It was a hot, hot motor sail south to Montenegro so, even with only 20 miles to go, the crew needed two cool-off swim stops in surprisingly warmer, deep blue and crystal clear water. Entering "Boka Kotorska" - "the Mouth of Kotor", the Adriatic's only fjord, we proceeded to Zelenika's Custom's Dock to check into Montenegro. Held off by enormous black rubber bumpers, we moored Sangaris alongside and "Deep Blue" then rafted outside of us. It was then off to complete the check-in cha-cha with passports reviewed by the police followed by a visit to the "lady harbormaster" just a few houses to the west of the dock. We were greeted by a very helpful young woman who produced permits, entry papers and a Montenegron courtesy flag in exchange for 237‚'¨, our fee to stay in the country for one month. (137‚'¨ for one week, but we thought that might be too short a time).
We decided to delay our passage deeper into Boka Kotorska and simply anchored nearby off Igalo and Herceg-Novi, the fortified old city. We were well "dug-in" and just beginning to relax when the skies over the 2000 foot mountains went black with thunderclouds and hoolie of a storm quickly whipped up white-caps and huge rain drops that seemed to threaten changing to hail. Amidst tremendous bolts of lightning and winds gusting to 45 knots, our boats danced about but were well separated for plenty of swinging room even with some 200 feet of anchor chain deployed. Although Deep Blue, some 200 yards away, was hardly visible to us during the peak of the storm, a brilliant lightning bolt on the hillside behind us got our immediate attention as within minutes it became a raging fire being spread like a fierce blow-torch-like by the gale force winds.
The storm passed within about 2 hours and the sky cleared to a brilliant rosy orange, but the fire raged on all night and most of the next two days as the charred edge was reignited with wind shifts and, because of the mountainous and inaccessible terrain, fire fighters were only able to establish a defensive line near some homes at one end of the fire. Finally though, around noon the next day, two small planes arrived and began efforts to drop fire retardant chemicals on the steep mountainside to finally control the blaze.
On Monday, with calm wind and a flat sea, we 'dinghied' ashore to explore Herceg-Novi, whose origins date back to the 14th century and history includes Turkish, Spanish, Venetian and Austro-Hungarian rue. The waterfront was bustling with beachgoers, so we climbed one on the numerous stone staircases to check out the city walls and fortresses decorated with lush Mediterranean vegetation of mimosas, eucalyptus, agaves, oleander and magnolias. A stop midway at the Sahat Tower (clocktower) and a caf√© for refreshing iced coffees readied us for the trek up to the Kanli Kula fortress where we had fantastic views of the old town, our boats in the distance and the unyielding smoke on the hillside.
That disturbing landscape, along with the incessant pounding of (sigh, American) "music" from beachfront clubs and an afternoon wind that seemed to be building, led us to get underway and find a calmer anchorage for the night. Amazing mountain vistas and small orange roofed villages delighted us as we sailed through the first narrow opening of the Boka fjord. We found a perfect spot in the SE corner near the tip of Stradioti Island that we soon re-named "monastery bay" for its sunset view and the next day renamed it "Mussel Bay" ... more to come!
Crusiers' notes: as per our "lady harbormaster" there are no harbor dues, town quay charges or anchoring fees collected in Montenegro - your permit covers all except, of course, marinas where dockage includes water & electricity.. Also, the permits run Sunday-to-Sunday, so if you check in on a Monday and get, say a one week permit, it actually doesn't start until the following Sunday, so you really get almost two weeks! Virtually all former anchoring restrictions for military zones are gone (a few specifically posted small areas remain) and you're welcome to go anywhere
One year ago Sangaris and crew sailed across the Adriatic from Vieste, Italy to Lastovo, Croatia to begin an extended season of cruising the Dalmatian Islands and Istrian peninsula. Our check-in formalities included purchasing a one year permit (1800 kuna ~ $300) for the boat to be in Croatian waters. Fast forward to June 2010 and, with the permit still valid for a few more weeks, we made a bee-line straight south to explore southern Dalmatia. But soon it was July 17th and our glorious year was up.
