The Recent Hibernation and Rebirth of Wildcard
Fatty tells a winter's tale--well, many of them, really--about an off-season spent mainly in a mostly empty marina in Turkey's Antalya province. On Watch from our August 2011 issue.
It seems impossible, during these dog days of summer, to remember that Old Man Winter exists. It’s even more difficult for me: I’ve spent the last 30 years cruising in the tropics. But change is good. And so it was that Carolyn, my wife, and I wintered in Finike, Turkey. We were tucked up under a snowcapped Mediterranean mountain. It was glorious.
I’d forgotten how cheery a warm boat in a safe harbor feels during a full winter’s gale. How sweet is the smell of coffee brewing in a confined space. How much better food tastes in northern climes. How two warm, loving bodies feel under the weight of thick quilts.
The autumn was particularly nice. Old cruising friends poured into Finike almost every day. It was a great time to catch up and reconnect—to tell those we love just that. Sea yarns were tossed back and forth. The marina bustled with the washing of sails, the stripping of halyards, the winterizing of engines, and the lacing of storage awnings. There was a sense of excitement. Everyone had enjoyed a great year of cruising, and all were looking forward to an even better one next season.
Then, one by one—in dribbles and drabs—they drifted away, heading back to America, Germany, Holland, Austria, France, England, Spain, and Scandinavia.
Winter was the best season. Our numbers had dwindled. All the fair-weather sailors had fled, and we were the only Americans in the marina. We’d gather each evening over galley tables to spin tales of 30-foot seas, a 50-knot meltemi, and evil boatloads of Somali
pirates. At one point, only a dozen of us could be found dozing by the fire in the Porthole, the name of our communal clubhouse.
Everyone in the tiny farm village of Finike knew who we were. My steaming tea and honey-dripping baklava would be on the table of Nur’s Pastry Shop the moment I hove into view. The baker always saved a golden loaf for us. The cheese-shop owner knew we loved his “full stink” the best. The grocer saved us his crispiest apples, and the smiling market lady knew we were suckers for just-ripe bananas. The butcher would wave his bloody meat cleaver at us as we’d stroll by—and call to us down the street if he had some beef that didn’t chew like bubble gum.
And we were, at least for a brief span of time, an incredibly diverse community of dock dwellers.
The temperature wasn’t too cold. It never froze. There was no snow at sea level. It didn’t rain too much. That’s the advantage of Finike. We were surrounded by orange groves. Our electric cabin heater kept the boat toasty. Because Wild Card isn’t insulated, as was our home-built Carlotta, our only problem was an occasional drip of condensation.
I love to hike, and conditions were perfect for exploring the nearby towering mountains. I discovered a giant, partially open cave with a small, spring-fed lake. Carolyn and I would often go there for romantic picnics. I’d bring wine and cheese for her; she’d bring a steaming thermos of coffee for me.
The Christmas holidays were particularly touching. We had a party and exchanged inexpensive gifts. Each nationality banded together and presented mini-pageants of their country’s holiday rituals and songs. Some were simple and straightforward. But others—the Danes, in particular—put on quite a show. They sang and danced and recited—and even distributed plates of traditional Christmas fare. Their costumes were magnificent, and their grand finale was utter magic, with their sweet, wine-flushed faces glowing angelically from the lit candles they wore in their hair.