Somewheres East of Suez [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Tristan Jones
eBook Category: General Nonfiction
eBook Description: In 1983 Tristan Jones, well known as one of the finest sailing adventure writers of our time, had his left leg amputated. Refusing to become landbound after a lifetime at sea, he acquired a specially designed, virtually untippable 38-foot trimaran and began to sail around the world. Outward Leg is the tale of his intrepid voyage from San Diego to London. The Improbable Voyage chronicles his heroic journey along an unusual and hazardous route from the North Sea, through the rivers of Central Europe, to the Black Sea. In Somewheres East of Suez, the final installment of this extraordinary saga, Tristan sails eight thousand miles from Istanbul to Thailand. From the tourist- and terrorist-dominated ports of the eastern Mediterranean to African outposts peopled with famine refugees, Tristan maintains the unique perspective of a man who has had minimal contact with society's restraints, using his acerbic wit to spare no fools and offer biting social commentary. After barely escaping with his life in South Yemen, he sets off for the Far East, determined to win out against the difficulties of his disability, whether battling a tropical cyclone or surviving on a dwindling ration of fresh water in the vast windless expanse of the Indian Ocean.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, Published: 1988
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2009
The Golden Horn
"How much?" I asked Thomas.
He was down in Outward Leg's after cabin, leaning over the chart table, counting the few single-dollar notes in our cashbox.
"Any deutsche marks?"
"No ... that's it."
"Mmm." I thought for a moment or two as I stared at the castle on the hill above the shore of the Bosporus. Then I shoved my head down the after companionway.
"Where's that Yankee embassy? Did you find the address?"
Thomas grinned up at me. His hair was streaked with white paint. He'd been painting the engine compartment. "It's not an embassy. I told you--it's a consulate. I don't have the address now. Dabney Chapman's coming down, anyway, at four o'clock."
"Dabney Chapman. He's the cultural attaché. His wife was here yesterday. They saw us arrive here from their house up on the hill. She was all excited. He's arranging a slide show for you at the consulate."
"Great. Roll up all our used charts, Thomas."
"?" He stared a question at me.
"Roll 'em up, me old son; and tie 'em up with a nice length of blue tape. We'll take 'em with us and flog 'em." Then I remembered Thomas was German. "Sell them, my son, sell them. Tomorrow night at the United States Consulate the golden eagle's going to shit all over Outward Leg!"
I supposed that for most travelers heading through Istanbul, without much money, their main problems were finding a decent hotel and cheap places to eat. Once those things were pinned down, the rest must be fairly easy, apart from a few details like navigating the crowded, noisy thoroughfares and winding alleys.
For we voyagers in Outward Leg, though, intent on somehow reaching the Indian Ocean and the Orient, our problems in Istanbul were of a different stamp: how to find a decent berth for the boat where she wouldn't get bounced around by passing ferries and merchant ships, where she wouldn't get covered in thick fuel oil, where she wouldn't be invaded by hordes of Turks, young and old, all eager to practice their scanty English, smoke our few cigarettes, and eat our meager food.
Not that there was much harm in most of our casual visitors, but in every big city there's always the odd man out. Thomas and I both kept one eye warily open the whole time we were in Istanbul. In Outward Leg we paused in the Bosporus after our escape from Rumania and worked as well as we could with our slim resources to repair the ravages of our Danube passage, both natural and man-caused.
We patched our damaged hulls and mast tabernacle sufficiently well to enable us to get the boat to somewhere with the facilities and the material to refit her properly, which wouldn't cost the earth. That somewhere we reckoned, from all accounts, was Cyprus.
Our main problem, then, was to reach Cyprus, but not before I had gathered together enough money to pay for the refit. We decided to do it under sail mainly (there would be little money for diesel fuel), hopping along the coast of Turkey, where the cost of living was lower than in Greece, and so we would do it in short hops, taking our time.
We couldn't head out for the Far East through the Red Sea on an eight-thousand-mile jaunt till we had Outward Leg and her gear in a fit state. We had to have a refit, and we had to have the money for it. Meanwhile, we would sail at a steady rate down the Turkish coast, and I would set to writing and trying to earn our way forward.
