Croatian Cruise

Written by  David Baines
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Cruisin' the flat way.

Let's Split 2002.

Four years after our last abortive attempt on the Adriatic we were sufficiently intrigued by the prospective of welcoming Croatia to 'have another go'. But first I was determined to continue repainting Aqua Blue my Kelsall 39 tri in the Greek summer sun, lifted out as she was at Preveza Marine. Sanding wearing a mask and sun hat was very hot work and I had to use plenty of thinners to avoid wasting the £20 tins of two pot polyurethane. It's worth it though, providing a very durable waterproof and quite good looking coat after a few days work. One hull at a time!

Before launching I borrowed a Croatian ensign from a British yacht just returned from Dubrovnik, in fact the skipper told me they had managed 48hrs from Dubrovnik to Erikkoussa in quite big seas after setting off with a good forecast!

After launching I had to visit Preveza port police to pay over 100 Euros to obtain the boat's 'Permision to stay' and 'Maritime traffic document' which is supposed to be stamped twice in every port! Why the Greeks have brought back this dated sort of paperwork when we have freedom of movement within the EC is a mystery.

I then spent a further week anchored in the shallow water on the east side of Vliho bay, off the restaurants at Geni. A Farrier F24 'Farfalla' came to join me while Eric the owner day sailed with his children. Eric visited Aqua Blue and was amazed by the accommodation, whilst I was amazed that his 24ft boat would do 14kts! It's a long time since Aqua Blue has surfed at this speed, with all the cruising gear on board. I watched him sail out of the anchorage every morning in almost no wind.

On Monday 22nd July, Humphrey my crew and I retransited the Levkas canal and started tacking north up the west coast of Greece until by the evening in a now quite fresh breeze we came up to Parga and anchored off the long beach. We repeated the process the next day and made Gouvia after some strenuous tacking, again anchoring outside for the night.

In the morning calm we motored over to the fuel berth to wait for the attendant to arrive, and filled up with fuel and 'drinking' water although you should boil it first! We then had to motor all the way to Erikoussa unusually, before a light southerly arrived and we could sail towards the heel of Italy under main and masthead reacher. The wind slowly veered and increased until by 3.00am the lights of the Italian coast were sliding past. In the early morning a brisk front arrived from the northwest and by 9.00 am, bouncing around in up to 30kt gusts, we tacked and charged out of the rapidly rising sea into huge Brindisi outer harbour. I was not dissatisfied with 123 miles in the 24hrs since Gouvia but rightly concerned about the length of our enforced stop. However there is a free wall to tie to, off a pleasant residential area, and even a small ferry to the town centre where you can admire the marble columns at the end of the Appian way.

We had been preceded in by a Wharram cat 'Risho Maru' who like us had spent several years in Preveza, but was now returning to northern Italy via Croatia. We got to know them over the next few days as the bad weather continued outside. In fact the anchorage is so far from the sea that you have to question later arrivals to keep up to date with the conditions outside.

We eventually spent four nights in Brindisi. On the third day I persuaded my family who were arriving in Pescara by Ryanair, to get straight on a train and come down to Brindisi in only four hours. Stella and my daughter Louise enjoyed one rest day here as well, since Risho Maru returned to the harbour after our shopping trip ashore, to report 3mtr seas and no wind outside. We found a space to play tennis instead, and Humphrey had completed a fair amount of maintenance to keep himself occupied and the skippers morale up as well.

In light airs we motorsailed to Monopoli to anchor in the large clean harbour. Swimming was back on the agenda, and in the morning Humphrey found some helpful fishermen who proffered their hose for us to fill with really good water, an opportunity not to be missed in the Mediterranean summer. We continued in slightly more wind and tracked further offshore towards the Gargano peninsula. Dried tomatoes, cured ham and olives for lunch, washed down with the strangely weak Italian beer. Nothing stands up to Harvey's from Lewes! In the evening our weak nav lights and struggling autopilot alerted me to alternator failure no less. Off with the fridge and even the lights and I hand steered into the night, only just managing to start the Yanmar to anchor in a bay outside Vieste at 4.00am. After a breakfast swim to wake up I transferred another solar panel from the instrument battery to the service battery and it slowly came back to life with up to four amps 'free' from the sun. We moved into Vieste harbour and spent the rest of the day anchored near Risho Maru again. I carry a copy of Captain Denham's The Adriatic for almost historical reference nowadays and he is strangely dismissive of Vieste. We found it a pleasant characterful town on a bluff overlooking the improved harbour which is an ideal jumping off point for Croatia.

Up early and out of the harbour by 6.00am we headed due north towards Vis, in contrast to Risho Maru who headed north east towards Lastovo, which is probably more sensible if the prevailing northwesterlies are blowing, but this was most certainly not a typical year in the Adriatic. We crawled up to and past Palagruza island, the GPS being spot on, although the log was under-reading somewhat. Louise was disappointed to miss five dolphins that Humphrey spotted only once, and we all tried various pursuits from fishing to dominoes to pass the time as we eventually motored all the way from Vieste to Vis, anchoring in a bay on the west side of the outer harbour at 11.30pm.

