Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

1999: Istanbul

This web page contains the logs of the S/Y Thetis while changing crew in Istanbul before proceeding to the Black Sea. The logs are illustrated with maps and photographs, and also include some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.

Note: A portion of his passage is also described by my brother Nikos Riginos in his Faneromeni website. Nikos had also traveled to the Black Sea in the summer of 1998.

Map of Istanbul
Map of Istanbul
Click on the magnifying glass to zoom-out

In Istanbul Mary and Manos Castrinakis disembarked Thetis. Manos was supposed to stay but his mother was in need of an operation and he had to leave us. In the meantime, as scheduled, Andonis Ephremides arrived in Istanbul and joined me for the trip to the Black Sea.

Andonis, like Manos and I, went to the same school in Athens, the Athens College. Since then, Andonis has had a brilliant carrier as an electrical engineer and has been a distinguished professor of Electrical Engineering in the University of Maryland for many years. He and I have been friends for a long time. In the summer of 1996, he and his wife Jane had joined me for several days on a very pleasant cruise with Thetis from Samos to nearby islands. We share many common interests in addition to engineering and sailing. We both like traveling, classical music (he is an opera afficionado), hiking, literature, and good food and wine.

Andonis had an extra reason to want to visit the Black Sea or Pontos. His father was born and raised in Georgia and as a child, Andonis had been exposed to Greek Pontian wisdom. In particular he remembers a saying in Turkish which he used almost like an incantation whenever we met any new people. To our constant surprise and delight it never failed to make them laugh and break the ice. That saying goes as follows:

Esek hoshaftan nean Laz.

Which in Greek means:

Τί καταλαβαίνει ο γάϊδαρος από κομπόστα;

And freely translated into English:

How can a donkey appreciate cooked fruits?

He also told me about the Pontic penchant for equivocation with sayings such as:

Someday, why don’t we ask someone, to go with us somewhere, to eat something?


In the future, with God’s help, if I have the funds, I will repay you…, perhaps!

Sunday July 25, 1999, Day 13

View of Istanbul
View of Istanbul

This was my first night all by myself in Thetis this year and I had a very good sleep but for the mosquitoes. I had a slow start in the morning. After coffee I did some chores around the boat such as cleaning the cabins and the deck, covering the sails, launching the zodiac so that I could open the hatch, and I put up the tent. The day was already getting hot. I checked in the marina office about the transit log. No, I have to wait for an official that will not be here until tomorrow. Also, they do not have a laundry machine but an attendant has a “friend” and if I leave the laundry in the cockpit his friend will pick it up. My first impression is that this marina, although it is owned by the Setur company, had nowhere near the standard of service offered by other Setur marinas. This could be because Setur has just acquired it and changes have not yet been implemented. Also the sea water in the marina, like all the water in the vicinity of Istanbul, was very dirty.

Back on board, I collected the laundry and left it in the cockpit as instructed. I then called Andonis at the hotel. He as well as Manos and Mary were staying at the Celal Sultan Hotel near Ayia Sophia. I had found the hotel via the Internet and had made reservations for my daughter Corinna and so did Andonis for himself and for Jane. He answered the phone; all of them have been at the hotel and were waiting for me. I took a taxi. It was a long and expensive ride, about 6 million TL.

Ayia Sophia
Ayia Sophia

I found them all there. Mary was still in very bad shape and they were expecting the visit of a doctor who had been arranged by the hotel. The hotel was quite adequate and the staff were very nice. One was Greek. Andonis and I went to a pleasant hotel-restaurant in a garden near Ayia Sophia and had a light snack. We then visited Ayia Sophia which I was not able to visit last year. Some mosaics have recently been meticulously uncovered from the plaster that the Moslems had applied when the church was converted to a mosque in 1453. The mosaics are magnificent: a lovely Madonna with child, the empress Irene with her son Alexios, the empress Zoe with one of her many husbands, Justinian handing a model of the Ayia Sophia to Mary while Constantine watches, Constantine giving the city to Mary. Despite the heavy scaffolding and the complete lack of the icons and other ornamentation, it is still easy to imagine the magnificence of a Byzantine mass with the emperor and empress in their heavy gowns, the Patriarch all in gold, the incense, the priests chanting, the congregation in all their finery, and the lovely ladies, all decked out in their heavy gold jewels, watching from the balconies…

