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.
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