Our Ever-Changing Backyard

13 November 2023 | Orikum, Albania
30 October 2023 | Durrës, Albania
29 October 2023 | Porto Montenegro to Athens, Greece
22 August 2023 | Montenegro
18 April 2023 | Monopoli, Italy - Zadar, Croatia
09 April 2023 | Korčula, Croatia
01 April 2023 | Otok Badija, near Korcula, Croatia
15 March 2023 | Mljet National Park, Croatia
11 December 2022 | Uvala Przina, Pelješac Peninsula, Croatia
20 November 2022 | Uvala Podškolj, Croatia
05 November 2022 | Lopud, Croatia

Himarë, Albania: an old town, a visit from a policeman, and chillin' on the Albanian Riviera

27 November 2023 | Himarë, Albania
Vandy Shrader
May 5-7, 2023

The downwind ride to Himarë was loud, educational, and expensive. The wind, which was from behind us, built throughout the day, to a peak of about 25 knots in the afternoon. The waves were about 1 meter, not that big, but they were choppy and on our stern quarter. They introduced themselves to Awildian's hulls with bangs and bumps every few seconds. This, along with the whining of the wind in Awildian's rigging, was the "loud." But hey, we were sailing, which was something of a novelty for us, here in the Med.

The "educational" was our opportunity to try several maneuvers with Awildian - reefing while underway, sailing downwind in strong wind, and turning him upwind through the strong wind - that we hadn't done with him before.

The "expensive" was making the decision to buy an additional headsail for Awildian, probably a Code 0, that would allow us to fly two headsails wing on wing (with no mainsail) when going downwind, like we did on SCOOTS. For more than a year, we'd been considering whether we wanted to deal with the expense of buying the sail, bowsprit, and compression post, but this downwind trip solidified it for us.

As we skimmed along the coast, we passed long white beaches, with lots of new hotel and apartment construction going on behind them, all in the boxy "Soviet bloc" style. This part of the coastline, known as the Albanian Riviera, is apparently a popular tourist destination. Himarë, where we were headed, is the most popular spot along the Riviera.

Here's more info about the Albanian Riviera. Albanian Riviera

The mountains behind the beaches were stunning, ranging from tall, pointy peaks that promised katabatic winds, to some shorter, green-and-white, rounded mountains that sported parallel lines of what looked to be layers of sedimentation that had been morphed and molded during the formation of the mountains. They were a really interesting geological feature that I hadn't seen before. I didn't take any photos, but I made this sketch which looks exactly like them. Haha

The town of Himarë (known in ancient times as Chimaera) occupies a pretty cove, lined with white sand beaches. In the hills overlooking the modern town is the Old Town, featuring Himarë Castle. The water was very clear, and I could see areas of sand scattered among the grass, even in the late afternoon, when we arrived. We dropped Obama in a big sand patch just off the town, enjoyed an arrival beer, and relaxed.

Himarë looking northwest

Himarë looking southwest

Shortly after we arrived, a small motorboat ferried Himarë's port captain over to us. He asked to see our paperwork, and then, convinced that we were legit, went on his way.

The next day, we took our dinghy to the very nice concrete dock and walked into town, intent on finding a taxi to take us up the hill to explore the old castle. No Foreign Land, one of the cruising apps we use, indicated a taxi stand in the middle of town, which we found easily. But there were no taxis anywhere in evidence. We waited around for awhile, and then walked to a nearby hotel - the ritzy-looking Hotel Chimaera - to see if the desk clerk would call us a taxi. She was happy to do so, but even she had to call four different drivers before one agreed to pick us up.

Hotel Chimaera's fancy sculpture

We rode up the steep, winding road to the castle (very glad that we'd decided to hire a taxi rather than walk!), and walked over to the entry kiosk. The attendant asked us if we were "pensioni" = retired = old people. I'm not sure why he thought that we were old. Anyway, since we are retired, we said yes, whereupon he proceeded to sell us geezer tickets for 90 lekë instead of the usual 100 lekë (about 1 euro). Such a bargain!

The castle, whose walls and buildings comprise the Old Town, stands on the cliff known as Barbaka, rising 240 meters above the sparkling sea.

Though much of the Old Town's structures, whose construction began in the 8th Century BC, are ruined,

some buildings have been renovated, and people are still living in them.



You could probably identify the people who live in the Old Town if you saw them, because they must have huge leg muscles, from walking up the hill to their home, from the closest carpark. Carrying groceries must be quite an athletic feat.

