Report & Photos by Ken & Carmel Kavanagh Cruises Index >>

From Kusadasi to the Black Sea with Safari of Howth
8th June 2012
Posted: 8/6/12

Departed Kusadasi

On Saturday May 19, we departed our berth in Kusadasi marina, waved off by an international group of friends from the United States, France and Switzerland. With their good wishes ringing in our ears, we set sail for the Black Sea.

15 days later on June 2, we checked into Varna, Bulgaria after a cruise which had everything one would have hoped for and some things that that we could have happily done without!

We had planned on spending just one or 2 nights at each stopover as our aim was to reach the Black Sea early in June before the arrival of the northerly airflow which would make our passage north very difficult indeed. On the return trip, we would make time for all the things we wanted to see and do, particularly in Canakkale and Istanbul.


Our first stop was to be at Sigacik just 30m up the coast from Kusadasi. Upon entering Teos Bay we were instructed by the coastguard to take a circuitous route into Sigacik so as to avoid the Turkish Navy who was carrying out exercises in the bay using live ammunition. This added about 2 hours to our journey but there was no choice in the matter!

Sigacik marina was familiar to us from a previous visit as was the old walled village and the ruins of the ancient Ionian city of Teos which is located just one kilometre away from the marina. We also took time to sample the excellent baklava - little balls of flaky pastry thickly coated in syrup - a favourite Turkish dessert. One of the best Patisseries in the region is located just across the street from the marina.


The following morning at 10.30, we set out for Cesme with a nice southerly breeze allowing us to hoist the sails and move along at a brisk 6.4 knots for most of the trip. We tied up in Cesme Harbour marina at 1700 after a very pleasant day's sailing. The delights of Cesme awaited. If Kusadasi could be described as the Benidorm of the Aegean Sea, then Cesme is most definitely it's Marbella.

The marina we choose was not the Setur marina which is located on the eastern side of the peninsula and is reputed to be extremely pricey but the Cesme Harbour Marina which is run by a partnership of Camper Nicholson and a Turkish company and is of an excellent standard but a lot less expensive.

The marina complex itself has lots of nice restaurants and upmarket shops including a Carrefour Express. The walls of Cesme Castle dominate the harbour and create a lovely backdrop. We really enjoyed our evening stroll through this very pleasant town before an early night in our bunks to prepare for a 0500 alarm clock call the following morning.


Our next port of call was Ayvalik which, at 72 miles away, meant an early departure from Cesme. The weather forecast was excellent and at 0550, we were underway, motoring at 7 knots with the help of a favourable current. The wind soon came up and so did the sails and off we galloped leaving the Greek island of Khios rapidly to starboard.

As we approached the channel between Turkey and the next Greek island of Lesvos, a mist descended, totally obscuring that island from view. Thankfully visibility remained reasonable in the channel, between 3-5 miles, so we were able to proceed comfortably on to our destination. At 1530 we turned into the buoyed channel which opens onto a delightful lake on which Ayvalik is located. After carefully navigating our way through some pretty shallow water, we crossed the lake and were off the marina entrance by 1600. Our planned stay of 2 nights became 4 due to an engine problem and the weather!

Alibey - one of the many quayside restaurants in the Lake of Ayvalik
The Ayvalik Archipelago is a delightful cruising ground with many safe anchorages dotted around the lake itself and around its off-lying islands. We enjoyed exploring this attractive working town which welcomes tourists but is not overrun by them. The Bazaar in the old part of town was full of bargains and shops specialising in the sale of olives and olive oil. We took a dolmus (shared taxi) over to Alibey on the other side of the lake which boasts a small fishing harbour and wall to wall fish restaurants along the sea front. There was also some interesting antique shops and lovely old tea-rooms reminiscent of times past.

