Check out my journal. Croatia is the best place in the Mediterranean to sail.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
The Air, Amsterdam
It was an uneventful but extremely tiring flight. We actually had a four leg trip from Green Bay to Detroit to Amsterdam to Zagreb to Split. As I get older it gets harder to sleep anywhere else but in a bed, so I didn't even bother to sleep. Kim, however, had an all-nighter at the hospital Tuesday night, so she was able to sleep.
In the Amsterdam airport I swear we walked past the actor who is the voice of Squidworth in Sponge Bob Square Pants. He also plays a character on the Sarah Silverman show. For the life of me I can't remember his name. Our European flights were bought through a discount outfit called Europebyair. The tickets we had were causing confusion and we had to wait in line for two hours before boarding the Zagreb flight. I never understood why, but it's possible Europebyair is geared more towards EU travelers?
All of our respective travel paths from Madison, Dallas, San Diego, and Charlotte intersected in Zagreb on Thursday afternoon. After a short flight together to Split we rode the airport shuttle to the Split waterfront near the hotel. As we piled off the shuttle with our duffel bags, five or more people started aggressively selling their services as guides. It was a little disconcerting with our jet lag and all, and even though we had a map from the Internet, we were escorted by a nice woman who we tipped without knowing what amount was appropriate. We got to the hotel at 5 and took a nap.
Later that evening we all walked up and down the Split waterfront. Cafes and restaurants line the waterfront with outside chairs facing outwards. After dinner Chris , Amanda , and Nicole went up to bed while Kim, Lester, Jason , Brent, and I walked around some more. We had a drink in a cafe in a building that was built in the year 304! After a few drinks Kim and I went to bed while the rest pioneered on. They navigated the "Labyrinth of Booze" - a new Lesterism describing the narrow, winding walkways of this walled city, containing a LOT of bars...
Split is a beautiful walled city, and it was obviously built before cars, so the "streets" weren't navigable by car. They were that narrow.
Split, Bosnia, Dubrovnik
Friday morning was leisurely. Kim and I at at a waterfront cafe. As we sat my feeling of being in a foreign land melted away - I watched four people walking towards the marina struggling with duffel bags and a cardboard box full of liquor. Fellow sailors!
We all check out of the hotel and walked to Alamo car rental office. I was a little nervous about the drive to Dubrovnik because a short segment of the road passed through Bosnia. I asked the Alamo guy if the road was safe, and he replied, "Only if you stay on the road."
I am generally a complete wimp when it comes to traveling. I'm always nervous. I was nervous driving through the short piece of Bosnia, and the closer we got to it the more abandoned gun emplacements and "pill boxes" we saw. But the border itself was anticlimactic. The guard waved us through, and we wouldn't have had to stop, but Jason forgot he was driving a manual transmission and stalled the car right in front of the guard. Perhaps Jason was battle-scarred from jet lag, the four-hour drive, and his brave reconnoitering of the Labyrinth of Booze.
The scenery along the coast was beautiful, it was like a Pacific Coast Highway without all the people. It was clearly a highly-touristed area, though, and I shouldn't have been so nervous. What a wimp!
When we pulled up to the Excelsior Hotel in Dubrovnik, four employees came up and each one opened a car door. In unison they said, "Dobar Dan" (good day). The hotel clung to a cliff, with a single story at the front entrance and eight stories down to the waterfront bar in back.
Kim and I walked into Dubrovnik's old town. It was another walled Labyrinth of Booze, but there were also a lot of restaurants. The streets were marble, and some of the buildings still had pock-marks in them from the war. Old-town Dubrovnik contains churches, bars, restaurants, and apartments, and someone thought it was necessary to continuously shell the place. Pathetic. We saw a map of the city showing the original damage, and it is amazing how Dubrovnik has been resurrected. We walked all over the town, returned to the hotel, and hit the hotel bar.
The hotel bar was "magical." Kim and I drank Veuve Cliquot until I asked the bartender what the trophies behind the bar were for. They were for bartending, and he had won several cocktail-mixing championships. He was quick to point out that these contests weren't based on Tom Cruise-style showmaship. They were about the quality of the drinks. Well what were we drinking champaign for!?! Tihomir, our bartender, made excellent Manhattans. People outside of Wisconsin don't drink a lot of Brandy, and sometimes you can't even get a good Brandy Old-Fashioned in other states. Tihomir, in Dubrovnik, Croatia, made Kim a Brandy Old-Fashioned Sweet without batting an eye. He made a lot of money when the rest of the crew showed up.
