Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sardinia to Croatia (summer 2008)

Photo: Castellamarre di Golfo, Sicily (June 2008)

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Sitting in Chinook’s cockpit in the ACI Marina just out of Dubrovnik on a Saturday afternoon watching the procession of charter boats come in after their week away. Dozens of them. Tomorrow and Monday, more processions - the outgoing ones. Sunsail, Moorings and EuroCharters have bases here and in the weekends it is almost impossible to get a berth in the marina as the charter boats return. Then there are the "mega-yachts" that come here - six of them now opposite us, each worth millions of dollars, their crews hopping about cleaning, polishing, washing...

Our New Zealand trip and Canada stopover (no, by air) took up the first five months of 2008 - and most of you want to hear about the "sailing bits" - that is what this blog is about.

Loads of boat jobs were completed before Deborah got back from Canada - a long list: hull painted with antifouling (no osmosis blisters found), six deck-water drains (scuppers) cut into the bulwarks, cockpit drains rerouted (those two jobs did away with four through-hull fittings below the waterline), new engine cooling hoses, new water intake filters, stuffing boxes repacked (engine and steering), zincs replaced, holding tank reconnected (for Turkey) with an electric macerator pump. Actually that is the short list. But "work" is not a four-letter word on a boat - it is all "play"…

Finally in Croatia after a slower-than-usual start to cruising this year, Croatia being our summer of 2008 destination. Hundreds of beautiful unspoiled islands with crystal-clear warm waters and pretty beaches stretch approximately 250 n.miles along the mainland. The summer climate is gentle, quiet villages are to be explored and the people we have met are friendly and welcoming - the history and culture add the other dimension. The islands have become a very popular cruising area for Italian and German boats as well as the charter companies. Croatia is over its political upheavals, the cities are quite modern and vibrant and joining the E.U. community may not be far off for them.

750 nautical miles to get here and we managed that in a relatively short time - holing up in a couple of places to wait for weather. Surprisingly, we were able to sail often, as opposed to motoring which the Mediterranean is famous for (i.e. little wind - or too much) and we seem to have been doing much of the previous three summers. Three overnight trips sped up the getting here - we do not particularly like “overnighters” as they take a lot out of us and the following day is always a lost (recovery) day spent catching up on sleep.

Notable ports-of-call on the journey were Castellamarre di Golfo on the north coast of Sicily (our first stop after leaving Sardinia - 162 n.m.), a quiet town with an old fishing port and high mountain behind it, Isla Vulcano in the Aeolians where we had stopped last summer (102 n.m.) - anchoring again beside the smelly hot mud pools and watching the steam drift out of the volcanic crater above us.

Photo: Gruz Harbour entrance (Dubrovnik)

Navigating through the Straits of Messina was quite the experience. No mythical Charybidis or Scilla were sighted but the tidal current gave us over-the-ground speeds of 9 knots for a couple of hours and the whirlpools were harmless. Fishing for Swordfish in this area is common and we saw boats with high lookout towers and harpoons on the bow and were quite lucky when a "school" of swordfish leapt out of the water near us along the southern Ionian coast.

Rochella di Ioniche, Crotone and Leuca were all long days apart (62, 65 and 71 n.miles respectively) - Leuca being on the eastern side of the "arch" of Italy's "boot". Otranto and Brindisi were shorter days and we recouped at Brindisi before the 120 n.mile overnighter to Dubrovnik.

Photo: Leaving Brindisi. The column is one marking the end of The Appian Way.

Dubrovnik was our first port of call in Croatia. On arrival we were obliged to berth at the customs/police jetty to do the entry paperwork. Approaching the dock our transmission decided it had had enough and the long and short of it is that we had to be towed 3 n.miles to the marina (after the formalities) and are spending way too much money (in the marina) waiting for parts to arrive. Bit of a stressor, however, Dubrovnik is a beautiful city (one of the prettiest in Europe so say the guides), there is a lot to do and see, a summer cultural festival is on with music, food and dance in the streets. We saw John Williams and John Etheridge in concert - an amazing performance with most of their music from their "Places Between" CD. A frequent and cheap bus service into the city from the marina (7 kilometres), a supermarket very close by (very reasonable prices), a swimming pool and excellent facilities. ACI marinas (Adriatic Croatia International Club) are all over Croatia, but at 50 euros a night in high season it would be much more attractive to be in a quiet, secluded island anchorage.

Photo: The main street in the old city of Dubrovnik

Another sailboat made the trip here with us, Nivram, a 26 foot ketch with 32 year-old Andrew from Manchester on his maiden voyage stayed with us the 750 miles. Andy had purchased Nivram in Sardinia and intended making Hvar (near Split) its home port. He learned a lot about his new boat along the way and did very well in such a small craft - especially soloing the three overnighters. Ah, to be young again...

Photo: Andy leaving after sailing 750 miles with us.

The gearbox will take about a week to ten days to get sorted. Brian had to take it out himself as the mechanic was too busy and he (Brian) will have to put it back in. However, not just that, a much bigger problem (gearbox related) revealed itself: the vibration dampener at the rear of the engine (attached to the flywheel) has come apart and has to be replaced. Yet another problem is getting engine parts in Croatia - or getting them into Croatia (usually from Italy). So we wait.

We are able to connect to the internet aboard Chinook with "Hotspot", a service offered in Croatia in marinas, shopping malls and other places around the cities. A wee bit expensive compared to Italy's great deal, ($8CAD an hour here - we were paying $30/month in Italy) so we will not be using the internet as often. Quite convenient though.

Photo: A view fron the ACI Marina

We had briefly discussed wintering in Venice, but have gone back to our original plan - to winter in Turkey. So “the plan” is to spend about three months in Croatia, a month through Greece (as we have very little time left on out E.U. quota) and then to Maramis, Turkey for November. Brian has to fly back to Canada in late November for a new passport and a bit of work on the ancient teeth.
We will keep you posted. Always like to hear from you too.

Brian and Deborah

Photos: Deborah getting some relief from the heat at the fountain in Dubrovnik; a typical side street in Dubrovnik