Sharing the picturesque Old Town with the humans were some big, shaggy goats, who stared at us suspiciously whenever we encountered each other.

We enjoyed wandering along the stone paths of the town,

peering through windows at the sea or wildflower-covered hillsides,

and exploring an old Byzantine church.

Not much of a view anymore

It was a really cool, really old place, and a warm, sunny day as well.

An Albanian castle cat

Afterwards, we walked the 2.5km back downhill, past this petrol station with an interesting name,

and some buildings either slowly being built or slowly decaying,

to modern Himarë's beachfront,

where we enjoyed lunch while gazing at the beautiful turquoise cove, where Awildian was floating placidly on the calm sea.

While we were eating, we noticed that a lot of people were walking past the restaurant, gathering at a place just down the beach from us. Every so often, someone would say, "Check, check" (in English, oddly enough) over a sound system. Hundreds of folding chairs had been set up, each one with a small Albanian flag in it.

Then we noticed a police boat out in the cove, hanging out near Awildian. Humph, we thought, don't the police talk to the port captain? When we finished our lunch, we dinghied back to Awildian. The police boat came right over to us. We figured the policeman was going to want to see our paperwork, too, but he didn't. Instead of the usual queries, he asked,

"Were you on land?"

"Yes," we replied honestly. Surely, he'd noticed us leaving the dinghy dock.

"Are you staying on the boat now?" he asked.


"Good," he said. "Please stay on your boat for the rest of the day. We have something on land."

"All right," we said. "No problem."

Only then did he motor away from Awildian, but he continued to hang out in the cove, not far offshore from the place where people were gathering. We wondered what this "something" was.

A little while later, all the chairs were full, and many more people were standing nearby. Some music started to play, and over the PA a man made an announcement that sounded like an introduction. People cheered and clapped and waved their miniature Albanian flags exuberantly. Clearly, the "something" was about to happen. Soon, a man came to the podium and, when the audience had finished clapping and cheering, he began to speak. Though he was speaking in Albanian, his presentation sounded a lot like a political speech. Curious, I Googled "Albanian elections 2023," and learned that Albanian's national election was the following weekend. Yep, a campaign speech. We never did figure out who the man was, but his audience loved him.

It was no wonder then, that the police were cruising in the cove. We're not sure whether they wanted to make sure that we stayed on Awildian because they were concerned for the candidate's safety, or for ours. When the speech was over, and the people began to disperse, the police boat left the cove.

With everything quiet again, we enjoyed drinks while sitting on Awildian's front porch, watching the sunset. The next morning we would leave for Sarandë, about 20 miles to the south, where we would meet up with the immigration agent we'd contacted, and clear out of Albania.

A few days in Orikum

13 November 2023 | Orikum, Albania
Vandy Shrader
On the hook again

From Dürres, we headed south to Orikum, a town near the south end of Vlorë Bay, about 60nm away, where we planned to anchor for a few days during a strong southerly blow.

The big picture

Though most of Albania's ports offer scant shelter for boats, Vlorë Bay provides protection from every direction except for north, so for us it would be perfect.

Good protection from the south

We had a lovely trip to Orikum, even sailing for a few hours, going 7-9 knots on calm water. Believe me, here in the Med, sailing is not always a given. Some people even say that "MED" is an acronym for "motor every day," which isn't far from the truth. Awildian's new feathering props slide silently through the water when he's sailing, causing very little drag, and his hull is clean, clean, clean, all of which make for a faster, more enjoyable sail.

Our new Sarca Excel anchor made its debut in Orikum, passing its first two tests - setting and resetting - with flying colors. Setting is when we deploy the anchor with an appropriate amount of chain for the depth, and it grabs the ground and holds. Resetting is when the anchor has to turn, due to a shift in the wind or current, and then resets itself and holds. We'd named this anchor Obama, as in "No Drama Obama," because "no drama" is what we want from our anchor.

We enjoyed being back on anchor, rocked to sleep with the gentle movement of the sea, and waking to the sounds of songbirds, roosters, and the shoosh of the waves on the sandy beach. We were also happy that all the modifications we'd made during the winter were working well, and made Awildian an even more comfortable and energy efficient home than he had been before.

Orikum's beautiful mountain backdrop

Playing with friends

During our time in Orikum, we enjoyed exploring and socializing. Seb and Suzanne of Racoon II, and Sarah and Peter of Flying Fish, had also arrived from Dürres, and another boat from Porto Montenegro, Venere, home to Tim and Laura, and their two young sons, Miles and Aidan, was anchored farther south in the bay.