A short motor round to the town harbour in the morning revealed the architecturally impressive waterfront refreshingly free of neon signs and adverts. We found the harbourmaster who's Australian assistant quickly produced our cruising permit for 1400 Kuna, even pointing out the bank ATM which provided this unusual currency, conveniently ten to the pound! After the port police had stamped our passports we had really good pizzas in a waterfront cafe. I think I was still slightly surprised we'd made it to Croatia at last, as I peered at Aqua Blue over my thankfully stronger Croatian beer. Vis being one of the more outlying islands is not so busy even in August and it's beauty certainly repays the effort of getting there. Good Vis we now say!

In the afternoon we crossed to the Pakleni islands for a swim and observation of the keen naturism, before continuing to find a spot to anchor outside fashionable Hvar town, whose harbour would not accommodate a 40ft trimaran in high season. However it was very pleasant just watching the evening promenade while we ate in the cockpit, before a spectacular firework display very close to the spot we had originally tried to anchor in! Ashore in the morning the old town surrounding the harbour was most impressive with it's arsenal and theatre and huge piazza. Much of it polished marble, in fact we even met a man hoovering the streets, there's concern for the returning tourists. A small air conditioned mini market topped it off, it was quite humid for sightseeing. It's well worth having a land guide for these impressive towns.

We tore ourselves away after swimming and sailed slowly north between Brac and Solta to bear away for Trogir where we anchored at 6.00pm between a large Catana and a small Dragonfly, unfortunately near some drains. However the town was mediaeval and perfectly preserved. I particularly admired the Fortress in the morning and the Cathedral Portal, the most striking sculpture being of a 'Libertine being torn apart by serpents'.

Pausing at Fumija island for swimming we arrived off Split harbour and entered under sail in the late seabreeeze to find ten yachts at anchor within sight of the walls of Diocletian's palace. The harbour was much cleaner than expected, I had feared for our topsides and white dinghy! During two visits ashore we explored the vast Roman walls encompassing the extensive mediaeval city. Most impressive of all was Diocletian's mausoleum converted into the earliest Catholic cathedral, from whose high bell tower we could photograph Aqua Blue below. As Stella says every year, a large trimaran is not difficult to find even in a strange harbour! We also enjoyed a good meal in restaurant Adriana on the front, despite the east European dishes being unfamiliar to us.

The chandlery near Split marina was shut, since 5th August was a Croatian national holiday. However the marina office told me Yanmar spares took a week to arrive from the main dealer in Pula, so there was no alternative to continuing solely relying on the solar panels. These are so effective in the Mediterranean sun that we were running the fridge again in daylight and still starting the engine next morning, (I do not carry a separate starter battery), although the instrument battery is available if necessary. Neither Humphrey or I have ever been able to start the Yanmar by hand. In fact the engine is very much an auxiliary since the tri sails faster than it motors and can move in pretty light winds. The self tacking staysail is available if we have to short tack into an anchorage but of course you would usually run out of wind on the final approach and have to anchor too far out, which usually means too deep in the Med. The diesel is a huge improvement over the previous outboard, both for the greater range it offers and also since a decent reverse enables three point turns in tight spots. I once ran it for 35hrs from Crotone to Corfu.

After our second ascent of the bell tower and a convenient fuel and water stop in Split harbour, a light westerly carried us south to Starigrad on Hvar island. It's a long fjord like harbour which was deterring some yachts but we used our shallow draft to back up to the northern wall, from where it was a pleasant stroll into the quiet town, such a contrast from Hvar town itself.

Supplies obtained, we found outside a fresh south-easterly which blasted us along the flat water north of the island, until we had to reef and beat back east along the Pakleni canal. Outside Hvar town we tacked south and squeezed through between Jerolim and Marinkovac, literally feet from rocks and daytrippers, to continue offshore in a slowly rising sea. Louise and Stella took to their bunks with books while Humphrey and I pressed on, but the beating became tediously uncomfortable so we threw the helm over and found we could lay Scedro, un uninhabited island south of Hvar island, whose quite decent harbour we entered in torrential rain and lightning a few hours later. We had plenty of company so just dropped the hook in 50ft and tied the stern to a tree for a quiet night aboard. Next to us was an Italian ex racing boat with a Mustapha wind vane attached to the tip of it's extreme reverse counter. I want one too. Does anyone have a contact number!?

The morning Navtex promised a fresh northwesterly and indeed we had a brisk run down the Peljeski canal until we could see Korcula town in the binos. An F27 passed us beating west with the family crew wearing lifejackets (I can only admire such stern discipline), and soon we were enveloped in a swarm of boardsailors who seem to spend the whole day charging back and forth across the canal. In fact one or two of them nearly impaled us, possibly doing twenty knots to our eight! Much film was used as we reached past Korcula town, the western quay being too rough to use, but we found room to anchor in Luka bay only a short walk from the town. We spent two nights in this very pleasant spot and the culture vultures were satisfied in town. Stella even obtained the last tickets for the Moreski dance performed in the open air theatre inside the town walls.

