Monday, September 15, 2008



Photo: Korcula City - leaving in the early morning (August 2008)

After two months in Croatia we have found that her coastline is just over the top as far as sailing goes. And who wouldn’t find that. The weather is exceptional – day after day of beautiful blue skies, light winds (but usually enough to sail by – in fact we have probably sailed (as compared to motoring) more in this season than in the last three years in the Med.) Warm water, pretty towns and cities, protected anchorages, no shortage of grocery shopping and markets. It is presently fig season, the grapes are ripening on the vines, and the bread here is to die for. What more could this pair of gypsies want?

Photo below: the anchorage at Mljet

Our “enforced” 19-day stay in Dubrovnik ACI Marina with the transmission problem really kicked our budget and so it was with much alacrity we sailed the 35 n.miles to the island of Mljet (say “millyet”). The north end of the island is a national park with trails throughout and the few roads are not busy. We anchored off the tiny village of Polace near the ruins of a Roman Palace dating back to the 4th century. Tourists who visit Mljet via the ferry are mostly on foot or bicycle which means it is a very quiet place - except for the noisy cicadas and crickets. That suited us after the hustle of Dubrovnik; we took our bikes ashore and toured through the park, jogged and swam. The smell of pine was everywhere. The extremely hot dry weather enabled our sweat to simply evaporate. The water was clear and very refreshing and needless to say we were in it several times a day. A local bakery and a small supermarket gave us all we needed in the way of provisions.

Photo: 12th century monastery, MljetThe admission cost to the park (90 kunas each - $20 CAD) included the anchoring fee (a one-time fee), a trip in a mini van to one of the interior salt-water lakes and then a ferry to the island of St Mary's where Benedictine monks established a monastery in the 12th century. One can wander the grounds and visit the chapel - the rest is under re-construction. We hired a little motor scooter for a day and rode 25 kilometres to the village of Sobra, where we ate a grilled fish lunch - a mixed grill with a variety of seafood.

Figs were just coming into season as we were there, so we quickly learned the location of all the wild trees and gorged daily. Brian has made fig chutney (delicious with lamb) and a fig and orange jam for the morning toast - toast made with a chewy brown bread containing seeds and nuts. As a testimony of the dry summer the wild blackberries and wild grapes are all small and tart. During the first rain we heard the locals heave a collective sigh. Wine making is a huge industry on the islands - local red wines are not great, but quite drinkable, and the price is right at 15 kunas a glass ($3.50 CAD). And of course home made olive oil is available at all the markets and roadside stalls.

Photo: Sword Dancing; battling over the beautiful Queen, Korcula 

Korcula City on the island of Korcula (only 15 n.miles) was the next anchorage. This medieval walled city we found to be even prettier than Dubrovnik and not nearly as touristy. The leaf-vein street layout was designed to take advantage of the breezes and sun’s shadow for the hot Adriatic summers. We saw the famous “sword dance” one night in the castle, this preceded by an acappella group, Polema, (6 men and a woman), singing traditional Croatian music. Of course we bought their CD

However, after two nights of paying 100 kuna in the bay nearby (“harbour dues”) we anchored three n.miles south in a small pleasant bay for a week, swam in its clean water and were able to bike to Korcula and to the close village of Lumbardo for supplies and internet access.

From Korcula to Hvar (43 n.miles): The main town on the island of Hvar was absolutely crowded with boats, so after a ‘spin’ through the anchorage we opted for a tiny bay, Vira, on the north of the island where we took a mooring ball belonging to the local “Ring O” Restaurant. The fee for its use was an obligation to eat at the Ring O - which was no chore! A delicious meal of octopus salad, steamed mussels, green salad and fried potatoes with local wine all for a grand total of180 kunas. We were to return to the island of Hvar at a later date to stay in the town of Stari Grad, the oldest town in the Croatian islands.

Debby’s friends Penny and Jamie from Victoria BC (Canada) were due to arrive and stay aboard for the first week in September, so we headed for Split to meet them. On the way we dropped the hook for a night off the little town of Bobovisce on the island of Brac to explore it as a place to take them for their first sailing experience. And return we did after two nights in Split, as it was a delightful bay. We spent our days hiking, swimming, reading, napping and just “chillin’ out” with Penny and Jamie. We had many laughs together as this was their first experience on board a boat. They were good sports about everything and we thoroughly enjoyed their company.

