You don't have to be an old sea dog to go 'bareboating' in Turkey. With a little previous experience, you can plot a course as your own skipper, says Graham Hoyland

If you're thinking of buying a yacht: don't. Remember the old sailor's proverb: a boat makes you happy on only two days - the day you buy it and the day you sell it. Anyway, you don't buy a hotel room when you go on holiday; you rent it, don't you?

With this thought in mind, I looked for a sailing holiday in Turkey. The south-west is particularly good for cruising because there are hundreds of secluded inlets along a hilly, forested coast. This was ancient Lycia where Alexander wintered before conquering the world, and possibly where Odysseus had his own Bronze Age yachting trip.

I didn't fancy flotilla sailing, where a group of hired yachts sails together with one of the company's tuition yachts. Not only is your every mistake obvious to all, you also have to socialise with other "yotties" every evening while they regale you with tedious tales of how they rounded the Horn with two turns and a full sheepshank. No, what I fancied was going bareboat. This is when you convince the company that you are competent enough to take their £70,000 boat away unsupervised into an area of rocks and gales completely foreign to you.

To do this you need some experience of sailing, so I asked my friend Julian to come along. Some years ago we sailed as crew in a yacht to Antarctica on an expedition in search of the magnetic South Pole. On that voyage, though, we had a proper, professional skipper telling us where we were and what to do.

This time the skipper was going to have to be me, because I had read the highest number of Patrick O'Brian's seafaring books.

The week before we set off was filled with desperate revision of latitude, longitude and knots. If all failed I at least had a hand-held GPS satellite location finder. The only problem with the American-run Global Positioning System is that it can be switched off in case of attack by weapons of mass destruction. I had booked the holiday during the Iraq war, so I have to admit to slight worries on that score.

The details from Portway Yacht Charters were reassuring. The company's home area, Gocek, was said to be one of the world's best cruising areas. The yacht we were to have was only a couple of years old. She was called Feeling 32. ("Why Feeling 32?" asked Julian. "I'm feeling 47, and by the end of this holiday I'll be looking 57 with you in charge.")

The company even seemed happy with our patchy experience: apart from the crewing to Antarctica all I had done was to sail a small yacht occasionally in the Bristol Channel a few years ago. I expected them to demand some kind of YachtMaster paper qualification but apparently that can lead to keel-crunching over-confidence.

When we first set eyes on Feeling 32, she looked worryingly shiny and new. All the ropes were coiled in ways I knew we wouldn't be able to repeat at the end of the week. Her owner was Duncan, a tough-looking Australian. He regarded us in much the same way as a father might look at his daughter's drug-dealing boyfriend.

The level of luxury in modern yachts is remarkable. There was a proper, working lavatory, whereas on the Antarctic trip we had to bare our bottoms over the stern with 40ft waves rolling up behind us. There was a hot shower, whereas we had to thaw our frozen hands on the diesel engine. And there was an auto-pilot to save the bother of continual helming, locked outside and tied to the wheel in case you were washed overboard during the night. This could be a doddle.

My confidence was torpedoed within an hour of leaving the marina. Trying to follow my hi-tech GPS system I ignored the obvious mile-wide passage between two islands and somehow persuaded my crew to steer through a narrow gap to the open sea beyond.

The mutinous rumbles from the helm made me realise that perhaps we should forget the GPS and rely on the chart, the depth finder ("no less than two metres", Duncan had instructed) and the Mark-1 eyeball navigation system.

Thankfully the wind was a gentle zephyr and the sky was blue. The crew was sporting a huge anti sea-sickness Scopolamine patch under his ear, so he wasn't looking nauseous. Poor Julian had vomited all the way through the roaring forties and the screaming sixties to Antarctica, and then had vomited all the way back. I felt mildly queasy once or twice when down below studying the chart, but otherwise we didn't suffer.

Our first landfall was Fethiye. Having successfully avoided a large sunken ship in the harbour I looked up the grid reference of the recommended marina, which was called "Yes!". After scanning the decrepit piers lining the coast through binoculars I ordered the crew to steer a course for the grid reference.