So, sailing by the walled city of Dubrovnik and, yes, taking loads more photos and admiring coastal properties perched on the cliffs above the sea, we went to the town of Cavtat, one of the official check-in/out towns. A chat with the officials to learn if there was some leniency to stay just a couple more days left us with a very clear "No!" so we took on some fresh market veg, cheese, bread and fruit and arranged a farewell Croatia dinner. Once again we spent a very pleasant evening with pals Sandra and Chris on a terrace overlooking Tiha Bay and the old town of Cavtat before strolling the waterfront docks loaded with mega yachts.
First stop in morning was the Harbormaster's office, then the police for exit papers, then customs and finally back to the Harbormaster to provide some duplicate paperwork for their files. Montenegro was our next stop so, with a few leftover Croatian kunas to spend, we found more fresh fruit, some cold beers and bouquets of garden grown flowers and left lovely Croatia. We've included photos of books that other sailors cruising this region may find helpful, including the new, just released "777 harbors & anchorages" of Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and, yes, Albania ... but more on that later! The cover, if you can see the details in the pic, shows the flags of all the countries as well as the historical flags of the eastern Adriatic: the three leopards of Dalmatia, the blue & white striped shield of the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik), the lion of Venice, the Fiume-Rijeka eagle and the goat of Istria.
Crusiers' notes: no anchorage fee 'on a hook' in the harbor of Tiha and an easy dinghy ride to the narrow peninsula to access Cavtat town. Small fresh market and well-supplied mini-market on main street; don't miss the bakery and caf√© - fabulous sweet and savory treats! The guides pictured above were very helpful for cruising, anchoring and exploring towns along the way. The "777" is really the "bible" for the area and the 2010-2011 edition, complete with color photos, much improved binding (no cello tape instructions) now includes a new 50 page section on cruising Albania ... we'll add notes as we go!
A visit to the old town of Dubrovnik was a certainty for our time along the southern Dalmatian Coast - it was just a matter of when to do it and where to safely moor the boat to allow some care-free site-seeing for the crew. Once we discovered Ň†ipan and its direct ferry service, the decision was easy.
Now, the Sangaris & Deep Blue crews take their sight seeing seriously, so, arising at first light, we dinghied dockside by 6:30 a.m., tied the dinks amongst the local fishing boats, caught our fast ferry and arrived in Dub-town at 8 a.m., well before any tourists arrived from nearby hotels or the four cruise ships anchored off.
A short hop on a local bus took us to the "Pile Gate" on the north end of the old walled city and we crossed the bridge over the moat that dates from 1471; it's now filled with fruit trees, not water.
Just inside the gate was Donofrio's "large fountain", a most unusual domed design where, back in the middle ages, to guard against the plague, visitors had to wash themselves. We were happy just to take water bottle refills from the splashing spigots and cool our wrists as the day was already promising to be a scorcher.
A short stroll along the main street or "stradum", with its shiny limestone buffed surface, took us to a sidewalk caf√© to fuel up so we could 'walk the city walls'. This well-trodden walkway follows the full circuit of battlements totally enclosing the city and provided an ideal vantage point for us to enjoy Dubrovnik's medieval and Baroque facades. The fantastic views showed a surprising predominance of bright new orange tile roofs contrasting with weathered old roofs that you can clearly see in the pictures in the montage - the result of the extensive shelling the town took in the conflagration of 1991-92.
But the restoration is essentially complete and the historic character of the city is well maintained, with identical door frames and green shuttered windows on the houses, names of tourist shops, restaurants and boutiques discreetly inscribed on lanterns hanging above each doorway - no flashy signs, please. And, of course, the historic highlights were grand from the Cathedral, the Sponza and Rector's Palaces, a Franciscan Monastery and the ancient pharmacy.
