Week 159: Istanbul!

After rough weather, we finally arrive into Istanbul and a visit with Ester. What a city!

Week 159: Istanbul!
Karina and Ester in the gardens in front of the Hagia Sophia

I closed last week with the thought that "I still don't know if my sudden panic on fuel was warranted."

It turns out that it was. When I finally got into the engine room and checked the sight gauge, both tanks were completely empty. Roughly 200L of fuel was "missing". It's a surprise because I keep good records, usually when I fill up I can predict how much we'll need to within 5 litres or less.

Sunday morning we went for a walk to explore the old marble quarries (now an open air museum) that date back to Roman times.

So where did it go? We thought we had 1,800 litres of diesel based on what we were told by the previous owners and the user manual, but we have never really "confirmed" this in any meaningful way. There's been a few other times I suspected that maybe we didn't have quite that much, but now, this seemed to confirm it.

Karina had the good idea to go back to the manual and check the figures again, and there it was! In the CAD diagrams for the boat, it shows that we have 220 gallon tanks (the original plans for Matilda are actually from the US) on each side of the boat, or roughly 800 each side, giving us 1,600 litres of fuel. But in the written description it says 1,800 litres. Someone made errors when writing up the summaries and doing the conversions from the CAD diagrams.

That fine print on the tanks is the only place our fuel capacity is listed correctly. Although we have two PORT tanks apparently.

Well, now we know. Thank goodness we had a bad feeling and stopped, it would have been very unpleasant ending up out of fuel in the sort of conditions we've experienced of late.

With Matilda fueled up again, at least partially, we were ready to get moving. We had a real "do we, don't we" moment when it came to deciding to leave the sheltered port of Saraylar and start heading North. The problem was this. We were on the Southern side of the Sea of Marmaris. Istanbul is on the North and to the East. All the winds have been blowing from the North. There was a brief window Sunday afternoon that seemed calmer, Monday was not too bad, but the rest of the week was frankly looking horrid.

We could:

  • Head North on Sunday and hope conditions weren't too bad. Having crossed to the North, we can then use the weather on Monday to head East along the North coast keeping out of most of the swell.
  • Stay in Saraylar and head East on Monday along the South coast, hope the swell isn't too bad then after having crossed over to the Eastern side cut up to the North.
  • Stay in Saraylar, cut North and then head East towards Istanbul, possibly even do the whole crossing in one day.

None of these options were great. I think the thing we were most convinced of was the need to get out of the wind which has been starting to really wear us down. We needed to get into a marina and have a break.

We looked out at the sea and the conditions seemed OK, so we decided to go for it. Run North on Sunday afternoon, then use the weather on Monday and leave early to cut to the East.

The journey started well and we were congratulating ourselves on a smart decision until we were about half way across the shipping channels and the wind whipped up into a storm. The waves were the biggest we've experienced and we had a miserable crossing. At one stage the boat lifted off a wave and smacked down so hard that the headlining (the interior roof) in the front cabin came crashing down. The rear bimini broke a zip and we have new small holes created by the wind force on it. The bow was getting buried in waves with water washing over the bow and down the side decks and we retreated back inside the boat as it began to feel unsafe being out there on the flybridge.

The headlining is held up by velcro, so it's not THAT surprising it came down, it's just never happened before.

This lasted about 1 - 2 hours before conditions finally settled as we got further North and eventually we made it to a sheltered bay, dropped anchor and collapsed into bed.

It's the first crossing where we've really said afterwards that knowing how bad it was going to be, we just wouldn't have done it.

Thankfully we had a calm night and woke early at 4.30AM to set off in the dark to Istanbul, a long journey, but a relatively easy and peaceful one. That part of the weather was right. And so, Monday afternoon, three days earlier than expected, we found ourselves in Kalamis & Fenubahce Marina.

What a delight it has been. We really needed that time to just be on the boat, but not THINK about the boat. We've found someone to come mend the Webasto heater, we're able to leave Matilda safely for excursions. As bad as the wind and weather gets (and the wind has been quite bad a few times), we're well sheltered and happy here.

