Our Ever-Changing Backyard

20 November 2022 | Uvala Podškolj, Croatia
05 November 2022 | Lopud, Croatia
21 August 2022 | Monopoli, Italy
03 August 2022 | Croatia
20 July 2022 | Marina d'Arechi, Salerno, Italy
03 July 2022 | Marina d'Arechi, Salerno, Italy
11 June 2022 | New Zealand to Italy
19 May 2022 | Kensington, Whangarei, NZ
07 June 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
26 March 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
24 March 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
27 April 2020 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
22 March 2020 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ

Uvala Podškolj - A hidden gem, with a fabulous restaurant, too

20 November 2022 | Uvala Podškolj, Croatia
Vandy Shrader
June 23-24
Uvala Podškolj 42°42.314'N/17°44.673'E

When we pulled up our anchor at Lopud, we headed toward Otok Mljet, the 23-mile-long island whose southern tip lay about 9 miles to the west of Lopud. We knew that we wanted to eventually visit Mljet National Park at the northern end of the island, but today we left our options open as to where we'd stop along its coast. The day was sunny and nearly calm, with a few knots of wind coming from the customary direction of "right in front of us." So it was another day for Thing 1 and Thing 2 to provide our propulsion.

As we motored along, enjoying the scenery - blue water, white rocks, green pines - I checked Navily for nearby anchorages. One of the anchorages on the southern end of the island looked interesting and had good reviews on Navily. It also had a weedy bottom, which meant that anchoring would be suboptimal to difficult, but it sported several restaurant moorings to tie up to as an alternative. We decided to check it out.

Rounding the end of a tiny islet, we motored through the narrow, shallow passage to discover a stunning hidden gem of a place. The Uvala Podškolj anchorage was tucked into a narrow slot between the rocky coastline and a long, low, rocky island (Veliki Školj) that was currently being used as a rookery by hundreds of yellow-legged gulls. Eight large mooring buoys bobbed in the water, seven of them available. We chose one and tied Awildian up to it.

What a cool spot! Clouds of gulls circled over the little island and paddled near its shore, fragrant Aleppo pine trees stood on the mainland shore; Awildian floated on clear water through which we could see bright green blades of sea grass waving in the current, with fish swimming among them.

The gulls' island

We called Konoba Stermasi ("konoba" means tavern), to let them know that we'd taken one of their moorings. Adrian (pronounced "Ah-dree-ahn") answered and we had a nice chat; he told me that he was the owner of the family-run restaurant, and asked if we preferred to have lunch or dinner. We opted for dinner. So there we were, all settled in by 11 am.

We enjoyed the rest of the day. I spent hours watching the gulls - all ages were present, from fluffy, mottled gray babies, to squawking, full-grown adults - and scanning the pine trees for other birds.

The piney shore

I did some writing. Eric played bass and spent some time getting a Raspberry Pi working with our navigation data. We both peeked at the underwater world through Awildian's "fish TVs" (glass escape hatches, one in each hull).

We took our dinghy to shore at 6:30, and tied to the little concrete dock. From there, we walked up the hill along a winding, pine-shaded road, to Konoba Stermasi, which perched at the top, overlooking the inlet.

Adrian met us at the door and welcomed us in. As he led us to our table, we walked past a room adjacent to the kitchen that was full of big, burly men who were eating dinner at a long table. It looked like Adrian provided dinner for the fishermen and others who supplied the restaurant with its raw materials. We thought that was pretty cool.

Adrian and his family all participated in the running of the restaurant. Adrian told us that his mother made the gnocchi (she was also serving), and his wife made some of the other pastas. His daughter was pouring water and clearing plates. He probably had some other kin in the kitchen. It was truly a family affair, and well done at that.

It was at Konoba Stermasi that we were introduced to what became our favorite variety of Croatian red wine: Dingač (that's pronounced "din-gach"). Dingač is produced from plavac mali grapes, which are native to the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. In taste it approximates a zinfandel. Prompting Eric to call it "the zins of our fathers," a bad pun alluding to my Croatian heritage.

Adrian came by with the requisite silver platter of seafood offerings - freshly caught red scorpionfish, sea bass, sea bream, monkfish, and some woozy lobsters. I opted for a sea bream (they grill the fish whole here), and Eric chose a local wild boar dish that included Grandma's gnocchi. Even though this was a small, family-run restaurant, everything was done with panache: from the artistic presentations, to the creative menu items, to Adrian's in-depth and interesting descriptions of the wine and the food ingredients, to the classy way Adrian's young daughter, white tea towel over her forearm, poured the water.

A pretty dessert

As the evening went on, more people came into the restaurant, from several different countries, most of them from boats on moorings. The lively conversation floating in the air was flavored by many different languages. Adrian and his family - who'd spoken to us in flawless English - slipped smoothly from Croatian to English to French to Italian to German as they spoke with different people. We were impressed.

After dinner, our server offered us a selection of home-made after-dinner drinks, on the house. One was "strong," she told us, "like grappa." The other was "sweet, made with blueberries." We opted for one of each. I liked the sweet one much better. Though the grappa might make a good substitute, should we run out of fuel for our dinghy motor.