Photo: Penny and Jamie clambering aboard - not sure what they were letting themselves in for...

Croatian islands were frequently attacked over the centuries by the Turks and pirates so many of the villages are inland in the hills. Bobovisce, on Brac, has two sites, one on the coast (the fishing village) and the other a couple of kilometres away - up in the hills, the main town. Brac’s “claim to fame” is its limestone-marble quarries that exported the milky-white stone used in construction of the White House in Washington, Berlin’s Reichstag, the altar of Liverpool’s Catholic cathedral and the Diocletian Palace in Split.

Back to Split to spend two more nights in the ACI Marina (and to take our guests back to the airport and see more of the city (anchoring in the busy and dirty harbour was not considered) before returning to Hvar. Split is Croatia’s main ferry port and the traffic was phenomenal with hydrofoils, speedy catamarans, car ferries, and cruise ships in and out to all destinations all hours of the day and night. The old section of the city is a warren of buildings centuries old - some run-down areas but with much reconstruction going on. What remains of the Diocletian Palace, which encloses the old city, was well worth the visit - an extensive food and clothing market as well as musical entertainment at night . A visit to the medieval town of Trogir by bus was another highlight of the time we spent there with Penny and Jamie. Photo: One of the three weddings we saw in Split on satuday nighht - fireworks to celebrate with everyone in the old town

Thence to Stari Grad on Hvar Island. Originally settled by the Greeks and named Pharos it is a much less touristy town than Hvar Town (which we did visit by bus) but has a real charm. Andrew (on Nivram - see the previous blog entry) was there with his girlfriend Michelle and we got together several times to eat and enjoy happy hours. We stayed on a mooring ball right in the harbour most of the time (100 kn/night) but also went to the town dock for several nights - more for convenience, especially electric power, than anything. Photo: Stari Grad's town docks

The island of Vis for four nights was our next stop. An uncrowded anchorage off the picturesque stone town, a monastery within stone’s throw, a short dinghy ride to where we tied up the bikes and harbour fees of only 50 kn per night. We took a local bus to have lunch in the fishing village of Komiza where Brian’s childhood friend Barney (and his Croatian wife, Jackie) have a summer cottage, but, unfortunately, this was the year they were not escaping from Australia’s winter. We last met up with Barney and Jackie in Spain. Photo: the anchorage at Vis

Then, the last Croatian Island we stopped at was (appropriately named) Lastovo. Three nights anchored in the newest national park (fees - which we only paid once, 40 kuna), a great fish and lamb dinner at a local restaurant, swimming daily, (yes, still warm enough), jogging and some biking along the north coast. The leaving formalities were done at the port of Lastovo, provisioning at the nearby supermarket, and then we left at 1030 direct to Brindisi on the Italian east coast - an overnight trip of 140 n.miles.

Grappling with the Croatian language was not been easy for us. Some basics, and that is what we did not progress much beyond: “da and ne“ = yes and no, “dobra dan” - good morning, “havala” is thank you, “molim - please/what do you want; “bog” - hi/bye;… Deborah, always great with languages, did get beyond these basics and learned words for many fruits and veges.

Our “social life” was not been the greatest this summer. Chartered sailboat crews have their own agenda and stay in locations briefly - as a consequence we do not meet many other folk to chat with. We do meet a few Brits and surprisingly some Aussies and Kiwis. Germans, French and Italians, form the majority of the charterers and we have met few “liveaboards” like ourselves. Chinook is a definite oddity here as far as looks go, as the charter boats are mostly sleek production-line Benetaus, Bavarias and Jeanneaus.

Although the summer weather was been great, a definite coolness in the air was noticeable by mid-September). We did not meet the dreaded “bora”, a strong north wind that can blow cold air from the mountains with near hurricane force - an unusual wind in the summer, but possible. Time to think about heading south to warmer waters

Photo: tootling around on the scooter for a day

We did not venture further north along the Croatian coast where the sailing is reputed to be as good and the islands as beautiful as we have encountered here, simply due to time restrictions. Also trying to cram in too much is counter-productive, we just forget places if there have been too many. Perhaps we will come back another year.

Photos: Penny, Jamie and Deborah inTrojir; the market in Split; Chinook tied stern to shore on Brac.