Turkey for Christmas
Alexandroupolis (Greece) to Enez (Turkey)
Across the Evros Delta. About 12nm. Delta are places to be wary of. Winds corridors with no distinct land-water boundary. Disorientating. The thought of near disaster at the Delta del Ebro intrudes. Once again a strong offshore wind is on the way. Today the forecasted gentle breeze progressively builds. The angle to Enez is tight but doable, so a tack towards the delta makes no sense, leaving me exposed and offshore in this no-man's land between countries. The new sail is reassuringly tight and silent. Plenty of whitecaps now. But flatter water as the fetch becomes smaller, until I am sailing on a speed strip and can flat-out blast the last miles to the harbour.
I report myself to the coastguard. Produce passport and e-visa. This isn't an official entry-point. I know that, but am hoping an exception might be made. The problem is parked. I am told a storm is on the way and I must stay in Enez.
Sleep Here OK? I mime-ask the coastguard who has come to take a picture of the gear.
No, here no OK. With Google Translate explanation: Here smugglers.
The wind whistles across the barren concrete of the harbour. Behind a boat is space with some protection from the wind, where I get comfy. But I am not there long. Murat from fisheries control - monitoring CCTV - indicates I should come for a tea. We communicate by mobile translation. Before clocking-off, he opens a container that has a bed, and indicates that I can sleep there.
The next two days are windy and cold. Water in the port is whipped up and my chosen-now-abandoned camp is awash. Puddles freeze at night. Arriving vehicles are snow covered. Dogs shelter from the wind. Even so, I wonder how they do not perish. By day they scavenge food: crunching on mussels from mooring lines, squabbling over feathers.
The police call by every few hours. They are friendly. I ask for a passport stamp. They say they are unable to provide one. On the second day of lockdown, policeman Given - who is fluent enough to converse in English - brings food and gifts me a pocket knife. Later the coastguard send a car and I am taken to their compound. By now I have friends and we are looking for a solution. I am cleared to sail to Çanakkale, an official port of entry, where it should be possible to be processed.
Gulf of Saros
A bitingly cold but ideal strength and angle sailing wind. The direct crossing saves a significant detour. Regular arm swinging to bring the hands back to life. Pit-stop on a beach for coffee from the flask. A 33nm day. What a difference a favourable wind makes. Perfect camp spot. Fire on the beach. A few degrees of warmth and it feels like summer.
Sedd El Bahr
Late to get going the next day. But love this spot. The sea-level has dropped overnight, creating a dry reef with rockpools home to shrimps and fish and crabs and molluscs. When I sail the wind soon drops away to nothing. So paddle the 8nm to the tip of the Helles Peninsula. Thousands of jellyfish. A coastline with almost no plastic. And very clear water. And trees bent over by the prevailing NE winds. Enjoy the significance of the day. Pass a lighthouse and a monument thing, beyond which the Aegean Sea becomes the Dardanelles strait, that connects Mediterranean Sea to Sea of Marmara.
This beach chosen without prior research. Simple convenience. But looks an interesting spot. Meet Faruk and Sovinc who are walking the dog. They offer a place to stay, dinner including Dardanelles sea bass, washing. Faruk explains that here are the commonwealth war graves, and that he sometimes goes to have a drink with the soldiers in the cemetery behind the beach.
Commonwealth War Graves
In the morning I read up a little and visit the memorials. This strategic peninsula is where the Gallipoli campaign unfolded in 1915, where allied forces attempted to secure the Dardanelles channel as part of a supply route to Russia. There are now a number of cemeteries for allied as well as Turk forces. I realise that yesterday's camp had been just to the south of the Anzac Cove, landing site for most Australian and New Zealand troops.
Breakfast with my hosts is a beautiful table-full of goodness. Looking down towards Helles Beach, I think back to the steps of the tall monument, inscribed with the words "Lest we Forget". The imagery that comes to mind is of cattle to slaughter: meat for export, the cheapness of life. I realise now that the inscription relates not to the heroism of men, but to the horror of war.
I am late to sail again. Bumping the jellyfish, their perfect forms gliding gently. The wind dies off until I am barely moving. And in my thoughts the jellyfish become the souls of men. And I am grateful to pass delicately through their waters. Defying gravity - liberated and at peace - is every soul from every battle.
The Dardanelles has a strong current flowing out to the Mediterranean. With no wind now I paddle, sometimes benefiting from a countercurrent close inshore, other times having to paddle hard to make progress. I won't make Çanakkale today. Sleep on a beach. Full moon. Another beautiful night. The groan of engine noise from passing shipping is continuous, and intermittently washes peels along the shore.
A gentle following breeze to reach this small city. I cross the shipping lane at the narrowest part, where the current is strongest, so that it pulls me back into the wind, and a force half becomes a reassuring force two. Easy today. I sail to the port police and with their help ascend the dock, and an hour before nightfall have my passport stamped. A blog update. Tomorrow move on and adjust sights to the next obstacle.