The next morning at first light (around 5 am), the gulls started their day, with lots of raucous conversation. We got up a little while later, and tuned in to the Mediterranean Cruisers' HF radio Net (the MedNet) at 8 am. Eric checked in and chatted with the net controller, a British bloke named Alan on a boat named Ticketeeboo (yes that's how he spells it), who was somewhere in Greece. We heard from one other boat, who was also somewhere in Greece, but that was it. We'd been expecting a much larger crowd of cruisers on the MedNet, since there are so many people on boats here, but for the whole summer, it was the same three or four participants every day. We were a bit disappointed.

When we were in the Pacific, we'd been active participants - and were even net controllers - on several HF radio nets there: the Puddle Jump Net when we'd crossed from Mexico to Nuku Hiva, the Polynesian Magellan Net (PolyMagNet) for the ride across the rest of the South Pacific, and the South Pacific Cruisers' Net (SoPacNet) into which it morphed later on. The nets created a huge community of cruisers, spread across oceans, sharing advice, suggestions, and knowledge about all kinds of things; reporting current weather conditions; and in one case even providing the location of the single roving Customs boat in a certain island nation, so you could know if you had a chance of being boarded. We enjoyed being connected with other cruisers who were nearby or hundreds - sometimes thousands - of miles away. It was nice to hear another voice when we were out on the blue, seemingly alone, and reassuring to know that if we needed something or got into trouble, there was a network of cruisers out there who were listening. I can't tell you how many times we "met" people on the radio nets, before meeting them in person. When we did meet them, we felt like we already knew them, and it was fun to see whether they looked they way we'd imagined them!

Which is why we were disappointed that there were so few cruisers on the MedNet. It could've been a really great source of information and community for us, especially as we're new to the area. At first we thought the lack of participation was specific to the MedNet, but we've since heard from our friend Andy, who is the net controller for the SoPacNet, that the number of participants in that net has also dwindled in recent years, from a few dozen to a handful. Many cruisers, it seems, are choosing to use sat phones rather than HF radios to communicate now. To each his own, but we feel they're missing out on all that HF radio nets have to offer.

Though we were in a lovely spot, we were on a restaurant mooring, which meant that we'd either have to leave today or eat dinner out again. Since we didn't really want to have dinner out again right away, we consulted Navily for places to go. First we looked at going north along the coast of Mljet. As most of these anchorages had moorings or restaurant quays, and we wanted to anchor, we kept looking. Next we checked for anchorages across the Mljetski Kanal, on the Pelješac Peninsula, which runs roughly parallel to Mljet. At the southern end of the peninsula was an anchorage in a little "fishhook" cove, which Navily called "Przina." Navily users commented that it was "quiet" and "uncrowded"; some of our friends who'd anchored there had remarked that there was "nothing there." All of this sounded really good to Eric and me, so we untied Awildian from the mooring and waved goodbye to the gulls as we rounded their island.

Elaphites, ghost hotels, f-ing ferries, and fireworks

05 November 2022 | Lopud, Croatia
Vandy Shrader
June 21-22, 2022
Cista Luka 42°35.39'N/18°13.40'E
Donje Čelo (Otok Kolocep) 42°40.872'N/18°00.206'E
Uvala Lopud (Otok Lopud) 42°41.272'N/17°56.368'E

Our route

The big picture

This morning, after a nice brekkie and a lovely phone call with our friends, Annie & Liam, who are still in New Zealand waiting for a weather window to sail north, we pulled up Awildian's anchor and headed north ourselves. We only need a teeny tiny weather window to travel these days, since we don't travel far.

Today, we had a few possible anchorages in mind, but we were planning to keep going until we decided that we wanted to drop the anchor somewhere.

We motored slowly along the coast, taking in the sights. Until we'd returned to Awildian in the anchorage after touring Dubrovnik, I hadn't realized that the patch of rusty red I'd been seeing in the distance was actually the roofs of the Old Town. It really wasn't that far from Cavtat.

Along the way, we passed reminders of the bloody Homeland War: Bombed-out husks of hotels perched along the shore of pretty Župa Bay at Kupari stood testament to the violence. These once-posh resorts, frequented by the upper crust of the Yugoslav Army, had been bombed by what the Croatian Homeland War Museum referred to in their exhibits as "the so-called Yugoslav Army" during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991.

Kupari ghosts

After the hotels had been bombed, they were looted for any valuable items before being systematically burned floor by floor. In the spirit of "life goes on," the beaches in front of the ruins are once again packed with sunbathers and swimmers, who seem unconcerned by the stark backdrop.

Hotel Kupari

Hotel Peregrin

Here's a link to some before-and-after photos of the hotels.

We motored close to shore as we approached, and then passed, Dubrovnik, affording some excellent views of the city and its walls and towers. It was fun to see them from "the other side." It certainly was an imposing edifice.

Dubrovnik walls

Hotel Belvedere, another bombed-out hotel closer to Dubrovnik

After our slow-motion cruise-by, we moved away from the coast and PUT UP OUR SAILS! Ok, so the wind was only 2-3 knots, but it was from behind us for a change, which meant that with our miniscule forward motion, the apparent wind was on our beam. We turned off the Things (Thing 1 and Thing 2, our Yanmar engines) and enjoyed about an hour of quiet (and very slow) sailing. We weren't in a hurry to get anywhere, so we had that luxury.

