Vasco da Gama
Sun 9 May 2010 09:39
We are tied up to a pontoon in the port of Mersin on the SE Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Mersin is the biggest city we have seen for a long time. We are in the centre, alongside fishing boats, some Turkish-owned power boats, and floating restaurants in big, old gulets from which Turkish pop music wails into the early hours of the morning. Nearby is a pleasant square, shaded by palm, cypress, hibiscus and oleander trees where there are some smart clothes shops and restaurants, although we discovered last night that none of the restaurants serve alcohol, so we drank coffee and diet cokes like the rest of the natives until we got back to the boat. Mooring here was quite dramatic, as there was no space, and a fisherman indicated we could tie up to him after dropping our kedge anchor, which runs from the stern of the boat. The kedge anchor we only use warily and occasionally, and this time it jammed on the way down. I was on the helm trying to keep ourselves steady and not colliding with anybody, when people from various other boats started gesticulating and shouting and miming that we should pull up the kedge anchor, as two large boats were on their way in and they would become entangled with our anchor chain. The helpful fisherman, who spoke some English, moved out of his space to allow us to tie up to the pontoon. At this moment, the kedge anchor jammed on the way up and Ian had a terrific battle to dislodge the anchor as we moved backwards and forwards and he tugged on yards of heavy iron chain. By now people on all the surrounding boats were watching and encouraging and trying to be helpful (but in Turkish which didn't help much at all). Eventually we were free to tie up. So far we are not connected to water or electricity and it is all very ramshackle, but at least we are safe.
To get here from Cyprus, we have had five lovely days of cruising, anchoring each night in quiet bays or small fishing harbours. We have been greeted enthusiastically everywhere we go, although we have not been ashore very much, preferring to stay on board, swim, and eat and drink in the open air. Thanks to a Vodafone dongle, attached to this computer, we have been able to hear BBC Radio and follow the drama of the election. We huddle around the wireless like families before the arrival of television. This coast does not have the spectacular beauty of the Aegean Coast where we cruised last year and it is less visited by foreign tourists, and we are noticing a more Middle Eastern or Levantine atmosphere. There is very little traffic on the sea, just a few fishing boats and large freighters, some heading in and out of Lebanon and Israel. In Alanya we saw a camel for the first time. He, or she, was quite small, wearing a coloured fez, and standing patiently by the side of the road, perhaps waiting to take children for rides along the beach, like donkeys in English seaside towns. Also in Alanya there is a marvellous Seljuk fortress, built in the 13th century, on top of a promontory which divides the town in two. The Seljuks were the original Turkish people, originating from Central Asia, and establishing their empire in the lands once colonised by Greek Byzantines. I have christened this coast the Coast of Castles as we have seen so many castles, some fairly intact, some in ruins. They are either Byzantine, Seljuk or Ottoman, and particularly in this part of the world - called the Cicilian coast by the Romans - Armenian. It seems that in the 11th century there was an exodus of a group of people from Armenia (one thousand miles to the north east) who settled on this coast and founded the Kingdom of Lesser Armenia. As the Armenians were Christian, they were very helpful to the Crusaders who passed through here in 1097 on the First Crusade.
Crusader history is very noticeable in Cyprus, as it was a Christian island, and so near the Holy Land. The port of Famagusta was an extraordinary place to visit. It was here that the remnants of the Crusader Knights, who established and held a kingdom on a coastal strip stretching from Antioch, now in Turkey, to Acre, now in Israel, came when they were finally expelled from the land they called Outremer in 1291. The old city, which is surrounded by a high wall, ramparts and a moat encircling about one square mile, contains the remains of at least a dozen huge cathedrals and churches, built in the styles current in Europe at the period, Romanesque and Gothic. Most of them are intact, only the roofs are missing, apart from the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, which is now a mosque. It looks like a slightly scaled-down version of Notre-Dame in Paris, except built in the golden limestone of the island. A guide told us there were once 365 religious buildings in Famagusta, created by the wealth and piety of the religious orders. Another beautiful survivor is Bellapais Abbey above our anchorage at Kyrenia, founded by Augustinian monks from Jerusalem in 1200 and enlarged by the Lusignan kings in the 13th and 14th centuries. Some of it is romantically ruined, but the refectory has survived and we saw a classical music concert performed by two young pianists. We went to the concert with a charming couple from the Orkneys (Orkadians?), called Roy and Moira Dennison on the yacht Halcyon, who were our neighbours at various anchorages and moorings.
I have to leave Ian and Vasco in Mersin with the fishermen until I return from the funeral and memorial in Pennsylvania of my brother-in-law Larry, who died earlier this year. This has been a sad time for my family. When I return we will sail south to Lattakia in Syria.