From Turkey to Cyprus

Vasco da Gama
Ian Strathcarron
Mon 3 May 2010 05:57

We’ve spent many days sailing since leaving the Mangavat River.  We spent a night at anchor in a quiet bay next to the remains of  a mausoleum built for the great Roman emperor Trajan who died there in the first century AD on his way to Palestine, and a night in an atmospheric fishing port under the full moon.   We stayed three nights in Alanya marina, a smaller and unfinished version of the marina in Kemer.  It was populated mainly by English liveaboards who have been there for the winter, and they carry on in a similar way to the people in Kemer, with a radio net every morning, daily walks and tennis tournaments.  We joined in the quiz night, which I’m happy to report Ian’s team won and I rode in the minibus to the weekly market in Alanya. 

Everyone shops in the weekly markets in Turkey.  The supermarkets are quite drab and their contents hard to understand as everything is in Turkish, but in the markets I buy kilos of oranges, apples, lemons, tomatoes, spinach and potatoes and bunches of fresh herbs.  Cooking on board usually means starting from scratch with a bunch of vegetables as there is nothing ready-made or easy to produce, but fortunately we both love toast covered with olive oil, garlic and cheese, which is our staple meal.    Bread and garlic are very good in Turkey, although cheese is usually white goat’s or yellow processed. 

We sailed into the harbour of Kyrenia, northern Cyprus on Thursday evening after an eight hour sail from Boyzazi in Turkey.  We had the wind behind us and had both sails fully up all the way.  We are in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, so called because Turkey took control of the northern part of the island in 1974.  Their reason was to protect the mainly Turkish inhabitants of this part of the island from the majority of Greek Cypriots in the south (after the alarm caused by the Greek Generals’ coup) and the Turkish army have been here in large numbers ever since.  The TRNC is not recognised by anybody in the world apart from Turkey.  It is complicated to sail between Greek and Turkish Cyprus, so will stay in the Turkish part for a few days.   Turkish Cyprus is made up of about one quarter of the island, in a strip across the north.  There is a dramatic mountain range behind us, and then a flat plain which stretches for miles and is planted with wheat.   The country is quite poor and shabby, and reminds us of some parts of Africa.  The people are friendly and kind although not many speak English. 

On our first day we were confined inside the boat as there was a thunderstorm raging outside, and very heavy rainfall, which lasted from the late afternoon and for most of the night.  Before it started raining we walked into the old port which is built next to an amazingly intact castle.   Cyprus, like all the Mediterranean islands we have visited, has a history of conquest and reconquest by outsiders, and in the case of Girne, as the Turks call Kyrenia, one of the invaders was Richard the Lionheart of England.  He arrived in 1191, on his way to the Third Crusade in the Holy Land.  Like his Norman relatives who were able to subjugate Sicily, Richard and his warriors defeated the King of Cyprus, capturing the imposing castle and the island.  However, Richard’s ambition was to recapture Jerusalem and he sold the island to his cousin, Guy de Lusignan, who had formerly been King of Jerusalem.  I have not discovered in any of the history books on board how much Guy de Lusignan paid for the island, but he settled here and Cyprus remained in Lusignan possession for 300 years.  The castle was part of the defence against Arabs as well as the ambitious Italian cities of Genoa and Venice who were always looking for bases for their trading empires in the eastern Mediterranean.   In 1489 the Venetians took control of the island and rebuilt the outer walls of the castle, which are 50 feet high and look impenetrable.   The Venetian influence lasted for 100 years, before Cyprus became annexed to the Turkish Ottoman Empire.   Inside  the castle there is a beautiful Byzantine church, various chambers, guard rooms, towers and dungeons, bastions overlooking the sea, and in the centre a picturesque colonnaded open space planted with palm trees and dotted with antique columns.

The castle is also home to the shipwreck museum, where there is one of the oldest sailing vessels ever found and raised from the seabed.   It is the pine hull, about 60 feet long, of a Greek merchant ship which had sailed from Samos in 300 BC.   It was discovered outside Kyrenia harbour by a sponge fisherman in 1965.   It was salvaged by marine archaeologists from Pennsylvania University, and contained amphorae, olive oil bottles, thousands of almonds, lead weights and basalt millstones, all of which are on display, together with pottery dishes, wooden spoons, drinking glasses and salt–cellars used by the crew.

There is plenty to interest enthusiasts for the ancient world and the Middle Ages in South Eastern Turkey and Cyprus, although anything built in more modern times is usually of a very poor standard and utilitarian rather than beautiful. 

After the castle visit we had lunch in one of the restaurants which are crowded into the old port.  We sat high up on the balcony of a lovely old Ottoman House, looking down on the gullets and holiday-makers and had our first taste of delicious Halloumi cheese and good local white wine from the Cannakale district.  Cypriot wine is said to be very good, but does not travel well, so we will do our wine tasting while we  are here.   We had been been pre-warned of the local gin, under 4 Euros a bottle and reputedly excellent with tonic, so a case was duly purchased for our on-board bar.