We made reservations next door at Taverna Rustica and awaited their call, but it never came. They finally seated us at 10:30 and we figured it was because we were spending so much money in the bar. We were ultimately happy with the restaurant, though. Milo, our waiter, had perfect English and had spent some time in the States. He joked around with us and gave us pointers on Croatian. The food was great, and we got out of there around midnight.
But of course to us it didn't feel like midnight, so we went back to the Labyrinth of Booze. We stopped at the Hemmingway Cafe for a short and blurry evening of drinking. After bar time we walked around the polished marble streets of Old Town Dubrovnik.
We woke up Saturday at 10 and had a leisurely day. We went downstairs for the free breakfast buffet and sat by a British couple. Then we sat by the ocean for a while and I swam 1/2 mile in the lap pool. Kim, Brent, and I walked into the old town for lunch and later on Kim and I took a long nap. Then I lifted weights in the gym while Kim rode the stairmaster. One important sailing trip tradition is to work out the first couple days so you can live in denial that these sailing trips are really about eating and drinking...Later on we met everyone in the hotel bar and had a few drinks before dinner, then we walked into town.
Chris turned back and went to his room because he had caught the flu (or food poisoning?). We ate at a pizza place, then Jason walked Amanda back to be with Chris.
That night we got some strange enduring joke in our heads about the Minotaur in the Labyrinth of Booze. The Minotaur was a genetic freak with a large bull's head on a small, scrawny body. Since he couldn't lift his head off the bar he would just lie there saying, "Please kill me," right out of Alien: Resurrection. As we frolicked from place-to-place in the old town we would make horns with our fingers and jump out at each other yelling, "Minotaur!"
We walked into an Irish bar and POOF! Everyone was Irish. We walked into another random bar and literally everyone there was Croatian. We were too drunk to feel uncomfortable as the only tourists. We bumped into Milo from the night before, but he pretended not to know us. We jumped up and down in the bar trying to sing along with the Croatian music...
Dubrovnik, Makarska, Split, Kremic, Primosten
We woke up early (and tired) Sunday morning, had breakfast, checked out, and drove up to Kremic. We stopped on the way for lunch in Makarska.
Since we are regulars of Sunsail charters, things ran like clockwork once we got to the charter base. We were back in familiar territory. We pulled up in the two rental cars, I checked in, Lester and the women took a car to provision the boat, Jason bought a six-pack for the chart (map) briefing, and we started the boat briefing while Jason and Brent returned the cars. During the boat briefing, the Sunsail engineer suggested we check the bilge every morning because, "it's an old boat." Hmmmmm...I found out later that the (fiberglass) boat actually leaked a lot. In a manner of speaking the boat was always sinking...We got a chart briefing by a gorgeous English woman named Anna.
We left that afternoon, motoring 30 minutes North to Primosten. We got there just before sunset and tied up to a mooring. It rained hard in Primosten, but luckily only when we were having dinner in a restaurant. There were only a few sprinkles on the dinghy ride back to the boat. Even though we were at a secure mooring I still didn't sleep well due to the new surroundings and new sounds.
We woke up early Monday morning, listened to the weather, and attempted to start the engine. Nothing. The house batteries had run down, but the engine starting batteries were completely charged !(?). After a half-hour of struggling I said, "Maybe it's just too early for it and it needs to sleep in more." A few minutes later it started!
On the way South to Vis we called the Sunsail base for a weather report. Not long after that was when we discovered the leak was faster than originally thought. I figured 8-10 GPH. I crawled around in the bilge looking for the source, and I found a small crack in the transom. Some earlier charter had backed into the dock a little too hard, and a trim piece was covering it up on the outside. The bilge pump had absolutely no problem keeping up with it, and once the sails were up the boat trimmed forward a little, lifting the crack out of the water.
We pulled into Komize without incident, although it started pouring rain as we were hooking up the shore power. The Germans next door were very helpful, sacrificing their dryness to help us get hooked up. We walked around town and hiked up to a beautiful church surrounded by vineyards. The sun came out.
For some reason we let it get really late before dinner (again). The crawfish restaurant, which you can ride your dinghy right into, was full, so we walked next door to a nice restaurant. We got home late and watched the Chappelle show on the laptop until 1 or so.
