22 - Oceanis

Next morning -- before the pavement was hot enough to melt our boots -- we came across that satanic gamelan orchestra. Ropes, oscillating in the breeze, banged crazily on aluminium masts. For anyone who hasn't been driven completely mental by the din of a marina full of sailboats, imagine a shipment of chocolate-covered coffee beans and toy xylophones to a preschool.

Marmaris, Turkiye, near Netsel Marina: the canal photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-1] Marmaris, Turkiye, near Netsel Marina: the canal and wooden fishing boats in April 2006.

We turned away from the marina and crossed a canal full of picturesque, wooden fishing boats. I'm thinking, they were there for the tourists. No matter how far we got from the cacophonous marina, at least every second business had something to do with yachting. You couldn't swing a cat-o-nine-tails without hitting an establishment that: equips yachts, provisions yachts, builds yachts, fixes yachts, maintains yachts, hypes yachts, sails yachts, rents yachts, or sells yachts. That last item: the selling of yachts, was why we were scuffing up our winter boots on the cobblestone streets; on a crusade for the quintessential, ocean-crossing escape vessel.

The sum of my boat buying experience came down to a blootered, bollocks deal in a yacht club bar. It got me a measly, clapped-out day-sailor and a hangover from hell. So technically, when it came to buying a yacht, I knew absolutely nothing. I figured the more yachts I looked at, the more blether I heard, the more sailing jargon I absorbed, the easier it would get. As I saw it, at the time, a yacht was a big motorboat owned by some really rich toff, like Thurston Howell The Third. A sailboat, on the other hand, was just a sailboat.

Gulets and Rugs for sale in Marmaris, Turkiye photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-2] Boats and rugs! One stop shopping in old Marmaris.

Freejacked Google searches brought up yacht brokerages within walking distance. The first of them was in a square, stone building. Probably hundreds of years old. It was festooned with Persian rugs. Above the rugs, a sign read GULET BROKERAGE. We stopped on the pavement and stared at the building. A dozen or more rugs were laid out and draped over saw-horses.

"Meg, what is a gulet?"

"Part of the digestive tract, as far as I know." Strange. Must have been someone's name on the business, like Gullet, Duodenum and sons.

A business attired Turk hustled our way. "Yes, please! How are you today? For you lovely ladies I have the finest rugs, and today, I have the best deals. He caught his breath."Tell me, have you ever seen finer rugs?"

"No. I mean, yes!" I thought I was the world's fastest talker. "They are lovely rugs, but I'm looking for a yacht brokerage."

Elena forced a smile. OK, maybe it was a grimace.

Turkish gulets built in the open, near Marmaris, Turkiye photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-3] Turkish gulets: large, wooden, sailing ships are built in the open near Marmaris, Turkiye.

"Ladies, you have come to the right place."

We followed him into the building and up worn, stone steps to his brother's lair. A loft with dark, rough planking; crumbling ochre-coloured plaster over rock; open beams and trusses with Ottoman artefacts scattered about. I felt like Indiana Jones.

The rug seller's brother got up from a desk and introduced himself. My boating education had begun. First off, a gulet is a large, traditional, wooden boat with masts and sails. Nowadays, it comes with a motor. Looking like 16th-century sailing ships, gulets are coveted in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean as charter vessels. The broker pointed through his open window to the seawall. A breeze off the water was stirring air that felt as though it was about to ignite. Dozens of meticulously maintained gulets were tied up, gangplanks down, waiting for punters. Although stunningly beautiful, they were far too much boat for a couple of pretenders, or my finances, for that matter.

Marmaris appeared to be about yachting photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-4] Everything in Marmaris appeared to be about yachting.

☸ ☸ ☸

Gino's Yachting had more promise than the gulet and rug emporium. We wandered in. I looked around nonchalantly. Wearing tall boots, sweating profusely and expecting a showroom of some sort did not project the air of suave sophistication I was aiming for.

"May I be of assistance?" A receptionist asked.

How did she know I spoke English? "Ahh, aye. Well, I need a boat. I mean, a yacht. Maybe a sailboat. But aye, a yacht is more like it."

"This is a brokerage. We represent yachts for purchase." She folded her hands on her desk. "In town there are many yachting excursions to beaches and clubs." She smiled politely and gestured toward the door with her eyes.

"Aye, but I really do want to purchase a boat."

"You do realise we only have, hmmm, how shall I say it? Vessels with quite large prices." She cast around at her workmates. They all buried their heads in their computer screens.

"I know, that is what we--" I looked around for Elena. She'd ghosted into the background. Cloaked, gone invisible; something she tended to do a lot. "Err, a serious yacht is what I am looking for."