After our planned 2 nights, we once again set a wake-up call for 0600 and had departed the marina by 0700. We were back in our berth by 0710 after the skipper noticed that water had stopped coming out of the engine exhaust pipe! An initial examination revealed nothing major. We phoned the company in Kusadasi who had carried out a fairly extensive (and expensive) service on the engine before our departure. They agreed to send a mechanic to the boat. We spent the entire day awaiting his arrival, but when he came, he quickly realised that the lid had not been put back tightly enough on the raw water filter by the mechanic in Kusadasi. Just in case the large "O" ring seal had perished, he liberally applied waterproof grease. A new impeller was needed but after that all was well. There was no charge for his visit which was a relief.

Rain was forecast for the following day but what is a drop of rain to two Irish sailors? The following morning saw us once again up and about by 0600 and ready to move on. We were greeted by a heavy downpour and decided to wait until it ceased before departing. We were still waiting at 1700 that day. It rained non-stop all day accompanied by some of the most vicious thunder and lightning we have ever encountered. So we spent the day snuggled up in our bunks instead of battling the elements at sea!


On Friday May 25th, we set out from Ayvalik once again, heading for the Island of Bozcaada about 50 miles further north and 10 miles south of the entrance to the Dardenelles Strait. We choose Bozcaada because of it's proximity to the Strait and also because of its historical significance. It was the Greek base for the attack on Troy all those years ago. The day was quite cold to begin with but soon heated up nicely and we were making good speed with the help of our cruising chute and a north flowing current.

Safari under cruising chute
We arrived off Bozcaada at around 1600 but as nobody answered either the phone or the radio, we just had to proceed in to the quay and hope for the best. There were two other boats moored at the quay wall but no sign of life. As we were contemplating how best to get a line ashore, an elderly gentlemen who was strolling along the quay, picked up a mooring line to pass to us and with that the harbour master arrived on his scooter!

As I was throwing a line ashore, there was a nasty "thunk" and the engine stalled and stopped. Something was caught in the propeller! It turned out to be one of the mooring lines. A diver had to be called to free it. He arrived pretty promptly - perhaps a tad too promptly? But unfortunately, when Ken put the engine in gear to test it, there was a very unhealthy "knocking" sound. A mechanic and another diver had to be fetched. They duly sorted the problem but at a cost of Euro Symbol150, which on top of the Euro Symbol30 we had paid the first diver and the mooring fee, made our overnight in Bozcaada the most expensive of the entire trip. I can tell you, that by this stage the joys of this cruising life were wearing a little thin!

The delightful harbour in Bozcaada
We subsequently discovered that one of the two other boats at the quay (from Bulgaria) had also picked up a line on their prop as they were coming in to berth.

It appeared that the mooring lines tailed to the quay had not been left slack enough and were a few feet below the surface rather than lying on the bottom. One cannot help but wonder if this was an accident or a lucrative business arrangement between the harbour master and the diver ?

No paper work of any kind exchanged hands on Bozccaada. The mechanic, Ibo, and his girlfriend, Yasemin, later brought us on a tour of the island in their car. They were very nice and maybe felt a little sorry for us.

Whatever the reason, we really enjoyed the outing with them and regretted that we would not be returning to Bozcaada on the return trip unless necessity dictated otherwise as the little harbour, overlooked by a walled fortress, not only provides good shelter but is very pretty and well worth visiting.

Carmel with Ibo and Yasemin
on tour in Bozcaada

The following morning at 1000, we managed to exit the harbour without any further mishaps and start the 21 mile trip up to Canakkale in the Dardenelles Strait which we reached 5 hours later. This Strait is called the Canakkale Bogazi in Turkish and runs up along the Gallipoli Peninsula.

As we neared the entrance, we met a long line of cargo ships and tankers heading in the same direction. So care had to be taken not to stray into the shipping lanes. Across the mouth we encountered a 3 knot current which slowed our speed to 3.00 knots for a while. Fortunately, we were soon able to roll out the jib and to our utter surprise, our speed rose to 6.5 knots because of the effect of counter currents and a favourable wind direction.

Once again, Canakkale marina did not answer our calls, so we just had to take pot luck and hope that a berth would be available when we arrived. Luckily, one was, though by 1600 all available berths had been taken. A sister Halberg Rassy, "Pennypincher" (UK registered) came in beside us. We discovered we had many sailing acquaintances in common. What a minute world we live in!

