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Cruising the Dalmatian Islands

This is the story of the Croatian travels of Liz and Andrew Potter, from West Kirby Sailing Club on the Wirral, who put aside their four single-handed racing dinghies (an A-Class Cat, International Canoe, Contender and D-Zero) for a week in favour of an alternative salty adventure in a 38ft yacht on a bareboat charter. Liz takes up the story.

Day One – Arrival in Split

After a relaxing day of travel, flying into Split and a short taxi transfer, we arrived at Kastella marina at around 10pm. There was nobody to meet us, but we had been given the pontoon number where our boat Minnie, a Hanse 385, was berthed. Luckily I had a torch at hand, to negotiate the small aft gang plank and to find some onboard lighting. We dropped off the luggage and made for the only open restaurant “Spinnaker”, which served us with an excellent seafood meal and a beer, despite the late hour.

Day Two – Brac Island

After a brief familiarisation of the boat by the charter company and a visit to the nearby supermarket to stock up for the week, we left the marina at 10:30 in very light winds. As the wind did not increase at all, we sailed slowly all day, aiming for the nearby island of Brac, passing a solitary dolphin in the clear blue waters. We arrived at the small port of Milna by early evening, where we chose to anchor on the far side of the harbour. 

Next came the drama of getting the tender off the deck. The little rubber boat was very small and, once we were in it, we discovered that the oar’s plastic fixed oarlocks were too large to fit in the tender’s rowlocks. This was not going to stop us from getting a meal and a beer, so we paddled across the harbour, using the skills honed from our West Kirby Team Dragonboat racing experience the month previous. 

By the time we had finished our meal, it was dark and the tide had risen. Our previously beached tender was just starting to float. In our haste to get ashore, we had failed to put on the yacht’s masthead lights. Fuelled on beer and slight apprehension, we crossed the dark waterway towards our unlit vessel from our other unlit vessel, at full Dragonboat paddle-power, with our way lit by the phosphorescence of thousands of microscopic plankton under a sky of a thousand stars.

Day Three – Vis Island

After a leisurely breakfast in the warm sunshine on deck, we made a late start due to the complete lack of wind. We left Brac at 10:30 a.m. under engine and motored for ten minutes until we were clear of the island. A little wind filled in from the South East, which put us close-hauled to Vis, which then became our destination for the day. Progress was slow, until a better breeze of 8-10 knots arrived after lunch. We approached the far side of the island by 4pm and decided to stop over in the port of Komiza, which was the closest point to the small Island of Bisevo; location of the blue cave – a popular tourist destination. The wind died tantalisingly close to Komiza and we bobbed along for an hour on the island’s rocky shoreline. A new breeze of 12 knots filled in as we turned the last corner, giving us a beat in. We discovered that the boat did not point well upwind, but battled on under sail, refusing to turn on the motor whilst there was wind to work with.

Once inside the harbour, we were met by a RIB, who directed us to the buoyed area, where we picked up a mooring. The area was packed and there was barely a boatlength between yachts. 

Luckily the weather was calm and we set off for the shore in the tender, paddling once again.

We had contacted the charter company to report the problem with the rowlocks on the tender and they had made arrangements for someone to sort it out at Vis. A local man came to the quay and took our oars away for some modification. We had a delightful meal in a small restaurant off a shady backstreet in town. We feasted on a Dalmation dish of beef and gnocci in a rich aromatic sauce, accompanied by local island wine and returned to the quay, to find the oars re-united with the tender. The repair was short-lived and the oars popped out of the rowlocks some 10m offshore, so we paddled back a la Dragon once more. 

Day Four – Bisevo Island

By 8am, there was already a line of boats heading for Bisevo. We tied the tender astern and joined the exodus. 

As we got closer, the cave site was marked by the countless sticks of other yacht masts. It appeared that access to the cave was only possible with a guided tour launch, which picked up passengers from tour ships arriving at the small quay and sometimes passed by the moorings, where many yacht crews awaited a turn. It looked like it could be a long mornings’ wait, but we were lucky to pick up a mooring just as one yacht was leaving and were collected after half an hour.

The blue cave was not what I was expecting at all. It was in the next bay and was but a tiny gap at the bottom of the cliff face, barely big enough for a tender. 

