Meandering to Montenegro 2008
30 March 2009 | Adriatic
Meandering to Montenegro
Aqua Blue my thirty year old Kelsall trimaran winters in Monfalcone near Trieste. We have cruised the wonderful but increasingly crowded Croatian coast and islands for several summers, since sailing up from Greece in 2004. Now after some considerable refitting we were ready again for a longer trip. My wife Stella was keen to see Montenegro before the threatened rapid development, and I had driven round Kotor fjord decades ago and would enjoy revisiting under sail.
The much travelled tri was craned into Nautec marina on the 4th July and refitting continued for another week till my crew Eddie arrived to help immediately with the sails and dinghy. We were quickly ready for the trip south and headed out of the Timavo river on Friday 11th July.
A light southeasterly drew us directly across the bay of Trieste to Capo d'Istria. We soon entered Croatia at it's most northerly port Umag, which is convenient for visiting the authorities and refuelling, as well as having council provided moorings in it's circular protected bay. Eddie even found a decent restaurant (Santa Maria) as well as the giant supermarket.
Southerlies were forecast and as so often before we had to beat down to Rovinj in a rising wind. However it's a calm anchorage and after chatting to a NZ couple we later walked a mile into the fashionable artist's colony to enjoy the views from the church. Back on board southerly gales were imminent!
Very few yachts joined our exit in the morning, as we slowly motored over the swell between the outlying islands, until in clear water we could raise a reefed main and the self tacking staysail to commence motor sailing southsoutheast. After a few hours the wind starting veering and dropping and we could unroll the genoa inside the Brijuni islands, where Tito used to entertain foreign dignitaries. Tacking past Pula with it's sunken breakwater we then entered Soline, a much cleaner anchorage which was surprisingly full of sailors even more cautious than myself! Eddie christened the new kayak and later we had a wonderful fish platter at restaurant Barka only a short walk up through the trees.
I waited for the morning forecast as it slowly blued up to confirm the improvement, but we still found it pretty bumpy off Kamenjack, the most southerly point of Istria. However the westerly now rushed us across the gulf of Kvaerner away from the mainland thunderstorms as the sea gradually went down, to the islands where we picked up one of the last buoys in the Ilovic channel, where crews arriving from the south were wearing oilies.
We were deterred from shopping in Ilovic in the morning, since rowing back against the now moderate NE Bora would have been tedious, so we stretched our legs on Sv Petar island. However on our return to the boat the ignition failed and we spent two hours finding and fixing the corroded earth connection on the engine and even replacing the starter button with a switch. The Bora remained moderate so we then set off downwind under genoa alone and made Ist for tea, where we were soon joined by some Austrian nudists. You don't know where to look sometimes, so we admired their all over tans! Another good fish meal overlooking the anchorage was followed by architect Eddie touring the many converted stone houses, it's a smart place.
The summer Maestral returned in the morning and we ran downwind initially with the drifter, easily reaching Zut to anchor in the NE corner past the marina. Firemen were there, waiting to be picked up after dousing yet another forest fire. We had already sailed past a larger fire being bombed by seaplanes, and then had a closer view on the yachtclub tv! A leisurely start included a brief pause to tighten up the "nodding" bow roller, which I do like but am gradually replacing the machine screws with bolts where possible. Then 41nm closehauled but laying the course brought us to Rogoznica by 6.45pm, to anchor inside the causeway. We just stopped at the first restaurant yet had good cheap Dorada. I made Eddie walk round the island in the morning before we drifted round to the charming little island port of Drevenik Veli by only mid afternoon, to anchor next to a UK Moody 39, who promptly left. I always find this slightly disconcerting but I think they were annoyed by a coaster unloading gravel, rather than the arrival of a trimaran! Eddie found a very good restaurant Tramontana run by a German couple, up the hill behind the port.
We spent the following day only three miles away on the mainland in Vinisce after a blast across the channel in quite a brisk westerly. I had selected it to await the arrival of my family in nearby Trogir later in the week. We then found and fixed a water leak in the exhaust system, a plastic elbow had been rubbing on an engine foot, spraying water on the gearbox. Cruising really is about maintaining your boat on holiday! Vinisce is a large sheltered shallow sandy bay, quite unusual in the Adriatic and eminently suitable for multihulls; there's even a small crowded marina in one corner, but we prefer to anchor.
Eddie flew home 36hrs later after touring impressive mediaeval Trogir. Unfortunately you have to pay 150 Kuna to anchor in the polluted water and I find the restaurants indifferent, but it's the closest shelter to Split airport and has the necessary port authorities in addition to fuel and fresh water. I returned to Vinisce for more floating maintenance and improvements. A trough produced quite strong winds while I was commuting between Vinisce and Trogir to pick up my wife Stella and daughter Louise, later joined by crew Humphrey and the Croatian paperwork was attended to.