Even better, we're getting amazing value from our contract with Setur Mytilini - our 10 days in Istanbul is "free", covered by our annual contract with Mytilini. A saving of €1,100 already - a third of the cost of the annual contract. It's an unbelievably good deal that leaves us pinching ourselves.

We headed into Istanbul on Tuesday to get off the boat and orient ourselves. It was a lovely time walking past the Hagia Sophia mosque, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque), the Topkapi Palace and Gardens, into the old town, the covered markets, the spice markets and basically wearing ourselves out and getting some much needed exercise while orienting ourselves to this fascinating and diverse city.

We also crossed the Galata bridge over the "Golden Horn". This is a walkable pedestrian bridge that is famous for around 50 fish restaurants located on a level underneath. It holds a special memory for my family as when we were here in Istanbul back in the early 80's, we ate and enjoyed fresh fish there on a few separate occasions. Like everything, it's changed a bit – there's no longer fishing boats clustering around (although the area is still called the "old port"). Still, despite the fact it was all rebuilt in roughly 93' after it burnt down, it felt familiar.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent exploring the local area around the marina and washing the boat, along with some basic maintenance (like fixing the head lining that fell down). What's interesting here is that this area is very "posh", with lots of fancy apartment buildings, lots of furniture stores and generally a very modern neighbourhood with lots of very expensive cars!

Ali, me and Karina

On Thursday night we met up with Ali, a friend from the US. I worked with Ali at GreenPark for a while in the US and we had a great time together. He's Turkish and now back here living in Istanbul so it was fun to be able to meet up. We had cocktails on the boat, shared a lot of stories about boat life and our time working together and generally enjoyed ourselves. We hope to catch up again for dinner tonight (Sunday) or maybe later next week.

There are lots of fancy cars at the marina, Karina has been day dreaming about Maseratis "forever" and we saw this pearl one. She's picked a colour now.

The main reason for arriving in Istanbul, besides our own desire to experience it, was to meet up with Ester, our Spanish friend that we met in Athens when we were first there and who also came to my 50th birthday party. We've been wanting to see her again for a while and are very excited that she is able to join us here in a city that she's been wanting to experience too.

On Saturday morning it was up bright and early (for us - off the boat by 8AM) in order to head into the city and tour the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and the Hagia Sofia before the crowds arrived, then go on a walking tour that Ester had found.

For those of you that want to visit the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Hagia Sophia, there's two important things to know. One is that they are free - don't believe the online tours selling tickets, they provide no value (although if you want a guide, that's a different issue). The second is that the queues are insane, BUT if you arrive at 9AM you can generally walk straight in to the Blue Mosque and have a fairly short wait for the Hagia Sofia. Alternatively, arrive after 8PM (at the completion of the sunset prayers) and you'll have both buildings to yourself while tourists are off at dinner.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque)

We found the Blue Mosque to be the more attractive of the two buildings, but there is no doubt that the Hagia Sofia is a very impressive space in its own right too. Built between 532 and 537 AD by the Roman Emperor Justinian I, it was the worlds largest cathedral for over 1,000 years and the centre of the Orthodox Christian faith.

We enjoyed both buildings and the gardens surrounding them, then it was off to meet the free tour guide. The walking tour was informative, but a little long for my attention span and Karina's patience. With an hour to go still (two hours in) Karina and I abandoned it to head home to the marina and Rosie, while Ester stayed on to complete it and do some more exploration.

Sunday is, as always, pancake day - but the last of our bacon. We went to buy some more, but of course pork products are rare in a Muslim country and the one packet we found was over €15 in price. Just not worth it, so we're trying "beef bacon" and "turkey bacon" for a while instead.

We've found a long list of new areas and sites that we want to explore and will enjoy the next few days in Istanbul while we do it. Hopefully on Monday we'll find out what's wrong with the Webasto heater and get that scheduled to be fixed. Wednesday the weather finally lets up, so we're heading off to check out the Prince's Islands and a bit more of the Sea of Marmaris, then when they have the parts for the heater, we'll get that fixed and then it's back South!

Until next time,

Tim & Karina

Where are we now?