Vis, Bisevic, Hvar
Tuesday morning I was tired and cranky (again). We got a late start and motorsailed to the blue cave at Bisevic. On the way to Bisevic someone came on the radio saying, "Gale Warning, Gale Warning." I got deja-vu from the Corsica trip because for some strange reason in the Mediterranean they say "Gale Warning" in English before switching to the local language (only speaking much faster). I called Sunsail for a clarification, and they said the gale warning was for somewhere else, but in the same breath they said we should be in a well-protected anchorage that night, and definitely by 5 PM...As usual I spent that whole day nervous. Would we get to Hvar before the wind hit? Would there be room for us in Hvar?
We hovered outside the blue cave and sent kayaks in. A local in a small boat hovered outside the cave entrance and charged 20 kuva per person for entry. Was it legitimate? Who knows? We gave him the money. The blue cave was absolutely beautiful, but I rushed everyone.
On the sail to Hvar two dolphins played in our bow wave for quite a while. Very cool.
We pulled into the town of Hvar and took the last spot at the dock. It was clear a bigger wind was coming, given all the preparations that were going on. The wind was expected to blow 30 to 35 kt out of the north, right across our row of Med-moored boats. We found out later that the forecast wind was specifically a Bura, a katabatic wind from the mountains similar to California's Santa Anna's or France's Mistral.
We had a nice dinner up in the town and stopped for drinks on the promenade. As we watched, a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 54 pulled up. My dream boat! We had our last drink of the night on outdoor couches at Carpe Diem. The menu had a cool anecdote about an American who scoffed at a European for taking it easy and fishing all the time. The American spends his life making a lot of money, retires, and then uses the money to take it easy and go fishing...
As the night wore on, the wind built and lightning appeared on the horizon. We had high winds and torrential rains, but in the end I had the best night's sleep ever! Thank God we had dinner early!
The boat didn't wake up until 10:30 AM, I woke up refreshed, and it was really nice. We made coffee on the boat, and I went for a 30-minute run. We exchanged stories with our new neighbors, who were at anchor the night before and didn't sleep at all.
They had two anchors out the night before, and another boat dragged into them and snagged both lines. They cut one line and managed to reanchor in the darkness and confusion. The parked next to us when the sun came up. The offending boat was also at the dock - with the cut anchor line still wrapped around its prop shaft! I was doubly thankful we had hurried a bit on Tuesday and caught the last spot at the dock.
We walked up the hill to explore the fort at the top. We got some great pictures and learned a lot of history - and there was a bar in the fort. When we got back the swells in the harbor were much bigger. Our unfortunate neighbor ended up pulling a mooring ring right out of the concrete wall. Chris and I re-tyed the lines for a more lateral load, and we used the boat engine to tighten up the bow line.
We went to dinner that night at a place on the third floor, open to the sky. It was a little cold for sitting on outdoor couches, so we went back to the boat and slept well again.
Hvar, Luka Zanela
Thursday morning we had coffee and strudel at a cafe, bought T-shirts, and headed out. We left the shelter of the harbor, unfurled the sails, and tacked up the Pakleni Kanal into a 15 knot headwind. There were many other boats out and it was excellent sailing!
But it was also chilly, so everyone put on sweatshirts and wrapped up in blankets. When we turned the corner into Starogradski Zalijev the apparent wind diminished quite a bit so it was possible to go shirtless. We sailed downwind towards Stari Grad, looked into the town, then motored back into the wind to a tiny bay called Luka Zanela. We anchored with a stern line run to shore.
Unfortunately the cafe/bar mentioned in the travel guide was boarded up, so we were forced to exercise. Jason and I donned wet suits and swam for a while, but I got really cold (due partially to sunburn) so I took a long, hot shower. Lester and Brent hiked up to a road and headed towards Stari Grad. Amanda and Chris laid out on a flat rock on shore. Kim read below and prepared dinner.
Dinner was excellent. We ate pasta and salad, drank beer, watched Garden State on the laptop, and went to bed.
Luka Zanela, Trogir
We slept well thursday night, although it was awfully cold. The boat was perfectly still even though we could hear the waves crashing outside our little bay. Nicole didn't sleep well because of the cold.
I never got the weather on the radio so I left a message with Sunsail. She called back and read it verbatim to me: Wind somewhere else at 35 kt, but mainly 15-25 with clouds but no storms. We headed out around 9. We motored straight into it out of the Starogradski Zaligev and put up the sails once we could round the corner towards Brac. People hung out below because it was just too cold on deck. For a while though, we tacked into the wind and buried the rail several times. Lester asked if maybe we should shorten sail, but I said, "Nah."