Bebek, a resort on the shore of the Bosporus a few miles northeast of Istanbul city, where Outward Leg was first berthed, was crowded, mainly with Turkish xebecs. These are wooden craft, anything up to a hundred feet long, with usually a ketch or schooner gaff rig. During the time we were in Turkish waters we never saw one of them under sail, but always motoring, and very often with the stern gangway still swung out over the stern, no matter what the weather. The xebecs are the pleasure craft, mainly of rich Turks, their families, their friends, and their friends' families. It was a wonder to me, often, that the xebecs didn't sometimes capsize and sink under the weight of the crowds on board them. Some of the xebecs, belonging to the richest of the Turkish owners, had British skippers and crews to give them, at least in the eyes of the Turkish elite, extra prestige, if not panache.
Besides the xebecs in Bebek there were a few cruising yachts from afar--mainly British and German, although one or two Italian craft showed up, too, and, like Outward Leg and the xebecs, put out their main anchors into the Bosporus and tied up their sterns to the Bebek "seawall" so that the end result was a great variety of craft of all shapes, sizes, designs, and origins, all lined up cheek by jowl, in front of the seawall, jiggling and rolling in the wakes of passing ships.
Bebek was to us a friendly town, with plenty of little shops full of goodies and dozens of good, cheap restaurants. We found it a pleasant place, with fine scenic views over the Bosporus and the shipping, mainly Soviet, passing through the strait. We saw many interesting old castles and fortifications on the shores of the Bosporus near Bebek, but the port had three major drawbacks: It was crowded with craft, it was noisy from the highway which passed along the shorewall, and its waters were often inches thick in gooey black fuel oil.
At first we imagined that the fuel oil floating in the harbor came from passing ships, but later found that it was, in fact, pumped out of the tanks of a shoreside hotel right on the harbor, and that this was a regular occurrence.
The first money we earned for our onward passage was at the American consulate in Istanbul where we gave a slide show, courtesy of the cultural attaché, Dabney Chapman, of the voyage of Sea Dart down the west coast of South America twelve years before. That raised a hundred dollars, and the sale to various guests of some of Outward Leg's used charts raised almost another hundred dollars. I hated to see the charts go: In the chart agent's, where they're all new, a chart is a chart is a chart; but in a voyaging vessel, when those charts have done their work, they represent intrinsically everything that happened, every emotion that was experienced, every reckoning calculated, every little incident that occurred on board during the time that the boat was sailing through the area depicted on the chart. Selling our used charts from the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and the Black Sea, to me, was like selling part of my very self, of my life.
But you can't eat used charts when you're broke on the coast of Turkey, so they had to go. Besides, every bit of weight counts in a cruising trimaran, and the charts weighed quite a few pounds. I felt bad about the charts going to hang on the walls of people who perhaps had little idea of exactly what they represented. But that was, I now realize, a better fate than what was to happen later to the rest of Outward Leg's charts off the Zuquair Islands in the Red Sea.
The American officials in the consulate were kind and gave us sherry and cigarettes, and a new American ensign to take back on board with us. For these comforts we were indeed grateful.
Istanbul in mid-July was hot, and there was no fun in sweating it out every afternoon in an oily, crowded, noisy berth. We set out to find a more amenable anchorage, and after a couple of days' meandering up and down the Bosporus, we found a rare spot. This was just south of the railway station at Haydarpasa, on the Asian side of the Bosporus. It was lively with ferries coming and going day and night, but it was clean and safe, because the station landing steps were watched by Turkish soldiers. At first these were reluctant to let me land, but I regaled them with a joke or two and they let me pass freely after that.
Being on the "far" side of the Bosporus in Haydarpasa we had a panoramic view of the whole of the old city of Istanbul, with all the domes and minarets spread out before us; a lovely sight, and under the full moon a thing of dreams. And so Outward Leg arrived in Asia, her fourth continent on this voyage.
If I had been able-bodied, I suppose, I would have been chasing over to the city of Istanbul every day to see the sights. I did manage once to cross the Bosporus on a crowded ferry, but for me it was a difficult outing, and dangerous too, with the continual risk of being pushed over by the hurrying crowds on the swaying gangways, so after that one trip I stayed around Haydarpasa. I was quite happy to do this, for the railway station there is, I think, a marvel of a building, that certainly has the best views I have seen from a rail terminus. The meat pies were good, and cheap, too.