Seb and Suzanne invited us over to sample some local Albanian white wines and beers. Albanian wines are sold in 1.5l plastic bottles, like those you'd buy bottled water in. Though their packaging was initially a bit off-putting for those of us accustomed to wine in bottles or even boxes, the wines were good, as were the beers.

Lonely Planet warns that "the local red wines are universally bad" so we didn't sample any of those.

One afternoon, Tim brought his energetic boys over to Awildian for a visit. The boys had a great time jumping on Awildian's trampoline (a novelty, since Venere is a monohull), while we chatted with Tim.

On another day, we went for a walk with Sarah, Seb and Suzanne, to stretch our legs and see the sights around Orikum. Turning right out of the marina, we walked along the paved road that led to town. The sights included lots of boxy, shabby, Soviet-bloc-style apartment buildings; a shepherd with his small flock of shaggy sheep (and one goat);

the concrete skeleton of an unfinished building, whose ground floor was occupied by a bunch of goats;

a narrow, crumbling bridge over a shallow river strewn with trash, and a long sandy beach.

Awildian hanging out off the beach

We were heading for a restaurant called Oriku, arriving for lunch just as the sky opened up. Fortunately, the rain didn't last long, and we were able to walk back to the marina after a delicious lunch, without getting wet.

An impromptu visit from friends
While at Orikum, we enjoyed an overnight visit from our German friends Andi and Kerstin, with whom we'd sailed in Croatia and Montenegro the previous autumn.

They were driving their van and boat trailer to Greece, where they'd left their boat, Venus. As Albania was on the way, they made a detour to the coast, to meet up with us. We had a great time catching up with them.

When they arrived at Orikum Marina, Andi parked the van and trailer in the carpark. He and Kerstin got out and began walking toward the marina docks, where Eric was waiting with the dinghy. The security guard who was stationed at the marina entrance approached Andi and spoke to him, probably telling him that he couldn't park the van and trailer there, but Andi couldn't know for sure, as it was in Albanian.

Andi smiled in a friendly way and replied - in German - that he was meeting a friend at the marina, and kept walking toward the docks.

The guard again spoke to him in Albanian. Andi again smiled and replied to him in German, and kept walking.

The police, who have a small outpost at the marina, came over to see what was happening. They spoke with the security guard, and then with Andi, in Albanian. Andi continued to smile disarmingly and reply in German, now also pointing at the dinghy, as he and Kerstin kept walking to where Eric was waiting.

The police then spoke with Eric, whose understanding of Albanian was no better than Andi's. All he could do was smile and tell them, in English, that he didn't speak Albanian. With the police and guard still talking, Kerstin and Andi - who was still smiling in a friendly way - climbed into the dinghy, and Eric whisked them off to Awildian.

The next morning, when Eric brought Andi and Kerstin back to the marina, the police and guards came over and again spoke with Andi in Albanian. Andi smiled and told them in German that he was going to move his van and trailer now. They followed Kerstin and Andi back to their van and watched as they climbed in, and, with some help from the guard to maneuver out of the carpark, drove away.

It would have been nice to do some more exploring inland from Orikum, but we were on a schedule and needed to keep moving. And so, soon after Andi and Kerstin were on their way, we moved to the beach town of Himarë, about 40 miles to the south.

Goodbye Montenegro, Hello Albania!

30 October 2023 | Durrës, Albania
Vandy Shrader
Late April, early May 2023

As April drew to a close, and our marina contracts were set to expire at the end of the month, the winter cruising community at Porto Montenegro began to disperse. One by one, boats left to continue their Mediterranean meanderings. Some went west to southern Italy, some went north to Croatia and Venice, some went south to Albania or Greece.

Awildian was included in this last group: we had to be near to Athens, Greece, by the end of May, when our daughter, Kelly, and her boyfriend, Daniel, would arrive to spend a few days with us. We'd decided to make some stops in Albania along the way, to see a bit of this anachronistic country, and to delay our entry into Greece, which would start the clock on our 90 day Schengen visas. The trip to the Athens area would be about 500 miles, taking us around the bottom of the Peloponnese Peninsula. We had to take "the long way," since the Corinth Canal, which cuts across the top of the Peloponnese Peninsula, creating a shortcut between the Ionian Sea to the west and the Saronic Gulf to the east near Athens, wouldn't open until June 1.