Instead, Julian silently pointed at the other end of the shore where, above some moorings, there was huge sign reading "Yes!". I decided that visual navigation was probably the best course of action for the rest of the week.

Fethiye was ancient Telmessus. There is an amphitheatre here which has recently been excavated and some curious rock tombs. Also a fantastic market, which has brick-built stalls piled high with the freshest market garden produce imaginable. We stocked up on vegetables and lemons against scurvy, and as an extra precaution dined on fish and salad in a restaurant on shore that evening.

Each day began the same. I slept in a tiny cabin nearest the door on to deck, and awoke at 7am to hear the crew dutifully pumping the hand pump. This was in case gas from the cooker had leaked into the bilge, which could provide an abrupt, explosive end to the holiday. Tea was made, and then we would usually have a swim after breakfast. We would decide where to head next and let go the long rope attaching the yacht to a tree on the shore, then pull up the anchor on the electric winch.

Once on the open sea we would pull up the sails and turn off the engine. Usually three hours of sailing would be enough, and we would then approach the coast and find lunch in one of the many al fresco restaurants in a known anchorage. Very often we would be approached by restaurant touts in small boats who would help us anchor - but this wasn't always necessarily in a good place.

The most useful information was in the pilot-book. This tells you what the sea bottom is like, where to anchor and where the best restaurants and ruins are to be found. One day the compiler was pottering around a channel taking soundings when he saw a local 15-metre boat heading for a line of rocks at high speed. "Aha!" he thought, "A bit of local knowledge to enrich this pilot, along the lines of 'local boats use a secret passage through the reef, but yachtsmen are advised to...'. As he watched, the gulet drove straight up the reef and lay there on its side as the swell pounded it to pieces. The sheepish skipper had to be rescued.

The shore is full of secrets. Once we walked up a hill to see an abandoned Greek village, another time we looked at ancient rock-tombs cut into the cliffs above our anchorage. These were like small cabins, complete with stone bunks and lots of bat-dung. But it was usually too hot to do much walking on shore. In the afternoons we had to rig an awning if we were reading out in the cockpit. It was always pleasantly cool while sailing.

At night you can sleep out on deck, a wonderful experience with no streetlights to pollute the great starlit dome of the sky. The gentle rocking of the waves is very conducive to sleep.

One evening at around 10 o'clock, when at home I would be settling down for the news, Michael Buerk sailed into our secluded inlet and parked up for the night in his yacht. I thought a cheery hail from a fellow Briton would be the last thing the BBC newsreader would want on holiday, so Julian and I tried to look as German as possible.

Some of the coastline has been badly damaged by tourism, including bare-boats like ours. Olu Deniz is a beautiful land-locked lagoon about 500 metres in diameter, with only a narrow channel connecting it with the sea. As a result, yachts entering it to visit gradually choked it with sewage and spilt oil which couldn't escape. In 1983 it was closed.

I rowed ashore to visit, but had to force my way along the streets of a ramshackle town catering for the visiting tourists. This visiting tourist didn't like it too much, for what was once a pristine lagoon is now spoilt by the very people who come to see it.

As the Mediterranean is virtually land-locked, with only the narrow Straits of Gibraltar joining it to the Atlantic Ocean, it seems only a matter of time before the same fate befalls the larger body of water. All the pollutants of the Black Sea and the effluent of the sea-board nations of the Mediterranean pour into it with little hope of escaping out into the world's oceans. It was noticeable how few fish we saw, and how many pieces of plastic litter we encountered far out to sea.

What about our own contribution to the problem? Our boat had a holding tank that swallowed the contents of the lavatory until they could be pumped out a minimum of 5km from shore - but perhaps these should be emptied into sewage treatment plants on shore. At least wind-propelled boats are more ecologically sound than power boats, even though their hulls are made from the products of the petro-chemical industry.

On balance, the holiday was far more relaxing than it was stressful, and we returned the boat more or less as we had found it. But by the end neither Julian nor I could genuinely claim to be Feeling 32.

Graham Hoyland paid £800 for a week's bareboat hire from Portway Yacht Charters (00 90 252 645 2599, www.portwayturkey.com) including flights from Manchester to Dalaman and transfers

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