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Learn to sail and explore the Turkish coast; Chris Court takes the helm and discovers a range of genuine Turkish delights.

Aforce five wind sharply heeled our yacht almost 30 degrees as we raced across the huge, choppy expanse of the Skopea Limani cruising grounds off the coast of Turkey.

As I strained every muscle to maintain balance, and turn the starboard helm wheel to keep our 37-foot Oceanis 40 on the optimum track, I got a nonchalant thumbs up from skipper Mehmet Dokuzoglu perched high on the port side.

That really meant something, because the 32-year-old, from the Turkish marina town of Marmaris on the Mediterranean Turquoise Coast coast, knows the area's winds, waters and anchorages like the back of his hand.

The last sailing I did was on tiny dinghy as part of a crew in UK estuary waters, many years ago, so to control the graceful pounds 100,000 Oceanis 40 in testing conditions was an exhilarating moment.

I found the confidence to helm the Zynobia three days into our week-long learn-to-sail holiday, partly because Mehmet assured me the yacht would not capsize, even with its mast in the deep waters of Skopea Lim ani - a six-mile stretch of water sheltered by towering hills from high winds.

Gradually the skipper passed on his knowledge of sailing, by setting me tasks to build my grasp of boat control and making the best of the winds.

However, there was no steep learning curve. This was also a holiday in truly idyllic surroundings true to the brochure - blazing sunshine, warm winds, deep blue waters and a beautiful coast.

We sunbathed, swam and lunched in coves and anchorages along the coast, where pine and olive tree-dotted hills plunged steeply into incredibly clear waters.

If you wished, you could simply lie back and admire the view while Mehmet happily sailed on, but as a complete novice, I wanted to learn how to actually sail this three-cabin craft - one of a flotilla of eight.

So, Mehmet carefully explained the sheets, lines, winches and fittings, got me hauling up the mainsail and helping to tack the Zynobia to get the best of the winds.

Generally, the winds were light, and there were few other craft around. If the wind died, Zynobia motored along, and I could spot sealife - dolphins, a huge turtle a few feet away from the hull, and flying fish flashing across the surface of the water.

As Mehmet explained: "If you do not know much about sailing, you learn as you go along. With over 100m of water and light winds, it is a good area to learn."

Crucial to the progress of the flotilla was the lead boat skippered by Ipek Ozen, with engineer Silar Keskin and hostess Francesca Evans - to provide the daily briefing about the mooring destination, wind, tide and social arrangements.

The lead boat crew was also always on hand on land or at sea to give help, mooring advice or directions by radio or phone - reassuring in unfamiliar waters.

My flotilla voyage began from lively Marmaris, transformed by tourism, with each yacht going its own way to that day's tie up spot. After motoring and sailing in light winds, Mehmet picked a tiny, wooded cove for lunch from our fridge, filled with provisions before we left Marmaris.

The pure white Zynobia lazily swung on her anchor in deep water around 20 yards from the steep rocky shore, where pines and olives crowded the waterline. Perfect for a long swim in beautifully clear, deep waters while local fish life played around me.

We tied up for the night at the wooden jetty at Ekincik, where a punch party was thrown for the flotilla on the dockside before dinner in a woods-surrounded open-air restaurant. I also picked local fish from a selection brought to the table.

Locally caught fresh fish, including sea bass and red snapper, was a big feature of our menus, with various shishkebabs, and abundant meze - vegetable starter dishes shared by all - and delicious local bread. The next day - after another lazy lunch-in-a-cove stopover - we motored through a narrow gap between two steep hillsides into the vast Skopea Limanis.

We cruised in the sunshine to tie up at the far end, with seven other boats, at beautiful Wall Bay, set under towering, wooded cliffs. It had just a couple of wooden jetties and a simple, rustic, open-air, water's edge restaurant.

After a late night chat at our table over raki with one of the owners, Yuksel Yorulmaz, I was allowed to spend a magical night nearby in a tiny, windowless, thatched Turkish-carpeted cabin on stilts a few feet out into the water - a welcome change from my cramped berth in Zynobia's forepeak.