We had it mostly to ourselves for the first hour or so, but then both the heat and crowds arrived with gusto. We found a cool respite off the beaten track high atop the city in a vine covered shady restaurant called "Lady PiPi" that an American ex-pat we met in town had recommended. (Center, left picture in the montage above) Then, heading back for our return ferry we capped off a grand day of sightseeing with the requisite ice cream cones and "a paddle" (a bit of wading) to cool our hot feet.
But not to draw the curtain too quickly, back in Ň†ipan, there was still time for a cooling evening swim off the boats and then a sunset dinner at a waterfront "Restauran" - all-in-all a super day.
We left Mljet with the intention of spending a night or two before re-positioning the boat for direct access for some "full-on" Dubrovnik touring. But once we arrived and anchored in the deep inlet of Sipnaska Luka on the north end of the Elaphite island of Sipan, we had another of those, "Let's stay a week!" experiences. It was simply lovely; really peaceful and welcoming. To top it all off, there was even an inexpensive fast ferry to Dubrovnik that we could take any morning and save the hassle of berthing in the big city.
A short swim-able distance from Sangaris' anchor was 'Villa Katari' a 1908 relic with an ornately carved 2nd floor balcony and large terrace, truly a 'former glory' and DIY dream. Likewise, in "town", the large Stjepancic villa on the harborfront boasted carved lions below its' balcony and a similar cry for restoration. A bouganvilla and oleander draped pathway took us around 2/3 of the harbor where we climbed up to church campanile and below, low and behold, we found a palm-lined "boules" court (a bit like lawn bowling on a dusty court).
The French call the game "Petanque", other Europeans, "Boules" so, with our buddies and competitors from Deep Blue situated in the same idyllic spot ... a re-match from last season's "tournament" was arranged. With ever so proper scoring markers made by the Blues, a miniature Union Jack and Stars and Bars on toothpicks, a very close match ensued with the Yanks barely nudging out the Brits to set up the final world championship match the next time we stumble upon a proper court. (Well, let the record show the Yanks actually needed a last minute "gimme" from the ever so diplomatic Chris - ah, but isn't his form just perfect - and look how close he's knocked our ball - oops - we won!)
But at the end of the day it was "cheers" all around!
Crusiers' notes: no anchorage fee 'on a hook' in the harbor; mooring balls and quayside stern-tie berthing with elec & water available; best to anchor on the east or west "shore" sides as ferries quickly make their way through the harbor a few times a day. Simple provisions in shops in town. The fast (& direct) catamaran ferry leaves at 6:50am to Dubrovnik (Gruz) was 16.50 kuna pp, one way, then an easy #3 or 8 bus to old town for another 8 kuna. Our 35 minute fast ferry return departed Dubrovnik at 19:10n and, in settled weather, this route makes Sipan a really nice base for touring ... especially when you return to such a peaceful setting away from the tourist throng.
What a pine buzz! Leaving behind New England forests and the woods near our home in NW New Jersey (OK, ten years ago), this island's scent was peek pine forest nostalgia ... and beyond. Never had the essence of fresh pine growth and the release from the crush of rusty bits of pine needles under our feet brought such an exotic, yet familiar feeling. Mljet is home to a wonderful National Park system that attracts mountain bikers, hikers, kayakers and other holiday-goers looking for a simple, rustic and really good smelling place for a vacation.
We spent three nights in the Polace anchorage in the northeast end of Mljet. A trip to the 12th century monastery was part of our first day's adventure and was included in the 90 kuna pp park fee for any # of days you wanted to stay. A visit to the ancient Benedictine site, a chapel full of prayers and wishes and, up a wee hill to nearby Roman ruins, was followed by a hike through the intensely scented woods on a path marked "Svarcski Put".
A few of the photos in "the gallery" hardly begin to describe Sunday morning's hike. The views from Montopuc - the tallest peak on the island - were breathtaking. We could see Sangaris moored to the east and Vis island some 20 miles to the west. On a clear day one can even see all the way across the Adriatic to Italy. But the best part was the dense Alepo Pine forests that surrounded us for miles on all sides - truly a throwback to the days of the ancients when the entire Mediterranean was lushly forested.
