Voyage Between the Wars

Some peaceful recreation on a journey from Gallipoli to Troy, where the echoes of war never die

Dec 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

AFTER A WEEK OF boating from one tough lesson to the next in Europe—from Cape Helles and Y Beach to Anzac Cove and Sulva Bay—it was time to go to Asia.

To traverse the strait we couldn't cut directly across the mouth; the current is so strong we would have been pushed out to sea. Studying the charts, we decided to paddle back up the western coastline for three miles and then strike out eastward at an acute angle to the flow.

We stayed out of the main channel, weaving through the islands of rock close to shore. Our arms worked the soft water along the edges while our eyes watched the freighters churning up and down the Dardanelles, trying to gauge their speed and pick a moment to shoot through a gap in the traffic.

When the time came we swept out and the current caught us and we paddled with purpose, slicing off the tops of the waves. Ten minutes later we made it across the path of a Russian container ship heading south. By the time we reached the northbound traffic lane, there was a ship charging up the strait. I didn't alter our bearing.

"I'd say," said Jon, turning around to look at me, "that we're on a collision course."

"I think we can make it."

The ship was coming up fast, but I still thought we were going to pull it off and just slip by, but then the ship was somehow almost above us. Frothy white waves were curling back from the enormous prow. I slammed the rudder and the boat peeled hard to starboard.

"Thank you," said Jon, as we watched the leviathan pass to port and braced for the wake.

After another ten minutes, surfing every fifth crest, we reached Asia and beached beside a military installation at the mouth of the Dardanelles. Too late, we noticed the barbed wire and guards in towers and giant concrete bulwarks set in the sea with warnings painted in Turkish in big red letters. The moment we stood up—drenched from head to toe, with our bare hairy legs and droopy spray skirts making us look like ballerinas in drag—the whistles started blowing. The men in the guard towers were waving their machine guns at us. We tried stepping left or right to appease them, but they kept frantically blowing their whistles and waving their weapons. We decided to stay right where we were.

Eventually a mustachioed commander, escorted by several soldiers, came out to have a little talk with us. He had an interpreter. Naturally he wanted to know what the hell we thought we were doing. We told him we were just boating. Just tourists. He studied us, two drippy guys with goofy grins. He studied our unconventional spy boat.

"Can you read that?" The commander and his interpreter pointed to the big red letters on the concrete embankment.

We shook our heads like two kids in first grade.

"That says, 'It is prohibited to come within 600 meters of this post.' If you come within 600 meters you will be fired upon. Do you know where you are?"

We shook our heads again.

"You are at zero meters!" The commander smiled. "Now," the interpreter translated, "are you hungry?"

Two soldiers carrying metal trays came striding out to the beach. Lentils in hamburger gravy, yogurt with strips of cucumber, feta torte, a pear, bread, a metal pitcher of water. We were enjoined to eat.

The commander wanted to know our plans. We're on our way to Troy, we said. Fair enough. After lunch he escorted us through the gates of his fortress, Jon and I looking askance at all the ordnance. We were taken to a jeep, given a lift to a village just outside the site of ancient Troy, and told to be back at 5 p.m. for a return ride to the base.

Troy is one fortress built upon the ruins of a past fortress, built upon the ruins of a past fortress...going back 5,000 years. There is a huge wooden replica of the Trojan horse at the entrance. Remember the Iliad? The Trojans are tricked into believing that the wooden horse left by the apparently defeated and departing Greeks is honestly a gift to their gods, and they wheel it right through the gates. Of course the stallion contains warriors who slip out of its belly that night, signal their waiting comrades by setting fire to the city, retrieve the beautiful queen Helen, and win the war. According to Homer, a Greek.

Our scheduled ride appeared and we were driven back through the checkpoints. We said our farewells and walked right through the heart of the base and out the other side to our sea horse.

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