Log Book: Croatia. Spring 2004

Portoroz on the Istrian Peninsular, Slovenia: April 2004

Our last log from 2003 foretold of our plan to transport Ocean Harmony from Sweden to Portoroz Marina in Slovenia. This all seemed quite complicated at the time, but Sweden Yachts were quite confident and the transport carried out by Van De Wetering Transport, a Dutch company, went without a hitch. In early October we flew down to Trieste, in Italy and rented a car to drive the 40 km to Portoroz for the weekend. The Marina is in a lovely location with a splendid view of the Adriatic Sea. Ocean Harmony was on the hard, still wrapped in plastic from the trip down and without mast or any other above deck fittings. From what we could see, she looked in good shape. We arranged with the Marina to have her stored under cover in a large hanger.

Early this year we contacted the yard and requested them to recommission Ocean Harmony for launching in April. Previously we had envisaged someone from Sweden Yachts flying down to Portoroz to oversee the commissioning, but we got the distinct impression that this was seen as very unnecessary by the Technical Manager at Portoroz; a Mr Venko. I think he thought it was an insult. We decided to leave it.

We made our first visit to the yard as planned on April 6th. Despite our anxiety about the commissioning process, we were delighted to see Ocean Harmony afloat alongside the crane, with her mast up. Of course there was still work to be done and I was very glad to be there to observe and ensure that all the minor jobs like radar and instrument connections were done, as well as putting up the sails. There were a few minor glitches, the most frustrating being the re installation of the Lazy Jacks. These are used to hold the mainsail in place when the sail is lowered to the boom.

After 3 days, we were ready for a test sail, but not before we spent an hour practising docking the boat “Mediterranean style”. The test sail proved OK. We had winds up to 30 knots at times with a short choppy sea. We double reefed and sailed on all angles of sail before heading back to the dock. Now came the fun part, to get the boat berthed in between two poles that are only just far enough apart for our boat to squeeze through. It is so narrow that even the fenders have to be brought inboard. The wind was still blowing at 10 to 15 knots in the Marina. Even with the practice, it took us several tries and an humiliating moment in front of several German sailors off the neighbouring boat who were offering assistance. What happened was that in my stressed state, I had passed the stern docking line from the cleat inside the lifelines instead of outside! An absolute beginners error! The Germans thought that we had just bought the boat having never sailed before. This encouraged them to “help” even more and we had everyone telling everyone else what to do! We did finally make it and tied up safely.

About a mile from Portoroz Marina is the ancient city of Piran, or Pirano as the Italians call it. The city sits on the end of a peninsular, with a fine church on top of the hill, surrounded by the remnants of the city wall that was built in the 9th Century. We hiked to the top from the ancient town square surrounded by Venetian style buildings through streets that were sometimes so narrow two people can hardly pass each other without touching. We enjoyed lunch in the town with a soup and seafood salad. Once introduced to this excellent combination, it has become a bit of a standard. Harmony goes for a fish soup and I prefer a tomato soup. The seafood in general is excellent, but not cheap.

We felt that the Marina did a very professional job on the boat and we thanked Mr Venko and his staff before leaving on Easter Monday to catch the Ryanair flight back from Trieste to London. By the way, the flights on Ryanair are amazingly cheap. Usually, we pay about 20 pounds sterling each way. Even after you add the airport taxes of say 30 pounds, its still a good deal. It is cheaper the earlier you book. Our lowest fare was 9.99pounds ( about $25 Canadian).

Rovinj, Croatia: April 28th to June 17th

On April 27th we left Portoroz and, after clearing customs at Piran, we motored around the headland and were soon tied up at the Croatian customs dock at Umag. The Police were efficient but spoke little English. The Harbour Master was located in a first floor office one street back from the dock. He was very pleasant and spoke excellent English as he quickly went through the formalities for bringing a boat into Croatian waters. You are required to have a one year permit which cost 1,637.00 kuna or about CDN $ 300. In all it took us about an hour. Some friendly Croatians who were on a new Jeanneau 49 tied up next to us, told us that we could use the mooring buoys in the bay rather than check into the Umag ACI Marina, which charges about $50 per night. After a quick walk through the town we bought a few items at the Supermarket and moved to the buoy. No one came to collect any money for the use the buoy.