Like everyone else, we began making our final preparations: buying extra groceries, filling our water tanks, checking the weather, saying our goodbyes. For us, it also included another trip over the mountains to Podgorica, to submit our applications for Croatian citizenship - with their reams of supporting documents - at the Croatian Embassy. Application accomplished, we focused on clearing out of Montenegro.

The first leg of our trip would be 90 miles, from Porto Montenegro to the port of Durrës, Albania, which we could do either as a long day trip or an overnighter. We chose to do the day trip, which meant that we'd have to leave very early in the morning, which then meant that we'd need to start clearing out of Montenegro the day before.

Clearing out of Montenegro involves a trip to the harbormaster (during business hours), who makes sure that our tourist taxes have been paid, and issues us a one-day "vignette" (basically a cruising permit), for 47 euro, that allows us to legally move Awildian from his slip in the marina to the Customs dock next door. The rest of the process, which is done with Customs and the port police, can be done at any time since they operate 24/7.

The day before we planned to leave, Eric went with Miloš (pronounced Mee-losh), one of the two Yacht Assist agents who are named Miloš, to visit the harbormaster, returning with our vignette. Next, we walked to the marina office, checked out of the marina, said goodbye to the helpful women who work there, and left them with some chocolates as thanks for all their help during the winter.

When our alarm went off at 4 am the next morning, we got up and had some coffee. By 4:30 am we were ready to go. The sun wasn't quite up yet, but between the marina lights and the brightening sky, we could see well enough. We put our headsets on, released Awildian's lines, and motored over to the Customs dock. Eric took our documents to the Customs building to get our passports stamped and complete the checking out process. A little while later he returned with the goods. We were ready to go. As we left the dock and motored toward the mouth of the Boka, I waved goodbye to Montenegro and said, "See you in the Fall."

The trip to Durrës was blissfully uneventful. The sun shone, the air was warmish, the sea offered up only minimal waves. With a breeze behind us, Awildian scooted along at 8 to 8.5 knots, propelled by the Things and, sometimes, a sail or two. From the water, Albania looks a lot like Montenegro. But once you get closer, or dig deeper, the similarities stop.

For instance. Along the northern Albanian coast, our chart plotter had some odd icons on it. When we looked them up, we discovered they were mines, as in, anti-ship mines. Hmm. That's something we hadn't seen before. Along with the icons, the chart had two notes:

"The sea area represented on this chart in front of Albania was formerly mined. Although this area was cleared, anchoring, fishing and diving as well as any other activity on the sea bottom are potentially dangerous."

"The area reported in this chart is dangerous because of former mined area. Vessels should navigate only during daylight hours and follow the recommended tracks shown on chart."

We didn't quite tiptoe through the area, but it did make us wonder about how conscientious the mine clearers had been. Fortunately, the mines had been cleared decades ago, so we weren't likely to bump into one they might have missed.

Also, all along the coast, everywhere we looked, igloo-shaped cement bunkers were perched on the headlands. More about these later.

By 4:30 pm we were in the channel approaching Durrës Harbour. We'd expected to anchor out, but Ilir Gjergji, our agent, texted that we should bring Awildian into the marina. Yachts are required to use a local agent, to clear into Albania, and Ilir had come highly recommended by other cruisers. Rightly so, it turned out. When I called on VHF Ch 16, the Durrës port control operator was extremely helpful and friendly, welcoming us to Albania, directing us where to tie up, and wishing us a pleasant stay.

Ilir and a few burly dudes were waiting when we arrived, ready to catch our lines and tie Awildian to the dock. The dock being a crumbling concrete quay, with rebar sticking out here and there, and some old tires slung alongside at intervals to provide a modicum of cushioning (as well as creating black abstract art wherever they touched the hull).

The dock in Durrës

Ilir welcomed us to Albania and came aboard. While I was busy adding more fenders between Awildian and the dock, Ilir told Eric a bit about Albania, and wrote down some useful Albanian phrases for us. Then he took our boat paperwork, and some money for fees (euros were accepted, if you don't happen to have any Albanian lekë handy); he returned later, having checked us into Albania. Fun fact: your passports don't get stamped when you enter Albania by boat. I don't know whether they do if you fly in.