In the end it was too cold and tiring, so we gave up on going to the famous beach near Bol (on Brac). We motorsailed with just the main up for 3 hours towards Maslinica. Kim played "Mr. Blue Sky" on the iPod, and it worked. The sun came out. Lester had been bugging me about going to Trogir instead of Maslinika, and I read up on it and he was right. We changed the plan again.
We got to Trogir at 3:30. I tried to pull up to the main town dock, which was empty, but we were shooed off. A few hours later I saw why, as day-tripper boats and megayachts started to arrive, piling onto the dock three deep. After getting shooed off, we went to the marina just across the channel. There were lots of empty slips, but they said they were full. It was a little irritating. Fifteen-or-so sailing yachts were hovering in the channel, waiting for a slip or waiting for the gas dock, so I had to do a lot of close-quarters maneuvering.
We anchored close by with very good holding, and it was time for the traditional end-of-trip "de-provisioning." We made a large batch of rum punch and finished off the rum. We took two dinghy loads to the town, had beers at a waterfront cafe, explored another "Labyrinth of Booze," and had dinner. At one point I went back to check on our dinghy and I got lost in the Labyrinth briefly.
Dinner was great. Our ham of a waiter had the biggest mono-brow I've ever seen. He was very friendly and very funny. We dinghy'd back, had more beer, and watched Caddyshack. We trickled off to bed, and I doubt if anyone finished the whole movie.
Saturday was relaxed. We needed the boat returned to Kremic by 7 PM and it was only 3 hours away. The clouds had finally given way to a blue sky. We had breakfast in Trogir and after an exchange of "Hvala" and "Do vigenja" our waiter said, "Thank you for learning my language."
I ran the first group in with the dinghy, and on the second trip I ran out of gas with Nicole, Brent, and Lester in the boat. We were drifting in the main channel until Nicole took the oars. We filled up back at the boat.
Kim and I went to an internet cafe to check in to our Amsterdam-Green Bay flights, but we were still too early. We all went back to the boat and it was a wet ride because the sea breeze had kicked up.
We took off at 1:00, this time with Jason driving and me operating the windlass. Saturday had the nicest weather of the whole trip, so there was a consensus that we should slow down! I was touched, because I typically feel like the the only "Journey is better than the destination" person on these trips. We pulled into Uvala Borovica, a sheltered, rocky cove. Our tiny inlet was only just large enough for the boat, so we ran a line to shore. Amanda and Lester kayaked, Chris and Brent snorkeled, Jason hiked on shore, Nicole laid out, I laid out, and Kim read. It was perfect! This was how I had envisioned the whole trip!
We took our time sailing back, with Jason navigating and steering. It was really pleasant and I hated to pull into Kremic. There were a lot of boats moving around in the marina so it was a bit of a challenge. I told the Sunsail engineer about the leak, and he thanked me because they had been trying to locate it in-between charters.
On the way to the showers Jason and I had a nice talk with Anna, the Australian who had done our chart briefing. She asked, "Where were you during the Bura?" I hadn't realized the strong wind that kept us in Hvar was the dreaded Bura. Anna was delivering a boat alone from Dubrovnik to Kremic, and she said it was one of the most frightening two days of her life! One night she had a boat drag its anchor into her, and she went the whole night without sleep. Hvar was nicer....
We all went out for dinner at the only restaurant at the Kremic marina. It was ok, but Amanda caught something...We got back to the boat, packed, cleaned up, talked about the trip, and watched the Chappelle Show before going to bed around midnight. We set the alarm for 4:30...
Kremic, Zagreb, Amsterdam, Home
4:30 came quickly. We hurriedly got dressed and said goodbye to Jason, Brent, and Lester. The rest of us got in the cab, and we unfortunately had to pull over for Amanda on the way to the airport. She had a day of flying sick ahead of her (more food poisoning?). We said our goodbyes in Zagreb, and Kim and I took our four leg flight with no troubles. We watched Ocean's 12 and several episodes of the Chappelle show on the plane.
I would have to say that of all our sailing trips Croatia was the best. The sailing was great, the people were friendly, it wasn't too crowded or touristy, the scenery was amazing, and the culture was fascinating. I could say I'd go back in a heartbeat if I wasn't so bent on seeing the rest of the world first. I worry that after Croatia the rest of the world will be anticlimactic.