I've got wind in my sails

A cruise can be more like a prison sentence than a holiday. But of course it all depends on your vessel, your shipmates and your own horizons
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The Independent Travel

There are people who are not obvious candidates for holidays afloat, especially in a group. If you tend toward solitude - with a horror of forced participation, if your children love the beach but shriek at the prospect of swimming in the deep with octopuses beneath - well, a week with twelve strangers on a yacht...what were we thinking of?

There are people who are not obvious candidates for holidays afloat, especially in a group. If you tend toward solitude - with a horror of forced participation, if your children love the beach but shriek at the prospect of swimming in the deep with octopuses beneath - well, a week with twelve strangers on a yacht...what were we thinking of?

But then the boat was beautiful, the location was the Mediterranean, off south-west Turkey, the cruise was angled towards the needs of our daughters (rising six and nine), and you could apparently do what you pleased. We arrived at the jetty outside Marmaris in the late afternoon.

The Grandi I is a classic wooden gulet with traditional rounded stern, but modern rigging. What distinguishes her, and her sister ships, from the majority of vessels carrying tourists along this stretch of coast is that these yachts actually sail - and indeed, when all four creamy expanses of canvas swell above you in the sunshine, and there's silence, except for the crackle and thump of the wind... well, more Patrick O'Brian stuff later. Leaving our shoes on the gangway, we discovered our panelled cabins - fresh cotton sheets and a bathroom shared with the girls. Compact, of course, but very pleasant. Time for a swim at the little beach, suggested the captain, Umit. Already, the autonomy urge was receding. When the other passengers arrived we set off for a cove across the bay for drinks, dinner and contemplation of the great band of the Milky Way across the Turkish night.

All of our fellow passengers on the Grandi I came from Holland. Tussock Cruising, to whom the vessel belongs, is a Dutch company, established 17 years ago, although a growing proportion of its clientele is British. Naturally, our fellow passengers spoke better English than we did. They also fell into the average 30-60 age range, with three boys aged around eleven.

Next morning, our regime kicked in. Leisurely breakfast followed by Captain's Briefing. Sailing (wind permitting), lunch at a bay, or ashore in a little port, frequent opportunities for swimming, snorkelling, windsurfing or playing with inflatable aquatic toys, depending on your age - or perhaps not. All the equipment was provided. There was even a little fishing line, although the glory went to crewman, Unsal, who caught an octopus with his bare hands. No shrieks.

More sailing to a new mooring in the afternoon. Despite its popularity, the coastline remains surprisingly untouched; even in the high season a little cove might only have one other yacht at anchor. In the evening, you might take a short walk for a drink at an isolated beach shack, serenaded by the proprietor on a querulous Turkish violin.

And then dinner. The food was excellent borderline vegetarian - perhaps pasta at lunch and meat or fish in the evening as one of the five or six dishes to emerge wondrously for each meal from chef Selahattin's galley kitchen. Five out of the seven nights, he fed 16 (plus captain and three crew) with no obvious urgency or effort. From the lockers, Unsal and Mustafa would drag fresh aubergines and onions, giant beef tomatoes, fistfuls of chervil and lambs lettuce, cucumber and okra. One night, there was a barbecue, suspended above the waves on the gangway; on another, a platter of fried chicken with golden marbles of "Turkish couscous".

There were a couple of excursions, billed as optional, but in some cases you might have to accept that there is a group momentum, and staying on the boat in port in the heat of the August day isn't really an option. The first was to an icy mountain river, where some opted for white-water rafting, but we meandered through the dramatic cleft in the rock, with sun on our backs and ankles numb from the cold of the rushing water.

For the second trip we took a small fishing boat past a protected sandbank where turtles lay eggs in late spring, and on, between walls of tall reeds, up the narrow channel of the Dalyan river delta. When this opened out into a huge freshwater lake, we stopped on the bank for a barbecue picnic - and excitement, as two young turtles (one tiny, the second about eighteen inches long) came to investigate a morsel of bread in the water. Later in the afternoon, we lay in eggy sulphur-springs before scrambling among the ruins of Caunos (circa 400 BC). The carved tombs of the Lycian kings dominated our progress back down the river.

This was a one-day demonstration of Captain Umit's talents. He led the excursion, prepared the picnic onshore, dressed a small wound, anointed me with grey-blue mud at the sulphur pools, guided us through the ruins at Caunos and sang mightily (many verses) from the amphitheatre's base.

And of course, when we were sailing, he was the captain. The wind was tricky that week, feeble to start with, then suddenly roaring into Force 8/9. "Children inside, and lifejackets on," said Umit sternly. The girls sat in the saloon, slightly green and sweaty, until they began to share the excitement - the romance even. It's like a horse, said Rebecca. It's an octopus, said Eleanor.

It was hardly The Perfect Storm, but the professionalism of the crew was impressive. Most of the clients are repeat customers. Ingeborg de Vries was there with her husband and son. She was taking her fifth cruise, and her second that year; having been earlier in the spring with a girlfriend.

Some people charter yachts for cruises that centre around bridge, archaeology or even beauty therapies. But for me, there is enough in the skies, the light, the sea and the mountains. There was always a corner of the boat where bookworms could retreat. Non-swimming children would be a problem, though. So would anyone who wasn't prepared to eat at a shared table. But we had some intriguing conversations with our fellow passengers and the girls benefited from a generous supply of Dutch sweets and teasing.

I could easily return next year - a week is surprisingly relaxing since you have no decisions to make at all. It might be fun to charter a whole boat, filling it with family and friends.

As we took the bus back to the airport, our younger daughter wept into my lap. She is still asking when we will go again - she wants to find that octopus.

* Tussock Cruising is at Unit 217, 5 King Edward's Road, London E9 7SG (tel: 020 8510 9292, e-mail: tussockcruisinguk@compuserve.com)

* Individual rates start from £205 per person per week, plus £14 per day which includes breakfast, lunch and all drinks (wine, beer, Raki and some spirits, as well as soft drinks)

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