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A True Story of Love, Survival and Freedom

Chapter 27

School Daze

Apparently, there was some sort of shopping mall on, or near, the marina. I sure hadn't seen it before, but there it was. Brand new, barely occupied, and built in that classic, Taco Bell, fake-adobe style. No wonder we didn't notice it, the only tenants were absentee Yacht Clubs and Sailing Schools. One of them had, at least, stuck some sailing posters to its darkened storefront, along with a phone number. Elena dialed and footballed the phone to me. "It's ringing! You talk."

Marmaris, Turkey, Netsel marina charter fleet

Charter boats as far as the eye can see! Just some of the charter fleet, ready for adventure and fine dining in the eastern Med.

Someone picked up. I asked, "Do you speak English?"

"Of course, who is this?" It sounded like a woman's voice.

"I'm at your sailing school... at the mall, there is a number here. Is this the right number?"

"What's wrong? What happened?"

"Nothing's wrong, I want to speak to someone about sailing lessons."

"Uh-huh, your charter company sets that up. Who are you with?" The woman asked.

"No one. I'm not chartering. I am in Marmaris. Standing outside your office."

"Oh, right, you said that." The woman broke into a fit of coughing.

"Do you give sailing lessons? Is this the..." I looked for a name on the storefront.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. How many, what kind of instruction?" More coughing.

"One person." I looked at Elena. "I need someone to teach my, my, ah... friend how to sail a fourteen meter Beneteau. Oh yeah, and it has to start as soon as possible." I was counting on the same kind of deal as during the test drive. I'd follow along, learning vicariously through Elena's lessons.

The woman at the other end was disturbingly silent.

"I would teach her myself." I forged on. "But I have no patience, and I believe she -- that is my ah, um... sailing partner -- will benefit from professional instruction."

"One person? What outfit are you with?"

"I'm not with an outfit. I'm buying a sailboat. We need to sail to Canada. My partner has never sailed and needs to learn. Can you teach her on our boat?"

"I suppose so." The woman paused. "It's fifty Euros an hour, and I teach the C.Y.A. program."

Sailing school storefront in Marmaris 2006

A deserted mall, unoccupied by absentee yacht clubs and sailing schools. One of the darkened storefronts offering Canadian Yachting Association certification and training.


"C-Y-A, that's the Canadian Yachting Association. It's standard here. If you need American certification, I think you have to go to Bodrum."

"No way! C.Y.A. sounds totally excellent. I'm Canadian, and that's where we're going."

"But not on a 14 meter Beneteau, right?"

"Actually, yes... on the Beneteau. I'm buying it now, here in Marmaris."

"And you don't know how to sail?" She half laughed, coughed. "Look, I'm close. Wait there for me!"

A tomboyish mountain biker skidded to a stop. "It's you that phoned, right?"

"Yeah, it's us." I swear, she got there in under three minutes.

"I had to see if this is for real." She held up her hands. "Don't take this the wrong way, but it sounds crazy. You need sailing lessons to cross the Atlantic?!" She looked down at our boots -- my heavy tall boots and Elena's Doc Martens. "I'm guessing you guys haven't been in Turkey long?"

"You can tell, huh?" I tugged at my sweat soaked, turtleneck collar.

"You're not going to last long dressed like that." She rooted in her cargo shorts for a phone. "And you don't sail in those clod-hoppers, I hope."

Elena shot me a puzzled look.

"Your boots, my dear." She pointed at Elena's bright green, super-trendy, Doc Martens with her phone. "I've got a friend in this complex. He just opened. Sells sportswear and sailing gear. I'll set you guys up with him." She jammed the phone under her helmet, turned away from us. "Hey, it's Sinem. Look, I have a couple of friends who seriously need some gear." She paused. "Really serious. Across-the-ocean serious!"

Marmaris late afternoon twilight

Evening in Marmaris. The building on the right, is the Marina restaurant with Meg and Elena's personal perch (the balcony) visible.

Krikey, the new, sailing togs felt great, and we looked good! What didn't, though, was the boat in the travel lift, sitting right where we'd left it that morning. Closing on the monstrosity, I heard bonking and saw Harvey up a step ladder with a reflex hammer.

"I thought you only had the traveling, crane thing for a few minutes before you had to get the boat propped up on sticks?"

