|Mare Nostrum in Turkey|
|Crewed Yacht Charter Reviews|
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The 144-foot Mare Nostrum is arguably the most luxurious gulet available for charter along the southwest Turkish coast
It was only a week ago that I enjoyed a performance of Verdi’s “La Traviata” inside a historic church in Rome, listening to the strings and sopranos echo through the nave. Today, with the Aegean Sea breeze cooling Turkey’s southwestern coast, I shut my eyes and think about how refreshing it must have been to take in a show here on the marble slabs, with stars and moonbeams as stage lights. Yes, the countless churches throughout Italy, Greece, and Turkey are historic, but the sea is eternal. This place we call Knidos, what of it has survived the centuries, is most definitely the real show on a journey of culture in the Mediterranean.
I open my eyes, and the vision of ancient times remains. Several gulets are anchored in the harbor, their masts towering a marble’s throw beyond what’s left of the amphitheater’s stage. These are the same protected waters that sailors would have favored in the days of Caesar and Nero. Gulets have such a long history as Turkey’s boat of choice—first for moving commercial goods and, more recently, as vacation vessels—that the view of them at an archaeological site feels natural. I rise and walk the stone path away from the amphitheater back toward what remains of several temples, peeking over my shoulder at the proud, wide, mahogany-planked hulls. I wonder how many of our ancestors walked this same path in handmade sandals, looking back over their own shoulders to see who had just sailed into town.
Today’s visitors include Mare Nostrum, which, at 144 feet long, is the largest wooden-construction gulet to come out of Turkey’s shipyards. She is owned by a local man who says he has had “maybe 10 other boats in 20 years,” a man who launched her in 2008 with specific intentions of bringing international-level luxuries to gulet charters in Turkey.
That’s a tall order, and not just in terms of size. It’s fair to say that gulets, based on the several trips I’ve made to Turkey and the dozens upon dozens of boats I’ve toured here, have sadly earned much of their unfortunate reputation as charter yachts of a lesser caliber on the world stage. You used to be able to find—and it wasn’t terribly long ago—gulets chartering at $1,000 per couple for an entire week. Sure, there was no sound shield around the generator, but that didn’t matter because the skipper wouldn’t turn on the air conditioning anyway, preferring to save fuel while you suffocated. Even the nicer gulets would often degrade rapidly from a lack of maintenance. A gulet that looked good for charter one year might literally be falling apart the next.
“It’s just in the past three years that there has been an enormous increase in quality among gulets,” says Missy Johnston, president of Northrop and Johnson Worldwide Yacht Charters, who regularly visits Turkey to inspect gulets before offering them to clients. “Some of the better local agents from Turkey have started to attend the Genoa and Antigua charter shows, to see their international competition. The old gulets with leaking showers—that is not what charter is about in Turkey anymore at the luxury levels.”
Mare Nostrum was designed to be the jewel of the modern fleet. Everything from her fixtures, which are imported from Italy, to her layout, which differs from classic gulets, was thought through in advance of construction. Mare Nostrum is not a private yacht that is offered for charter. Instead, she is a purpose-built charter gulet.
And a very nice one, at that, with smart features, a hull design so stable that it almost feels as though stabilizers are engaged under way, and a weekly rate that will make a lot of people give Turkey a second look as a Mediterranean charter destination.
Her sheer size allowed Mare Nostrum’s owner to change the main deck layout from that of traditional gulets, where guests had fewer gathering spaces, to an arrangement more conducive to privacy and traffic circulation. There is still a large sunpad at the stern, followed by a seating area with cocktail tables where most other gulets have their outdoor dining. Moving forward, you come to the raised main saloon, which on most other gulets takes up the rest of the amidships deck space. On Mare Nostrum, that saloon structure (which has guest seating atop it) gives way to an on-deck opening with a dining table that easily seats 12. Forward of that is a wide bar that provides the same type of service area as pantries on large motoryachts, with an opening that stewardesses can reach through to grab plates coming out of the galley, which is the last raised structure before you get to the seating area on the bow.
The effect of this design is that, with 12 guests onboard, you never have a sunpad or seating traffic jam. During my few days aboard, I enjoyed a feeling of space not typically found on gulets, or on sailing yachts in general.
Mare Nostrum is an ideal charter yacht for five or six couples who want to split a weekly charter rate, and especially for clients who are interested in getting good value for their money. At €45,000 per week—which includes meals, domestic wines and beers, local taxes, limitless WiFi, fuel for the main engines and generators, and air conditioning 24 hours a day—Mare Nostrum’s rate is comparable to what you would pay for an eight- to 10-guest motoryacht in the Western Mediterranean, where food, drinks, and fuel are tacked onto your bill as extras, and where you often have to pay exorbitant marina fees instead of, oh, say, anchoring in a harbor overlooking ancient ruins or a historic castle.
“I believe that right now, in terms of worldwide charter, the Turkish gulet is the best value for money,” Johnston says, “and I mean that no matter what level of luxury you choose. This boat is certainly at the top level.”