Turkey, Marmaris: Surviving a Winter Storm

American born sailor Duane Heil set sail from Turgutreis, Turkey, for a Mediterranean winter sailing expedition aboard his yacht “Grateful”. Despite encountering the notorious Aegean storms, it was while docked in Marmaris, Turkey that they faced their greatest challenge. Here, Duane shares his experiences.

Published 3 years ago

Mediterranean Hitchhikers:

With two Australians I met in a bar in Turkey as my crew, our first stop, just three hours out of Turgutreis, was the Greek island of Kos. On our stop to check into the new country, stopping for Gyros, I met two young men – a Scot and a Welsh – who had just spent a year in Afghanistan teaching English and were biking their way back home. They shyly wondered if there might be room on our boat? I invited them for dinner to see how we might all get along before committing.

Sailing from Turkey to Greece and back again.

Within a few hours, their bikes were stowed below, and we were now five aboard. Many islands and two weeks of winter sailing in the Mediterranean, we reached Piraeus, the port for Athens.

Aegean Winter Storms:

Tina, my then girlfriend, was flying from California to sail for the next few months. The Aegean winters are famous for heavy storms and quickly shifting winds, but we were excited and ready. We set out from Piraeus on November 27th. In the next 35 days, we circled the Aegean, sailed storms, tore sails, made 22 stops and re-entered Turkey, where one night we almost lost Grateful.

By the time we got to Marmaris, Turkey we had logged over 1000 miles, and had picked up my best friend, Brude McKee in Bodrum. We had a few snags along the way, like picking up rubber tubing on the prop, blowing out the clew of the mainsail during a massive rainstorm, 50 miles from land, and a jammed headsail furling drum while approaching an extremely tight, uninhabited natural cove on the island of North Karpathos. Maybe it was all that amazing sailing that got us comfortable and lulled us into a New Year’s Eve nightmare.

We had been in Marmaris, Turkey for a few days, winding down from a week’s long journey from Bodrum, staying mostly anchored out in remote coves. The Aegean winter, while stormy, is uncrowded and beautiful. Tina and I were open-water swimmers in the San Francisco Bay, so the winter Aegean waters were welcomingly warm. And being a Bay Area surfer – who chases bigger waves – the relatively flat Mediterranean is deceivingly safe.

Over the past few months, we had encountered 48 knots, sustained winds just north of Crete and some days it rained so hard that we could barely open the companionway door without getting soaked!

New Year’s Eve Nightmare:

We had seen a lot of real weather and Grateful handled it all with aplomb. New Year’s Eve day was actually quite nice. We had spent the previous three days with local contractors bolting on additional supports for the custom hardtop that makes Grateful extra special. The night was longer than the day, but we wore flip flops and shorts when the sun was shining. Another storm was predicted, but New Year’s Eve and promised parties kept us in the public docks instead of anchored out, in the safety of the lee of a mountain which would block the nasty southern winds – which was my big mistake.

The storm started at 9pm. By midnight, the winds were 30 knots, gusting to 50. Huge cells of rain, lightening, thunder and micro bursts were charging through the bay every 10 to 20 minutes. We were tied to a three-walled cove…and the waves were refracting and amplifying the impact on Grateful.

Grateful Under Sail

All Hands on Deck:

From 1am to 8am, I never left the deck – pulling and loosening the shore lines that were tied to each of our eight cleats and drums. If we cut and ran, we surely would have been blown sideways into the concrete docks – some of them had large steel rods protruding here and there. The continuous surges were taking a toll on the cleats. I could actually see the starboard cleats twisting with each giant impact. The forward cleat finally had one of the bolts pull through the fiberglass! The loss of one cleat meant more stress on the others. I was literally watching my beautiful boat being torn apart. People were walking by, looking in disbelief, as all 35,000 pounds of Grateful was tossed and bashed constantly.

Tea anyone?

Me, Brude and Tina were all hands-on deck at times. Taking turns below to get some food and try to dry off a bit, but we were soaked to the bone. The blasting rain never relented.

At one point, at about 7:30 in the morning, the restaurant owner who’s place we were moored right in front of, came out, in the full wind and rain, with a full pot of hot tea, complete with those awesome little tea glasses shaped sort of like an hour glass. It was surreal actually. In the midst of impending disaster, comes a man with tea, graciously offering anything, something to keep our spirits up in this most difficult and uncertain moment. Normally, these types of dramas are out at sea, miles and hours from the nearest help, no one could ever hear you scream. And if you called for rescue, and that call was answered, they may scoop you up, but then require you to sink the boat if the storm was so bad that it could not be towed. They don’t want you to leave your ship as a hazard for others. The law of the sea can be harsh.

Cut and Run:

Suddenly, about 8:30 am, New Year’s Day 2019, we looked up, and there was a lull. The bay at Marmaris is three miles across and I could see the next squall out in the distance raking across the water, those white sea horses charging our way. We only had a few minutes before the stampede would resume.

The three of us devised a plan to cut and run, leaving some of the mooring lines behind on the dock – but this would get us out quickly. Tina, a world class distance swimmer, offered to stay on the dock, release lines then swim out to us – now that’s enthusiasm and commitment, but this captain decided to keep everyone out of the water in such conditions.

Brude, a machinist, is great with a knife and the bowline knots in the shore lines were so tight from all the pounding that there was no way they could be undone in a short time, so as he jumped on the dock and cut two lines, I coordinated to swing the stern close enough for him to jump aboard, and it was full power to get out of that torture chamber. Thoughts of Midnight Express crossed my mind as I hit the throttle, working the bow thruster to keep the nose away from the hard concrete pier.

In fifteen minutes, we crossed the bay and were behind a large hill in the lee of the weather in glassy calm water. We dropped anchor in 25 meters of water. Tina went for the tea and I headed strait for that big master suite bed with the custom Turkish made mattress and as I passed the midship port suite, Brude was already passed out. He didn’t even close the door.

As I write this:

Grateful is lying snug in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain. Double mooring lines, fore and aft, electronic security gate, water, power, land-based showers and toilets, and even a busy ‘sailors-bar’ where we can trade ideas, solve mechanical boat mystery’s or just drink, un-alone and contemplate the “sometimes” droning sea and the compromises the we might have made with our self and our crafts to arrive again. Certainly, this luxury is the exception, not the norm for most of the sailors found in these ‘cruising-ports’.


About the Author:

Duane Heil is owner and Captain of Grateful, a 50′ Beneteau Sense that is currently sailing around the world. He began his journey with Grateful in 2018, and continues to explore and write as he makes his way back to the USA.   If you would like to connect with Duane, you can reach him at:

Instagram @grateful_travel

Facebook: facebook.com/thegratefulsailor

YouTube: youtube.com/c/thegratefulsailor


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Noonsite.com or World Cruising Club.

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