Blue dream

A small yacht sets sail from Bodrum harbor, passing hundreds of tiny, nameless coves as it heads for Gökova.

The horizon dark blue, waves slapping against the yacht, a heady scent of iodine. Profound silence, days devoted entirely to nature. Highly favored by those who want to enjoy the taste and smell of the sea, individual yacht cruises offer the freedom of choosing your own itinerary. Unlike the more traditional 'blue cruises' that usually last 3 to 7 days, yacht tours are not bound by a strict schedule. If you like you can start out from Ayvalık and take weeks to reach Antalya. What's more, all the people on board are people you want to have there. You can visit the cove of your choice and swim and sunbathe to your heart's content, or even pass your time in a restaurant on shore, on a yacht tour on which you discover all the tiny coves between Bodrum and Gökova.

WIND-SWEPT COVES
It was a small inlet on the Bodrum peninsula. The sea was  whispering softly, summoning all boats errant to the blue. So commenced our the cruise into the sea's azure. Yacht tours originating from Bodrum take one of two main routes, either to Gökova or to the Bay of Güllük. On the Gökova cruises, a favorite with writer Cevat Şakir, 'the Fisherman of Halicarnassus', who pioneered the blue cruise in Turkey, most of the time is spent in the inlets east of the bay. The northern route, which goes from Bodrum to the Bay of Güllük, is ideal for both swimming and surfing with its windy coves -- too numerous to count along the 80-kilometer coastline of the Bay of Gökova between the Bodrum and Datça peninsulas. 
Two miles beyond Bodrum harbor, Karaada is our first stop with its sulfur-rich therapeutic waters. A mud bath in the natural pools at the mouth of the spring is said to clear up any dermatological problem. A few miles further out to sea, the island of Orak is in view, covered with thorny scrub and boasting a  pebble beach and a tiny fisherman's  refuge on its south coast. The next stop is Çökertme Cove which, with its pristine beach and bohemian fish restaurants, gives it name to many a folk song. After casting anchor, we climb a fairly steep slope up to Sivri Kümes Tepesi, a hill overlooking the entire Bay of Gökova.

COVES, VILLAGES AND HARBORS
Setting out again, we anchor this time at Çamaltı Cove. It's time now to explore the environs. A half hour hike brings us to Ören, where we find the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Keramos. After the harbor at Akbük, crystal clear as an aquarium, our destination is the southeastern coast of Gökova Bay.

A natural wonder, Sedir Adası looms suddenly out of the sea. Known as Cleopatra's Beach, the sandy strip on this tiny island is so famous that yachts, motorboats and sailboats by the dozens moor here during the summer season. Access to the island, where Cleopatra is said to have come to swim, is by ticket only. Following the arrows, we proceed inland from the beach and come to the ruins of the ancient city of Kedrai. When we return to the yacht and continue on our way, Karacasöğüt, secluded in pine forests, is where we, like other Gökova travelers, replenish our food supplies. We don't leave without stocking up on honey and tomatoes from Karacasöğüt, whose tiny villages make a living from greenhouse gardening and beekeeping. As our craft pulls away, we leave behind houses  overlooking the Mediterranean, their balconies bursting with flowers.

THE MERMAID OF GÖKOVA
Değirmenbükü, Gökova's largest bay, is like one big blue garden. Yachts here discover a new cove at every turn. A statue of a mermaid greets the boats as we enter the cove of Okluk through Değirmenbükü's azure waters. The cove directly opposite Okluk is called Hırsız, 'Thief'! A little further ahead is the İngiliz Limanı, or English Harbor, a mysterious inlet where ships of the British fleet hid out during the Second World War. So utterly calm and sheltered, Değirmenbükü almost goes unnoticed. Waving to some people collecting fresh sage on the hillsides, we raise anchor again and continue on our way to the accompaniment of sun, sea, coves, and copious peace of mind. We enter Löngöz Cove where we are stained blue and green inside and out. The tiny pier here at this cove whose real name is Kargılı comes slowly into view. Romantic paths run in every direction through the piney woods, and three icy streams empty into the sea through the reed beds.

THE ROUTE OF THE PLEASURE BOATS
Before Bördübet Cove, the Yedi Adalar or Seven Islands greet the yachts in an area chock full of surprises for sailors. Three of these little islands are in the north and four to the south, scattered between the headlands of Teke and Taneli.

Bördübet, our next stop, is a magical place, far from the madding crowd and surrounded by forest. Apart from a camping ground two kilometers away there is no sign of human life around here. The English, who discovered this place, called it 'bird the bed' for the abundance of birds in the environs. The name was corrupted to 'Bördübet' in Turkish. From this point on, the boats begin to follow the fjord-like coastline of the Datça Peninsula, which extends southward along the Bay of Gökova. Surrounded by pine forest, the coves of Büyük Çatı and Küçük Çatı are popular with the yachting crowd. The far end of Tuzla Cove, which extends inland for two and half miles east from Koyun Cove, is reminiscent of a lake. Mersincik Limanı, which boasts the clearest waters in all Gökova, is another popular anchoring place with yacht owners. Its tiny beach is ideal for a barbecue and a nap by the fire after a long swim. And for overnight, Palamutbükü on the southwest side of the peninsula is the venue of choice.

LIFE ON BOARD
You will expend a lot of effort without realizing it on a cruise. So early to bed and early to rise are the rule on board. The hours before the hot noon sun and just before sundown are the loveliest moments on any cruise. Times of scorching sunlight are therefore convenient for anchoring in a quiet cove and swimming, sleeping or taking walks, going shopping or enjoying a feast in a fish restaurant. And sleeping on deck on calm, starry nights is an experience not to be missed.

Even if you're an amateur yachtsman, if you don't have a sailing license, then you are definitely required to have a captain on board. Tasks such as approaching the quay, dropping anchor, cleaning, cooking, shopping and maintaining the engine and sails are a lot harder than you might think. If you lack the energy and experience for this work, setting out without a crew could quickly turn into a nightmare. And if you plan to set sail in high summer, you should also be sure your boat is air conditioned.

ALTERNATE ROUTES
Deciding on the length and itinerary of the cruise is up to the initiative of the yacht owner. A minimum of three weeks is de rigueur for a comprehensive tour of the area between Bodrum and Fethiye. Routes conducive to three-day tours include:  Antalya-Kaş, Marmaris-Fethiye, Marmaris-Datça, Bodrum-Marmaris, Bodrum-Gökova, and Bodrum-Güllük. Those who prefer to depart from Marmaris rather than Bodrum can choose one of two routes:  Bozburun and the Datça peninsula, or the Bay of Fethiye. Datça tours visit Datça and Knidos as well as the small islands and coves scattered between Hisarönü, Kızkumu, Orhaniye, Selimiye and Bozukkale. On the Fethiye route, one day is set aside to tour Dalyan and the ancient city of Kaunos, the other days for exploring the natural and historical riches of the Bay of Fethiye. The Kaş route originating from Antalya is another one of the most beautiful stretches on the Turkish Riviera. But whichever route you choose, on the sea you live only the moment. ...and blue to surfeit, in a thousand-and-one hues.