In the mid-afternoon we decided to stop at Donje Čelo, an anchorage at the northern end of Otok Koločep that had good reviews on Navily. ("Otok" is "island" in Croatian; you'll be seeing it a lot in this blog.) Koločep is one of the Elaphite Islands, a small archipelago just north of Dubrovnik that was named by Pliny the Elder (whom, you may recall, also wrote first-hand about the eruption of Vesuvius that wiped out Pompeii and Herculaneum - that guy got around). "Elaphite" comes from the ancient Greek word "elaphos" which means "deer." According to Pliny, there were a lot of deer on the islands; sadly, they're all gone.

When we pulled into Donje Čelo at about 1 pm, a few boats were already in the anchorage, leaving us only a couple of options for places to drop our own anchor. We dropped it in a large empty area, a good distance from a cement quay, which we assumed was probably a ferry dock. We wondered how often a ferry came. The answer is: frequently. There may no longer be deer on the islands, but there are certainly lots of ferries.

The ferry dock at Donje Čelo (not my photo)

After we had lunch, Eric went downstairs to take a nap. I sat on the back porch, writing and looking longingly at the trees on shore, where I hoped to take the dinghy in the morning to do some birdwatching.

The first time the big ferry came, it disgorged some passengers, picked up others, and then backed out on the other side of the quay from us to turn around. No problem (I thought). But on his way past Awildian, the captain gave me a very dirty look.

An f-ing ferry (not my photo)

About an hour later, the same ferry returned, docked, did the passenger dance, and backed up on the other side of the quay again. But when he passed by us this time - very close, I might add - he not only gave me a very dirty look, but he also blew the ship's horn, hollered something at me in Croatian and gestured vehemently. One did not need to understand Croatian to gather that he was telling us to clear off. Apparently, this big open space where we were anchored was his usual turning-around area, and he was not pleased to have a sailboat in it.

Not wanting to see how things escalated the third time the ferry came, I woke Eric up and told him the sad news that we'd have to find a different anchorage. There really wasn't a suitable spot for us in this one. I was peeved: I'd been looking forward to exploring the island tomorrow; also it was now about 4:30 pm, and we were pretty sure that anywhere we went would already be crowded. "F-ing ferry," I grumbled, a phrase that stuck for the rest of the time we were in Croatia, whenever we saw a ferry.

Consulting Navily, I found us a likely looking anchorage at the north end of Otok Lopud, another Elaphite Island, about 4 nm away.

We saw this along the way

Reported to be a wide, sandy bay, Uvala Lopud (remember, "uvala" means "cove") was in fact. But at 5:45 pm, it was already crowded with boats. Quite a few moorings also dotted the scene, further limiting our choices.

We had a heck of a time, finding a place to anchor that wasn't too close (by our standards) to another boat, or to the moorings, or to the swimming areas, or wasn't too shallow. Three times, we dropped our anchor, three times we pulled it up when we decided that it wasn't right. All the while, the sun was sinking lower in the sky, making it difficult for me to differentiate between sandy spots (= good) and weedy patches (= bad). At one point during this process, the metal thimble of the anchor bridle got wedged between the anchor shank and the side of the anchor slot, jamming the anchor so that it couldn't move. It took a couple of minutes, but Eric was able to wrench them apart. It was all quite a fiasco. Fortunately, we had our "marriage saver" headsets on, so while there was no yelling, I can tell you that there were plenty of quiet testy exchanges. Still, it was evident that today WE were the entertainment for the crews of the anchored boats. Some of them were even sitting on their foredecks with cocktails while they watched. I hope they enjoyed the performance; we weren't planning to have an encore.

Eventually we said "screw it," drove over to the mooring buoys, selected one, and executed a perfect pickup. At least we got that right! After our arrival rums, we floated the dinghy and drove to the dinghy dock at the restaurant that had supplied the moorings. We enjoyed a lovely dinner, which covered the cost of the mooring for the night.

Our waiter was a young man who said he was Serbian. I asked him how it is these days, for a Serb to be living and working in Croatia. He said, "it's fine, everyone gets along." That made us happy - and hopeful for the future. Things have changed since the days when the hotels were bombed.

Awildian waiting

The next day, another sunny hot summer day, we took our dinghy to shore and explored the tiny town. We strolled along the waterfront, with its charming old stone buildings. Two churches, a 15th Century monastery, a defunct and delapidated hotel, a small-boat marina with a ferry dock, several holiday apartments, a few restaurants, and three places to buy ice cream, made up the town.

Scenes aroud Lopud:

The school, old and new

The delapidated hotel

The monastery

The Lopud Fire Department

At around noon, one of the restaurant staff came out to Awildian in the restaurant's launch and asked us, very nicely and with lots of apologies, if we would please leave the mooring to make space for the lunch crowd. We obliged, and as most of yesterday's boats had left the bay by this time, creating lots of room, we had no problem anchoring.

