Our boat is a ninety-foot gület, two-masted and fairly broad beamed, designed for coastal sailing. There are eight cabins for guests, six forward and two aft, in addition to a bunk room right up in the prow of the ship for the crew and the captain’s cabin across from the galley. Inside, the ship is entirely wood paneled and has made to order Turkish carpets that announce its name: Arif Kaptan C, for the father of the present owner, Hussein. The present Captain is inscrutably friendly. Utgur, who is 21, is graceful, at least half-cat and apparently capable of teleportation, is the person you shout for whenever you need something (a kayak; a drink; to have the sails hoisted); and for twenty years, Mustafa has been the cook on this ship.
We are on board for nine days, and for almost every one of those days, Mustafa produces three meals, plus tea. Breakfast is cucumber and tomato and Turkish cheese and some kind of egg (scrambled or fried) and sublime peaches, skinned before they come to the table. Lunch is various; today, we had köfte, little Turkish meatballs beautifully spiced, roasted zucchini and eggplant, a huge green salad with tomatoes and lettuce and shreds of purple cabbage and lots of dill, and beautiful pasta, just lightly sauced with tomato and olive oil. Dinners are even more elaborate. We start with the mezes: esme, spicy tomato smoodge that you eat on bread, patliçan salat, which is garlicky smoky eggplant mash, cacik, like Greek tzatziki but with a mysterious green leafy thing in it instead of cucumber, and if we’re very lucky, also sigarete börek, long tubes of pastry filled with soft cheese, or the divine zucchini fritters. The challenge is not to go into food coma before the main course comes to the table. It’s usually quite simple, after all those varied entrées. One night, each one of us got a whole sea bream, caught fresh that day and then grilled over a tiny hibachi at the front of the ship. Or it might be roast chicken, or lamb chops and grilled vegetables. Dessert comes last: fresh fruit usually (cherries and apricots and melon) but sometimes also halvah, which I personally don’t care for, but which sends others into raptures.
In the photo, you can see how beautiful Mustafa’s meals are, and this is all the more remarkable as he has no formal training. What you can’t see is the size of his kitchen; it can’t possibly be more than 6 feet by 6 feet, and it’s often a day’s sail away from anything resembling a village shop let alone a supermarket, and yet out of it comes some of the most extraordinary food I’ve ever eaten.
Maybe I’ll miss Mustafa most of all; no one else has ever peeled my peaches for me.