Sailing off the Dalaman peninsula, our boat is commandeered by the Turkish coastguard.
by Helen Vanderberg
The VHF radio splutters, a passenger translates from the Turkish: Flash Notice: Large vessel, restricted in ability to maneuver at 32.38N 29.47E. The Turkish Coast Guard is commandeering us to assist in a rescue.
I arrived in Istanbul in midsummer, an American heading for the Dalaman peninsula and a cruise aboard the Avrasya, a small Turkish 65-footer carrying 22 passengers. A laid-back summer of writing, interspersed with shore trips to exotic ports lies ahead. On this small boat, sometimes when the night is hot, a few of us sleep on deck on pads, looking at the stars and listening to disco music. Turkish music has this sad wailing nostalgia blended with Arabic overtones. Lying on deck, I would try to identify the smell wafting from the land. Purely Asiatic, almost like dung, with smoky head-notes that clear the sinuses, it stirs memories of the souk in Cairo, dark-brown and camel-like. Definitely Arabian. Such weighty matters occupy my thoughts.
One morning, a glorious pink and aqua sunrise warns of weather. The captain kindly turns on the engine to awaken us for it. The night before we had anchored, tied to two trees in a sheltered cove. Ali, who is crew, jumps overboard with fins on, and swims ashore to untie us in the morning, and tie us up at night. Once he is back on board this morning, we get underway swiftly in mild seas. It is deliciously cool.
The food on board is magnificent. Fresh fruit and vegetables, beautifully arranged and a great deal of everything. For breakfast alone, Omar the cook pulls out all the stops: watermelon, honeydew, cucumber, tomatoes, eggs variously prepared, yoghurt, white cheese, feta cheese for which I have developed a passion, olives both green and black, fresh crisp bread, juice of many kinds, tea, coffee, and an increasingly sad and neglected package of breakfast cereal from Germany that gets soggier as the trip progresses and is finally retired to oblivion.
Besides stuffing myself with lovely vegetarian food, I swim and write. The radio is on, and a Turkish voice proclaims the news, but I have no idea what it might be. Aside from weather, of which there has been none so far, whatever else can they be talking about? Sunny, fair and windy.
The chop increases as we round the point of an island, and the crew has readied the staysail to steady the boat. A line of rocks comes less than a boat-length on our starboard beam. Spray flies. Three sloop-rigged boats on our port have only main sails up, and a motorboat flying the British flag has passed ahead. Our boat surges as she vigorously rises to meet the challenge. The wind has increased to 20 knots as we round the point.
Last night everyone was very relaxed and jovial, dancing and making jokes. The captain this morning sits on a stack of white plastic chairs and steers with bare feet. The weather mounts. We are powering along in rolling seas, among a number of boats, just short of another rocky outcrop. It is not yet 8:30 in the morning. One of the sloops has struck sail and makes way under power. One of our party has become unwell. She staggers to go below. The captain takes a firmer hold on the wheel.
We notice a large steel boat painted a somber gray cut across the channel in front of us, then turn at 90 degrees. He comes about, and does it again. We're puzzled. What in the world is he playing at? Does he intend to sink us? The red Turkish flag with rising moon and star reminds us we are foreigners off a strange shore.
The VHF stutters. We are being commandeered by the Turkish Coast Guard.
A ship Braveheart, a 65-footer like ours, is foundering on the rocks. She had raised a triangular red-striped sail, perhaps to advise that assistance was required. Her VHF is out of commission. Her boarding ladder is broken, all passengers have been taken off. On the tilting deck, a sole panicked sailor clad in life jacket--her captain perhaps--is preparing her to be driven on the rocks. She is sinking.
Our captain now standing alert, his mop-hair flying in the breeze, glances around at his passengers and shrugs his shoulders. Despite his easy-going nature, we trust him to take us closer. Messages are shouted back and forth to the Braveheart, then relayed to the Coast Guard by VHF, who is standing safely off in deeper water. Between them it was decided we should try passing the sinking ship a line.
The first throw by Ali, falls short. Both boats are pitching, the wind is strong, the waves and current unpredictable this close to shore. For the second throw, Omar, our valiant cook, goes out as far as he can on the pitching gangplank, and while the captain maneuvers us dangerously close between the sinking ship and crashing surf, he throws the line to Braveheart. The line, made fast at either end, snaps taut. A tremendous surge of power from Avrasya, and Braveheart turns her prow away from certain disaster and into deeper water.
Whereupon the Coast Guard, in fine white, gold-braided uniform, stands by in a dinghy to receive the line. The big official ship would now take Braveheart under tow.
The chop, the danger, the rolling seas, has several passengers seasick, and one of the crew. My sole portion of the rescue consists of hanging onto the leg of one of our passengers who is relieving herself of her too-late-administered Dramamine over the rail.
Our courageous cook's action rescues a sinking ship, and Braveheart is saved to sail again another day.