On Sunday 27th July we recovered the Rocna from the stinking mud and sailed south to Brac where we nosed into Smrka on the sw coast, partly to see the bunker but also to swim again in clean water. After morning bathing and bunker photography we motorsailed to fashionable Hvar, but avoiding the crowded town anchorage we continued on to anchor in the lagoon at Marinkovac, for a lazy afternoon and a good but surprisingly moderately priced meal in restaurant Antonio, from where I admired a purposeful looking Outremer 55 "light".
The wind now deserted us and we motored for seven hours over a glassy calm till we reached the sailboarders in the Peljeski canal, then expended film as beautiful Korcula town went past, before finally pulling into nearly empty Racisce bay under the stares of some nude powerboaters. We then walked through to Lumbarda (where anchoring is forbidden) to shop at the Studenac, also finding an internet cafe for Louise in a smart hotel. After a very quiet night in the shelter of Vrnik island we again motored all day, the full length of Mljet island and crossed to Lopud, one of the Elefaniti islands off Dubrovnik, just dropping the hook in the open bay off the classy little resort town, where Humphrey wined and dined us in one of the smart waterfront restaurants. Morning sightseeing led us to the old fortified monastery on the headland and there are hikes up to the hilltop fort or through the woods to a southern beach. However we pressed on via Kolocep, to expend more film passing Dubrovnik and soon entered Cavtat, the most southerly port in Croatia, another smart little ex Venetian town with two bays to choose from.
The authorities reserve wall space for transiting boats and even provide a large blue freshwater hose. We were grateful in the morning, although backing a 25ft wide tri up to a wall crowded with giant gin palaces requires a certain firmness, aided by a tyre hung down the transom and well fendered floats! The helm operated windlass is so useful, as is the Kiwi prop, so powerful in reverse. I was twice sent between the harbourmaster and port police while paperwork from Trogir was corrected! We were then shooed away from the wall while the girls were still ashore and Humphrey had to collect them in the dinghy. However by 11.00am we were again motoring south, passing through Molunat anchorage on the way, till we turned into Kotor fjord and proceeded past Hercegnovi to find the harbourmaster at Zelenika, where there's a huge commercial quay to moor to. I paid 57 euros for a 7 day vignette plus 10 euros to customs to officially enter Montenegro, then motored back to vertical Hercegnovi where anchoring is discouraged, so we again backed up to the this time crowded, hot and noisy harbour wall. After swimming in the murky water we managed the many steps up to the piazza for a simple meal with good views over the gulf. Descending later to an impressive firework display we found the mooring manager still in his kiosk, whereupon I surprised myself by successfully refusing to pay the multihull surcharge.
Somehow I slept through the discos, and in the morning we refuelled after waiting while a fishing boat took on 2000 litres of diesel! Since there was still no wind we continued south to Budva and used the open anchorage off the beach although the charts discourage it. It's an interesting town rebuilt after an earthquake, incredibly crowded with east european tourists and the discos behind the beach are supersonic but again I did manage to sleep. I tell myself that I actually like the music. In the morning we moved to anchor off the very photogenic Sveti Stefan island which now belongs to a hotel chain and is closed to visitors, our most southerly point this year. We now retraced our steps northwards and diverted into the great anchorage of Bigova; we liked it so much we spent the rest of the day there. There was a New Zealander at anchor, who spends the northern summers living on his Med yacht, and the southern summers living on his antipodean boat!
On Mon 4th August we finally reached the head of Kotor gulf and were waved onto the pontoon at Kotor town by a young man who charged us 50 euros a night. We were glad of the space though and coughed up this time. It was 90F, hot and windless, but we had travelled a long way to see this complete mediaeval walled town, supported by Unesco. We tramped the streets after sunset marvelling at the preserved buildings. In the morning I managed (needless to say on my own!) the 1356 steps up the crumbling town walls which had twice successfully repelled the Turks (although not the Brits!), to the summit above where I met a Japanese teacher who had arrived by bus from Albania! An afternoon siesta was imperative with it being 94F in the cabin with two fans running, till the sun again hit the high mountains. Whereupon we explored further making a particular point of the maritime museum, I can now distinguish between a Xebec and a Felucca!