We had previously arranged with the ACI Marina at Rovinj to leave our boat there until we left for our two month summer cruise to Turkey. We left Umag the following morning for Rovinj some 20 miles to the south. The winds were as forecast: Force 5 (approx 18 knots) South Easterly with some rain showers. We tacked into the short choppy sea approximately 30 minutes on each tack and reached Rovinj some 5 hours later. Once again we had a really tough time doing the Med moor. This time it was slightly different in that we had to back in and pick up a line at the dock, then walk it to the front of the boat while at the same time getting a stern line to the dock. We took at least 5 attempts. On one of these attempts the line wrapped around the propeller. The dock hand was yelling at us when suddenly the line in his hand went slack. The new rope cutter that I had had installed at Portoroz had done the trick and simply cut the line. We acted innocent but now we know it works! Finally, all tied up and secure, we could relax with a beer and a glass of wine. We had dinner at one of the many excellent seafood restaurants along the water front in Rovinj.

Rovinj is dominated by the bell tower on the 18th century baroque church of St Euphemia, which has been used by local fishermen both for weather forecasts, as the figure on top of the tower rotates to face the wind and as a land mark for seeking their way home. Legend is that the body of St Euphemia arrived on the shores of Rovinj in a weighty sarcophagus that was too heavy to move. So a local boy and his two cows, together with divine intervention, succeeding in hauling the heavy stone sarcophagus to her last resting place inside the church. The legend is portrayed on a painting on the wall inside the church. The town itself is well preserved with the same narrow streets and colorful Venetian buildings. With the exception of satellite dishes and TV aerials, the Istrian towns we saw must look and feel as they have done for hundreds of years.

One day we rented a car and drove north to the historic town of Porec (pronounced Poor-esh). Porec's greatest attraction is the UNESCO World Heritage listed Basilica of Euphasius. This Byzantine church contains mosaics of gold and mother of pearl religious scenes that are definitely worth seeing. The original church dates from the 4th century and excavations have revealed beautiful mosaic floors that you can see if you visit the museum. The town itself is actually Roman and the main street, Decumanus, is the original Roman road. We spent several hours wandering Porec and enjoyed a lunch of, you guessed, soup and seafood salad! On the way back to Rovinj we drove alongside the Limski fjord which is now given over to oyster beds and fish farms. The country inland from Rovinj is lush green dense vegetation and there is surprisingly little agriculture. We saw occasionally vineyards, orchard, wheat and rape seed. This area must also go in for pig farming because alongside the road we came across large wood burning barbecues with one or several pigs roasting on spits. It looked good; might be worth a try.

Dalmatia: The Islands of Croatia

We are starting a new log as we have departed the Istrian Peninsular to begin our trip down the Dalamatian coast through the many islands for which Croatia is famous. I assume that the well known Dalmatian dog with all its black spots is named after the famous coast. We left Luka Krnica on June 21st for the 20 mile trip to Otok Cres. It was a sail to remember. The wind was a steady 15 to 18 knots from SE and we broad reached across the strait averaging close to 8 knots. Cres is a beautiful island town and the Marina was modern with all amenities including a laundry service (which we have discovered is rare indeed). We spent a morning exploring the town and picking up some fresh fruit and vegetables. The tomatoes in Croatia are the best! Next stop was at Otok Unije about 20 miles south of Cres. This was another lovely anchorage and the swimming was excellent. We had the anchorage almost to ourselves until a boatload of German men arrived. They immediately stripped naked and pranced around all afternoon. Not really very entertaining!

Our trip was then interrupted for two days as we had to return to Pomer Marina near Pula, to get new batteries which is described below:

The saga of the Gel Batteries (suggest you skip this paragraph if you are not into technical boating battery problems!)

Now, as I said, we were on our way south. But as I had alluded earlier, we had become increasingly concerned that our main battery bank had somehow been damaged over the winter. After much diagnosis and contacting Sweden Yachts, we ascertained that two of our 4 batteries were dead. I had already disconnected those and we were running on the two good ones. Now you might say: no problem just go get some new ones? But for you technical types, we have very “special” Gel Batteries which are designed specifically for boats and are supposed to be just the thing. Because they are completely sealed, they do not vent gases (hydrogen) that normal lead acid batteries do, and can, therefore, be installed in the bottom of the boat, below the saloon sole. Very good for sailboats because it keeps the centre of gravity low. I called the Marina at Pomer and they had none. Sweden yachts told me the closest agent they knew about was in Montenegro. Exide in the UK never bothered to answer my e-mail. Eventually I phoned the Technical manager at the Marina in Portoroz, who had commissioned Ocean Harmony this spring. He was great, and within a day had tracked down a dealer in Italy, quite close to Trieste. So this story had a happy ending. We sailed back to Pomer Marina on the southern most point of Istria. Rented a car, and drove the 500km round trip on Friday to fetch the batteries and had them installed the same day. These batteries weigh about 50 lbs each and it was really hot that afternoon. Fortunately, a neighboring boater, kindly offered to help with carrying the batteries below deck for the final installation. We have received all kinds of conflicting technical advise about these Gel Batteries. They Italian agent said that the reason they failed is because they were discharge over the winter when they were in storage in Slovenia. Once they go below 10 volts they never recover. On the other hand the German gentleman who helped us with the installation said that they can be deep discharged. We will try to contact Exide again and get their advise before the coming winter.