I could stand in the middle of the station and see the busy Bosporus all around, on three sides, through the massive doors. Then I could swing around and see steam trains limbering up for their journeys into and out of Asia. Then the platforms were crowded with peasants and merchants arriving loaded down with their goods. Now and again there would be a few European backpackers heading in and out for their great adventure. I used to watch them sometimes and reflect on how much easier their mode of travel was than ours, how much less complex; but at the same time, how much less rewarding it must be to be trundled around by other people, and have to sleep in someone else's bed every night. Then I would turn around and gaze through the station doors south toward Haydarpasa harbor, where Outward Leg waited at anchor, and know that my own home was there, only a few yards away, with my own bed and my own few belongings, but my home, and now my home was in the Bosporus. That's the main difference between voyaging in a sailing craft and any other form of travel, except, perhaps, Gypsy travel in a caravan. But even the Gypsies are, more often than not, on other people's land, whereas we, when we reach offshore soundings, are on nobody's water but our own.
Haydarpasa is not far from Scutari, where Florence Nightingale worked to nurse British soldiers during the Crimean War. I would have liked to visit the hospital where she worked, but it was beyond my range, without my risking a bad fall or being a burden on someone else, and that I won't be. There's enough people already being burdens on others. Besides, we couldn't afford to spend on frivolous outings.
It cost us nothing to sit sometimes in the park near the bus station and talk with the Turks: Outside of the upper-class people whom we met at the American consulate it was impossible to talk with Turkish women, unless they were whores, and we had neither the money nor the inclination to do that; so mostly our conversations were with men young and old, and for the greater proportion, "working class." We found that the few who knew some English had a good sense of humor, but were liable to exaggeration, and they generally approached a given point by the most oblique references. They were all past masters at simply idling away the time, talking about everything under the sun, or simply staying silent.
At the street stalls around the bus station we could eat good food, well cooked, and sufficient to keep us going, for a few cents. If we stuck to food made from local products, and native soft drinks, we could both live well enough on less than two dollars a day, and the anchorage cost nothing. Generally, we found this to be so all the way down the coast of Turkey, and we found the ordinary Turkish peasant and artisan to be good people, who treated us well and honestly. It was only to be in places south of Chesme, then, where "tourism" had seized onto everything around, and spoiled it, and brought opportunists, Turkish and non-Turkish, flocking like the vultures they are to the Aegean shores of Turkey, that we were to be dismayed or disappointed. But of this sad fact we were as yet unaware.
In Haydarpasa we made plans for repairing the three hulls, which had been damaged during Outward Leg's besetting in the ice on the River Main, the previous winter, and again badly abraded when the Czech police in Bratislava had tried to sink her by setting her up for a collision in the River Danube. The gel coat had been cracked and even worn through in many places. Water had soaked into the sandwich filling of foam. This needed a specialized repair job with special materials. After weeks of inquiry in Istanbul it was obvious that these materials were not going to be available in Turkey.
By late July we were ready to set off down the Turkish coast. But of the $175 earned from the slide show at the consulate and the sale of charts, we had spent $45 in Haydarpasa, mainly on meals in the railway station and in the market in the thronged bus station nearby. This is how Outward Leg departed from Istanbul, on her way to the Far East, almost eight thousand miles away--still in need of a thorough refit of her hulls and rigging, but with a cargo of dreams, shining bright and steady, stowed below.
The bare facts of the matter were plain; we would have to stretch out our remaining $130, until my little naval pension was due, or until my earnings from some writing would catch up with me.
On the last day of July, after breakfast, I started up our Yanmar engine, and we weighed anchor, waved farewells to the lasses in the station restaurant (we were that close to them) and shoved off out of Haydarpasa harbor and south into the Sea of Marmara.
It was a hot day, and there was no wind. This was a foretaste of many days to come, it turned out. The Sea of Marmara was as flat as a billiard table. It was also filthy, oily and littered with rubbish. But we hardly noticed that, pleased as we were to be back at sea again and on our way. Astern of us the city of Istanbul faded dimly into the morning mists. Either side of us the far mountains showed low, Asia to port, Europe to starboard. Often, in the morning, narwhals played around the boat and reminded me of the dolphins, so far away in the North Atlantic. But these narwhals were not like the Atlantic sea-dogs; they had little of their flashing vibrancy; these Turkish narwhals were much more relaxed, and rolled over lazily, with a sigh, as if they were going to retire to a sofa and smoke a hookah. Thomas, with a grin, set a tape of "Bolero" on the player, and the music fitted the narwhals' movements, lethargic, rhythmic, exactly.