"Nie whyries, mite! I can do the survey in the lift. Someone broke something." Harvey explained. "A couple of the lads are off to Istanbul for parts."

I saw nothing wrong, other than the stricken giant, and our boat, surrounded by highway cones and CAUTION CAUTION CAUTION tape. That's when it hit me, "Ah, Harvey, we're staying on that boat."

"The boat's safer in the lift than anywhere. You can climb aboard with a ladder. You can even sleep on it."

"Sleep!? How long is it going to be stuck in this... this Borg cube?"

"They're going to Istanbul. It's going to take 'em a while. If you don't want to sleep in the lift, you better get your toothbrush and find somewhere else to bunk."

Yacht in travel lift at night

Not the most romantic place for a night on a yacht: stuck in the travel lift.

I had to call Sinem to reschedule our first sailing lesson. We were on a yacht, it's just that it wasn't our yacht. The charter company gave us a loaner to squat aboard, but their munificence didn't extend to our using it for training or joyriding purposes. Trouble is, we'd bloody well lost her number.

"We should meet with her at the boat," was Elena's suggestion.

"What boat? The one in the parking lot, or the empty dock space its supposed to be floating in?"

"Our boat, choomeechka! She need go under it to get here." Elena had a point. Everyone had to go around -- or under -- it. The travel lift, having gorged itself on our boat, shuffled off its mortal coil in the middle of the marina's main access way. It would be like missing an Imperial AT-AT Walker that stumbled and died on the freeway.

Night shot of Travel lift with Meg and Elena's boat

Hard to miss this sucker, in the middle of the road. Hilarious, until it's your boat. Then, it's freaking embarrassing!

So, we stood there, in the shade under the boat, waiting for Sinem. Gawkers strolled by, pointing, snickering. Finally, "Ahoy ladies!" warbled from somewhere among the herd of properly parked boats.

Sinem shrugged off her backpack beside us. "Is this your Beneteau?"

" 'Ladies!' I do not like to be called this way." Elena isn't a big fan of patronizing honorifics.

"What do I call you then?"

" 'Elena,' or 'Lenna and Meg,' or 'woman,' or 'hey, you guys!' "

"You are right, Lenna, it is a dumb thing to call someone. I hate it. Worse, though, is 'girls,' oooh that really gets to me!"

I was pretty much, instantly blown away by this woman. I'd met no one like her that side of Key West, let alone in a Muslim country. Don't forget, I still had a lot to learn about being human.

"Hey, you guys! If this is your boat, what's going on?" Sinem rapped on its hull.

I filled her in, told her about Harvey.

"Never heard of him. If he does a good survey, you might ask him what equipment you'll need to sail to Florida."

"Florida!? No way." I had a feeling, USA would be a tad problematic with Elena aboard. "We've got to make it to Canada."

"Yeah, right... you were telling me yesterday. You can't sail straight to Halifax from here. Not with the currents and wind against you. You do know that, right?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah... who doesn't?" I lied.

"So, why not Florida?"

Elena and Meg's yacht provides shade

A yacht, stranded on a sun scorched tarmac, provides a lot of welcome shade to passersby. Meg was ready to open a sidewalk cafe under it, should the travel lift not get fixed.

"We're not allowed to land between here and Canada. It has to be non-stop to Halifax, or better yet, Vancouver." Vancouver because, like anyone has ever heard of Victoria?!

"Vancouver? From here? Non-stop? This really is a joke, right?" Sinem drilled into me with dark eyes. Waiting for the punch line.

"It's no joke." I said.

"Alright, what kind of sailing experience do you have, and which one of you needs sailing lessons?"

I may have embellished, ever so slightly, by telling her, "I've done some offshore racing." But let's not haggle: Wednesday night, round-the-buoys sailboat races aren't on shore, after all. And, come on; I was a commercial pilot, so I knew about weather and navigation and stuff. Of course, filing an IFR flight plan, tracking a series of VORs, then intersecting and following the ILS in for a landing, might be a little different, but the same principals had to be at work.

Sinem strolled around the travel lift. "So, you don't stop in Florida, but that's where you'll be headed. Gibe to starboard with the Windward Passage on your port side, and then, head north until you see the iceberg that sank Titanic. Pack a lot of groceries. You're going to be out there a long time." She shook her head, then pointed at a couple of disks implanted in the hull. "Either of you guys know what those are?"