Back in Polace town they were geared up for Sunday evening guests as the finals of the World Cup Soccer match started at 8pm. It was the Netherlands vs. Spain and, from our seats surrounded by Croatian fans and Spanish sailboat charterers, the 1-0 finish, just before "penalties", prompted festive red & yellow flag waving ... and another order of Prosek.
Our four day visit to Komiza was just not enough and Vis harbor and Kut town (Kut translates to "quiet corner" or "hideaway") beckoned for a few more days at anchor. In company with buddy-boat "Deep Blue", we sailed the north coast of Vis in the early afternoon and arrived at the charming Kut anchorage just down from the bustling waterfront of Vis town. A quick dinghy ride to the quay gave us a chance to shop, stroll in the shade of the heavy palm lined park and have ice creams while watching charterers busily tie stern-to to the town wall.
Three days of swimming off the boat, cycling the towns' cobbled streets and wooded peninsula and sharing cockpit dinners with friends made this a very special place to be. Click over to the right on "Photo Gallery" and browse through our pics that will make it come alive for you too!
Cruiser's Notes: Anchorage fees in Komiza and Vis were 70 Kuna per night (~$12US), with some informal discounting for multiple days. Good fresh market in Vis town. Charterers do pack in to both towns early in the week and we had a couple of 3am anchor drills with late arrivers who anchored too close to us and drifted into us in the wee windless hours.
Vis, the furthest offshore of Croatia's inhabited islands, is a delight of green hills and sheer cliffs.
The Greeks called the main town "Issa" when they established it in the 4th century but there are few remnants of those early days with 18th century houses built by Hvar's nobles now lining the palm-fringed shores of the three main towns; Komiza, Kut and Vis town.
Komiza was our planned rendezvous anchorage with boat buddies Sandra and Chris aboard "Deep Blue" and we had a very happy reunion on Saturday followed by a British sponsored 4th of July barbecue on Sunday with burgers, cole slaw, salads and a second round of Sandra's birthday cake. (see Deep Blue's sailblogs for the birthday party aboard Sangaris!) Sangaris herself was "dressed" for the occasion with the Stars and Stripes flying high atop a home-made pig-stick flagpole and her crew then arrived for the barbecue as "Miss America" and "Captain America".
This birdseye view of Komiza harbor was taken from atop "Hum" the highest point on the island of Vis. We'd hired a motorscooter to tour the island but it overheated and needed a rest, so we hiked up an overgrown stone stairway leading to one of Tito's caves in a group of caverns from which the Marshal was briefly spirited away by the Allies to direct the resistance effort in relative safety during 1944. Whilst we hiked the scooter cooled down and we could backtrack along the winding cliffside road to Komiza.
We had begun our sail to Croatia just a few days before when we finally untied the overwintering docklines from the Nautec Mare marina in Monfalcone, Italy. Sunday evening's "shakedown" sail was a lovely three hour, broad reach to Piran, Slovenia where we anchored just north of town under the fortified church after marveling at the postcard perfect view of the old town at sunset.
The next days were ideal for making tracks as NW winds filled our sails, first to Novigrad, Croatia where we tied to the town quay, completed our Croatia country check-in and had a quick stroll and some ice creams before sailing another 35 miles to an evening anchorage. The next two days were also "50+ milers" and the sailing was perfect with 12-15 knots carrying us down wide canals flanked by dramatic scenery of very green Dalmatian islands and then, just a little further south past the barren wind-blown Kornatis. This sunset photo was taken off pretty Premuda where we had a wonderful cockpit dinner and a very calm anchorage.
So four days and 220 miles topped off by a Fourth of July celebration in Vis. We've now happily reached the southern Dalmatian islands for a couple weeks of cruising and exploring with our Deep Blue pals whilst enroute to Dubrovnik.