Lopud sunset

This was the first night of the Lopud Film Festival, and a big screen had been erected in front of the one swanky hotel. A poster on shore informed us that tonight's movie would be "Fargo." We also suspected that there would be fireworks at some point, as a small fireworks barge that had been tied to shore all day was now floating in the middle of the bay, with a couple of men on it.

The fireworks began at 11:30 pm. We'd been asleep but we got up to watch the show.


The next morning, we looked outside and saw this:

Garbage collection, Lopud style

The barge carried the truck to several small jetties along the waterfront, where rubbish bins had been set up. Men emptied the bins into the garbage truck, then the barge moved along to the next jetty. It seemed a good solution to the problem of needing a big truck to pick up lots of rubbish, in a town with a tiny waterfront street. Most likely, the barge then took the truck to the mainland to be emptied.

Later in the morning, we pulled up Awildian's anchor and headed out, ready to explore some more of Croatia's beautiful island anchorages.

A day in Dubrovnik: in which we ride a cable car to the top of a mountain, take a tour of a really old town, and have a surprise meeting with a friend

09 October 2022 | Dubrovnik, Croatia
Vandy Shrader
One morning we got up early and took our dinghy into Cavtat, tied it up near Ivan's Restaurant, and walked the short distance to the bus terminal. We bought tickets to Dubrovnik - 25 kuna or about $3.50 each - and settled into our seats. We enjoyed the half-hour trip, mostly along the coast. The sea - blue and sparkling in the morning sun - lay to our left. On our right, dry, rocky, rolling hills stretched away into the eastern distance. At one point on our trip, a couple of women crossed themselves. I wondered whether the next bit of road was particularly treacherous, or whether they were honoring someone who had died nearby. I was hoping for the latter.

We got off the bus at the "cable car" stop, and after looking around for a way to cross the busy highway, discovered the pedestrian underpass made for that purpose. Safely on the other side of the road, it was a ten minute walk downhill to Dubrovnik's Old Town. Wandering through a warren of narrow stone walkways, and down several stone staircases, we eventually arrived at the "Dubravka 1836" restaurant, where we were to meet our tour guide.

A pretty walkway

Lucia was in her mid-twenties, a native Dubrovnikian who spoke perfect, American-accented English. Later in the tour, Eric asked her where she had learned English with an American accent. She said that she'd watched a lot of American television while growing up.

Our first stop was the lower terminus of Dubrovnik's cable car. Built in the middle of the twentieth century, and then destroyed in the 1990s during what Croatians call the "Homeland War," the cable car circuit was rebuilt by a Swiss company in the early 2000s, becoming fully operational in 2010. As we rode up the side of Mount Srđ behind Dubrovnik, we had spectacular views of the Old Town with its walls, the Adriatic Sea and several nearby islands.

View from the cable car

At the top of the mountain, we were treated to more impressive vistas, and we explored the outside of Fort Imperial.

The view looking north from Fort Imperial

Fort Imperial was built in the early 1800s to defend the eastern (land) side of Dubrovnik, and it came in handy on December 6, 1991. Early on that morning, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) attacked the fort, as well as Old Town Dubrovnik, a UNESCO site, killing civilians and destroying many buildings, provoking condemnation from the international community. Dubrovnik was successfully defended on that day by 163 soldiers, who halted the JNA's advance, one of the turning points of the war. The fort houses the Homeland War Museum, which we weren't able to visit that day, since we were on a tour.

Back down in the cable car, we walked through one of Dubrovnik's original city gates and began our tour of the Old Town. As we walked, often shoulder to shoulder with the passengers from a couple of cruise ships, Lucia showed us some of Dubrovnik's many ornate cathedrals and churches, informing us several times that "Croatia always has been and always will be Catholic."

"Always has been and always will be..."

She shared the history of many of the buildings, and took us to a pretty little square that had some fragrant Aleppo pines in whose shade cats napped and pigeons pecked, and high above, twittering swifts sliced through the air like jet fighters. The town was full of pigeons, who lived in the Old Town alongside the humans. Like Croatian Catholicism, they probably "always have been and always will be."

Restaurant pigeons

Dubrovnik has had a very busy history, having been occupied or governed by a revolving door of nations since its inception.

- Back in the dark mists of ancient times, it was home to the Illyrians (including the "Delmati"
tribe, from which the term "Dalmatia" is derived; Dalmatia is the name for the region that encompasses the Croatian coast).

- The Ostrogoths (late 5th century - 537 A.D.)

- Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire (537 A.D. - 1205)

- Republic of Venice (1205 - 1358)

- Autonomous Republic of Ragusa (1358-1808) During this period, the government of Dubrovnik instituted what were very enlightened policies for the time: they established a medical system, opened a pharmacy in 1317 (which is still in operation today), built shelters for the elderly and for orphans, had a hospital dedicated to isolating people who were suffering from infectious diseases, abolished the slave trade, and constructed a 20km-long water supply system which was in continuous use until the middle of the 20th century, and whose outlet (the Onofrio fountain) is still operating.
As an interesting aside, when it was discovered that some of the city's residents were boring holes into the aqueduct and channeling the water into their own homes, a law was instituted that made it illegal to do this; offenders would lose their right arm. I imagine that solved the problem.
Lucia told us that April 6,1667 was a really bad day for Dubrovnik. At about 8 am, the city was rocked by a big earthquake, which destroyed most of its buildings and killed more than 5,000 people. The resulting tsunami swamped the port and the coastal areas, and sank all the ships. Then a fire burned in the city for 20 days.