Now on with the story. We left the Marina on Saturday 26th and motor sailed 25 miles south to Otok Unije. On route we made fresh water using the water maker. This is a wonderful invention for sailors, as it makes about 65 litres of fresh water per hour using reverse osmosis. We have two fresh water tanks each holding 250 litres of water. We keep the forward tank filled with desalinated water from the water maker and use this for drinking. The aft water tank we fill up at marinas as we go. The water at the marinas seems to have a nasty plastic taste to it. And, as we go further south, the water will be more suspect. Most boats up in Croatia seem to stock up with fresh water in bottles which is readily available but extremely expensive. Unfortunately, at the end of the water making cycle, I observed a flash in the instrument panel and the water maker control panel immediately went dead. We were a bit downcast to say the least. We had visions of a repeat of the battery saga, trying to find parts for a North American water maker in Croatia. However, after reading the manual, we tracked the problem down to a blown fuse. We have since used it and thankfully no problems.

The next anchorage at Luka Balvanida on Otok Losinj was a delight. Just what the postcards show. A tranquil bay with turquoise water surrounded by pine trees. The only sound is that of the lapping water and the buzz of the Cicadas (Or as we called them in Africa: Christmas beetles. So named because their arrival coincided with the heat of summer).We have taken some pictures which will eventually make it on to the web site. Then on to the island of Rab. The main town of Rab dates back to early Christian times. From about 1000AD it fell under the strong influence and control of Venice as is evidenced by the Venetian architecture. The most notable feature of the town is the four bell towers which make it look like a ship with four masts. The town itself is alive and vibrant with many, many tourists wandering the ancient narrow streets. The next morning we were awoken at 6.00am by thunder and lightning. The thunder echoed from the hills surrounding Rab and it got quite close to us. Tremendous claps of thunder, rain and even hail at one point. We still get anxious when sitting below the 65 foot lightening rod which is our mast!

For the next three days we made fairly rapid progress southward toward Konati National Park. We had an excellent sail from Rab on the first day averaging 7.5 knots. We tied up to mooring buoys at Otok Ilovik. Mooring buoys are very common in Croatia as most good anchorages have them in place to maximise the number of boats that can be safely anchored. It is also a good source of revenue as it costs 72 kuna or about CDN$15 for a 42 foot boat.

July 7th: Skradin Marina

We are now sitting at the Marina in Skradin and so take the opportunity to update the log. A high pressure systemmoved into the Adriatic as we left Rab and has been with us ever since. The Adriatic high means predictable North Westerly winds from midday until about 6.00pm which made for some glorious sailing. The motor boats leave early to get to their anchorage in calm conditions. All the sail boats sleep in and leave after 11. We are now following the same routine. We get up at 7.30 to catch the morning weather forecast from Rijeka at 7.45 and then breakfast and enjoy a morning swim before getting underway at about 11. On our way south to Skradin, we stayed away from marinas and sought out the more remote anchorages, which we were quite successful in doing. To list a few worth visiting: U. Griparica on O. Slkarda, Zaliv Pantera at the North end of Dugi Otok, Uvala Krusevica on south end of Dugi Otok (where we spent two days swimming and generally relaxing) and Uvala Lopitica on O. Kornati in the Kornati national Park.

One interesting feature of the west coast of Dugi Otok is a man made tunnel into the side of the sheer cliffs of the island. I remember reading about this on the web page of Veleda IV. To me it looks like a submarine base because the shape of it is such that there is a higher opening in the centre to accommodate the conning tower. It must relate back to the war years in my opinion.

The islands that make up the Kornati National Park have a unique beauty of their own. The landscape has a pale green hue that I have never seem before and the water is the clearest turquoise colour that you will ever see. I think what makes the pale green sheen to the hill is the rocks interspersed with grass which was still slightly green at this time of year. Apparently, a long time ago these islands were forested, but over the centuries the trees have been destroyed by fires that were deliberately started by shepherds to improve the grazing for their sheep. There is ample evidence of the the agricultural history as each farm area is separated by rock walls that divide the barren islands with perpendicular lines that are in evidence everywhere. We cruised down the archipelago in two days under sail in light winds and so enjoyed the scenery whilst making steady progress south.