Inside Ayia Sophia
Inside Ayia Sophia Mosaic in Ayia Sophia

Madona with Child

Justinian handing the the Church

Justinian hands the the Church

Constantine gives the the City
Constantine gives the the City
Andonis in the Open Air Market
Andonis in the Open Air Market

After Ayia Sophia, Andonis and I walked to the Blue Mosque. It is very lovely from the outside and has elegant lines. Inside it is covered with plush carpets. Its courtyard was full of people. We then walked towards the docks of the ferry boats via an open air-market. I have never seen such a thick crowd. Masses of humanity buying all sorts of goods: clothes, shoes, fruits, tools, spices, you name it. Vendors hustling and advertising their wares, pushing carts with bananas, apples, water on ice, dry fruits, soft drinks, ice cream, peeled almonds on ice, sweets, etc. While it was fascinating it seemed that it took us hours to wind our way through the crowd and vending carts under the hot afternoon sun. At last we arrived at the docks and found the right ferry boat. It costs about 0.5 million TL for the round trip to Kadiköy. From there we got into a dolmus (a mini-van that acts as a bus, the word actually means “stuffed”) for 450.000 TL to Kalamis.

Inside the marina and right next to the office there is a Koç Bank ATM machine (Setur, the new marina owner, is also a Koç company). Let me make a parenthesis here. Back in the US I had advised Andonis that the most convenient way of converting US dollars to Turkish liras (TL) would be to draw directly from his US bank from an ATM machine using a debit card. This is better than using travelers’ checks that require waiting in lines. Also, while it has all the convenience of a credit card it avoids the interest charges. The only drawback is that there is a small service fee which is usually offset by a more favorable rate of exchange. Based on this advice, Andonis asked his bank to issue him a debit card. So now, in front of the Koç Bank ATM Andonis was ready to try his card for the first time. We fed the card to the machine which after some confused punching of buttons declared: “Card retained” and swallowed the card. No amount of coaxing on our part would make it give the card up. Andonis was despondent. I tried mine, a Nation’s Bank card. It was not honored but it was returned. By the way, it was not honored in the several machines I had tried in Kusadasi either. We went to the marina office to ask for help. In the office was a lovely and very helpful young lady who spoke by far the best English among all the marina personnel I had dealt with so far. Despite her numerous phone calls she could not get somebody to come and retrieve Andonis card until the next morning. So our plans for departure had to be postponed till early Tuesday morning. No transit log amendment and no debit card.

Back on board, I found my laundry exactly as I had left it in the cockpit. No clean clothes either. We checked our provisions and made a shopping list. Andonis suggested that we take the laundry to the hotel. So back we went: dolmus to Kadiköy, ferry to the docks, and a long uphill walk to the hotel. On the way we passed a Yapi Kredit Bank with an ATM, and on an impulse I tried my Nation’s Bank debit card. Immediately and without offering any choice it spat at me 150 million TL (about $300). At least for now we had plenty of cash.

At the hotel they took our laundry and promised us that it would be ready by tomorrow morning. We rang the Castrinakis and we went to their room. Mary was still bed ridden but considerably better. The doctor gave her an injection and prescribed some more medication. His charge of $100 was definitely worth it. She could now sit up in bed and the hotel brought her a nice supper. Now she wanted to go to sleep as she had not slept for the past few nights.

The Süleymaniye Mosque
The Süleymaniye Mosque

Andonis suggested that we three (he, Manos, and I) go to a traditional Turkish restaurant near the Süleymaniye Camii (Mosque) that was highly recommended in his tourist guide. As he assured us that he knew how to get there, after all we had just walked there this afternoon, he led the way. We got lost! We seemed to be wandering aimlessly in narrow, dark, deserted, dirty streets. It was excruciatingly hot and humid despite it being well past sunset. We asked people on the street who gave us vague directions. Up we went steep hills on windy streets to then go downhill again. I was sure we were moving in circles. We entered a street completely flooded with dirty water with floating garbage. Up and down! We encountered street cleaners with brushes, gamblers in door steps rolling dice, children kicking balls, rats, cats, but no Süleymaniye Camii. To our inquiries people now made a gesture indicating great distance. Some pointed up and some pointed down, some north, and some south. No one agreed with anyone else. We were hungry and were sweating profusely. Poor Andonis had also to endure our not-so-kind taunting. After a couple of hours we found, by some miracle, the restaurant. Alas, it was completely booked by a wedding party.