Gallipoli and Troy

Although the plan was to keep moving northward as quickly as possible, we simply could not resist the call to Gallipoli and Troy. So we decided to spend 3-4 nights here and book tours to both of these historic places.

On Sunday May 27th, we spent a memorable day on the Gallipoli Peninsula. This entire peninsula has been turned into a national historic park and what a sad, sad place it is. We visited most of the cemeteries where soldiers from England, Ireland, France, New Zealand, Australia and, of course, Turkey are buried, having lost their lives during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915.

We saw all the significant places which up to then had just been names in our History books and wondered at the enormity of the Allied defeat and of the monumentally successful Turkish victory for which much credit must go to Colonel Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk, the father of Turkey.

Lone Pine cemetary where many Anzacs are buried

The heights overlooking Anzac Cove held by the Turks
including the feature known as "The Sphinx"
We were initially at a loss to understand the coach loads of Turks crossing over to Gallipoli on the ferries during our brief stay in Canakkale but soon learned that Gallipoli has become a national shrine which is visited by millions of Turks each year, in particular during May and September.

The following day was spent wandering around Troy. Although it is not the most spectacular archaeological site in Turkey, it is, thanks to Homer, probably the most famous. The Trojan War could be a myth but Homer's epic poem, the Iliad, insures its place in history as one of the most enduring romantic tales of all time. Having spent many,many hours way back in 1965 studying the Iliad in Latin for my Leaving Certificate, I was overwhelmed to find myself walking around this ancient city in 2012!

Two Turks pay their respects
to the fallen of Gallipoli

A section of the ancient city of Troy

The Wooden Horse created for the film "Troy" on display in Canakkale

The Turkish war memorial at the entrance to the Dardenelle's
Avsa Adasi

With great reluctance, we departed Canakkale on Tuesday May 29th .We had to continue up through the Strait for another 20 miles before exiting into the Sea of Marmara. We had decided to head for the island of Avsa which lies 55 miles north of Canakkale and which came highly recommended by an English couple on board "Forever Freedom".

Plenty of water and good shelter in the harbour makes it an ideal stopover on the way up to Istanbul. So off we headed at 0545 that morning. As there was no wind, we motored up through the Strait with our speed wildly fluctuating between 3 and 7 knots depending on the direction of the current. There was lots of traffic, cargo vessels, large tankers and ferries criss-crossing from one side to the other.

At 1000 we exited into the Sea of Marama, so named after Marmara Island which is made entirely of marble. With winds of 20-25 knots forecast for later in the day, we were hoping to make it into port before they struck. This time we were not so lucky. We ran into a thunder and lightning storm at midday which had not featured in any forecast and which lasted for about 90 minutes. It was accompanied by torrential rain which resulted in very poor visibility while it lasted.

We had our trusty "lightning" chain wrapped around the bottom of the mast and going over the side of the boat into the water, just in case we were struck. We were advised to do this when we were in Florida which is known as the Lightning Capital of the World! I hope we never have to find out if the idea works.

Avsa Adasi
The storm passed and we found ourselves entering the harbour of Avsa Island in 30 knots of wind from the southwest. There was an Amel (a type of yacht) tied up but no sign of life so we came alongside ourselves and I jumped off with the lines and secured us to the quay wall - quite a feat I might add for a 65 year old as the wind was pushing us off the quay at the time. It did take all our combined strength to get the boat properly alongside but we succeeded!

It really was a deserted island. The houses looked like summer homes which were as yet unoccupied. No one was in charge of the harbour so our stay was free. As the rain came down again, we just battened down the hatches and went for a well-earned rest! Later in the evening, the Italian couple from the Amel came down to say hello thinking we were Italian (lots of people confuse the Irish flag with the Italian one). As their English was non-existent and our Italian somewhat limited, our conversation was fairly brief.


As our next stop was 65 miles away, we once again departed at 0630 with a reasonable forecast for the day. The wind was to be from the southwest and there were some more thunder storms forecast but not for the area we would be sailing in - we hoped! We hoisted the sails and set off for Istanbul in a state of high expectation.