Leaving early we paused to photograph Perast and I expect a multihull could go alongside in the morning calm. However there were no tripper boats at Skrpela so we seized our opportunity to tie up to the artificial island with its picturesque church. We still managed to clear out of Montenegro at Zelenika shortly after 11.00am and were swimming in Molunat, Croatia at lunchtime. Reaching Cavtat a few hours later we negotiated the gin palaces again, to regain the customs quay for the second round of formalities that day. We then scurried round to shallower quieter Tiha bay just east, which still gives easy access to the town. Louise and I went ashore for for an internet cafe, but a power cut sent us back onboard from where we endured a very loud and amateurish rock band onshore which did keep keep my tired body awake! It's the going ashore that wears you out!
Stella was determined to visit the impressive Mestrovic mausoleum to the Racic family, all victims of the "Spanish Flu" in 1918, so we all accompanied her to the headland graveyard, which also has great views north. After much photography we then motored past Dubrovnik again to anchor off Sudurad on Sipan island. A very interesting village from the XIV century, with two fortified towers and battlemented walls to repel pirates. The beach which just slopes into the small harbour was used for boat building. We then passed through the narrow channel between Sipan and Jaklan, to anchor in the shallow bay north of the equally attractive XVI century Sipanska. A trough must have arrived overnight since our return to Cavtat was very sloppy, and Tiha bay was rather crowded. We were DVD'ing in the cockpit after another good meal ashore when a collision between two boats nearby alerted us to a rising northeasterly, the one direction Tiha is not really protected from. We were soon dragging ourselves, so returned to Cavtat harbour, but still failed to find good holding in the thick weed during the increasing gusts. I had little sleep before 4.30am. After an early morning lull a rising northwesterly Maestral then made Cavtat itself uncomfortable by midday so we returned again to Tiha! The two attractive bays are rather open to the north. In the evening we rendezvoued with our new crew David in restaurant Ivan overlooking Tiha. Fortunately this time I had taken the precaution of also laying our second Fortress anchor which does seem to cut better through the weed. However the again fresh northeasterly made the several dinghy trips back to Aqua Blue problematical after the outboard was swamped and then an oar snapped. Eventually we were all back on board although rather wet!
After more sighteeing in the morning Stella and Louise taxied conveniently to nearby Dubrovnik airport. Humphrey and David had already stocked up so we left by midday. However the wind had vanished again and we motored all the way to Okulje on Mljet island, where we picked up a buoy proffered by a child in a dory. His Dad soon arrived and we agreed to eat in restaurant Maestral for our "free" mooring since there is virtually no room to anchor and the meal was indeed freshly cooked and reasonably priced. Back on board I received a text from Louise asking me to find Stella's wedding ring. I had earlier noticed it hanging above her bunk and was already wearing it, so spent the rest of the trip married to myself! A very slow start in the morning was due to me inexplicably pulling a muscle in my side. It took me 15mins to dress and gain the cockpit with the aid of prescription drugs, and it was an hour before I dared swim! We exited the Mljetski canal and motorsailed back to Korcula, where after finding the fuel quay "out of fuel" we spent the night anchored in very crowded Luka bay. We were definitely back on the beaten track.
Rather low on fuel we returned to the quay in the morning to find a long line of Gulets and Gin palaces so we turned NW again past Korcula town, where in fact a brisk easterly enable us to run up the Peljeski canal (it should be the Sailboardski canal) at good speed before it turned light again. We pressed on at very modest revs and pottered into Hvar, penetrating the crowded shallows of Krizna Luka to once again find empty fuel pumps. I was again glad of the Kiwi prop to back out and we returned to Marinkovac lagoon. On the way I was keenly watching some idiots straight ahead in a "cigarette boat" who were transiting the crowded anchorage at a ludicrous speed, only to have another bozo in an inflatable try to impale himself on the port float. I had to slam the twenty year old Yanmar into reverse so the Kiwi could save his stupid skull, whereupon my crew loudly educated him about his lack of parentage. The probably inebriated oaf then rammed another dinghy! Frankly Hvar should be avoided in August, despite the fact that my sister spends her summers there.
