decided to do it, and took turns saying, “I'm doing it,” and calling Davea homo, he said, “Alright, I'm going to do it.”

"We'll jump,” said Chris. “We might have some homo tendency not to, but we'll get over it.”

Jeff from Providence, who I must remind the reader was a Toulane-educated lawyer, replied, “I've never heard it put that way before.”

"I'm more nervous," said Dave, "than the first night when I played as Marc Antony." Chris was originally Polish, Zach very Afrikaans Dutch, and Dave did Shakespeare and Stoppard and a Sprite commercial, "But I just couldn't take my Dad's nagging anymore, so I went back to school for an MBA and got a suit and tie and a nine-to-five."

A taxi picked up the three adventurers, and we sailed off to a natural harbor between the mainland and St. Nicholas' Island, which supported thousand year old ruins that I thoughtfully explored―and was later accosted by a ranger of tourists for climbing in without paying. (How can you charge entrance for an island?) An amber and lavender sunset framed the jungle of the hills, and a sliver moon rose in the southwest. The Afrikaners arrived after it was over, in an adrenal euphoria from their glide. They had jumped off a cliff and survived.

Dinner came as a feast of salty hamburger patties and salads and noodles, but we ate it all. Afterwards Soner sat with us and taught us some Turkish drinking games, which stressed slapping and clapping, and Christopher led us in a game of Twenty-One. We listened to a sappy CD that some American girl had made him, signed, “Love Stacey,” and to the Dire Straights. Ramazan and Zuzu delivered a final concoction: a cored watermelon with a feral face lit by candles―a tropical Jack-O-Lantern. We jumped in the cooling water to play with the phosphorus and swam over to a luxury super-yacht parked next door to play in the light it bled across the bay. We slept on the roof and looked at stars.

In the morning, we were underway for Fethiye, skipping a final bay due to weather and the Captain's hangover. Turkish music blared over the speakers, and Soner told us, “This singer is a transvestite.” It sounded like a man, so I asked, “He started out a man and became a woman?” “Yes,” said Soner. “She is very popular.”

In Turkey homosexuality carries with it the same stigma you would expect from a pious, conservative country; the homosexual son is banished, a gay neighbor scorned and refused service; and yet curiously, if these once contemptible Sodomites convert their sex through surgery, they are accepted once more, as fitting in with what God intended them to be. Look up statistics on Iranian sex changes―I don't have the time!

We crashed into the thick forest at the harbor, filled ourselves with a last lunch, and dispersed to various ends. The Afrikaners went to Bodrum, party capital of Turkey. The girls from Oz were on their way to Greece and Italy. The honeymooners had a ticket to Rhodes, and Jeff and Sinem for Istanbul. I myself had a later one for the same old city. I picked up my liquor from Ferah Pension, had a few beers, and settled into my seat―the last one available on that ride―to fight for leg room with an old Indian pitted opposite me across a table.


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