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What is a Turkish Gulet? And (More Importantly) How Do You Pronounce "Gulet"?

All About Turkish Gulets

Updated: February 13, 2020

If you've spent any time in seaside towns overlooking the Mediterranean, you've likely seen these distinctive double- and triple-masted wooden boats cruising along the coast. Often referred to as "classic" or "traditional", these old-fashioned-looking Turkish yachts are a relatively recent holiday concept dating back to the 1970s. True, they evolved from wooden cargo ships used by fishermen and sponge-divers, but today's gulets are a far cry from the working ships of yore.

collage of Turkish gulets moored in various locations along the Turquoise coast

An Overview of Gulets

Modern day gulets (pronounced goo-lets) are hand-crafted wooden boats designed and built in shipyards along the southwest coast of Turkey, exclusively for leisure and enjoyment. Design-wise, they have low profiles, making them very stable in the water (terrific if you're prone to sea-sickness) and well-suited for exploring shallow bays and coves where larger boats are unable to venture.

Functioning like floating hotels, gulets come with an infinite range of options – from the most basic 1-star hostel to opulent, 5-star, ultra-luxury accommodations, and everything in between.

  • Gulets are always crewed. Passengers don't need any sailing knowledge or experience to enjoy a gulet holiday. (The gulet's size and service level dictate the number of crew onboard.)
  • Every gulet features an open sundeck for sun-seekers, and shaded areas for those who prefer to avoid the sun.
  • Gulet cabins are smaller than hotel rooms, but that rarely poses a problem for guests. After all, you'll spend most of your vacation time on deck, in the water, or exploring your destination – and very little time indoors.
  • There are always separate sleeping quarters on gulets, but many travellers enjoy sleeping outdoors – listening to the quiet lapping of the water (a sound called susesi in Turkish) and watching stars in the dark night sky. (Whether indoors or out, some claim the best sleep of their lives is on a boat - due to the gentle rocking of the waves.)
  • Boat galleys (kitchens) are incredibly tiny compared to restaurant kitchens – but the gulet's cook is master of the small space and responsible for preparing all meals, so there's no need to worry about how it all works.

All gulets feature private cabins and bathrooms, combined with plenty of shared living space on deck for meals, sunbathing and otherwise relaxing. But that's where the similarities end. Customized features include anything from basic air-conditioning to surround-sound theatres and Jacuzzi hot tubs. Whatever amenities you need, there's a gulet to suit your needs.

collage of holiday makers enjoying a variety activities during a gulet cruise - swimming, diving, sunbathing, relaxing

The Evolution of Gulets

As recently as the early 1970s, people who wanted to explore the splendour of the Turquoise coast by boat had to have access to a private yacht, or sail aboard a fishing or sponge boat. It was an "either / or" situation – you could cruise in the absolute comfort of the rich and famous (provided you yourself were rich and famous, or were friendly with someone who was), or you could rough it on a working boat with few creature comforts. There were no options in between.

Fortunately, as more and more people discovered the joys of leisurely sailing Turkey's picturesque coastline, savvy ship builders in the Bodrum area modified their working boat designs to better suit the needs of travellers from all walks of life. And thus evolved the modern day gulet.

Gulet Construction & Maintenance

Gulets are now constructed in numerous shipyards along Turkey's southwest coast.

Master craftsmen employ teak, mahogany, oak and other hardwoods in the construction of these sturdy wooden yachts. Pine is sometimes used too, as it is a less expensive option, but the softer wood does not last as long as its hardwood counterparts.

The construction process - which has been used since the 1800s – is called "plank on frame" and is similar for all gulets – whether fancy or plain. It can take more than a year to build a single gulet!

  • First the gulet's frame is built to provide the foundation for the rest of construction.
  • Then, starting from the keel (the "backbone of the boat"), solid timber planks are fastened to the sides of the boat, forming the hull. These planks are approximately 4cm thick, giving the hull its incredible strength and durability.
  • Once the hull planking is complete, cotton or oakum caulking is methodically pounded into every crack between the boards. Caulking a solid wood boat is quite an art, and people who specialize in it are kept busy each year when boats return to the shipyard for annual maintenance.
  • After caulking, several coats of water-proof plaster are applied to the underwater portion of the hull. And, after sanding, the boat is painted or varnished before being launched into the sea.
  • The masts, engine(s), electrical and plumbing systems, water and fuel tanks, air conditioning system, etc. are incorporated into the boat as it is built.
  • The deck and interior structure (cabins, bathrooms, galley, salon, seating areas, etc.) are left to the end of the construction process, and are built once everything else is in place.

When a wood boat is first launched (or re-launched after lengthy time in the shipyard), it is not uncommon for it to take on some water (i.e., leak). Assuming the caulking and plastering have been done correctly, the leaking stops within a few days as the dry planks absorb water and swell tightly together.

Gulets are exceptionally safe boats, but regular maintenance is required to ensure their on-going seaworthiness. Each year, the hull must be carefully inspected for leaks. Damaged timbers must be removed and replaced. Barnacles must be scraped off (the parasites bore into the wood, potentially damaging the integrity of the hull). And caulking, plaster, and paint must be re-applied as necessary.

A well-built, well-maintained gulet can last for decades. But even a few years of neglect will lead to a wooden boat's speedy demise.

an unmaintained Turkish gulet which sunk in the Fethiye harbour

Boat Safety

Commercial gulets in Turkey undergo annual inspection by the Harbour Master, including verification and testing of their navigational and safety equipment - including fire and smoke detectors, life jackets, life rings, life rafts, fire extinguishers and other fire fighting equipment, and safety flares.

Fire is the biggest threat to these highly varnished, wood vessels – so smoking is never permitted inside the boat. Most gulets allow smoking on deck, but guests are cautioned to be particularly careful when doing so. The gulet's crew will advise you of all safety rules and protocols before departing on a cruise.

Sailing on a Gulet

Gulets are classified as motor-sailers because they are powered by one or more engines, which can be supplemented with sails. In actual fact, they are not very efficient sailboats because of their massive size. But, if you're not in a hurry to get to your destination, it is an incredibly peaceful experience to bob along the sea powered solely by the wind.

For comparison purposes, Arkadaslik usually cruises around 7 or 8 knots (13 to 15 km/hr) under engine power. And the fastest we've recorded ourselves under sail is 3 knots (5.5 km/hr), with 1 or 2 knots being more common. Sailing on a gulet gives entirely new meaning to the term "slow travel".

One benefit enjoyed by gulets with sails is the ability to stabilize in rough water. With the sails raised, the vessel is less prone to chiming (rocking back and forth) when waves hit the hull from the side. To ensure the most comfortable cruise holiday, nervous sailors, or those prone to "mal de mer" should confirm whether their boat has working sails before booking. (Surprisingly, not all gulets are equipped with sails. And, even more surprisingly, not all gulet captains and crew are knowledgeable about sailing!)

collage of gulets with sails raised, sailing along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey

Blue Cruises

From their humble beginnings in Bodrum, these purpose-built leisure boats have slowly permeated into the rest of the Mediterranean, and are now popular with holiday makers in Greece, Italy, and Croatia. Often referred to as "Blue Cruises", gulet holidays combine all the elements of a seaside resort getaway with the chance to travel and explore a variety of beautiful locations along the coast. We can't imagine a nicer way to vacation. Can you?

Have you cruised on a Turkish gulet? We'd love to hear about your experience. If you haven't, and would like to give it a try, we'd love to hear from you too. We'd be honoured to host your first gulet holiday aboard Turkish gulet Arkadaslik.