We motor sailed all day in brilliant sunshine with no hint of the nasty weather of the previous day and began our approach into Atakoy marina at 1700. As this is a Setur marina, the standard of service is as high as the price!! But it was nice to be met by a rib and escorted to our berth which was a finger pontoon - oh bliss - just like home. Atakoy marina is not a cruiser friendly marina - its chock-a block with enormous motor boats and the very latest designs in yachts. It is a marina for the super rich of Istanbul but they do allow a few lowly cruising folk like ourselves to have a berth on payment of the hugely inflated price of Euro Symbol85 per night - for a 42 ft boat.

The Hagia Sophia & The Blue Mosque at
the southern entrance to the Bosphorus

The Dolmabahce Palace with modern Istanbul in the background
Atakoy is on the European side of Istanbul and so is better located than the marinas on the Asian side for sight-seeing and checking out of Turkey. We spent 2 days sightseeing, taking in the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and a short visit to the Topkapi Museum. We will definitely spend some more time visiting Istanbul on the return trip - it merits it as it is a huge and immensely exciting city.

Checking out of Turkey took one entire day as we had to visit 4 different offices, 3 of which were far away from one another and involved travelling by bus, tram, train and, of course, shanks mare! There was no option - Istanbul is the last port where one can check out en route to Bulgaria. This is bureaucracy gone really mad as there is a port called Igneada near the Bulgarian border which would be a much better option for exiting and entering Turkey but it doesn't have that status.

The Bosphorus (The Istanbul Bogazi)

With the checking out procedure complete, we were ready to undertake the next challenge in getting to the Black Sea - namely transiting the Bosphorus.

This 30 km strait divides Europe and Asia and connects the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. About 80,000 cargo ships, oil tankers and ocean liners pass through the strait each year making it one of the busiest waterways in the world. Passenger ferries and sea-buses weave their way up and down and from shore to shore throughout the day and for the sailor there is also a very strong south flowing current to contend with. It was for this stretch that it was essential to have a southerly wind because if both wind and current were against you, it would make the task of getting to the Black Sea very difficult.

We departed Atakoy at 0615 and after threading our way through dozens of vessels at anchor awaiting permission to proceed on their way. We entered the Bosphorus an hour later and went up along the Asian side. Our intention was to clear the area around the Golden Horn before the huge tourist traffic got underway.

There was a very strong current at this point and our speed was reduced to 2.5 knots for the next 40 minutes or so but as we approached the Ataturk Bridge, the current eased and our speed shot up a knot! There were so many imperial palaces and ancient fortresses, interspersed with small fishing villages along both shores that I had a pain in my finger taking photos!

Extra vigilance was needed at the headlands where the currents became stronger and tended to sweep the boat towards the shore. At Kandilli Point we encountered swirling eddies which caused a moment or two of tension.

Just in front of the 2nd bridge, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge, our speed went up to 6.6 knots for a heady moment and then settled down to a steady 5.5 knots. The fortress of Rumeli Hisari at this bridge was very impressive indeed viewed from the water. Further along we met some seriously shallow patches of water and had no choice but to cross over into the shipping lane having made sure that there were no ships coming up behind us!

The palaces and mansions soon gave way to a wooded, hilly landscape which caused some funneling of the wind. Thankfully the wind was behind us and our speed increased accordingly.

At 1045, having crossed over to the European side, we passed the fishing port of Turkeli Feneri at the northernmost point of the Bosphorus and exited into the Black Sea.

The fishing port of Turkeli Feneri which
marks the northern end of the Bosphorus
Our Bosphorus experience had lasted 3.30 hours in total. We were so busy watching traffic and currents and admiring the magnificent scenery ashore that the time flew past and it was far from being the daunting challenge we had expected it to be.

We celebrated with a tasty fry-up for brunch and set course for a through the night sail to our first port of call in the Black Sea - Varna, Bulgaria.

Carmel & Ken
Safari of Howth