Yesterday we motored up the River Krka, past the town of Sibernik, to the ACI Marina at Skradin. We are about 10 miles inland from the sea in fresh water. But it is hot! As I write this it is 36 deg C inside the boat and slightly hotter outside. Upon arrival yesterday, we went to the local market to get some fruit and vegetables. Went out to dinner at the local restaurant and enjoyed fresh Grouper. Today was the best. We took the River taxi up to the water fall on the Krka River and hiked up to the top of the falls. Spectacular! Then we caught a second boat that took us from the top of the falls to the second waterfall about another 15 miles inland. On the way we visited the Monastery of Vosovac located in the middle of the lake. The Monastery dates back to the15th Century and is still used to train monks today. Apparently there are still 6 monks in the monastery. It was very special. Originally the island was just a rock, but the Monks brought soil from the mainland all those hundreds of years ago and now they have beautiful gardens with flowers, an orchard and vegetable gardens. The museum was also interesting and we had a tour guide who spoke English. There was one room in the museum dedicated to Africa because they had missionaries in Zaire for many years. There is one delightful painting by one of the missionaries which shows a very black young African hanging on to the branch of a tree with a crocodile snapping at him for the river and lion circling below the tree as well. The expression on his face with the white eyes and black face was one of perfect horror. When we got back from the up river trip we hiked down the falls and then had an incredible swim in the cool fresh water directly below the falls.

Monday July 12th

Today marks the beginning of our 5th week afloat. Our longest continuous time spent together on a boat...and we're still enjoying the experience. Anyway to update our progress since our visit to the falls at Skradin. We left Skradin at 0800 and motored the 12 or so miles to to open sea. We hoisted our sails and made for a U. Ostrica. As we sailed up the inlet, we noticed a nice protected bay that was not reported in the pilot and anchored (43 38.5'N 15 56.2'E). We had the anchorage to ourselves until a second boat arrived late in the afternoon.

The following day we left in a fresh south easterly wind. We tacked our way southwards for 7 hours making long tacks to the south and short tacks back in towards the coast. It was great sailing and the true benefits of the self tacking Jib were felt. We finally anchored with a stern line ashore in U Sesula on O Solta.(By way of explanation: “U” is an abbreviation for Uvala which means “Bay” and “O” is an abbreviation for Otok which means “island”). In our trip plan we had decided at this point that if we had a favourable wind (ie from the north or west,) we would make for the remote island of Vis about 22 miles south of us. Indeed the forecast north westerly was blowing when we awoke. As we were leaving the anchorage, we could see white caps on the open sea, but the forecast was for maximum 16 knots so off we went. We hoisted sails in the lee of an island, but immediately we set our course, we experiences winds of 24 knots +. We double reefed and headed for Vis. It was a two and a half hour fast but rough sail with big waves making the boat roll from side to side with the wind abaft. I expect we will get more of this kind of wind when we get into the Aegean Sea. We anchored just off the town quay and went ashore to explore the town. We ate out at a picturesque restaurant right on the waterfront where we entertained by the arrival of the largest sailing yacht that I have seen. She had a crew of about 8 young men and women who clearly knew what they were doing.

The town of Vis is interesting. Until 1989 it was a military based closed to tourists. Now it is gradually being rediscovered although it's remoteness means that it is off the beaten tourist track. It has always been strategically important and the Greeks founded the original town on the island where their navy dominated the Adriatic. Later the Romans, then the Byzantines, and from 1420 the Venetians ruled the island and made use of strategic position in the Adriatic. The island also played a key role in the second world war as Marshall Tito used it as a base to coordinate partisan military operations with the allies. As we explored the old fort which overlooks the town it was easy to imagine Tito and his comrades closeted away secretly plotting their operations. The island definitely had a different feel to it. The lack of major tourism also means that the waterfront still has a bit of a run-down feel to it with some dilapidated buildings which look like they have been disused since the end of communist control under the old Yugoslavia.

July 18: Trogir

Since our very interesting visit to Vis, we have, in a sense, backtracked northwards to Split and Trogir in order to meet Susan who arrives from Canada tomorrow. Our route north took us via U.Losisce on O. Scedro and Luka Vela Garska on O. Hvar. During this time, a weak, low pressure system was moving through the Adriatic and we had quite a lot of wind at night. At these anchorages we deployed a stern line to a bollard on the shore to stop us swinging around. In the latter anchorage we had a few rough hours where I did anchor watch until the wind died down in the early hours of the morning. Finally the system passed through and the next day we reached O. Brac and tied up to a mooring buoy in the peaceful anchorage of U. Lucica. We can really recommend this location. The anchorage is quiet and very protected. The water was Mediterranean blue and we swam and relaxed.