Making our way north in Croatia back in September, 2009, we stopped in the island of Mali Losing and spent the night tied to the quayside Riva surrounded by a charming and picturesque harbor-front town. We feared it would be absolutely 'heaving' with tourists in the peak summer period but, to our delight, it was not. We had a peaceful and 'no charge' evening with a stroll through town and a light cockpit supper while occasionally chatting with folks who were curious about the American flag ... had we really sailed all the way from the USA? (Piece of cake!) Had we been sailing all our lives? (Not yet!)
Amongst the passersby were two most charming and engaging retired Genovese men, Ennio and Enzo. After chatting a bit, we invited them aboard for a short glass of our very best Croatian wine which, truth be told, was not very good. Most diplomatically, upon hearing our plans to winter in Monfalcone, they quickly suggested that we go to the nearby Collio region to taste Italy's "very good wine!" But more importantly, they asserted, our Monfalcone visit must include finding their dear friend Pietro. "It will be easy", they said, "His boat 'Twenty-One' is the biggest in town!" Well, one month later, will pulled into our berth at Nautec Mare and there, against the seawall, was the imposing "Twenty-One".
Now, flash forward to this May, and we are delighted to get to know Pietro, known as Pierro to his friends, and he has heard about the Americani from his friend Ennio when they were both home in Recco. Dinner aboard Sangaris, coffee aboard Twenty-One and lots of helpful advice with boatyard chores during the days quickly established an easy and delightful new friendship with Pierro. That was enhanced a few weeks later when his wife Laura joined him and we got to know her over a scrumptious dinner from her gourmet galley on Twenty One.
A fascinating hobby, or perhaps, passion of Pierro's is that he loves to restore wooden boats, of which he has several - Twenty One being a 1970's vintage wooden yacht of some 64 feet! He gave us a tour of another, smaller classic called, "Mala Istranka" that was in the water nearby. It originated as a lifeboat on former Yugoslavia President Marshal Tito's 384 foot yacht Galeb. Pierro was able to obtain it (I'm sure there's a story there, too) and he has lovingly restored and redesigned it over many years such this very seaworthy, but utilitarian 25-foot life boat is now a "proper cabin yacht", as Pierro puts it. The re-launching took place in Recco amidst crowds of family and friends just ten years ago. And what a perfect little yacht she is!
Our first invitation for a "sundowner" aboard another boat on our dock at Nautec Mare came from Ornella & Iginio (Igo - say "E-go") Maestroni, a lovely couple from Milan who have sailed many miles in their Vagabond 45 "Era". Their excellent English language skills and like-minded humor made for a thoroughly enjoyable Prosecco-sipping evening. This visit was followed by lunch aboard "Sangaris" and, all too soon, their goodbyes as they needed to return to Milan for a couple of weeks. Surely we'd be sailing towards Croatia by the time of their planned return, so fond farewells and email addresses were exchanged.
As fate would have it, about three weeks later we're still chugging along with our 'to do' list and are delighted to see them again. Their first question to us is "do you need a day off?" (duh!) followed by "just name a place & we'll go!" We're thrilled with their generous offer and soon we all agreed on a daytrip to the ancient of town Aquileia lying on the eastern end of the Venetian plains near Monfalcone. Founded in 181 BC, this former Roman Empire city once had 100,000 residents and served as a major trading link between Rome and the East. Scattered remnants of the Roman town include extensive ruins of the Porto Fluviale, the old port, which once linked the settlement to the sea.
But the star attraction was the Basilica (rebuilt after a 1398 earthquake) and its Paleo-Christian mosaic floor, noted to be the largest in all of Europe. The entire floor of the church (some 7000 sq ft) is covered with colorful 4th century mosaic tiles depicting episodes from the story of Jonah and the whale, the Good Shepherd, various sea creatures and birds and portraits of, presumably, wealthy Roman patrons of this early Christian church.
As the centuries passed the floors were covered with many feet of fill and alternate flooring. This unintentionally protected them so when they were rediscovered in 1909 they were in an amazingly well preserved state.. Today, broad transparent glass walkways allow visitors to wander above the long-hidden images.
Grazie mille to our new friends Ornella and Igo!