- France (1808-1815)

- Austria (1815-1918)

- Becomes part of the new nation of Yugoslavia (1918-1991)

- Becomes part of the breakaway nation of Croatia (1991-present)

Okay, enough history. Back to the tour.

We filled our water bottles at the Onofrio fountain, whose many outlets still provide cool, clean water four centuries after it was built to provide the residents of Dubrovnik with a reliable water supply.

Van at the Onofrio Fountain

We strolled along Stradun, Dubrovnik's wide main street, an expansive boulevard lined with outdoor restaurants, ice cream vendors, and souvenir shops.

Speaking of souvenirs, the multitude of Game of Thrones-themed souvenir shops tipped us off that some of the series had been filmed in Dubrovnik. Apparently, Cersei took her walk of shame down the stairs and through the streets of Old Town Dubrovnik, accompanied by jeering townspeople and enhanced by CGI. Neither of us knew that, being probably the only people on the planet who haven't seen the series. Fans can even book a Game of Thrones-themed tour of Dubrovnik.

We visited the famous Bard Bar, with its cliff-top terrace on the outside of the city walls, accessed from inside the city walls through a passageway. The view of the rocky shoreline and the shining sea from the terrace are spectacular.

Bard Bar Terrace

When our tour ended, Eric and I decided to walk back through the Old Town, looking for the pizza restaurant that Lucia had recommended. The narrow streets were packed with people. As we were walking, we heard someone shout, "Eric!"

Eric and I didn't expect that he was the Eric being called, because we didn't know anybody in Dubrovnik, or in all of Croatia, for that matter. But it turns out that we were wrong. We turned around and saw a smiling face that we both recognized...it was our cruising friend, Josè!

We'd met Josè back in 2015 when we were all living on our boats in Mexico. Eric and I were on SCOOTS and Josè's boat was named Carthago. We sailed across the Pacific within a few weeks of each other, crossing paths in French Polynesia, and later in New Zealand and Fiji. We'd last seen Josè in Fiji in 2019.

After big smiles and bigger hugs, and "what the heck are you doing here?!"s, we found a little pizza restaurant, where we, Josè, and his friend, Joao, sat down to enjoy some pizza and beer, and a lot of catching up.

Jose, Van, and Eric

Josè and Joao had just finished a few weeks working as skipper and crew for one of the Dubrovnik-based charter boat fleets, and would be leaving Croatia the next day. He'd just happened to see us moving along the crowded street. You never know when - or where - you'll meet one of your cruising friends!

After lunch, we all got ice creams at Peppino's, one of Dubrovnik's finest gelaterias, and then said our "see you later"s, because odds are we probably will.

Eric and I walked the short distance to Fort Lovrijenac. Situated on an outcropping just outside of the city walls, Fort Lovrijenac was built during the 11th century to defend Dubrovnik from the Venetians.

We walked through the rooms and climbed up onto the ramparts of the fort, happily breaking with our European tradition of only being able to see the outside of fortresses.

A pretty nice spot for a kayak concession (tucked into the little beach)

These days, the Venetians are pretty docile, and the fort is used for the production of plays.

A view toward Old Town Dubrovnik from the Fort

After touring the fort, we were ready to find the bus stop and return to Cavtat. That turned out to take a bit longer than we expected. We had gotten off the bus next to three highway lanes all going north, with no southbound lanes in sight. We weren't sure where to catch the bus going in the other direction. After what seemed like hours (but was probably more like 30 minutes) of ferreting along narrow walkways, plodding up and down stairways, and tramping along the edges of roads, both of us grumpy and sweaty in the oppressive summer heat, we finally found the correct bus stop and sat down to wait for our ride to appear. Which it did after a little while, shuttling us back along the coast (some passengers crossed themselves at the same piece of road as on our northbound trip) to Cavtat, where we retrieved our dinghy, zipped across the bay to Awildian, stripped down to our skivvies, and jumped in the water to cool off. We were done with history and sightseeing and crowds, ready to relax with a cold gin and tonic and play some cards.

Cavtat - our first taste of Croatia. In which we enjoy Croatian cuisine, take some walks, do some boat work, and reset our anchor twice in one night during a bora

18 September 2022 | Cavtat, Croatia
Vandy Shrader

Cavtat, Croatia

When we awoke on our first morning in Croatia, Awildian was floating languidly on the calm water of Uvala Tiha; tall gray mountains rose up to the east, and the Adriatic Sea - dotted with a couple of low, rocky islands - lay to the west, sparkling in the morning sun. Through our "fish TVs" (the glass escape hatches in each hull), the water was a bright turquoise and so clear that I could see sand and weeds on the bottom, twenty-five feet below.

Awildian in Uvala Tiha

After breakfast, we took our dinghy the short distance into the small boat harbor, and tied to a ring set into the rock wall surrounding the harbor. We'd come to explore the little town of Cavtat (pronounced "tsahv-taht"), but also with more mundane intentions: buy some groceries, buy a postcard to send to my dad for Father's Day at the post office, replace the bottle of Aperol that had smashed during our passage. I'm happy to report that we accomplished all of them.