Awildian tied to the dock

Soon after Ilir left, we saw a pair of our friends, Seb and Suzanne, walking along the dock toward us. Wait...Seb and Suzanne had left on their boat, Racoon II, the day before, heading for Preveza, Greece. What were they doing here in Durrës? What they were doing was recovering from a very uncomfortable trip, having been bounced around all night long in lots of wind and steep, confused seas out in the Adriatic. Eventually they'd made the decision to abort their trip to Greece and head for the shelter of Durrës Harbor. A decision that they were quite happy with. They were able to contact Ilir during the night and he'd set everything up for them in the marina prior to their arrival.

A little while later, some of our other friends from Porto Montenegro, Sarah and Peter, arrived on Flying Fish. Sarah docked their boat directly in front of us. Ilir took their paperwork and went off to clear them in.

The six of us then convened on Awildian's front porch for drinks and snacks, to celebrate our safe arrival into Albania, mark the beginning of a new cruising season, and to share the details of our passages.

A reunion in Durrës

Seb and Suzanne's was by far the most dramatic. Here we all were, in a shabby but sheltered marina in Albania, a country that we knew almost nothing about, and couldn't have located on a map a year ago. But that's part of the fun of cruising.

The next morning, after Flying Fish continued south, Ilir gave the four of us a lift into Durrës. Along the way, he told us about life in Albania: for instance, no one was allowed to own a car until 1991. Just one of the many edicts of Albania's controlling, paranoid, and bat-shit-crazy dictator, Enver Hoxha, who was in power from the mid-40s until his death in 1985.

In addition to banning private cars, Hoxha also outlawed the practice of religion and "purged" many members of the clergy. His "purges" extended far beyond the clergy, encompassing his political rivals, aristocrats, old high school friends, intellectuals, and apparently anyone else who happened to cross his mind.

One aspect of Hoxha's paranoia was his constant fear that Albania would be invaded by any number of countries, and so he ordered the construction of more than 750,000 concrete bunkers, a policy known as "bunkerization." Many of these bunkers are still around, their domed lids popping up seemingly everywhere you look in Albania, a tribute to Hoxha's unbridled paranoia. Though most are decaying slowly in the elements, some bunkers have been repurposed as art objects, restaurants, or even B&Bs.

Some examples of bunkers, images from the web:

You can read more about the transformation of some of Albania's bunkers here:

Albanian bunkers

Hoxha was apparently so impressed with the design of the bunkers that he went to visit the engineer who'd designed them, Josif Zagali, and asked whether the bunkers could withstand a tank assault. When Zagali proudly confirmed that they could, Hoxha ordered him to go inside one of the bunkers, and then had a tank shoot it with an artillery shell. The bunker held up perfectly and Zagali emerged unscathed - except maybe for his hearing, and the need for a new pair of trousers. Zagali later fell victim to one of Hoxha's "purges"; he was arrested and thrown in prison for eight years.

The population of Albania was essentially isolated and held hostage by a deranged politician for forty years. There's a lot more information out there, about Hoxha and his policies, as well as life in Albania during his rule and after. It's some crazy stuff. I'll leave it for you to explore more if you'd like.

On our day out in Durrës, Eric, Seb, Suzanne, and I explored an ancient Roman amphitheater that's located right in the middle of the city.

Only discovered in 1966, it's been partially excavated; the rest will have to wait as there are entire modern neighborhoods built on top of it. We paid our 200 lekë apiece (about 2 euro), and had a wander around the grounds. It was very interesting. There were tunnels under the spectator stands, just like in a modern stadium, and pens where combatants were kept. We could almost imagine the lions and gladiators waiting there, before their entry into the arena to satisfy the bloodlust of the audience.

Modern snails, ancient walls

After leaving the ancient amphitheater, we strolled through modern Durrës - which is an interesting blend of old, really old, and new - arriving at a seaside promenade.

Davey Jones in dry dock.

Sculpture at the port

Why is it, that we cruisers, though we spend most of our time on the water, still gravitate to it, when given the opportunity to walk on land? We strolled along the wide paved path, past occasional sculptures, and beside a flotsam-littered beach.

Beachside sculpture

Vendors hawked their wares - sunglasses, jewelry, balloons - and locals sat on benches, enjoying the sunny day. We climbed a concrete "ziggurat," and sat there for awhile, chatting and watching the waves.

Seb and Suzanne on the ziggurat

Van and Eric on the ziggurat

Then we found a beachside restaurant and had some lunch. The local beer, Korça, was very refreshing.

After lunch, we walked back to the marina and looked at the next day's weather forecast, confirming that it still looked good for us all to head to Orikum, about 60 miles south.

The view out the window. Not a good look!