Mostly, we spent the morning identifying the mountains which loomed ahead of us, to the southeast, over Asia. This was good practice for Thomas as he studied inshore navigation. Some of the mountains, like Karadag and Adam Kaya Mutu, were very high, and reminded me of the Massif Central of Madagascar, far, far away, viewed from the Bay of Majunga. I didn't mention this to Thomas though, as he was too busy reckoning his bearings in the Sea of Marmara.
In the afternoon we sighted the island of Asmalikoy, and steered for it, so as to be able to enter the little port before dusk. The Strait of Gallipoli was no place to be in a small craft after dark. Shipping would be heavy, and the currents strong, although evidently there would be a good radio-beacon system. But Asmalikoy looked inviting, a tiny village set under the soft shoulders of the hills of its island, and our passage through the Sea of Marmara had been hot and tiring, so in we went.
It was almost suppertime when we tied up, again stern-first, against the little jetty, alongside a small fishing craft wearing a Turkish ensign. On board it was a prosperous-looking little old man who was sitting alone at a small table, being served his dinner by a middle-aged giant with a completely bald head, all dressed in white, even to his shoes. The old man hailed us in English and gave us quickly to know that his eldest son was living in California. He also insisted on pressing into our hands basins of what he assured us were iron pills and yogurt. Whatever it was, it was delicious. Soon Thomas and I were seated at the little old man's table on board his fishing craft, swapping fishing yarns. The old man was proud indeed of having reached the age of seventy-nine and I agreed that it was quite an achievement, especially as he lived in Istanbul, which is about one of the most hectic, hot, dirty, smoggy cities I'd ever been in. He laughed at this and said he liked me for my truthfulness.
As we returned to our own boat, the wonder of the full moon's rising over the sea off Asmalikoy was ruined by the loud racket blaring from a jukebox in the only café in the place, on the far side of the harbor.
I glanced over at the fishing boat and saw that the little old man was quietly playing patience, while his bald deckhand ate his supper at his own separate table. In their tiny craft--she was only twenty feet long--it was as if they lived on two separate planets.
The moaning, wailing, and banging from the café jukebox shook the night. My mind flew back a year or so, to my arrival in England at the end of the transatlantic passage. Then, at Falmouth, I had tried to telephone London to arrange for some money to be sent to me. It had been the same whining, whingeing voice blaring from a jukebox, back then, that had almost made the call impossible to make. I grunted, and set my mind again to getting east of Suez as soon as Christ would let me. Anything to get away from that moaning crap, that insult to anyone's ears who had a scrap of intelligence between them.
At midnight or so the noise from the café ceased, and I was left alone on deck with my thoughts, undisturbed at last, gazing at the moon sailing over the Dardanelles, and thanking the gods that I was not young enough to be fooled into thinking that crap was not crap.
We were to find that in the height of the tourist season in Turkey we would rarely be able to moor or anchor the boat out of earshot of dreary, mindless, neurotic, masturbatory, animalistic "Western" pop-junk issuing at the loudest volume imaginable from radios or jukeboxes. The farther south we went, and the more European holidaymakers were in evidence, the worse it was. We thanked God we could get away from it in the days at sea.
We sailed out of Asmalikoy the next morning and wound our way through the archipelago of islets off the northern entrance to the Dardanelles. There was a fair little breeze, from the northwest, and so we were able to clap on all working sail and the genniker and make a dead run against the current, which flows forever northward in those parts.
As we slowly pushed down the Strait of Dardanelles, I reflected on what Napoleon once said about it, that it was the most important stretch of water on earth. I told Thomas I didn't agree with Bonaparte, and especially where he was concerned. It was the English Channel that defeated him, not the Dardanelles. I also worked out that the name Dardanelles means "Gate of the Greeks" and that made sense, because holding the strait meant that the ancient Greeks, for centuries, were able to trade much more easily with northern and central Asia by sea rather than by the camel trails across Syria. As we pushed on slowly we talked of the Trojan War, in legend fought over Helen, which really had been a war to control this narrow channel between Europe and Asia, between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and about how Lord Byron had swum it, and of the adventures of Leander and the wonderful bridge built by Xerxes the Persian. We noticed how on the European side the scenery, of gentle green hills, was much like England, all green and tidy, so that it looked to be smiling, while on the Asian side it was like Wales, only even more wild and frowning. It was as if God, when he made these lands, had smoothed one side over with a trowel, looked at the clock, thrown the other side down onto the rocks of the earth, and gone off to lunch.
The boat was sailing well, even despite the weak breeze. So we ambled sedately south, keeping a wary eye on the many passing ships heading both ways, until we came off the entrance to the little port of Gelibolu, as Gallipoli is known to the Turks.