As we wandered along Cavtat's main street, some things stood out to us:

1. The buildings and streets are OLD. Like, really old. Centuries old. Buildings and streets that have been in continuous use since they were built, back in the days when the Native Americans still had North America to themselves. We gawked at the sturdy buildings, at the narrow cobblestone streets, at the forest green shutters beside the windows, utterly charmed by the medieval ambiance. You can't find anything like that in the US, or in any of the other places we'd sailed.
2. You can't throw a rock without hitting an ATM. Seriously, there is one about every fifty feet or so, on average, along Cavtat's one main street. The Croatians make it very easy for you to extract money (kunas) from your bank account...
3. ...to spend at the many restaurants and souvenir shops. There are almost as many of these, as there are ATMs. The lunch menus of the restaurants were all pretty much the same, offering pizza; fried or grilled squid, octopus, or fish; salads; and pasta dishes. Most of the restaurants had pleasant harborside seating, under canopies to deflect the Mediterranean sun. We chose one and enjoyed a nice lunch, with a small glass of one of the local beers (Ožujsko).
4. Almost everyone speaks English, and most of the signs include English along with Croatian.

Sometimes, he throws me a fish

After lunch, we strolled along the shady path that follows the shoreline of the rocky, tree-covered peninsula that juts out from Cavtat.

Along with the tall, pointy Mediterranean cypress, were Aleppo pines, which produce a sublimely sweet scent that wafts lightly in the air, and is uniquely Mediterranean. Looking down through the trees at the water, I was surprised to see how clear it was, and how it took on many different shades in combinations of blues and greens, which stood in beautiful contrast with the white rocks. Except for the different foliage, the shoreline reminded me of those of New Zealand.

The lack of a sandy beach didn't dissuade sunbathers, who perched or lounged on the rocks, sprawled under the hot sun, slowly baking their skin; we saw swatches of the entire palette of pink, magenta, and red on display.

After our walk, we set off in search of groceries, visiting a produce stand and all three of Cavtat's small markets, including one up a big hill that rewarded us with a commanding view of the town, the harbor, and the sea beyond.

The view from the top

Back down the hill, we fetched our dinghy and returned to Awildian.

We decided to have dinner out that night, at Restauran Ivan, (yes, "restauran" is a Croatian word) a restaurant at the edge of the small boat harbor. This time when we arrived with our dinghy, Ivan himself, an distinguished-looking elderly gentleman with a menu tucked under his arm, helped us tie up our dinghy, and offered me a hand to help me up onto the wall. As he walked with us into his restaurant and led us to a table, he told us that he had "fresh fish dinner for two, very good, I filet it for you."

Soon after we sat down, Ivan came over with a large platter, on which lay two different, good-sized fish. "Orada or sea bass," he said. "Very fresh. They were swimming this morning."
To which I couldn't stop myself from replying, "Well, I guess they're not having a very good night."

Ivan and his fresh fish

We ordered the fish-for-two dinner, both choosing orada (Croatian for sea bream), along with a bottle of Pošip wine (pronounced "poship"), a white that my sister, Tara, had recommended after her recent visit to Croatia. The fish's arrival was presaged by our waiter coming over and sliding an extra leaf into the side of our table. Soon another young man brought our fish, which had been grilled whole, and which he proceeded to filet for us with tidy precision, as we chatted with him.

We asked him why it was that many of the Croatians - including him - spoke English with an American accent. He said that in his case, he'd studied at a hospitality academy in Dubrovnik, where the courses were taught by American instructors, in American English. He also mentioned that he was a member of the family who owned the restaurant.

A yummy dessert

It is so nice to be able to chat with people again! Our limited and very basic comprehension of Italian, really kept us from being able to have meaningful conversations with most people while we were there. Here in Croatia, where English is spoken by most people (at least the ones in the tourist centers), we can do that again, giving us more of an understanding and insight into the people and the place.

The next morning, after another calm night, we took care of a few boat projects - I cleaned the helm station and back porch (will we ever get rid of the Sahara mud?), we set out our cookbooks, which had soaked up most of the Aperol that had leaked from the bottle that broke on our trip across the Adriatic, and Eric organized his workshop.

Drying out the cookbooks

The forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms - which did develop in the mountains inland of us, giant white chef's hats blossoming into the sky, but didn't come our way - and the evening's entertainment would include a bora.

According to Wikipedia, a bora is "a northerly to north-easterly katabatic wind in areas near the Adriatic Sea." Basically, the wind blows down the tall mountains. Sometimes at hurricane force. Though the most powerful boras tend to happen in the winter, some do occur at other times. Sometimes they're forecast, sometimes not. Some places are more prone to them than others. There's a place in northern Croatia called the Velebit Channel, that's got a bad reputation for often having gale-force winds. We're not planning to go there.

Anyway, some strong NE winds were forecast for our part of Croatia overnight. We had set our anchor in a patch of sand, and while we had no reason to doubt its abilities, we always set an anchor alarm, to alert us if we've moved a certain distance outside of the area circumscribed by the length of anchor chain we'd let out, which would indicate that we were dragging. This night, as we were getting ready for bed, the wind started blowing from the NE, at 20-25 knots, with higher gusts.

