Gökova and its Backwaters

The Gulf of Gökova (Gökova Körfezi) or the Ceramic Golf (or Sinus Ceramicus or Colpos Ceramicos) is perhaps the most rewarding cruising area in Turkish waters. Roughly about 40 miles long and about 18 miles wide at its western “mouth,” it narrows down to about 1- 2 miles at its easternmost end. The bottom of the golf has some not much reported qualities and in the following article I will try to pay special attention to them.

Piri Reis about Gökova

The gatekeepers of the Golf are the Cape Hüseyin (N 360 57,9′ E 0270 15,8′) lighthouse at the north shore and the most dramatic Cape Cnidus (N 360 41,2′ E 0270 21,8′) lighthouse in the south, towering over the antique city of Knidos and the “Triremes” port.

When approaching from the NW one will see the Cape Hüseyin (Hüseyin Burnu) lighthouse on the left and the shoals with an unlit beacon on them on the right. Beware, and do not pass between the lighthouse and the beacon except under calm and favorable conditions.

The Cape Cnidus lighthouse on a magnificent rock, as seen from due West.

Gökova: The “Blue Plains” or the “Heavenly Plains”. Both translations are valid. Here are a few hints – telltales for your own discovery.


The Gökova Pages

(Please click the images or the text)

Çelebi (Celibacy) Island,
Bitez, Sigir Island and the Ada
 (Island) Narrows

Çökertme (Basilika) and Ören (Gereme, Keramos)

Kisle Bükü, Alakisla

and Gökova Iskelesi

Backwaters of Gökova

Islands, Karacasögüt, English Harbour

(Knidos, Cape Crio, Tropium Promontorium)

Seven Islands

Idyma Rock Tombs

The Oriental Sweetgum

Piri Reis in
“Bahriye (Seamanship)
“The Ceramic
Gulf Explained”

The Kiran Poyraz, Katabatic Winds

Prevailing winds

In the summer season the Meltemi wind prevails, which, following the contour of the coast, blows into Gökova. In particular, when you are weathering north from Cnidus towards Bodrum, you will find that when you are on the port tack, it will first appear that you cannot hold the target. Don’t tack mariner – the further your northing is, the more the wind will veer and slowly you will be holding Bodrum. Then, do not forget to cheer for the sailors of the past who used this trick with much less weatherly ships than ours.

In the winter months winds can blow from the northerly directions as in summer or from southerly directions due to the passing lows. While in the summer months there are several safe refuges on the north shore, in winter, under unsettled conditions, almost no refuge is available and you should prefer to stay over night on the south side of the bay.

Often, when following the northern shore, the wind will find a shortcut out of the valleys in the north-south direction and will blow locally from due north. These gusts can be fierce, in particular off the Seytan Deresi (“Devil’s Stream”) and, further east, off Ceramos, present day Ören. Proceeding further east you will finally come to the Mount Kiran, the last outpost of the Anatolian Highlands. Kiran in Turkish means “the Devastator”.

The “Admiralti Haritasi” or the Chart of “His Majesty’s” Admiralty

One of the first sea charts I ever possessed was “The Gulfs of Kos, Doris and Symi,” the Chart Number 1604, by the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty. I was sixteen when I saw this masterpiece of marine art at a chandlery in Karaköy, Istanbul. Deeply interested in the “mysteries of navigation,” I could not resist the temptation to own it, although it was expensive for a humble student such as myself. At the time I did not know that I had bought the principal chart of the area, as I believe all the later charts were based on that survey. Unfortunately I lost that copy, though I am still in the possession of the next one I purchased from Bade & Hornig in Hamburg in 1979. It was my reliable companion when I discovered Gökova for myself in 1979 – on an inflatable; but this is a different story.

The area was surveyed by HMS Beacon in 1839. The engravings in this article are from that chart. Depths are in fathoms, heights are in feet.

Commander T. Graves was in charge and there were archeologists and scientists with him. HMS Beacon surveyed Xanthos in Lycia and removed the famous reliefs of the “Xanthos Grave” to London. Today Xanthos has to display plaster placeholders of the marble originals. Incidentally, Commander Graves was murdered a few years later in Malta.

The Chart Legend
The Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty
Asia Minor
The Gulfs of Kos, Doris and Symi,
Chart Number 1604

The Ancient Sinus Ceramicus and Sinus Doridis
Surveyed in HMS Beacon by Commander T. Graves, F.R.A.S. and Commander T. Brock
Engraved 1844

Piri Reis in “Bahriye (Seamanship)” about Gökova

Description of Gökova by Piri Reis, brilliant Turkish Admiral, Cartographer and Scholar of the 16. Century.

Cevat Sakir Kabaagaçli or “The Fisherman of Halicarnassos”

(Crete, 1886 – Izmir, 1973)

No account of Gökova would be complete without mentioning Cevat Sakir, “The Fisherman of Halicarnassos” (“The Fisherman” in short), a famous Turkish writer of novels, short stories, essays, as well as a passionate ethnographer. Cevat Sakir, a descendant of Ottoman Nobility, the son of Sakir Pasa, is only but one of the numerous artists emerging from this family. Starting, at a young age, to question the dull education he became exposed to in Istanbul through American missionaries, he would, later, go on to study ancient languages and history at Oxford. Together with his profound knowledge of eastern languages and cultures, Cevat Sakir developed into a major and native source of Anatolian culture and history.

In 1925, as a result of an article he wrote about the plight of the deserters from the army who were about to be hung, he was sentenced to a three-year exile in Bodrum. However, in his own words, “the real captivity started when he was released and expected to get back to Istanbul.” Cevat Sakir decided for Bodrum, for Gökova, for the simple but humane life amidst the blue and the green he much adored and wrote about.

I hope to write more about Cevat Sakir later. Below please find his photography by another brilliant artist, the forgotten Turkish woman photographer Yildiz Moran Arun.