As we tied up at the jetty in Gelibolu, I noticed a small sloop lying already alongside. She looked a mite seaworn. Thomas and I took a closer look at her. The name on her transom gave out that she was Yuki and she hailed from Tel Aviv. This was interesting to me, because years before, when I had crossed over Israel in the yawl Barbara, there had been no sailing yachts capable of cruising abroad at all in the country. I recalled how Barbara had been the cynosure of every eye in Israel when she had moored in Haifa and crossed over to the Dead Sea.
I had just started to return on board Outward Leg when the owner of Yuki turned up. He was a man in his early thirties, and he introduced himself as Nino. He was accompanied by two companions, a young man and a woman. They had, he said, cruised from Haifa to Cyprus, across to Turkey, then coast-hopped all the way to the Dardanelles, but this was as far as they would go, before they turned back to head again home. They would leave the boat here and visit Istanbul overland, because of the sudden rough storms in the Sea of Marmara and the difficulty of finding a decent berth in Istanbul. Nino said that he had heard years before of the passage across of Barbara in 1970, and read of it later in The Incredible Voyage, which pleased me greatly. One of the greatest rewards for much hard labor is to know that your boat, and her voyages, are remembered. To me it is far more important than any other rewards, which anyway are mainly ephemeral.
No sooner had I left Nino on the jetty than I was accosted by two armed officials of the Turkish Immigration Police. Brusquely they requested my "Transit Log." This was a piece of paper which was issued, against payment of a fee, to every foreign yacht entering Turkish waters. This was fine if the yacht entered the usual way, on the west or south coasts of Turkey. But, amazingly enough, there had been no provision made at all for yachts entering Turkey from the Black Sea. To cut a long tale sideways, they said Outward Leg had been in Turkish waters illegally for almost two months! I showed the officials the crew list, which I'd had the foresight to have signed by the U.S. consul in Istanbul. Eventually, after much muttering by the Turkish officials, their chief, a short, fat man, sweating in the heat, arrived. He immediately confiscated our passports, despite my protests that this was illegal. I also showed him the written proof of our arrival in Istanbul from Customs in the Bosporus, and also our signed crew list, but all to no avail: Thomas and I were peremptorily ordered by the fat chief to the local police station, and marched there under armed escort through the town, the chief bringing up the rear of our procession, a smug look on his red face. The townspeople stared and glared at us, as if we were condemned murderers as we wended our way slowly through the crowded main square. We had to go slowly because of my hobble.
Inside the police station we were both told to sit on a hard bench and given a cup of strong coffee, while every official in the place helped himself to our cigarettes. Then we waited for the chief to decide on our fate, and everyone else sat around silently drinking strong coffee.
After a couple of hours in silence, apart from the whining of fans and low coughing from the direction of the cells, everyone started at the noise of excited yelling outside in the roadway. Thomas and I stared at each other, not knowing what to expect. Shortly afterward a young man, waving a copy of an Istanbul newspaper, ran in, breathless, grinning and pointing at us.
Then he broke into English: "You are in the paper!" he shouted.
He was right. We were in the paper. We'd been interviewed in Istanbul by a young lady whom we'd met at the American consulate. She'd asked me what I thought of Istanbul and I told her about the oil and filth in Bebek harbor. I'd also asked that the newspaper publish this story about now, when we would be safely out of the Istanbul area!
But it did help. It soon brought the chief Customs officer out of his hidey-hole, apologizing, and shortly afterward a flunkey from the mayor's office with an invitation to tea with the town officials. The mayor issued us a safe-passage chit, so that we could reach Çanakkale, the next port along the Dardanelles, where Transit Logs were issued. Then he presented Outward Leg with a small plate, inscribed with the name of Gelibolu, as a memento of our visit, and I gave him one of our remaining used charts. His plate yet hangs in the main cabin of our boat. After the presentation the mayor, the Customs chief, the police chief and at least a dozen officials all paraded back to where Outward Leg was berthed, right through the town, all happy, smiling and triumphant.
Which goes to show, I suppose, the power of the press--at least in Turkey. The mayor was so effusive in his apologies to us for our reception in Gelibolu that he sent a Customs officer along to sail with us to Çanakkale, to make sure that we would be treated right.
That's the first and only occasion when I sailed with a Customs officer on board my boat. He was seasick in the Dardanelles--in a trimaran!