"Is there a specific listing you are inquiring about?"

"No." Listing?! Crikey, that sounded like estate buying. I wanted to buy a boat, not a bloody house. "I am interested in a yacht that can cross an ocean."

Yachting Mecca, a store in Marmaris, Turkiye photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-5] Marmaris, Turkiye: Yachting Mecca.

The receptionist probably thought I was one sandwich short of a picnic. Still, she introduced me to Erdem, an impeccably well-dressed, young man.

"Madam, what type of yacht did you have in mind?" He seemed nervous. Like someone facing a board of examiners or the inquisition.

"I am thinking, a sailboat. We need to get to Canada and a motorboat won't have the range. Am I right?"

"It all depends on the size." Erdem looked sideways at the receptionist.

She smiled sheepishly.

He fiddled with the hem of his blazer. "In what price range are you and your husband prepared to consider an offer on a yacht? Missus."

Elena ghosted back in from wherever.

"Meg, is fine. No husband, just Elena and me."

Erdem froze. His lips parted slightly, his jaw dropped. "You two. Two ladies. No husbands, uncles, father? Maybe a brother is with you?"

"Nope, just us." I waggled a finger between Elena and myself. "As for the price range, it depends on what can meet our needs safely. When I know what there is available and what it's capable of doing for the cost, I'll be in a position to provide a price range."

"I must apologise, and do please forgive such impertinence, but how much can you spend?" He blushed so brilliantly I thought his moustache would go up in flames.

For, like the second time in my entire life, I was at a loss for words.

He changed tack. "Ah, your needs?"

Marine store in Marmaris, Turkiye photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-6] Yachting! Yachting! Yachting!

"We need a boat that can do a long, deep-ocean voyage without stopping. Oh, and it has to be something we, just the two of us, can handle."

The whites of his dark eyes got huge. It was rather disturbing, like he was having a stroke or seizure, or something. "Two girls, er, ladies. Just the two of you will take a yacht across the sea?"

"Aye, just the two of us, and we're not only crossing the sea, but the ocean too."

"The Atlantic?!"

"And probably the Pacific after that." I think I'd lost him by then, so I shut up.

He absent-mindedly stroked his moustache with an index finger. "Let us see what we have listed." Hands shaking, he pulled one of many large binders from a shelving unit. In it were pages and pages of sailboat listings. Some looked like bigger versions of my little day-sailor back home; some resembled oversized bathtubs with masts. A disturbingly large number of them looked like set pieces from the Costner flick, Waterworld.

yachting signage in Marmaris, Turkiye photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-7] And more yachting! Yachting! Yachting!

☸ ☸ ☸

Erdem pulled up in a compact saloon the colour of old nylons. He was probably seconds from fatal heatstroke, in his three-piece suit and tie. I didn't know anyone in Marmaris could be dressed warmer than us in our wintry Ukrainian garb, and he wasn't even sweating. It was eerily uncanny.

Miles of tooth-loosening road mortised into near-vertical rock faces, gave us an aerial view of an isthmus far below. Erdem geared down and his wee motor pitched into a dive. "We are going to there. It is the place for dry storage of charter yachts." Haphazard rows of white objects resolved into a myriad of boats lined up like enormous tombstones. "My uncle has listings of many boats there. Not so many charters are yet booked. This season will not be very good in the yacht charter business. Very bad, indeed."

Marmaris Bay photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-8] "Miles of tooth-loosening road, mortised into near-vertical rock faces," allowed Meg to snap this aerial shot of Marmaris Bay.

"You have an uncle in the charter business?" I asked.

"No, brokerage business. He says it is better to sell boats, than to sail boats." Erdem grinned at his clever repartee.

Up close, the boats were surrealistic behemoths propped up on flimsy-looking stands, tree limbs, boards, oil drums, even rocks. Winter storms had sandblasted their hulls. Cloudbursts, flash floods, even hail had taken their toll. The white topsides were splattered with mud and filth. It was not an inspiring sight.

Erdem pulled a makeshift ladder from a pile of debris, scaring several feral cats out from under planks and paint cans. He didn't react. It's like the cats were merely an environmental factor, like flies in an outdoor cludgie. Elena crouched down, held out a hand and mewled, "Koshka, kotichka, kiss-kiss-kiss."

Erdem shook his head in quiet disbelief, then propped the ladder against one of the delicately balanced boats. I was convinced that monstrosity balanced on its keel-fin was going to topple. There would be a colossal domino effect when each boat knocked over the one beside it.