Just to be ready, in case our anchor dragged, we made some preparations: we checked that Awildian's spreader light would allow me to see what I needed to, in order to work with the anchor, while not blinding Eric in the helm station. Check. We put the headsets that we use to communicate during anchoring (and other procedures) on the table, and made sure they were charged. Check.

Cavtat sunset

I wanted to trust our new anchor, I really did: it was heavy (88 pounds), it was the size recommended for our boat, it was sunk into some sand (which usually has good holding), it is classified as a Super High Holding Power anchor by Lloyd's of London, it had scored extremely high in all sorts of tests, and it had cost a pretty penny. I wanted to trust it, but as it hadn't been tested yet in much wind, I didn't. Not yet. Trust is earned, even trust in an anchor. To further complicate matters, the NE wind was exactly the opposite direction from the one we'd set our anchor in, which not only meant that Awildian's stern was now pointed at the shoreline (not all that far away), but also that the anchor would have to turn completely around and reset itself, to hold us in the new wind direction. Our anchor had scored really well in tests for re-setting, but how would it perform here, in this anchorage of sand and seagrass, an anchorage whose holding has been described as "unreliable"? So many unknowns. Too many for me to settle enough to go to bed, so I sat up, frequently checking Awildian's GPS track on our nav station computer.

When an anchor is set well, the boat will carve an arc along the edge of the circle at the limit of the anchor chain. I watched Awildian's track: it was creating a thick, roughly-crescent-shaped blob of tracks at the edge of the circle. Not the smooth arc I was hoping to see, but not the straight line back that would indicate the anchor was dragging. The wind was a steady 25 knots, gusting higher. During one particularly energetic gust, I saw Awildian's track bulge out, and then begin tracing a straight line back, toward the shoreline. Shit shit shit! We were dragging.

Before our anchor alarm had even gone off, I had woken Eric up. He turned on the foredeck light. We put on our headsets. He went to the helm station and started the engines. I went onto the foredeck, opened the anchor locker, and began pulling up our anchor. When it came up, I could see that it was cradling a big lump of muddy sand and seagrass plants. Apparently, before it could reset, it had encountered a patch of weeds; an anchor fouled like that couldn't bite into the bottom and reset itself.

As Eric moved Awildian forward, I poked at the muddy plant blob with a broom handle, clearing the anchor of its load. Some distance away across the black water - much farther from the shoreline - we decided to drop the anchor again. Since it was nighttime, I couldn't tell whether we were dropping in sand or weeds, so we just had to wing it. I dropped the anchor, which grabbed on the bottom and held. We both watched our GPS track for awhile, until we confirmed that Awildian's track was tracing a crescent. The wind was still blowing 20-25 knots, with those higher gusts. But at least it wasn't raining.

It took awhile before I was settled enough to go to sleep, but eventually I did, at 2 am.

I awoke to Eric saying, "Van! The anchor alarm is going off!" It was 4 am. We went upstairs and looked at our GPS track: sure enough, for whatever reason, our anchor had stopped holding us and we were dragging. Again. UGH!

We repeated the process as earlier. When I raised the anchor, it had a big wad of mud and weeds again. This time Eric drove Awildian all the way to the other side of the bay, which was upwind, where we'd have the entire bay to drag across, should the anchor let loose again. We dropped the anchor, set it, and watched our track. When Awildian began to trace an arc, we both went to bed.

The anchor held for the rest of the night. When I snorkeled over the anchor in the morning, I could see that it was set in sand. The wind was much calmer for the next three days, so calm in fact that we made plans to catch a bus from Cavtat to Dubrovnik, to explore the famous walled city.

Some Croatian words and phrases:
zdravo = hello
hvala = thank you
uvala = cove
tiha = quiet
restauran = restaurant
konoba = tavern
orada = sea bream

Dobrodošli u Hrvatsku (Welcome to Croatia) - In which we endure a nightlong carnival ride, Eric goes on a treasure hunt, and I keep Awildian from bashing against a concrete quay

30 August 2022 | Cavtat, Croatia
Vandy Shrader
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.

Cavtat Harbor

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

Working and playing in Monopoli

21 August 2022 | Monopoli, Italy
Vandy Shrader
We had chosen to stop in the marina at Monopoli, rather than continuing on to some of Italy's other clearance ports farther north, because a strong north wind (maestrale, mistral, or maestro, depending on your location) was forecast to come roaring down the Adriatic Sea in a couple of days, lasting for two or three days, and because many of the anchorages on the Adriatic coast of Italy didn't offer much shelter from the wind and seas, being in a marina seemed like the best option. Also, as an Italian port of entry, Monopoli has all the officials necessary for clearing into or out of the country, clearing out of Italy being our goal. From Monopoli to Cavtat, the Croatian town where we planned to check into the country, was only 122 nm, an easy overnight trip.

One of three small marinas in Monopoli, ours was called Cantiere Nautico Carpentinox and consisted of one floating pontoon, and a busy boatyard.