Awildian's 2023 Adventures: May, an animated recap

29 October 2023 | Porto Montenegro to Athens, Greece
Vandy Shrader
Now that we're back in our winter berth at Porto Montenegro, we have time to reflect on our cruising adventures from this past summer, which took us to Albania, Greece, and Turkey.

I'll be posting blogs with all the details and photos, but in the meantime, here's a link to an animated version of our travels for the month of May, so you'll know how our cruising season began...

Awildian's Adventures May 2023

PS. Be sure to turn on the sound, in the lower right hand corner.

Montenegro Part 5 - Wintertime = Project Time

22 August 2023 | Montenegro
Vandy Shrader
Wintertime = Project time
We didn't spend all our time socializing, birdwatching, jetsetting across Europe, and doing good deeds: wintertime was project time, and we had a long list of them that we wanted to get done while Awildian was in Montenegro.

Our goal is to make Awildian - a former charter catamaran - into a comfy, efficient cruising catamaran. During our first three months on Awildian, last year in Italy, we began this process. This year, in Montenegro, we hoped to move it even farther along.

Some of the tasks we completed in Montenegro included:
• adding three more solar panels, bringing the total number to 8, and our total available wattage to 3250,

• programming the Raspberry Pi to measure, display, and control several operations,

• finding and buying a kayak,

• buying and installing lithium batteries (and all the controllers and the other necessary accessories that make them safe and operational) to store all that solar energy,

Happy day! The batteries arrive!

We also made some changes to our galley, and added a cockpit fridge. This is what our galley and cockpit looked like before we started adding things...

• installing a combination microwave/convection oven to replace the small microwave and the crappy propane oven that came with Awildian,

Our new convection/microwave oven

• replacing our propane cooktop with an induction cooktop

• installing a fridge in our cockpit, which involved Eric cutting the biggest hole he's ever had to, in a boat...

...and me lying on my back in a very tight space, to fiberglass the bottom of the support shelf in place.

Eric mixed the epoxy, and dipped the fiberglass pieces into it, before handing them to me to use.

The new fridge!

• converting one of the former heads into a storage closet

• changing the bathroom doors so they open OUT instead of IN.

We also took care of the dozens of repair, replace, and maintenance tasks that needed to be done when they arose. In other words, the usual stuff.

We had Awildian hauled out at Navar Boatyard for about ten days in March.

Because the facilities there were pretty basic, and the price of Airbnbs was pretty low, we enjoyed staying in a lovely apartment during that time.

While Awildian was in the boatyard, we did these projects:

• replacing our two fixed-blade props with Max Prop feathering props,
• installing underwater lights (blue/white),

The starboard prop and underwater light

• replacing several thru-hulls,
• installing a ground plane for the SSB radio,
• buying some new anchor chain, adding it onto the existing chain, marking it at 30-foot intervals.

We had some of the boatyard's techs take care of some things, too:

One of our rudders had been "clunking" for several months. Eric, correctly predicting that the problem might be a worn knuckle bearing, had ordered the parts to fix it; he'd even doubled the order, in case the other rudder might benefit from the new parts as well. The techs pulled the rudders, fixed the one that was clunking, using one of the new part sets, and reinstalled them. Now we have two quiet rudders and a spare knuckle bearing.

One of the rudders going back in

We also had some engine techs service Awildian's two saildrives. As soon as Awildian was swinging in the air in the travelift slings, these guys came with a beat up station wagon, removed the saildrives, and took them back to their workshop. A few days later they brought them back, all clean and serviced.

And since it was time for Awildian's spa treatment, we had his bottom paint redone and his props painted with PropSpeed. This should keep the critters off for awhile.

Awildian ready to splash with his slick new bottom paint

Back home in beautiful Porto Montenegro

We'd also planned to remodel our galley when we went all-electric, and we'd even had a local contractor come by to have a look and a chat with us about it, in October. When he left, he said it would be no problem to do the job, and he asked Eric to draw up the plans for what we wanted. When he received them, he said, he'd be in touch with an estimate.

Eric drew up the plans and sent them to the contractor. No reply.

A week later, Eric sent an email asking whether the contract had received the plans. No reply.

Two more emails, same thing.

By this time it was November. We had travel plans and other projects in the pipeline, so we said screw it and decided to put off the remodel for another time. With a more reliable contractor. But we still added the new electric cooktop and oven, so we could enjoy them right away.

When Awildian left Porto Montenegro Marina at the end of April, he was an even more comfortable, safe, reliable, self-sufficient, and energy-efficient sailing home, than when he'd arrived.