On leaving we had to tack again into a rising southeasterly for five hours to make Polace harbour on Mljet island, finding another fjord like anchorage which is in a national park. In fact an official charged us 55Kuna which included a bus and ferry trip to a monastery on an island in a lake. Next time we'll visit it. In the morning we had to motor two miles east along the 'fjord' to regain open water and close hauled along the north coast of Mljet slowly being pushed offshore. The forecast had been for up to 28kt southeasterlies and when we saw a funnel cloud forming ahead I thought fondly of the missed monastery visit. Louise was very impressed but fortunately the funnel did not reach the sea. The wind and sea increased markedly though till we got very wet on some 'big ones', and explored how small the Crusader genoa will roll on the Profurl while still pulling us to windward. I had considered turning back before we shot through north of Jaklan island and charged across the white water of the Kolcepsi canal to reach the shelter of Slano harbour. The weather cleared in the afternoon and we swam and ate ashore, exploring the rebuilt village which was destroyed in the recent war.

The night brought ferocious squalls from the early hours until 8.00am. I was surprised we didn't drag although the 35lb CQR is pretty reliable and the Fortress waits in reserve. I was also surprised the sea outside viewed in the binos had gone down. So we hauled anchor and slowly beat south along the canal towards Dubrovnik. We came up to the commercial harbour of Gruz in pouring rain, identifying it's position by the huge new bridge and unusually there was a space wide enough to back a tri into. The port official took our lines and charged us 120Kuna a night, only the second time we had to pay in Croatia. He also said local opinion had it that this was the worst summer for thirty years. It seems the depression that deluged Poland and the Czech republic was hanging fronts down over the Adriatic.

However now we had finally reached Dubrovnik the weather started to improve. We walked the walls in the morning sun and had a lazy lunch in a shady restaurant. Most of the waiters spoke English with an American or Australian accent and the papers were full of funnel clouds and flooding. We met friends of Stella's who had bought property in Dubrovnik and they're not the only ones. The palaces and museums and nearby beaches and islands could occupy one for a month. I twice visited an internet cafe and Eurometeo promised the return of NW3 for days ahead, which is what we'd expected for the whole trip.

In fact when northwesterlies return after lower pressure they can be quite fresh and this is what we found when we finally cleared out of Croatia with minimal hassle one afternoon. Dubrovnik and Brindisi are both nearly on 18.00E, so we reached due south at good speed until by the following midday we jybed off Brindisi and continued more south-easterly alongside a large Fountain Pajot cat that was motoring. Both their engines must be larger than Aqua Blue's two cylinder Yanmar! During the second evening I realised the instrument battery was finally getting flat since it's single panel had been in the sail's shade mostly, but the GPS was still indicating good speed in the right direction when it was switched on. At dinner we were slowly overtaken by a small group of dolphins, one doing backwards flips to Louise' delight. As it got dark we could just see the low coast of Puglia and the dark mountains of Albania at the same time. There was a slight reduction of the following seas which had earlier made us reef to ease the steering. Louise and Stella managed another good fresh meal before we started night watches again. In the early hours I was awoken by the increased motion and rose for further reefing as the wind built to nearly thirty knots, and I restarted dead reckoning. However by now we could see the lights of Othoni and Erikousssa as well as the north coast of Corfu, and in pitch darkness there being no moon, we rounded the southwest corner of Erikousssa and crept into the south bay, where I was entirely reliant on Humphrey's better night vision to avoid earlier arrivals. Our 210nm charge south in 35hrs was one of our better runs and a few whiskies were downed in the cockpit before we could relax and crash out.

After a lazy morning on the beach we raised the still double reefed main since the wind had not dropped all night, always a sign of real weather in the Med, and continued to Corfu. Although the navtex forecast was for only 18kts NW, we experienced gusts in the thirties and the seas were feeling the bottom and breaking off Cape Aikaterin. After one white knuckle surf with all three bows awash we rolled away the already reefed genoa and continued under reefed main alone. I'd expected this to increase weather helm, but it was fine and the waves now overtook us rather than launching a sleigh ride, with the helm surprisingly light. Two hours brought us to 'the Albanian battleship' Peristerai, and we shortly entered Ay Stephanos with it's Knightsbridge residents and pricy restaurants, although it's yacht friendly despite poor holding. We were blown out backwards the next afternoon and continued to Gouvia in still very fresh northerlies, where we found James Wharram's 63ft Gaia. And also tedious negotiations with Greek officialdom in Corfu town, to get Aqua Blue and her crew re-entered into Greece.

However don't let me put you off, the Adriatic is very much worth the effort involved.

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