Cruising Croatia

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Exploring new grounds on the Dalmatian Coast  (published March 2012)

Our group of eight had been to the British Virgin Islands twice and had a great time during both trips, but we were looking for new adventures and a next step in sailing challenges. Descriptions of the Dalmatian Coast sounded appealing, and the fact that we had a friend living in Dubrovnik, Croatia sealed the deal.

Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik

On May 30, 2011, we flew to Dubrovnik and spent five days sightseeing. On Sunday, June 5th, we got a transfer to Marina Agana, just north of Split, and boarded our Beneteau 50.5 for a week of fabulous sailing. When our charter ended, we stayed in Split for two nights before flying back home. Prior to our vacation, we found some assistance in planning online, but along the way we learned a lot about these cruising grounds that is well worth sharing.

OFF AND RUNNING
We originally had a charter reservation with Sunsail for a 44-foot catamaran. When last minute problems arose with the registration of the catamaran, our contract was renegotiated with The Moorings and we received the new Beneteau. While we would have enjoyed the roominess and stability of the cat, the monohull saved us berthing fees and performed very well.

Starting our charter on Sunday meant that the grocery store at the marina was not open, but we found an adequate shop a few blocks away and were able to get enough supplies to start. In general, we found a wider choice of provisions throughout the Croatian islands than we did in the BVI, so buying what we needed as we went along was much easier. We also found plentiful fresh produce at open-air markets in all of the larger ports.

Our planned route was Maslinica on Solta Island, Vis Town, Sveti Klement and Hvar Town, Bol on the island of Brac, and Milna on the island of Brac. Since we got such a late start on Sunday, we motored to Maslinica, but were turned away from the dock, as there were no berths available. Our backup plan was to go just south of Maslinica to Sesula, where we found a good anchor spot. We were offered a mooring with another boat if we ate at the restaurant there, but were not excited about sharing a ball and found the bay to be well protected and with good holding for our anchor off the south shore. Throughout our trip we found that secure anchoring was especially dependent on finding a shallow enough area for optimum scope ratio.

Stoncica Bay island of Vis
Stoncica Bay island of Vis

VIS A VIS
Monday began with a refreshing swim off the back of the boat before an easy sail straight south to Vis Town on the island of Vis. The wind was light in the morning but picked up to 21 knots in the afternoon. When we arrived, we had our first experience with Med mooring. All week, we found it unnecessary to call the marinas in advance. Simply putting out our bumpers and posting someone on the bow with a boat hook immediately brought help to the dock.

Med-moored in Milna
Med-moored in Milna

We backed up to the dock and picked up the lazy line. My readings prior to the trip suggested bringing gloves for this process, as the lazy lines were accurately referred to as “slimelines.” As we initially backed into the dock I noticed someone taking photos. Since this was our first experience with Med mooring, I was afraid this was a local who had some sick interest in recording disastrous attempts by novices. Later, however, he sought us out to give us a complimentary picture postcard of the arrival and offered to sell us more.

Vis Town was a very pleasant place with numerous restaurants and shops. The open-air market provided plenty of options for fresh fruits and vegetables. I was especially pleased with the tomatoes we found in the market and on most of the menus as simple salads. Their bright red color and wonderful flavor became a favorite throughout the trip. I also had my first experience with the fresh baked breakfast goods that we continued to find in most towns of any size.

On Tuesday, the winds were strong and we noticed that most of the other boats in the harbor were not leaving, so we decided another day in Vis Town would be wise. Since the town of Komiza on the other side of the island was recommended, we rented scooters to do some exploring. With eight of us needing four scooters, we asked for a discount off the 100 Kuna per day price and were delighted to get each scooter for 80 Kuna, or approximately $16. What a bargain! We just had to refill the gas tanks and have the scooters back by 6pm. According to the friendly proprietor, “A little damage is okay, but a lot of damage is not okay.”

For the next six hours, we negotiated twisting mountain roads and beautiful views to ride to Komiza and all the way around the rest of the island, pausing for lunch in Rukavac at Konoba Dalmatino. Before returning to Vis Town, we stopped at a beautiful beach in Stoncica Bay for a brief swim. When we returned to town, we refilled our water tanks, checked out and motored over to Stoncica Bay, where we found good anchoring and protection for the night.

Hvar town
Hvar town

SLOW AND STEADY
Wednesday began with another “refreshing” swim (Croatia’s 70-degree water is much colder than the Caribbean) and a smooth sail northeast to Sveti Klement (also known as Palmizana), where we took a berth in the ACI Marina. I had read that this marina was preferable to Hvar Town because of the cost and the fact that water taxis are conveniently available to Hvar. After lunch on Sveti Klement, we got a water taxi and spent the rest of the day and evening exploring Hvar Town. Shopping, lots of walking and a hike up to a fort resulted in a strong appetite, which we satisfied with a wonderful dinner right on the dock at a restaurant named Bounty. We noticed that the town seemed to get busier as the evening went along, and I suspect we missed most of the nightlife by heading back to our marina just as the sun was going down.

