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Thursday, May 18, 2017

UPDATE ON THE CRUISING SITUATION IN TURKEY

We are staying ashore in the hills behind Lefkas Marina, Greece where Envoy is on the hardstand awaiting repairs to heat and soot damage caused by fire on a nearby boat.

It's over three weeks since the fire and not much has happened except for a major clean-up so the damage could be properly assessed. The broken windows and portholes have also been removed for repair so that's a start. These windows are a bit unusual since each toughened glass pane is set into a stainless steel frame which is then sealed into a further stainless steel frame attached to the GRP cabin's window cavity. All the windows have rounded corners and one is slightly curved as well. The insurance assessor and local contractors tell us that usually the boat's manufacturer supplies replacements for broken windows but Nordhavn told us they don't stock these, and in fact haven't been very helpful at all.
The quote to repair Envoy was received Tuesday and it will take several days to get insurer's approval for work to start. The contractor says he'll have six guys working full time on Envoy and it will be completed within five weeks. So our best guess for completion is end June.

Now to Turkey - we've heard that lots of cruisers are leaving there, so here's an update based on our best information.

Turkey has arguably been one of the world's greatest cruising destinations with great anchorages, spectacular scenery, mostly clean waters, an interesting and different culture and cuisine, loads of excellent well-preserved historical sites dating back thousands of years, friendly honest people, low cost, political stability, reasonable safety, competent technical infrastructure and proximity to interesting Greek islands.

It's also been a huge tourist destination with 42m visitors during the peak year of 2014, but in recent years some of Turkey's circumstances have gradually been changing causing many cruisers to leave, fewer tourists arriving (25m last year) and a less certain future for the approximately 1.6m Turks reliant on tourism for employment.
For cruisers the first major change occurred with regulations limiting the time yachts can spend cruising some popular areas along the famed Turquoise Coast and requiring the purchase of a “Blue Card” (an electronic card) to record the discharge of sewage from holding tanks into shore-based or mobile pump-out stations. This card costs 280 Lira (about NZ$115) and although it appears this regulation is not being rigidly or uniformly enforced it’s causing consternation due to both its added cost and the limited number of pump-out facilities available making strict compliance next to impossible. The CoastGuard does board vessels to inspect their documentation and there have been cases of cruisers being fined 1,000 Lira (about NZ$420) because their card hadn't been used within the last two weeks even when in some cases the local facilities weren't operational. Other reports say cruisers have to account for grey water waste as well as sewage. Not many cruisers have grey water holding tanks so the whole situation is uncertain and worrying.

Basically this requirement seems to exist just so that authorities can show they're trying to solve a problem that doesn't really exist. In our time cruising Turkey we never found any areas with sewage issues except where the sewage originated from shore, although plenty of beaches and other areas were covered in serious amounts of general litter.

Then a regulation was introduced limiting the time visitors can spend in Turkey to 90 days in any period of 180 days, making Turkey similar to Schengen Treaty countries. Previously a visitor could get a 90 day visa, exit for a few hours to a Greek island before the completion of 90 days and then return to Turkey and get a new 90 day visa issued. A concession was later made for cruisers allowing temporary residency using their boat as an address, but the process still involves some additional cost and inconvenience compared to the previous 90 day renewable visa system.

Although like many countries Turkey has suffered isolated terrorist incidents and some comparatively minor bombings for many years, sadly this has increased since 2014 resulting in many governments including New Zealand, Australia, USA and UK to step up their travel alert levels. While there have been loss-of-life incidents at tourist areas in some major cities, notably Istanbul, thankfully terrorism does not appear to have hit coastal resorts and cruising areas.

Last July Turkey had an attempted coup resulting in considerable numbers of arrests and the declaration of a State of Emergency. This has recently been extended for three months, but it appears the government does intend to revert to normality soon after that. Meanwhile the government led by President Erdogan recently narrowly won a controversial referendum to increase its powers. Turkey's post referendum direction remains to be seen, but many people are concerned that it may be more autocratic, less democratic and less secular.

Last year we heard from cruisers based in Turkey that many cruisers as well as charter yacht fleets are leaving. Incredibly, Turkish marinas have reacted by increasing their prices to compensate for the revenue loss caused by reductions in boat numbers. Previously average Turkish marina prices were quite competitive with, for example Greek marinas, but are now more expensive (although in both countries there is a very broad range of pricing). There are many cruisers who don't concern themselves too much with the local politics of their host country, but nearly all cruisers are budget-conscious and these price increases have further increased numbers of departures.

Many Turkish based and owned boats are registered elsewhere (a surprising number in USA) presumably to avoid Turkish VAT. In an effort to encourage them to fly the Turkish flag authorities have very recently introduced two significant new measures (advised to us by major yachting agency BWA). Boats switching flags to Turkish will be allowed to become VAT-registered by paying a one off charge of one per cent of their insured value and paying a “harbour master's fee” varying according to boat length but for 12-20 metres length set at 1,627 Turkish Lira (approx NZ$668)

Foreign owned and flagged cruisers can also change to Turkish flag under the same conditions, but I imagine that idea won't hold much appeal as cruisers tend to move between countries and take pride in their own country's flag, an exception being larger vessels and super-yachts whose owners mostly register in countries with lenient tax regimes.

We're just glad that we immensely enjoyed part of several seasons cruising in Turkey during the easier less complicated times.


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