They looked like clean-outs or really tiny, inspection ports. Neither of us answered.

"Uh huh, who needs the lessons?"

"She does!" I pointed at Elena. "I was letting her answer. Thought this was part of the training."

"Right. Boat's not in the water, women. Let's call today a free-be. I've got study guides with me for... Lenna, right? She's who needs the lessons, not you? You obviously know what those things are on the hull."

"Aaaaah..." I was dumbfounded. Busted!

"Depth sounder and water speed sensor. I'll leave study guides for both of you. Just in case." Then, pointing at the top of the mast, which could have been in the clouds had there been any. "Wind speed and direction sensors. This boat has an autopilot?" She asked.

Since she asked, I assumed it had to. "Oh yes, fully equipped, top of the line."

"Beneteau puts good stuff on board, but you are going to need a lot more than what it comes with. And how are you set for charts? Are you getting a package mailed in for your route or are you flying out to get them yourself from London or Gibraltar?"

Elena Ivanova in shades, in the shade

Elena takes refuge from the sun, and Meg and Sinem talking about sailing.

Like, I could come up with an answer by the time she started rattling off a list of equipment. Some of it, I'd read about in Close to the Wind, that fortuitous paperback I'd tripped on at the German duty-free. Some, I'd heard bragged about at the yacht club bar, but most of it was unfamiliar and expensive sounding. "We're going to need all that?"

"If you want to stay alive, you will. This boat is equipped for charter. It has what it needs to get to pretty bays and yacht clubs. I'm sure the guest accommodation below deck is splendid, but I can see from here, this yacht is not ready to cross any oceans."

"Yeah... well, it's not like we're sailing the Vendee Globe!" I figured a little name dropping would add to my sailing-cred.

"Good to know you aren't going round the world, alone, non-stop, in a bare-bones charter boat! But you'll get into the same conditions, troubles, dangers and emergencies as those racers. Especially because you can't stop and rest, or fix things. You need to be prepared for anything. If, as you say, Lenna can't be caught between here and Canada, and you can't call for help, then you and your girlfriend can die at sea with the Coast Guard a radio call away. It is crazy!" Sinem was really steamed.

Until then, I'd assumed nobody gave a shit, as long as they got paid. If we wanted to juggle chain saws, they'd gas em up, pull the cords and tell us to catch. "Sinem, we've run out of options. We have no choice in the matter. I, or we, will do the best we can with what we've got, obviously. That is why I want... no, that is why I need you to teach Elena how to sail this thing. That way I can concentrate on getting all that equipment and getting it installed."

"I'm just trying to help. My job is teaching someone to sail and teaching them to know what the boat is capable of. You want to leave soon? This is Turkey! You can't just go to the store and buy the equipment you will need. It can take months and thousands and thousands of Euros, and that is just to get it out of customs, if it even gets here and doesn't go missing on the way."

"Huh, I didn't actually know that. We'll just have to find a work-around. What do other people do?" I asked.

"They island-hop to Greece, then Italy, then France or they put the yacht on a freighter and they ship it. Why do you think yachts are so cheap here?"

"What if they want to cross oceans or sail around the world?"

"They don't do it with a charter boat, and they spend a long time, sometimes years, preparing themselves and the boat!" Sinem caught herself, stopped, shook a cigarette from a crumpled pack. "Business is bad, and I want this job, but I don't want to help you two kill yourselves." Something caught in her bronchi and she doubled over with a wet racking cough.

"I guess it's do-or-die." I mumbled while Sinem hacked up a lung.

"Die? What about dying?" Elena snapped out of her stupor. "I do not want to die."

"Then you guys better have the right equipment. And if Lenna has to be out of Turkey in two months, you may not have enough time." She took a long drag on her cigarette. "If you like his report, see what your surveyor has to say about your plans, and see if he can get the equipment you need. I'm just a sailing teacher." She pulled a handful of booklets from her pack, slapped them down on an oil drum, then turned and started walking. "Call me when the boat's in the water."

Marmaris canal

From the marina, unstoppable Meg, heads into town, along the canal.


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