MAHMUT SUNER samples liveaboard diving gulet-style aboard the Okyanus JD as it heads for what he reckons is one of the Med’s last undiscovered dive locations. Photos by EFE AKCAKAYALIOGLU
As Okyanus JD took off from Bozburun in Turkey’s south-west for a round trip to the beautiful Datca peninsula, it was a dream come true for me. Seven days of diving, eating and sleeping on a traditional 28m wooden gulet, visiting some of the best dive-sites in this part of the Mediterranean – now that’s my idea of pleasure.
Ahmet Durmaz has been doing exactly this for the past seven years. He is an English- and German-speaking dive-instructor and part-owner of Okyanus Blue Yachting, and the spectacular yacht was hand-made by boat-builders in Bozburun.
“God sent his beloved creatures to Datca for them to live longer,” pronounced the ancient Greek geographer Strabo. These are historically rich seas, where Aegean and Mediterranean waters meet, and the way from Bozburun to Datca is a dagger of pure green.
We are cruising on the engines across Hisaronu at six knots with not another vessel in sight, and Ahmet exclaims with a big smile: “I love this life!”
For six months of the year, Okyanus JD is at sea, sailing between Marmaris and the Datca Peninsula, its itinerary dictated by the seasons. There are about eighteen 7-10-day trips a year between the start of May and mid-November, and Ahmet is out on the liveaboard throughout the season, except for a few days here and there on dry land, when picking up supplies.
That’s a lot of time to stay aboard a two-deck sailing ship with three other crew and a rotating group of up to 16 guests but then, he is escaping to some of the best reefs in this part of the Mediterranean.
Okyanus JD drops anchor in a lovely bay at Kızıl island. We do a check-dive (which is nothing special, mainly sand and rocky outcrops), settle down to pass the night and then do two more dives.
The nutrient-rich shallow waters at Kizil superficially resemble Datca peninsula, but you find huge sponges, urchins, wrasse and other small fish there.
There are subtle changes as you go deeper, including healthy meadows of Neptune grass (Posidonia oceanica), an endemic seagrass that is in decline elsewhere in the Mediterranean but here provides ample shelter for sediment-feeders such as sea cucumbers and sea stars. In return, these creatures offer a vital food-source for carnivorous predators such as octopuses, slipper lobsters and large species of fish.
I do the dives with new-found buddies Hande Varsat and Uğur Kara, getting to know them. At 17m we are able to work on lovely wide-angle photos of Axinella sponges, lionfish and other colourful subjects.
After a breakfast of white cheese, eggs and Marmaris honey, we’re ready for our second dive in Çanak Bay. I can’t decide which lens to use but eventually go for wide-angle, and am lucky enough to get to photograph sting rays and chevron barracuda at depths down to 28m. The water temperature is around 18°C, so 5mm wetsuits prove a good choice.
We move on to dive the famous Atabol Beacon, which is accessed only by charter-boats. Atabol boasts some spectacular dives although, given the challenging conditions, only more advanced divers should venture out to the deeper site. Gin-clear visibility and rich varieties of fauna welcome us and we dive twice there.
Datca is one of the Mediterranean’s few undiscovered dive-locations, offering impressive visibility, a spectacular underwater seascape including caves, and a sense of adventure that makes it one of Turkey’s most exciting dive experiences. It’s both varied and suitable for all levels of diver.
You come across bigger and wilder grouper there than anywhere else in the Mediterranean, and can also find angel sharks, swordfish, turtles and, if lucky, sharks and several excellent caves. Seasonal migrations can also bring large marine animals to the reefs as unexpected attraction.
Aktur, 30km from Datca, is a holiday village with two beautiful adjacent bays. Liveaboards usually anchor there to spend a night watching the sunset, and diving around Aktur is full of adventure at sites such as Bozan Cape, Dıs Kalemlik, Lion Island and Sandal Rock. At Ada Tepe at a depth of 45m you can find two big old iron anchors, possibly from Ottoman galleons.
One of the most popular dive-sites in Datca is Seven Pinnacles. It starts in shallow water, and after passing over a healthy Posidonia field you find yourself facing the sunken reef. Small boats generally drop their divers on top of the reef, which starts at about 22m, descending to 38m.
After being greeted by huge dusky and golden grouper, circling barracuda are likely to fill your frames. Datca waters also lie on the routes of beautiful Lambuka or dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus).
Armutlu Burnu is great for both day and night diving. It has many crevices full of colourful shrimp, crawfish, octopuses and moray eels. Dick’s Rock is a mysterious group of granite boulders at around 36m.
Small schools of amberjack, two-banded bream, dusky spinefoot, small golden grouper, moray eels and, on the way up, turtles can be seen. Near the wreck of the SG52 Coast Guard boat, you might well find an angel shark lying on the sandy bottom.
A very skilled head chef, Omer Konac, and his assistant chef Barkin Tosun have worked for Okyanus Blue for seven years and they prepare delicious meals on the gulet. Between dives we also enjoy the tastiest small snacks, including fresh fish and calamari on special nights.
When the crew are not working, they congregate at the back of the boat in their own private area with a semaver to brew tea. On our last night aboard Okyanus JD we have a barbecue, laugh and sing and say our farewells as the sun sets over Bozburun marina.
As we start to disembark early the next morning, the process of getting the boat ready for the next trip is already well under way.
Flights are available from most European cities to Dalaman for transfer to Bozburun or Marmaris, from either of which Okyanus JD starts its cruises. A six-night / seven-day trip costs from 900 to 1,200 euros pp depending on season. Find out more from Okyanus Blue Yachting.