And always, amid and alongside and before and after all these activities, there was serious eating.
Yusuf, the boat’s cook, had attended culinary school and worked at hotels but, fortunately for us, decided he preferred the seafaring life, and from his tiny galley came an outpouring of classic Turkish dishes. Lunch might include flaky cheese-filled börek, the best I’ve ever had, or feathery eggplant fritters. At dinner, we’d sit down to grilled köfte flavored with maras and urfa peppers, miniature lamb chops swiped with a kind of fresh oregano pesto, or fish caught that morning and served simply with olive oil, lemon, and herbs plucked from the nearby shore. There were always at least three vegetable dishes, most made in the style known as zeytinagˇlı, cooked slowly in olive oil and served at room temperature so the flavors are at their peak—broad beans braised with tomatoes and onions; cauliflower served with the garlic and walnut sauce known as tarator; eggplant cooked with peppers and potatoes and drizzled with a garlicky yogurt sauce. Dessert was invariably fruit—cherries, apricots, white peaches, melons, loquats—all at the height of luscious, early-summer ripeness, eaten with salty feta-like cheese and liberal sips of raki, the anise-flavored national drink of Turkey.
Even breakfast was glorious—thick yogurt set out with tiny bowls of wild cherry jam, quince marmalade, and wildflower honey; triangles of tangy local cheese; soft-boiled eggs in little ceramic containers; tea made from dried wild oregano and sage that Safak gathered from the hills.
On our last night, we decided to treat the crew to dinner at a restaurant onshore. Endless toasts with good Turkish wine and excellent raki kept the mood light. But as we ate food that couldn’t hold a candle to Yusuf’s, I thought back to the day before, when I had spent the entire afternoon sitting on the deck trying to learn from Safak how to properly eat sunflower seeds, which involves almost simultaneously cracking the shell with your teeth and extracting the seed with your tongue. After seemingly endless mouthfuls of hull, I could accomplish this task about once every six tries. But somehow it didn’t matter, nor did the task seem too trivial for an afternoon’s work. My week on the Blue Voyage had taken me out of time, into a space where the perspective was long and the days were easy, where the fate of a culture and the ability to eat sunflower seeds both seemed important. It was a privileged space, one I am anxious to be in again.
It is about an hour’s flight from Istanbul to the Bodrum or Dalaman airports, which are closest to the ports from which Blue Voyage boats head north along the Aegean coast or southeast along the Mediterranean. You can book an entire boat or merely an individual berth. My party booked its cruise through Vela Dare (011-90-252-645-2682; veladare.com), a small company that has several touring boats, including classic gulets and schooners. You can find many other such companies online or through Turkey’s tourist agency. Prices vary widely, but during the off-season, expect to pay anywhere from $900 to $1,200 per day (depending on size and the level of luxury) for a boat that will accommodate six to ten people, and $1,700 to $2,200 in the high season, including all meals plus airport transfers. Be sure to settle details such as itinerary before final booking. The best months to go, to catch the warm weather but avoid the midsummer crowds, are May, September, and October. —J.W.