From left, Albanians Lark Ledbetter, Sally Webb Schatz, Carolyn Cook and Rue Morrison pose on Asfiye’s bow for a Facebook photo post in October. The “boat’s” home is in Fethiye, Turkey on the Mediterranean coast. Morrison, boat owner, has donated a third cruise on her to the American Cancer Society’s HOPE Ball live auction on Feb. 4 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Albany. For more information, call (229) 446-1073 or go to www.hopeballalbanyga.org.
ALBANY — If one has not taken a private charter boat cruise for a vacation, think again. Many facets of this type of personalized venture set it apart from the “usual” vacation. Just think, you are alone with just your fellow passengers and crew, have virtually no decisions about where to go, no waiting lines to get into restaurants or tourist attractions, and more. You are truly relaxed and at leisure.
My travel buddies, Sally Webb Schatz and Carolyn Cook, all of Albany, and I began planning our adventure last summer. We were headed to the Mediterranean coast of Turkey in October to meet up with our classmate, Rue Morrison, also of Albany and Turkey part-time, for a week’s cruise on his hand-crafted 72-foot sailing yacht, also known as a gulet. We all attended Deerfield-Windsor School in the 1970s and join a handful of Albanians who have experienced Rue’s slice of heaven.
For the third time, Rue has donated a week-long cruise to the American Cancer Society’s HOPE Ball live auction on Feb. 4 at the Hilton Garden Inn. For more information, call (229) 446-1073 or visit www.hopeballalbanyga.org.
When we arrived dog tired after some 18 hours of flights on Turkish Airlines and layovers via Washington, D.C. (Dulles airport) and Istanbul and saw the crew of three charming young men and Rue standing to greet us around 10 p.m. in the seaside village of Fethiye, I knew we would be treated with gracious hospitality. Rue had arranged for a private taxi to transport us from the Dalaman International Airport, just 31 miles away, and had planned a cruising route solely for us, as he customarily charts, depending on the guests’ desires. As we embarked, a champagne toast with an array of homemade hors d’oeuvres welcomed us in the yacht’s saloon. It has comfortable seating for eight people.
We settled into our own separate bedrooms. “Asfiye” (pronounced Ahs-fee-yea), a Turkish female name given to her when she was built, contains four cabins, each with a private bathroom and shower. Double beds are in the smaller cabins and a queen bed is in the “Princess Suite.” Cabins are handsomely appointed with luxurious fabrics and linens paired with varnished mahogany. TV/DVD and stereo is available and storage space is aplenty. I slept with the windows open to take advantage of the crisp ocean air. After some shopping the indoor/outdoor market stalls the next day, we set off on our adventure at sea for the next six days. A full moon graced us.
Unfamiliar with the area, we succumbed to the owner’s wishes and directions. Each day, the “boat” meandered from cove to cove where we anchored for lunch or overnight. Our schedule was at a relaxed pace, yet we were well entertained with hiking, swimming in the calm water, photo taking, reading and socializing.
“Will this do,” asked Rue at our first anchorage where lunch was served. “It gets better,” he added with a grin. He was certainly correct as my expectations were never lowered once.
Spectacular, ever changing scenery boasts a natural coastal landscape of pine forest clad mountains ranging up to 6,000 feet high that descend into the sea. Only a few homes and inhabitants were spotted. Pristine water was turquoise and, where deeper, dark blue, hence the name, “Blue Cruise.”
The canvas covered rear deck at the stern holds a large mahogany dining table where we were family-style served three full, expertly prepared meals a day. The Turkish fare by Chef Ahmet was a welcomed version of the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet featuring market fresh produce and other indigenous delicacies. Peaches and tomatoes were still in season — the peaches were every bit as good as a Georgia peach. Salads and vegetables included stuffed grape leaves and roasted eggplant. Dinner entrees were roasted rack of lamb, grilled steak, fish and prawns — all fresh. This was one cruise that I did not gain weight on. Antique silver serving pieces and unique accessories were admired. A grill was perched at the bow on a side rail over the water. Each morning we were visited by a boat driven by a woman selling fresh baked bread from a nearby village. Other boats sold ice cream, scarves, beads and trinkets.
The “boat” and her decor attest to its owner’s impeccable taste and interior design talent. Many Albanians remember Rue’s parents, the late Bill and Martha Morrison, who were known for their exquisite decorating talents. Rue is the former owner of a to-the-trade textile showroom in New Orleans.
The sprawling deck near the bow offered eight cushioned chaises, providing the perfect locale for sunbathing in near solitude taking in expansive, breathtaking views. We shopped the quaint town of Gocek. A mountain hike through rugged terrain of pine and olive trees just ashore led us to ancient ruins and tombs thousands of years old. A primitive settlement in a valley still inhabited and with donkeys and goats was marveled over.
The all Turkish, highly attentive crew were professional and skilled seamen. John was the young, smiling, easy going, hard working deck hand and Ugur, a former Turkish Navy Seal, captained. All worked as a team and Rue quickly pitched in when needed.
Hospitality is a fine art to the Turks who are proud to share their land and coast as a tourist destination.
As we departed, we were escorted to a taxi and the same warm greeting I felt when we arrived was exchanged, sealed with European style kisses.
Managing the boat and running cruises is a perfect match for Rue’s seafaring passion. The allure of the coast and land captivated him several years ago and around the time Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. He was actually in Turkey when the tragic Katrina hit. Asfiye was purchased in 2007 and Rue has continued to make improvements to her each year.
The combination of fine hospitality, the land, sights and gourmet cuisine melded into an unforgettable adventure of sheer delight. We left only wanting to return. I call it the Ultimate Vacation.
Lark Ledbetter, a former food editor for The Albany Herald, is a long-term care ombudsman in training for the Sowega Council on Aging.