So there you have it, a snapshot of our eight months in Montenegro. It was a great place to spend the winter. We liked it so well, in fact, that we've already made plans to return there in October 2023, for another winter.

In our next blog post: as April draws to a close, we leave Montenegro begin heading south...

Montenegro Part 4 - A 100 knot bura, a trip to Germany, a bottle conundrum, getting fingerprinted in a Dubrovnik police station

21 August 2023 | Montenegro
Vandy Shrader
It's COLD here (and windy...)
Even though it doesn't snow in Tivat, the weather can get quite cold (occasionally down to freezing) and damp. We managed just fine with Awildian's forced-air heaters, our little electric heater, and a fabulous dehumidifier. Winter is also bura season: "bura" being the Montenegrin spelling of the "bora" that I mentioned in some of my Croatian blog entries. In Croatia, we'd experienced the summer boras, which we now know are like "bora light." While windy, they were nothing compared to the full-on winter variety. In February of this year, Tivat experienced a strong bura that lasted for several days and packed winds of up to 100 knots! We happened to be visiting our family in the States when this happened, but we could "watch" the action via the WhatsApp posts of our friends who were in the marina. Fortunately, some of these friends made sure that Awildian's lines were secure, and kept an eye on him. It was apparently very intense.

A couple of our friends made a video of the conditions in the marina during the bura. You can watch it here Intrepid Bear bura videobeginning at 16:27. Of course, if you'd like to see more lovely scenes around Montenegro and Porto Montenegro Marina, including some lovely snowy mountain areas, you can watch their whole video.

A Trip to Germany
In January we flew to Germany. Before going, we rented a car and went shopping for heavy winter coats. We didn't own any "real" winter clothing - hadn't needed any since moving aboard our first boat, SCOOTS, in 2014 - and we were going to need it, in Germany.

We did need those winter duds.

Our reasons for going to Germany were to attend the Düsseldorf Boat show, and to visit our friends Heike, Felix, and Milena in the village of Roetgen, near Aachen (which is itself near Cologne).

Felix, Milena, and Heike

Flights to Berlin from Montenegro were cheap (30 euro without luggage, 50 euro with), so we flew there and began our time in Germany with five interesting and though-provoking days exploring Berlin.

We spent an entire day at the Mauer Museum ("mauer" means "wall" in German), located at Checkpoint Charlie. Beginning its existence at about the same time as the Wall, it chronicles the many desperate attempts - some successful, some not - of East Germans to escape to the West. With displays encompassing dramatic photos, riveting first-person accounts, and some of the escape devices themselves, the Mauer Museum is a fascinating dive into the abhorrent policies and actions carried out in Berlin during the Cold War.

Checkpoint Charlie during the Cold War

Checkpoint Charlie now

Checkpoint Charlie guardpost then

Checkpoint Charlie guardpost now

Anyone who was alive during the Cold War, and knows what went on in this intersection, can't be there without experiencing very strong feelings.

We spent two days at the boat show - which was massive, with seventeen huge halls displaying everything from deck mops to superyachts - talking with reps about various pieces of equipment we were thinking of buying, though our main goal was to find a kayak. We'd been unable to find a "sit inside" kayak, despite looking in Italy, Croatia, and Montenegro over the past year. If we'd wanted a "sit on" kayak, we'd be set. But I'm picky and wanted one that I could sit inside and tuck my backpack and binoculars into. We did find a very several nice kayaks,

Some of the contenders

and I even had a good time paddling one of them on the indoor river that had been built for the boat show.

In the end we didn't buy any of them because just the shipping to Montenegro would have been 700 euro. We eventually found a kayak, which we ordered online from a Montenegrin store, and had delivered to Awildian in Porto Montenegro for less than the price of the shipping of the other one.

Our kayak

Also at the boat show, we surprised our friend, Jeanne Socrates, who was giving a presentation about her record-breaking, non-stop, unassisted, solo circumnavigations (yes, she's done more than one). We had a good time palling around at the boat show with Jeanne for one of the days.

A Bottle Conundrum
One day, when Awildian was anchored at Kotor, we wanted to buy some beer, so we stopped into a supermarket. Eric pulled four large bottles of beer from the cooler and brought them to the check out. The checkout clerk looked at the bottles and told Eric (in quite limited English) that he couldn't buy them.

Checkout woman: "You cannot buy. You must have bottles."

