The 183-foot sailing yacht Regina is attempting to set a new standard for luxury yacht charter beyond Turkey’s traditional cruising grounds. The yacht, the historic sights, and the local food and wine make for a winning combination, serving up modern comfort and an authentic experience beyond the beaten path.
About 2,300 years ago, the people of Aperlae had a great view. Their homes climbed up a hillside overlooking a stunning bay in Lycia, a pre-Roman civilization that included 23 city-states along the Mediterranean coast of modern-day Turkey. Their culture thrived and their buildings grew until the day an earthquake dropped the bottom of the mainland unceremoniously into the sea. Carefully carved columns and square-slab foundations became what today is a snorkeling site known as Asar, where visitors can float over the ancient ruins of humanity.
I took a good look around before trading my swim goggles for a pair of hiking shoes to make my way to what’s left of Aperlae’s hillside settlement. On the way, I passed a stone sarcophagus nearly as tall as I am and bikini-clad tourists who moved around it as if it were a palm tree or any other natural landmark. The hillside was filled with more sarcophagi in various states of disrepair, crumbled building walls, pocked archways and shards of pottery that once sat on people’s shelves.
Then I made it to the Old Lycian Trail, which meanders across a peninsula to Uçagiz, a spit of a village with a small restaurant and a long dock. The 20-minute walk left my feet as red as the clay that the ancients fashioned into pots, and my mind as enchanted as they no doubt were with the view. I stepped gingerly on the creaking dock boards and returned by tender to Regina, where I used a freshwater hose to dislodge the soot of centuries past from in between my toes. It stuck to me like tradition.
Regina is much like this place: She represents the best of modern Turkey’s seaside lifestyle but also holds strong to her roots. She is, in many ways, the current era in Turkey personified. She boasts the evolved profile of an elegant gentleman’s yacht that most European yards would be proud to call their own and has interior styling reminiscent of the traditional, slow-cruising Turkish motorsailers known as gulets. She thus retains the region’s history while bringing the modern strength of a steel hull and superstructure, along with sailing speeds as high as 15.5 knots. This modern-day schooner is the largest sailing yacht built in Turkey specifically for charter in Turkish waters (it also is the most expensive sailing yacht to charter here). Bodrum-based Pruva Yachting owns and operates Regina as well as the Medyat facility where craftsmen built and fitted out the yacht between 2008 and 2011. As Pruva Manager Cihan Atik told me: “This is the 21st boat we have built since 1995, but she is the first of her kind. Our aim was to build a performance sailing yacht with comfortable onboard areas. We are a gulet builder, so it is not possible to escape that on the first try entirely, but I believe we have succeeded.”
As yachts of Regina’s caliber enter the charter scene in Turkey, they attract more American brokers like Missy Johnston. The owner of Newport (RI)-based Northrop and Johnson Worldwide Yacht Charters has been visiting Turkey since 1988 and confirms she has seen the quality of Turkish builds increase. Working with internationally minded locals like Cem Boz of Contact Turkey, she creates itineraries like the one we enjoyed—far beyond the traditional route that smaller boats run between Bodrum and Göcek.
Our weeklong charter, which included the ruins of Aperlae, combined private land tours with quiet waterfront experiences far different from the bustling bazaars I’ve visited on more popular itineraries. We started from and returned to Göcek, a marina town about 20 minutes from the Dalaman airport and its nonstop flights to Istanbul. While I saw plenty of tour boats and small gulets in the Göcek area, they became almost nonexistent as Captain Yusuf Kalmaz steered us eastward along the coast. In this island area, we spotted megayachts such as the 135-foot Heesen Seven Sins and the 164-foot Proteksan Turquoise Mosaique enjoying, like us, quiet harbors.
After we hiked to the summits of islands filled with historic finds, we often found ourselves alone to enjoy the views. Such was our experience at Kaleköy, a historic site accessible only by boat. During the 20-minute hike to the ruins of a castle we passed an aisle or two of makeshift merchants, but once we reached the stone walls we felt like the lone lookouts who perched here centuries ago watching for signs of boats on the horizon. The same was true when we tied up at Gemiler Island, also known as Saint Nicholas Island. The bishop who once lived there was known to throw bags of coins onto the rooftops of poor people in nearby Myra at Christmas. A few tourists paid their respects to the legend of jolly Saint Nick, but few bothered to hike to the top to enjoy the solemn and spectacular view.
Running into tourists at some of the ancient sites along this part of the Turkish coast is unavoidable. That’s especially true at the church on Myra built in Saint Nicholas’ honor and at ancient Myra, where impressive Lycian tombs are carved right into the cliff sides. Nevertheless, the places are worth a visit. At Myra, as at the ruins of Santos (or Xanthos), we walked within excavated amphitheaters just as the gladiators once did. But the lesser-known amphitheater at Letoon provided an unforgettable experience. Our tour guide, Murat Çiekli, encouraged a singer traveling with us to perform a traditional Turkish song for an impromptu concert.
And just as the Turkish yacht charter routes are evolving to provide exceptional experiences such as these, so are the Turkish wines. Importation taxes make bringing an everyday French or Italian label onto a charter boat an expensive proposition. Our charter party included well-traveled people I would call casual connoisseurs, who can generally tell good wines from bad. After a tasting our crew arranged for us on board, we all agreed to stock Turkish wines, in particular a red blend called Yakut from the Kavaklidere winery in Ankara. We also agreed to eat the Turkish cuisine offered by Regina’s talented Chef Sergin Topkara. Most meals are served family-style and offer multiple options, many of them vegetable-based and laced with local delicacies such as feta cheese. But we also enjoyed slow-roasted lamb, freshly caught fish and baked calamari stuffed with shrimp and mushrooms. Stewardess Şirin Aydoğan, who, like the captain, speaks English and translates requests for the crew, presented it all with great care.
All of these modern comforts aside, it’s hard to consider a charter aboard Regina without thinking about history. The men of the Lycian era, I learned, felt it so important to preserve their freedom that they would kill their own wives and children before waging what they knew to be suicidal, final battles against Persian and Roman invaders. Submitting completely to another culture was simply not an option. This, in a way, is true of Regina herself. This charter yacht gives a strong nod to modern international standards, but in a way that says, “We are proud to reflect our history.” ■