Andonis, in an effort to redeem himself, suggested we go to a nearby hotel where he had eaten before and had a wonderful and bountiful buffet of Turkish foods. We did find the hotel without any trouble but the buffet had been superseded by a menu of mediocre and somewhat westernized food. It also had a steep price tag of 12 million TL each. After dinner, it being late, I took a taxi back and he charged me 10 million I am not sure whether this extra charge was legitimate, due to the late hour, or an overcharge.

The boat was hot, 28° C (82° F) inside the cabin and 81% relative humidity. Before going to bed, I made my berth with clean sheets and fumigated my cabin with a mosquito coil to get rid of the mosquitoes.

Monday July 26, 1999, Day 14

Despite my fumigation the mosquitoes did arrive in the early morning hours and woke me up. I had my coffee and while waiting for Andonis, who had slept in the hotel, I did some maintenance tasks on the boat. I checked the oil—there was no need to change it yet—checked the various filters, I replaced a missing screw from the main cabin ceiling (ουρανός - sky) which should stop a minor leak, etc.

Andonis arrived around 9:30. He had already stopped by the marina office and was told that they were expecting a lady from the Koç Bank around noon to recover his debit card. We then went together to the office with the ship’s papers to inquire about the amendment to the transit log. My understanding, from Heikell and from the instructions on the log itself, had been that all that was needed was that the skipper makes an entry of the disembarking and embarking crew members which the harbor master sanctifies with his seal. At the marina office they seemed to be totally ignorant of the requirements on foreign yachts. Nor did they, unlike other Setur marinas, act as “agents” for any official paperwork. Instead they told us to go to the “Customs Office” within the marina compound and about 100 m from the office. These were some of the longest and hottest 100 m that I have ever walked. After several inquiries we located the “Customs Office” which consisted of a tiny wooden shack next to a badly smelling open sewer by one of the marina gates. It was shut! We asked the gate guard and we think that he told us that the office will open at 12:00.

While killing time, we walked out of the marina and found a small food store where we bought some of the supply items on our list. The offerings were rather limited but we did get some staples and several bottles of spring water. By 12:00 we had stowed the new supplies aboard, and I went in pursuit of the official while Andonis went to the marina office to meet the lady from the bank. Neither bank lady nor “customs” official were to be found. We walked to the fuel dock and asked about getting fuel early tomorrow morning. All communications were through the use of a small English-Turkish-English dictionary since none of the attendants spoke any foreign languages. It really seemed very strange that here we were in a large city in a large marina and unlike most, even small harbors, in the Turkish Aegean no-one spoke anything but Turkish. At any rate, we understood that the fuel dock is attended 24 hours a day and that there will be no problem re-fueling early tomorrow morning.

Back to the marina office we went, which was air-conditioned and the only cool place in the marina, and we waited, and we waited. They offered us some tea. Then we waited some more. It was past 1:00 when the nice young lady, who spoke good English, informed us that the “customs” man was now in his office. I went there while Andonis stayed at the office to wait for the lady from the bank. At the shack, the customs man was polite and spoke just a smidgen of English and French. He looked at the transit log and the boat papers and asked for our passports. I did not have mine with me but it was back at the boat. Back I walked in the heat (33° C and 88% relative humidity) and got mine but Andonis already had his with him at the marina office. I walked to the office but he was gone. I walked to the customs shack. Andonis was already there. He had recovered his debit card.

