Our trip across the Adriatic Sea from Monopoli to Cavtat would take eighteen hours at an average speed of 6 knots. The harbormaster's office in Cavtat didn't open until 8 am (getting there early was no good as we'd be required to continue on to Dubrovnik, another two hours north, to check in), so we left Monopoli in the early afternoon. The weather forecast was delightful: light winds and almost no seas - and a full moon to light our way. We'd be motoring again, continuing the trend we'd begun in Salerno two weeks earlier.
Eric and I were almost giddy as we steered Awildian out of Monopoli harbor, turning left and heading straight out across the Adriatic. It felt good to be crossing some open water, going to a new place.
Early on, we were in the company of a lot of other boats- fishing boats, mostly - but then a couple of hours later, we crossed the shipping lanes, which were chocka with big ships coming from the north and the south. As we watched them approach from both sides, we were glad once again to have our AIS on board, to help us determine how close we might get to those behemoths, and whether we'd need to change course to avoid them. And to let the ships' operators know the same about us.
When I lay down for my first off-watch (7-10pm), the sun was still out, the wind was 8 knots (apparent) from right in front of us, the sea was flat, and Awildian's engines (Thing 1 and Thing 2) were purring along. When I got up to stand my first watch, the wind had risen to 19 knots apparent, and the sea had taken a decidedly gnarly turn: rollers of ½ to 1½ meters were now impacting Awildian's port bow and beam, every 1 or 2 seconds. The waves themselves weren't all that big, but their short period ensured that one hull would be on a crest while the other was in the trough, turning our motion into a lurching, corkscrewing, carnival ride. Fortunately, neither Eric nor I is prone to seasickness, but I can tell you, it was very uncomfortable.
Monopoli to Cavtat
Inside Awildian, some things were sliding around a bit - most notably our wine and liquor bottles. As I'd not thought to put a layer of non-skid underneath them, they had knocked together hard enough to break a bottle of Aperol, spilling its sticky, fragrant, bright orange contents all over the enclosed shelf, seeping into seams and trickling down the wall underneath. I threw a towel in with the bottles to soak up the mess; I'd deal with that later when the carnival ride stopped.
I was amazed that nothing fell off its shelf all night long, including the dozen spice bottles that we keep on a narrow shelf in the galley; I'd thought for sure these would be the first to take a dive. But no, they just hung out there through it all. Our catamaran-cruising friends had always told us that things stay put on their boats, and I'm beginning to believe it.
The crazy motion got our dinghy swinging in its davits like a battering ram, and I woke Eric up so we could secure it. When he got up at 1 am to begin his watch, I flopped down, face-first, still in my PFD, onto the settee in the main cabin, where the motion was less rambunctious than it was in the hulls, and slept there until I awoke for my 4 am watch.
When I climbed up into the helm station to relieve Eric, he said, "Welcome to Croatia!" sweeping his arm across the eastern horizon, where dark peaks poked up into the lightening sky. Then he was off to bed.
Sunrise in Croatia
By the time that Eric had finished his morning coffee, just after 7 am, the sea conditions had improved considerably, and we watched the Croatian coast come slowly into focus. At 8 am I called the Cavtat harbormaster on VHF channel 16. I got no response. I repeated my call several more times as we approached the coast, with no response. Eventually I gave up, and we began to tie on fenders and docklines, readying Awildian for docking at the Q (quarantine) dock in Cavtat Harbor.
The route into Cavtat took us past several small, rocky islands that lie just offshore of Cavtat Harbor. Composed of white stones, topped with fragrant pines and scrubby bushes, and sporting a halo of exuberant gulls, this was our first view of the terrain that we will forever associate with the Dalmatian coast.
Gliding into little Cavtat Harbor, we looked for the Croatian flag and giant yellow Q that would indicate the quarantine dock, where we were required to berth Awildian. We saw it, at the very rear of the harbor. Not having any practice at the "drop your anchor, back up, and stern-tie to the concrete wall" technique, Eric steered Awildian to come in for a side-tie, which we had executed many times before.