The two were connected by several platforms that moved somewhat independently of each other in the constantly surging currents of the harbor (think "moving fun house platforms"), creating an interesting symphony as their various metallic and wooden pieces ground together. These were anchored to the ground by a fat chain attached to one of the platforms and then tied around a large boulder near shore.

The fun house platforms (1,2,3,4 in red) and the boulder (circled in blue).

As marinas go, this one wasn't particularly "flash," but it had what we needed, the people were friendly, and it was in the right place for us. Plus there were lots of cats living there, too.

The morning after we'd arrived, Giuseppe, the owner of the marina and boatyard, and his son, Nico, met us at the picnic table under an awning near the pontoon, to discuss our berthing fees. Apparently, these things are negotiable to some extent. Nico spoke better English than his dad did, so he acted as translator. On my Navily app, I'd already seen an estimated cost of berthing at the marina, based on Awildian's measurements. I'd thought the cost was really high and was hoping that the actual cost would be lower.

Nico and his dad had a brief conversation in Italian, then Nico turned to us. When he told us the price his father had requested, our jaws dropped. It was more than twice the amount Navily had estimated, and I told Nico as much. He turned back to his dad, and they had a much longer, rapid-fire Italian discussion. When Nico turned back to us, he said that his dad had agreed to a lower berthing fee, but this was the lowest he would go. At 180 euro per night, it was much lower than the price Giuseppe had originally asked for, and closer to the Navily estimate. Welcome to marinas in the Med. Ka-ching!

While we were in Monopoli, we made the most of being in a town again. We visited the local marine supply store several times to look for items that we needed, we had one of our small European "CampingGaz" (yes, that's really what they call it here) canisters refilled, we went grocery shopping, and we ate lunch out a couple of times. Most places were within a couple of kilometers of the marina, so we could get there by walking. We got to know the area pretty well during our time there.

We did quite a few maintenance and repair jobs while we were in the marina. Eric bought the items for making a pulley system to hold the two jib sheets up off the roof, where they often tried to tie themselves to anything that's there, most notably solar panel wiring and connections, with the intention of ripping them off. Our friends on Gone With the Wind have a similar setup that works well for them. Eric went up the mast and deployed his gadget on one of the less-windy days. It looks like it will work great.

He also changed the oil and filters in both engines (whom we've named Thing 1 and Thing 2), and Giuseppe had given us a big carboy to store our used oil. We cleaned the watermaker with a cleaning solution, and then Eric installed new hoses with valves to direct the outlet water from the watermaker either out into the sea or into one of the water tanks.

We also went exploring. Just down the way from the marina was a 16th century castle, the Castello Carlo V. We checked its website for the hours that the castle was open, and went to have a look. Arriving in the middle of its open hours, we found the doors locked and a sign apologizing for the castle being closed as it was under renovation. We were now two for two with Italian castles...we had yet to see the inside of one.

The outside of another Italian castle

We enjoyed walking through Monopoli's old town (centro storico), wandering along narrow, winding cobblestoned streets with their tall stone and stucco buildings on either side.

And how really old, sort of old, and new buildings were juxtaposed, with people living in all of them.

Many of the nooks and sculptures on the buildings made pleasant nesting sites and perches for pigeons.

Tucked into a small section of the old port, we saw dozens of gozzi, the small bright blue traditional fishing boats still used by local fishermen.

We visited the Cathedral of Santa Maria della Madia, a huge, ornate edifice that was built from 1740-1770 on the site of the original cathedral that was constructed in the 1100s, that was itself built on the site of even earlier religious gatherings.

The story goes that construction of the first cathedral had to stop because there weren't enough wood beams for the roof. Then a miracle happened: a raft constructed of strong wooden beams and carrying a painting of the Madonna with child appeared in the seaport. The beams were used to complete the cathedral roof, and the painting became a sacred icon in the church.

The sacred painting that arrived on the raft in the 12th Century. (not my photo)

The current church is an amazing piece of architecture, with a reliquary, a room to house some of the miraculous wooden beams, lots of sculptures and statues, and an extravagantly-decorated roof held up by dozens of thick marble pillars. Or, at least some of them are marble...on closer inspection we discovered that many of the pillars were actually plaster that had been painted to look like marble. Apparently, the cathedral hadn't received a second miracle that provided marble for the remaining pillars.

And, we spent a couple of days just relaxing on Awildian, doing things that we wanted to do, a rare treat for us, since moving aboard.

When the maestrale/mistral/maestro had blown itself out, we had seen all we wanted to see in Monopoli, done all the repairs and maintenance we wanted to do, filled the water tanks, and paid our marina bill, we untied the lines that were holding Awildian, and we finally - FINALLY - said goodbye to Italy.

We did not pass GO, we did not collect $200, we just headed east across the Adriatic Sea toward Croatia.

Vessel Name: Awildian, previously SCOOTS (2012-2021)
Vessel Make/Model: Leopard 48
Hailing Port: San Francisco, CA
Crew: Eric and Vandy Shrader
About: We've been living aboard full time since September 2014. We sailed our Able Apogee 50, SCOOTS, from 2012-2021, and are now aboard our Leopard 48, Awildian, since March 2022.
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Pics from our trip time aboard Scoots in July 2013.
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