Elena had ghosted off after the cats. I heard a lot of hissing, snarling, shrieking and Russian expletives from her direction. At least, she was off somewhere enjoying herself, which suited me just fine. I didn't want her to know that what Erdem was showing me, I was seeing for the very first time in my life.

Feral dog and puppies in a boat dry storage lot photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-9] Discarded pets gone feral.

I concentrated on his sales spiel. I knew what some of the paraphernalia was for. Turns out, Saturdays at the yacht club hadn't been a total waste of time, after all. Gear that looked like modern sculpture, I planned to secretly look up online.

Erdem prattled on about chart plotters, autopilots, travellers, weather fax, GPS, toilets and tanks, water lines, scuppers, bilges, whatchamacallits, thingymajiggits and arrrg! My head was swimming. With all of it beyond my ken, I was afraid that we would be swimming too. Compared to my wee day-sailor back home, everything was comically oversized. This boat was only double its length, but its components were several orders of magnitude bigger. Holy kapoosta! Size wasn't a simple factor of length.

One thing I got disturbingly clear from the conversation, was that nothing in my price range was equipped to sail offshore. Not only were we going to have to buy a boat and learn to sail it, but we needed to equip it for total self-sufficiency on the high-seas. With nowhere to land, whatever we set to sea in, had to keep us alive for a very long time and distance. For us, safe harbour was not an option.

The next boat we scrambled aboard was much like the first: dirty and worn out. It was, however, a Beneteau -- a brand I'd heard spoken of around the club in those hushed, reverent tones reserved for prestige motors and expensive watches.

Elena joined us on that one. She clambered aboard, peered into the boat's gloomy interior, and asked, "Is that all it is?"

"What do you mean?"

Sailboat in dry storage photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-10] Elena (upper right) crawls aboard one of the sailboats propped up on sticks in the desert.

"Such a thing can cross the sea?" She manoeuvred awkwardly down the companionway -- a steep, widely spaced, set of stairs. Kind of like an off-kilter bookcase one might climb following a natural disaster -- and stuck her head into the cabins and closets, tapping on the walls and floorboards.

"What in hell are you doing?!" I whispered.

"Looking for a place to hide."

"Hide!?" I flashed a beatific smile in Erdem's direction. "Hide what?"

"My body. To hide me. We must go by countries that will send me to Russia, maybe worse. Who knows what they can do to me? How much room is there under the floor?"

"I don't know." My cheeks grew dangerously hot. "I'll come up with a way to ask Erdem. Meantime, don't be so obvious. He's going to think we're smugglers. Besides, sniffer dogs don't have to see you, to know you're there."

"What are we going to do then?"

"For one, we're going to stay as far away from countries' territorial waters as possible." I stopped. Erdem looked concerned. It was high-time to deflect. "OK, let's talk about storage space." I paced the main salon. "What about keeping bits and bobs below the floor? Bulky kit, like lawn furniture or maybe a hang glider. And you never know when a full set of golf clubs will come in handy."

He shrugged his shoulders, lifted a floor panel. There wasn't much room, barely a crawlspace, and it was traversed throughout by structural bulkheads. Extra provisions, maybe. A human being, not a chance.

Elena Vaytsel taking a photo in front of Gino Yachting, Marmaris photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-11] Meg took this picture of Elena taking a picture (it's the one below) of the boat they ended up with. The building in the background is Gino Yachting's.

At Gino's, Erdem and I presented an offer on that Beneteau. Considering the sorry state it was in, Erdem bid below the absurd asking price. Tea was served, phone calls were made. The offer was not only rejected, but the seller countered for more than the listed price.

Erdem called in his uncle. He was one of those blokes you just knew was in charge. He made a few phone calls. Within minutes, we had a deal on a French-built Beneteau that was miles better than the one we lost. Recently outfitted for a no-show charter season, the owner was desperate to unload it. Not only that, it wasn't out in the desert, propped up on sticks, but in the water, floating at the dock a hundred metres from there.

"Oceanis. Lenna, it's an Oceanis!" I whispered the manufacturer's name for that model.

"Nu ee shto -- so what?"

"Don't you get it? With a name like that, it absolutely has to be for crossing oceans."

"You know this model of sailboat?"

I'd never heard of it in my life, but luckily, I didn't have to answer. Erdem's uncle strode back into the office, his voice booming, "Today, my friends, you are in luck, for now you have a boat!"

Beneteau Oceanis Elena and Megs boat photo elenameg.com

[Image 22-12] In the water, ready to go (on short charters, mind you) this is the boat, dubbed Boadicea by Elena, that became their escape vessel.

[[ updated Apr 23, 23:47 GMT ]]