Lycia: Sailing through the Centuries

Find out about our gulet cruises in Turkey.

Lycia in southern Turkey is packed with some of the finest wonders of the world, with a coastline perfect for sailing. Today there is a whole raft of nautical charts and coastal pilots available for people cruising there. Yet only 200 years ago this coast in the Eastern Mediterranean was a complete blank on the earth’s atlases. The man we have to thank for its transformation, for literally putting this part of Turkey on the map, is a celebrated figure in all things maritime. His name is an absolute constant on shipping forecasts and various instruments, for it became the scale on which all winds are rated: Beaufort.

Of course the coast of Lycia was well known and used long before Francis Beaufort, a British Admiral, began his survey in 1810. It was directly on one of the main shipping routes in antiquity, the way between Greece and Egypt and in Christian times on the pilgrim trail from Constantinople to Jerusalem. Anybody who was anybody in ancient times seems to have sailed along its coast or changed ships there – from Anthony and Cleopatra to St. Paul, Brutus to Hadrian.

Yet these sailors are relatively recent compared with those who were travelling on one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever made. The world’s oldest shipwreck lies off the Lycian shore, revealing the extraordinary length of time that people have been navigating along this coast. When the Ülü Burun wreck was dated to 1,350 BC, it sent shockwaves through maritime history.

Here was a 3,350 year old vessel – a time capsule from the Bronze Age – and no ordinary little boat at that, but one carrying an extraordinary cargo that gives some idea of the sophisticated trade going on here in the dim and distant past. Aboard were tons of copper, ingots of glass and lapis lazuli, pellets of purple dye, swords and tridents, a wax book, and even a musical instrument similar to a lyre, probably used by the crew to entertain themselves of an evening. A golden scarab of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti is a clue as to the ship’s possible origin.

Today travellers can cruise in comfort unimaginable in the Bronze Age or even Beaufort’s time. The very best way to see the Lycian shore is aboard a gulet. The word probably derives from the French goulette, or schooner. For generations these two-masted wooden vessels, sometimes also known as caiques, have been used for transport and fishing along the southern coasts of Turkey. Typically designed with a sharp bow, broad beam and rounded aft, they are now designed and fitted with comfort, not trade in mind. Hand crafted in Turkey they come fully crewed, with a captain, cook, and additional deck hands. All passengers have to do is lie back, gaze at the horizon, and relax.