The following day we arrived at Split, a major city and busy port of Croatia. Split is an absolute must for anyone visiting Croatia. I do not intend to re write the tour guide on Split. However, it is true that Split has a remarkably well preserved Roman Palace built by the Roman Emperor, Diocletian. He built the palace as a retirement home in the 3rd century and much of the original walls still remain. Anyway this Diocletian, was quite industrious and reorganized the Roman Empire into an Eastern and Western section and appointed a Caesar to run each half so that he could retire young and move into his palace at Split. He also appointed himself the son of Jupiter and as such was a kind of god. He took it upon himself to irradicate Christianity which at that time was spreading rapidly. He persecuted them relentlessly. Within the palace he built a mausoleum where he was eventually buried when he died in 313. Coincident with his death there was a new decree from Rome which recognised the Christian faith. The Christians eventually got there own back because the Mausoleum became the Cathedral of St Dominic and his remains were replaced by those of Christian saints. We spent a busy few days in Split site-seeing and exploring the old town. We had a very memorable dinner at the Restaurant Adriatic which sits on a high cliff overlooking the ocean. A brilliant setting.

We met Susan at Split airport which is quite close to Trogir and took her back to the riva (waterfront) where we met Susan's friends from Calgary; Nick and Chantelle and Nicks family who are from Trogir. The next morning we visited the harbourmaster to formally add Sue to the Crew list. We met up with Nick and Chantelle for coffee. They kindly acted as tour guides as we explored the town. We all then took the dinghy out to the boat where we were anchored in the harbour. After showing Nick and Chantelle the boat they headed off to spend the day at the beach.

We sailed south from Trogir and anchored each night in sublime anchorages on the islands of O. Brac (U. Licice), O. Korkula (U. Gradina) and O. Mljet (U. Saplunara). We arrived at ACI Marina Dubrovnik on Thursday, which allowed us a full day of sight seeing as well as time to re-provision prior to our long hop down the Adriatic to Greece. Dubrovnik is another historical town with Roman, Byzantine and Venetian influences apparent. What struck me most was the wall around city which is still intact and very distinctive. Viewed from the sea it is particularly imposing. I would definitely recommend doing the walk around the walls of the city. The original walls were built in the 10th century and have been added to, and reinforced over the centuries after enduring a massive earthquake in 1667 and finally the devastating bombardment by Yugoslavian forces in 1991. Much of the city was severely damaged in the shelling that took place. I saw pictures of some of the damage in the Franciscan monastery that was particularly badly hit. It is remarkable how quickly it has been restored as we could not really see which parts were new and which were original. Only the red roof tiles seemed to us to have a slightly different hue on some sections of roof which perhaps showed where repairs had been made.

Sunday July 25th:

We have arrived at the island of Erikousa off the north coast of Corfu after 30 hours. We sailed through the night having left Dubrovnik yesterday at 11.00am. When I say sailed, actually we have motored or motor sailed for 20 of the last 24 hours. But we have had a good trip and no one got sick and nothing went wrong with the boat on our first long over night trip and we got to use all our instrumentation including the radar which was very useful in tracking the movements of ships within this rather busy section of the Adriatic. The only real excitement we had was early this morning as we approached the coast of Albania. We had deliberately kept well away from Albanian territorial waters as was advised in the pilot, but in order to get to Corfu, we changed course toward the Albanian coast and at our closest point when we were about 50 miles off, Susan who was at the helm picked up a blip on the radar which was a very fast moving boat doing about 25 knots coming up astern of us. We decided that discretion was the better part of valour and immediately changed course back toward the Italian coast. We picked them up again, a few times on radar, but we never did see the boat. Eventually we lost contact. We speculated that it was the Albanian equivalent of the coast guard on patrol as they are very protective of their borders. But it could have been trouble makers or even pirates who have been reported in this area! We were prepared to contact the Greek coast guard if they had approached us. Our excitement didn't end there as we encountered a thunderstorm as we approached our landfall, and sailed for the last 2 hours in a fresh wind with occasional rain and lightning in the gloomy sky. The anchorage at Erikousa was a huge relief as we were all dead tired. Enjoyed a swim and lovely sunny evening before a restful night.