Light winds meant Mehmet had time to give basic Turkish lessons as we motored the big marina in Fethiye - I can now order a white coffee without sugar - where we dined that night in a bustling square under a canopy of lantern-lit vines.

In Fethiye's narrow streets, some places promise you will be "reborn", with a traditional hamam massage.

At the end of next day's sailing, we squeezed into the pretty Kapi Creek restaurant, with candlelit tables laid under the stars, as chefs produced a traditional meal for the crews of around 20 yachts on a simple wood fire range. The mood was so relaxed that some restaurant staff even found time to sit down for a raki and a talk.

Our last day was a short hop into the sailing port of Gocek. Mehmet reckoned that I was capable of motoring the Oceanis 40 out into open water, sailing her and bringing her back to the marina. As long as he was aboard, I really believed I could.

GARDENING If you don't like the idea of that long flight to Australia in a crowded jumbo jet, why not catch the bus instead? Adventure travel company Oz-Bus takes 92 days for the overland journey through 17 countries and three continents, and passengers in no great hurry can now check in for another 69 days to enjoy four more remarkable journeys Down Under.

The 21-day Eastern Dream tour PASSPORT These add ons are part of a new collaboration between Oz-Bus and Adventure Tours Australia (ATA), and can be booked prior to leaving London at prices from pounds 2,199 to pounds 4,999.

That includes accommodation, travel, transportation, adventure tours, tour leaders and national park fees, while a range of optional excursions and adventures include skydiving, helicopter tours and swimming with whale sharks.

at pounds 2,199 explores the east coast of New South Wales, the Whitsunday Islands, the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

A stay on a 2,600-acre cattle station, a cruise on a 20-metre yacht, adrenalin pumping sports on Mission Beach and a sunset kayaking tour are among the highlights.

There are also a couple of 42-day tours on offer. Beaches, Reefs and Red Centre at pounds 3,499 heads over to the Northern Territory and the Kakadu National Park, down to Alice Springs, Kings Canyon and Uluru, and further south to Adelaide, Coober Pedy, along the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne, and finally through the majestic Blue Mountains back to Sydney.

The Big Trek takes a similar journey in reverse, combining camping with simple roofed accommodation for those on a tighter budget, at pounds 2,999.

Finally, the All of Oz 69-day tour at pounds 4,999 is the once-in-a-lifetime trip which takes in the whole coastline of Western Australia ~ with accommodation based on budget lodging, bush camps and basic camping.

The 92-day London to Sydney bus trips, departing eight times per year, cost pounds 4,399 per person including all transportation, tour leaders, roofed accommodation every night until Australia (after which camping is provided) and breakfast daily.

Sydney-London trips are also available, along with the 46-day London-Kathmandu journey and back, and London-New York.

Each bus takes a maximum 30 passengers, with a minimum age of 17. Oz-Bus uses local suppliers whenever possible.

INFORMATION: Oz Bus 0800 731 9427 and Chris Court was a guest of Seafarer which offers seven-night holidays, based on four sharing an Oceanis 323 in a flotilla (self-sail for THERE qualified skipper and crew) from pounds 559, including return flights, transfers, yacht hire, services of flotilla lead yacht crew, all fuel, full tank of water and cooking gas. Fourteen nights from pounds 775 A dedicated instructor on board costs pounds 120 a day. Seafarer also offer one week pre-flotilla and Royal Yachting Association courses from pounds 499 per person on a shared tuition yacht (flights extra). Seafarer also operates flotillas in Greece and Croatia in the summer, and Caribbean in winter. Reservations: 0800 496 4670 GET 1 A flotilla of yachts at Cold Water Bay; 2 Kapi Creek; 3 The yacht crew plan their next route; 4 Oceanis 343 Clipper, Ekincik Quay; 5 Beneteau Oceanis at sea
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 27, 2010
Next Article:LATE DEALS.

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