On Thursday we found our way to the south side of Sveti Klement, where there is a nice little beach for swimming. At 10:30am we sailed in very light winds to Bol on the island of Brac, arriving at 2:30pm. After a rather exciting docking in strong winds that picked up shortly before our arrival, we set out to explore what turned out to be our unanimous favorite stop of all. Not only did Bol have a beautiful waterfront and numerous shops and restaurants, but a long paved walkway extended a mile west of town and was lined with small vendors most of the way. This led to the most photographed and beautiful beach in all of Croatia—Zlatni Rat. After a swim and delicious dinner on the waterfront, we continued to stroll through town, enjoying a gorgeous sunset and the sounds of church bells along the way.

Margaret near Bol on Brac
Margaret near Bol on Brac

On Friday, we had time for another swim at Zlatni Rat before setting sail at 11am for Milna on the western end of Brac. Arriving at 3pm, we explored the town before dinner at Konoba Gajeta. The sea bass was fabulous and our unhurried dinner included a great view of the harbor. The town of Milna paled in comparison to Bol, but the terrific meal and immaculate restroom and shower facilities made up for any other shortcomings.

THE BITTER END
On Saturday, we had to have the boat back to The Moorings by 5pm, which unfortunately meant heading directly into the wind. So, we used the motor most of the way and made stops at two harbors—Necujam on Solta and a protected little bay on the southeast corner of Drvenik Veli Island, where we swam with beautiful blue fish and relaxed before completing the trip to the marina. Necujam had little to offer, but was a secure place to anchor and gave us a chance to stretch our legs on land for a while. There was one grocery store that was fairly complete if you wanted to stay overnight and needed provisions.

Arriving back in Marina Agana a little before 5pm, we again faced very strong winds and ended up letting The Moorings crew dock the boat so we didn’t end our otherwise successful week on a bad note. After dinner on the boat and a quiet night in the marina, we departed for Split and had 1 1/2 days to explore a totally different kind of Croatian city. Diocletian’s Palace is a “don’t miss” site. I reserved double rooms with private baths that were within walking distance of the old town and Palace area for 50 Euros a night. This gave us a chance to get our shore legs back before starting what turned out to be a 30-hour return trip.

The happy crew
The happy crew

Croatia and the Adriatic Sea provided us with what will be one of the most memorable trips of our lifetime. The area is sure to grow fast in popularity, so I’m glad we had a chance to visit it before it became too crowded. Do a little planning and you won’t be disappointed either.

Robert L. Weiss, Jr. is the director of music at First United Methodist Church in Carbondale, IL and a professor of music emeritus at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Music Education from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in Education from SIUC. Since retiring from SIUC, he continues to play trombone and sail his 18.5 Hunter on Kentucky Lake.

TRAVEL TIPS
1. Spend a few days before or after your charter (or both) visiting areas you might not stop at on the boat. Dubrovnik and Split were both packed with interesting historic sites that we are glad we did not miss. There are many public buses running daily between the larger cities.

tiled roofs of Dubrovnik
tiled roofs of Dubrovnik

2. The easiest way to get local cash (Kunas) is through the ever-present ATMs throughout Croatia. Be sure to tell your bank that you are going to Croatia. I did this twice, but did not realize that they only noted “Europe” on my account. My card was denied because of fraud issues in Croatia until I made an expensive phone call to my bank to fix the issue. Not only are ATMs a convenient way to get local cash, but the exchange rate you get through them is a little better than other sources and generally makes up for the modest fees.

3. Make a sailing plan with backup options. Strong winds can make unprotected harbors very uncomfortable. If sailing during the busy season, be sure you have backup plans for moorings. This is especially important if the weather predictions include Boras (northeasterly) or Siroccos (east-southeast to south-southeast) and you need to find a well-protected anchorage.

4. Many businesses close for several hours every afternoon, so plan your shopping with that in mind. At larger ports like Hvar, the town really becomes alive with street vendors and open businesses at night.

5. Berthing prices (500-700 Kuna, or $100-140 for our 50-foot boat) are much higher than what it cost us to pick up a mooring ball in the BVI ($20-$35). You pay by the length of your boat, but water and electricity are frequently extra. Some marinas only accept cash.

6. Med mooring was easier than we expected due to the prevalence of lazy lines. I was glad I read about these before going and took along a pair of rubber gloves to handle them. Our biggest challenge was backing into the docks when there were strong crosswinds.

7. Self-service laundromats are rare. We noticed that most locals do small loads of wash, probably daily by hand, then hang everything out to dry—usually right outside their windows. Most laundries are full-service and expensive. If you are traveling long enough to require laundry, plan to do small loads yourself and hang them out to dry.