We were perplexed. Fortunately, the woman in line behind us was Montenegrin, and she spoke English pretty well. She had a brief conversation with the checkout woman, and explained to us:
"You cannot buy these full bottles unless you are also returning some of these bottles empty."

Eric: "But I don't have any bottles, because I haven't bought any yet. Can I just pay the deposit or something?"

Another discussion ensued between the two women in Montenegrin.

Helpful Woman: "She says no, you must have empty bottles to return, in order to buy these bottles."

Eric: "How do people get their first large bottles, if they can't buy them? Are they gifted some at birth? Do they have to find them in the trash?"

Helpful Woman: "I don't know. But you can't buy them without returning others."

The Checkout Woman said something to the Helpful Woman, who translated. "She says that you can buy the smaller size bottles, just not these."

Eric: "Oh, Ok. Can I buy some of the smaller bottles."

Helpful Woman translates. Checkout Woman shakes her head, says something back.
Helpful Woman. "She says 'No, we don't sell those.'"

So we left the big bottles behind and didn't get any beer that day. From then on, we always bought our Montenegrin beer in cans, just to be safe.

A trip to the Dubrovnik Police Department
While we were in Croatia last year, we began the long process of applying for Croatian citizenship, based on some of my ancestors having lived in Korčula. In addition to collecting the relevant birth certificates, we also had to have an FBI background check. If we were in the States, this would be a simple, digital process, which could be accomplished quickly. Because we're overseas, it's more complicated: the FBI doesn't allow digital prints from international locations: they require paper prints, taken in a specific way, on a specific form, sent back to their headquarters by postal mail. They will then send the results back via postal mail.

The Expat in Croatia website mentioned that some police stations in Croatia would take fingerprints, but they were - not unexpectedly - mum on Montenegro. Hoping that the US Embassy in Podgorica might be able to help out, I gave them a call. They were friendly, and answered my questions, but were only marginally helpful.

Me: Does the US embassy take fingerprints for the FBI background check?
Embassy: No. But we have the official FBI fingerprint cards. If you come to the embassy, we can give you some.

Me: Where can we get our fingerprints taken, according to the FBI's requirements, in Montenegro?
Embassy: You can't.

Me: OK...how does a US citizen get a background check done, in this part of the world?
Embassy: I don't know.

Me: (sigh) When can I pick up some fingerprint cards?
Embassy: How about 10am next Monday.

We rented a car from Mirko, looked up the location of the US embassy, and made the two-hour drive over the mountains to Podgorica, where we picked up four copies of the official FBI fingerprint cards (a couple of extras, in case of mistakes), and drove back to Tivat.

Once we had the fingerprint cards, I scoured the Expat in Croatia list of Croatian police stations that might do fingerprinting. One of them was in Dubrovnik, which was only a couple of hours' drive from Tivat. I sent an email to the address given, asking about getting our fingerprints taken. When several days had passed with no response, I sent another. A few days after that, I found the phone number for the station's public relations officer, and gave her a call.

Fortunately, she spoke some English. She asked me what I needed, and when I told her we needed to get fingerprinted, she seemed perplexed, but she said she'd try to find out, and asked if I could call her back in ten minutes. I figured she was just brushing me off, but when I called back, she said, "You can come on Thursday at 10am." We texted our buddy, Mirko, and scheduled another car rental.

On Thursday, we drove to Dubrovnik. Once we located the police station, and a place to park our car, we entered the large, austere stone building. When we checked in at the front desk, we were relieved to see our names on the daily schedule. A burly man came down the stairs to meet us. He said his name was Ivan, and he led us up the stairs...to the crime scene lab. Ivan was very friendly and chatty, though he spoke only a modest amount of English. He told us that, among other things, he was responsible for fingerprinting all the people who were arrested, and taking their mug shots. He let us sit in the swivel chair that was in front of the height markings, and showed us the placard with its places for putting the name and date using letter and number tiles. Just like on TV.

Ivan was a highly trained fingerprinting professional. He took our prints efficiently and expertly, and within 20 minutes we were both done, our official FBI fingerprint cards decorated with sharp imprints, signed, and dated. It was good that we'd brought them, because he only had the European fingerprint forms and who knows if the FBI would have accepted them. As a backup, Ivan even sent us scans of our fingerprints, by email.

When we got back to Tivat, we sent our fingerprints to the States via DHL, beginning the months-long process of proving that we aren't criminals.

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.
Awildian, previously SCOOTS (2012-2021)'s Photos - Leaving Mexico
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