The shack was as hot as an oven, no air and full of cigarette smoke. We waited, drenched in sweat, while the official read the transit log from A-Z. The bewildered expression of his face gave the impression that he had never seen such a paper before in his life. As he was reading, he whispered the words. He would read a sentence and pause to fan himself with a sports newspaper. Read slowly another sentence, pause, fan, read… The log was several pages long. This took some time. He hardly looked at the passports that he had requested. After more than an uncomfortable half hour had gone by, he finished. He got up, searched in a drawer, found a large bunch of keys, and unlocked a cabinet full of thick ledgers labeled by year. He got one out and started leafing through it. Same routine: leaf, read, pause, fan, leaf… Another half hour went by. He seemed to have reached a decision. With determination, he opened an address book, leafed though it, fanned himself, leafed some more. Then he dialed a number on the phone. Spoke some words, hung up, fanned, leafed some more, fanned again, dialed a number. This time he spoke for a longer period. He smiled at us and said that his colleague was coming, could we please come back in half an hour.

We walked through what Andonis described as “πυρ το εξώτερον” (the fires of hell) back to the office, to cool off. We waited there for half an hour and then crossing “the fires of hell” we returned to the “customs office.” To our great surprise, the tiny hut was now packed with 4 more people, 3 men and a lady, in addition to our original friend. He was still there fanning himself while the rest, each one with a lit cigarette, were at a full conference over our transit-log. There was a long, animated, and heated argument among them, the gist of which we were unable to determine. Finally one of the younger members of the committee asked: “Mr. Ephremides, where are you planning to go?” “to the Black Sea, Samsun”, this was followed with a very severe: “You must write this in your transit-log!” I pointed to them that this was indeed already written in the transit-log, under the heading “ports of call” and stamped by the issuing authorities in Ayvalik. This seemed to cause them some concern. Each one in turn re-read the document, pointing things out to the rest. More discussion. Finally they appeared to have reached consensus: “You must go to the Harbor Master at Karaköy, we cannot help you.” Well, I do have to admit that this seemed reasonable since the transit-log clearly stated that any change of crew had to be stamped by the Harbor Master and not from customs. But of course, we never did figure out who these people were. The marina office, when we asked for the Harbor Master, did direct us to them but they also kept referring to them as “customs.” As I mentioned before, I was not impressed with the overall competence and knowledge of the marina staff, although one cannot possibly ask for a nicer and helpful person than our English speaking young lady. The rest of the office, although their knowledge of English, French, and German was very basic, were also very friendly and polite. They all just did not know how to cater to the needs of a foreign yacht.

Off we went to find the Harbor Master’s office in Karaköy. First we got on a dolmus bus to go to Kadiköy. Its windows were shut tightly and it was, true to its name, stuffed with people. It was another taste of hell on a day that we seemed to have specialized in tasting hell in all of its various flavors. Exiting the dolmus into the sun drenched street was like entering a cool air-conditioned space. Our next ordeal was the waiting area in the ferry terminal. It too, was full of people and hermetically sealed. Extra features were the thick cloud of cigarette smoke and the thick smell of human sweat. Fortunately the ferry arrived within minutes and we boarded. The short, 15 minute, trip to Karaköy was blissful. Plenty of cool air. In Karaköy, locating the Harbor Master’s office was easy, as it is almost across from the ferry terminal. We entered the office with some trepidation because based on our experiences so far we were expecting the worst. Inside the office the staff were all wearing immaculate white naval uniforms with a considerable amount of gold braid. When our turn came at the counter, the “admiral” asked us in excellent English what we wanted. We explained that we had a change of crew and wanted our transit-log to be endorsed. To our utter amazement, he took the log, glanced at it briefly, then took out a stamp, stamped it and signed it. That was it! The total amount of time in the office was less than 5 minutes. We were astounded. As we needed a replacement navigation light and a detailed map of Bosphorus we asked him where we could get them. He gave us easy-to-follow instructions to a nautical supply store named “Academy” just a few blocks away from his office. We went there and yes, they had the chart and the light. I also bought a more detailed chart of the Sea of Marmara. Up until this time the day had been very frustrating. Now everything seems to be working in our favor.

Pushing our luck, we walked over the bridge and up the hill to Celal Sultan Hotel. Our luck did hold. The laundry was ready. We picked it up and Andonis checked out. We were truly elated. We took a taxi to the ferry boat terminal at Eminonul, then the ferry to Kadiköy, and the dolmus back to Kalamis and Thetis.

We were too tired for anything else. So after showers, we walked to the marina restaurant, where I had eaten last night, and had an excellent meal with a nice Turkish wine. Tomorrow we will be off at last for the Black Sea.