We left early in the morning calm with David scanning the pilot book for fuel stations and he found one in Rogac on Solta. We pulled in and were able to completely fill with diesel at a cost of 1000Kuna. So we easily made Rogoznica by late afternoon and anchored behind the causeway again. With us now full of fuel the wind returned with a vengeance overnight and by 7 am we had swung too close to the causeway with other late arrivals hemming us in, so we hauled the Rocna and extricated ourselves, heading up the eastern arm where we again had trouble penetrating the thick weed till we deployed the Fortress as well. And there we lay uncomfortably and boringly all day in up to 30kts of wind and 92F. The conditions weren't conducive to maintenance or sailing! Fortunately the cold front went through in the early hours and the anchorage was calm at breakfast. After unwinding the two anchor cables the crew restocked in the supermarket back at the causeway, while I managed my first ever SSB Ham transmission (M0DKD if you want to call me), using the second hand Icom 706, whose ATU it had taken me too long to finally install. We nosed out after lunch to find a two metre plus sea piling up in the entrance. However the crew manfully raised sail while clinging to the rigging and we slowly crawled up to Prvic island off Sibenik. The architecture reminded me of Sipan and we had a very good meal in restaurant Punta, including the most intense garlic fish soup I'd ever enjoyed. I explored the many converted stone houses and we were also treated to a very clear lunar eclipse.
The trough was thankfully followed by the return of normal summer northwesterlies, known as the Maestral in the Adriatic. They arrive late morning following a light period after the overnight northeasterly land breeze, so we easily sailed back to Zut. The following day in a fresher Maestral we tacked all the way up to Molat to pick up one of the many buoys behind the sheltering island, passing on the way three yellow flying boats picking up water to bomb fires on Tun Veli. With a slightly rolled genoa, the staysail, and one reef in the new fully battened mainsail the old bus touched 8.5kts to windward in the flatter waters off Molat, despite the huge weight of spares, fuel, water and alcohol onboard. The combination of the Kiwi prop and the fully battened main has produced a worthwhile improvement. If only we could shed the cruising weight! A cool night and some Ballantynes ensured deep sleep.
David and I explored ashore in the morning although there are few facilities to justify all the moorings. A topless beauty strolling under the trees greeted us but strangely she didn't want to go sailing. We then motored up to and through the narrows of Prolaz Zapuntel while I called the Med net on 14303Khz, before the wind arrived and we just managed to lay Ilovic in a freshening breeze. Approaching the entrance channel at a very good speed on starboard tack, I had to bear away to avoid a speedboat on our port bow who was taking no evasive action. Unfortunately the helmsman then woke up and turned right, so that for a short period we were facing a head on collision. I span the wheel further and of course we accelerated, only just passing behind him as he fortunately straightened up again. Quite a near miss really, I must attach a foghorn to the saloon door, it's often needed in August! We grabbed the last of nearly one hundred buoys in the Ilovic channel, just off the ruined tower, followed by a reasonably priced meal ashore despite the crowding.
After visiting the (inhabited) tower and swimming, we passed an interesting Austrian open bridgedeck cat from Lepanto marina fitted with a tubular alloy day cabin and a wingmast rotating on a fixed light scaffold tower. A light southerly then drew us towards Susac and eventually right across the gulf of Kvaerner to round Kamenjack surprisingly early and enter Soline bay by 4.30pm, by it's very shallow southern entrance. Later I marched David and Humphrey back up through the trees to restaurant Barka again, for our final and excellent fish platter for three, 610 Kuna including wine. Barka is run by a hospitable German/Croatian couple. Back onboard we sat through Apocolypto by Mel Gibson, the stuff of nightmares!
A reasonably early start enabled us to make some progress north before the land breeze died away, but before long the Maestral returned and even multihulls can sail north in the "lift" along the coast of Istria on one long port tack. We easily made Novigrad by mid afternoon and picked up a buoy off the vast new marina which now occupies half the bay. Use the swimming beach to get ashore, the town quay unusually in the Med is far too high! After a welcome cool night we awaited our turn on the customs quay whereupon we cleared out of Croatia easily ( due of course to keeping on top of the paperwork during the earlier crew changes). We motorsailed north alongside a German tri from Umag. It's an unusual folding design with a completely enclosed forward cockpit. Then we crawled across the bay of Trieste under full main and drifter with me dozing in the dinghy on the starboard netting, arriving at the entrance markers a mile off Grado. Motoring in we found the entrance channel to the town dock a bit thin for a 25ft wide tri so just anchored close to the mud outside marina San Marco and took the dinghy up the channel. It's a pleasant town. Frontal cloud appeared in the west and it was a sticky night.
By early morning a southeasterly had swung us close to the bank and piles, with strong southerlies forecast. So we headed out over the slop on the very shallow sandbanks which must be avoided in bad weather. The already veering wind enabled us to reach and run outside the banks to arrive off the Timavo river entrance by 11.30am. Karl the Nautec manager had left a T pontoon for us and the crane was already booked for 48hrs time. Humphrey and I unnecessarily washed the decks down since we were in for a violent night with many thunderstorms and spectacular lightning. It's often like this during the last week in August and we were glad to be back in! However there's good sailing in September too, although I was home via Ryanair by then.