As we approached the quay, a young man came running along it, shouting, "No, no, you must stern-tie." Great. Well, no time like the present, to learn a new skill. So Eric turned Awildian away from the concrete quay, motored forward a bit (how far out are you supposed to drop your anchor?), and when we thought we were far enough (it was already 30 feet deep) I dropped the anchor. I dropped chain as we backed slowly toward the quay, and when we got close, I ran to the stern and threw the young man our stern lines. He tied them to some nearly-invisible loops of rope that were embedded in the stones, then told Eric that he would show him where to go to do the immigration paperwork. Eric picked up the folder containing our passports and the documents he would need to clear in, put the passarelle down, walked onto the quay and followed the young man into the town.
While he was away, my job was to keep Awildian's transoms from coming into contact with the concrete quay, which wasn't all that far away. I kept both engines running in neutral, ready to juice one or the other, or both, to move forward. Which I had to do every couple of minutes, when a small puff of wind would push us back, or a boat would go by, causing waves that would bounce Awildian menacingly close to the quay. Adding to that was my lack of confidence that the anchor was set properly, as we'd done a quick job and hadn't used as much distance as we usually do. Eventually I gave up on making adjustments and just kept both engines in forward idle, maintaining a reasonable distance from the quay, as far as our stern lines would allow.
A bit close for comfort
Meanwhile, Eric's quest for clearance into Croatia was taking him on a meandering tour of the town of Cavtat. The young man had taken him first to see the police, as this is who takes care of passport control here. The policeman asked Eric if we'd had a nice trip from Monopoli. When Eric looked surprised and said, "yes," the policeman said that he'd watched our AIS track all the way from Italy. Here's a tip: DON'T try to sneak into Croatia.
The policeman opened our passports to a new page and "chunk!" "chunk!" stamped us into Croatia, said "Welcome to Croatia," and showed Eric a map to the next stop on his treasure hunt, the harbormaster's office. Apparently the map wasn't very clear, because after walking up and down the street a few times, Eric still couldn't find it. But he did find an ATM along the way, one of the many lining Cavtat's main street, and got some kunas (the Croatian currency) to pay the young man who'd caught our lines.
Eventually, Eric stopped into a restaurant where a waiter was setting tables, and asked him where the harbormaster's office was. This resulted in a blank stare from the waiter, but then a woman's voice from behind him said, "Come with me."
Eric's thought of "uh oh," must have shown on his face, because when he turned to look at the woman, she smiled and said, "I work at the harbormaster's office."
Eric walked down the street with the woman, having a nice chat, then they climbed some stairs along the side of a building which looked very much like a house. In fact it had no sign on the street at all, indicating that it was the harbormaster's office. The woman looked through our documents, then sent Eric down the street to the post office, where he had to pay our clearing-in fee (756 kuna, or about $105). He paid our bill and also bought a T-Mobile SIM card for my phone while he was there.
He went back to the harbormaster's office, where he gave the nice woman a receipt showing that he'd paid our clearing-in fee. She gave him three stamped copies of our crew list, returned our passports and boat docs, and gave him our cruising permit. Then she sent him back to the policeman, who was now sitting in a cafe near the waterfront. They walked back up to the police office and Eric gave him two copies of our crew list, and hurried back to the Q dock, about 45 minutes after he'd left, fully aware that I'd been working to keep Awildian off of it.
The young man saw Eric and walked with him to the Q dock. Eric paid him 100 kuna, I put Awildian's engines into neutral so that he would drift close enough to the quay to allow Eric to get on board, the young man untied the stern lines, we motored forward, picked up the anchor, and motored out of the harbor.
Very relieved to be away from the concrete dock, I sat on the trampoline, chatting with Eric on our headsets, as he steered Awildian around the pretty, tree-lined peninsula that separates Cavtat Harbor from the bay on the other side, where we were planning to anchor. A few minutes later, I dropped our anchor in 25 feet of clear water over sand, and we set it properly this time. When we pulled back on the anchor and it didn't budge, we both felt happy relief: after months of looking for our catamaran; dealing with paperwork; finding, ordering, and installing equipment on Awildian to get him ready for cruising; and busting our butts to get out of Italy, we were finally resuming our cruising life again!
Eric shut off the engines and we sat on our front porch having a celebratory arrival drink. Then we called our dear friends, Annie and Liam, had a very nice chat, and then collapsed into bed for a few hours' sleep, as Awildian floated gently on the placid water.
Awildian's first anchorage in Croatia: Uvala Tiha
42º 55.869'N,17º 09.832'E