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

IN THE EVENING we stroke up the Dardanelles into dusk. The sky and the water move past through curtains of purple. Just as it gets too dark to continue, a tiny harbor appears. We slide in through the seawalls. There is no village here, just a silent collection of small fishing boats. We are hailed across the black water.

We paddle over to find five old men sitting in the stern of a tiny vessel. They are having dinner together. They tie our boat to theirs and pull us into their company. They squeeze together to make room and the boat rocks. A swaying lightbulb illuminates their faces like a campfire. Again Jon and I are fed. We break out our shipwreck rations: three tall cans of Troy beer. They want to know all about our voyage. We tell them the tale with the aid of a Turkish dictionary and arm movements that represent the water in its different moods. They nod knowingly. It turns out they are all retired sailors, all once officers in the Turkish navy. Now they are doing what old sailors do in the lucky, less heroic times of history: fishing. They sleep with their wives and slip out to their little boats at dawn, sometimes with a son or a niece, troll into the Dardanelles and fish all day, and then gather together and eat the fish in the harbor in the night under the stars in a boat until the next war.

The sailors want to know where we are sleeping.

"Camping," says Jon, making a tepee with his fingers.

So they guide us in the dark past the line of little boats along the stone wharf to the shore, where there is an invisible flat place to lie down, and then say goodnight.

In the morning we will strike out up the Dardanelles. We will be paddling against a four-knot current into a 20-knot headwind. There will be white-caps crashing onto our bow. We will look over at the shore, and although we are paddling with all our strength we'll seem to be standing still. And yet, Jon and I will pass all the way up through the Narrows by noon. I am mystified by this.

At dawn we wake to find that we have been sleeping beneath the barrel of a ten-inch cannon set inside a pillbox.

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