We all had to duck and breathe in and then the dark stone corridor swallowed us whole. After a short echoing passage, where the boatman turned off his engine, the boat emerged into a bolt of the brightest blue, as the sun lit the water from the cave’s underwater entrance. Small fish twirled around in the electric blue from the deep waters beneath us. 

Within ten minutes we were back on our boat and returning to Komiza for a quick supplies shop, before setting off in a direction dictated by the current wind, the forecast and a few whims.

We ended up heading for the far side of Vis in the main town port. The wind came and went, leaving us either running or motoring along. We stopped in a small bay just before the main port, for a late lunch, swim and snorkel at 3pm.  Noticeably absent were birds or fish, but the visibility was superb – the anchor could be clearly seen on the seabed some 20m below.

We picked up a mooring on the quieter side of Vis harbour, called Kut.

Here, we enjoyed the end of day sunshine whilst planning our next day’s passage based on the change in weather, which was forecasting wind and thunderstorms.

Day Five – Solta Island.

I was woken by the jib rattling back and forth on its roller. In my half-sleep, I knew it wasn’t because the boat was just rolling, because I had tightened the sheets the night before to prevent that. I lay there figuring it must be the wind that was causing the movement. A quick on-deck inspection at 06:00 showed that some strong gusts were blowing across our sheltered bay and that the clouds were scuttling wildly across the sky in an alarming fashion. I reacted in a very British way and put on the kettle for a very large cup of tea. In the end, I went below to wake up Captain Potter and we slipped the mooring at 07:30, put up the sails at 07:31 and head out of our cove on a reach. 

By 07:40, the waves were piling up and the boat crashed over one, hurling the glassware and mugs out of one of the lockers. What a shattered mess; I don’t like glassware on yachts!

We decided this was the signal that a reef was due and set about working out which lines to use and a plan. The genoa was wound away first; the autopilot held the boat head to wind whilst I wrestled the main down on the foredeck and Andrew wound up the reefing lines. It all went like clockwork and the boat sped off for 26 miles of reaching in considerable seas, hitting 9 knots of boat speed at times.

By 10:30 we were at the coast of the Island of Solta, looking for the lee of the island to anchor and have some breakfast, before tackling the broken glass and drying some damp bedding from a hatch left open in our hasty exit. Plenty of basic errors for our first windy day!

Before arriving at the port in Maslinica, we stumbled across a lengthy inlet called Sesula. 

It lies adjacent to the main port and its new marina. A couple of yachts were already anchored within, but we decided to pick up a mooring due to the stormy weather which was set to continue. As it turned out, this was an excellent decision, as the mooring was owned by the little bistro some 200m ashore and the overnight stay was free for customers. We opted to stay there rather than pay the 72 Euros a night for the marina around the corner. 

Even better, Owner Sasha came to fetch us in his small boat, so we avoided the tiresome paddling experience. We had a very pleasant lunch at the bistro and took a walk over the hill to examine the marina and town in Maslinica. The boats were all moored end on to a concrete wall, as seems to be the style in Croatia – presumably to get as many vessels crammed in as possible. 

We strolled back to our green and pleasant valley and enjoyed a peaceful afternoon in a very sheltered site. Sasha came back to collect us for dinner at 7. During the meal, the sky started to flash with distant lightning as the storm rolled in over the hills. After a while, deluges of water were pouring off the tables outside and thunder rumbled overhead. Sacha continued to ferry his customers back and forth, stopping in between to bail out his dinghy. We made a dash for the boat once the rain had eased, only to discover a bunk full of wet bedding for the second time that day, as the overhead hatch had a leaking seal. Luckily, there were plenty of empty cabins, so we moved aft and watched the impressive light show as the storm rumbled on through the night.

Day Six – Rogoznica.

We were out of the bay with sails up by 09:30. The skies were dark grey and there appeared to be some wind out of the harbour. 

After 20 minutes, the wind started to increase rapidly on our quarters, so, at 18 knots of wind, we made a decision to reef early. Almost as soon as the reef was in, the wind gusted 25 knots and flashes of lightning could be seen over the mainland. The radio piped up on channel 16 in Croatian “upozorenje za bule, upozorenjezabule, upozrjble”, which was later repeated in English for the sole mad English people still out on the water “Gale warning, gale warning, gale warning”. It was too late to turn back, as we were mid passage to our bolt hole of Rogoznica on the mainland by now. 

Ahead was looking dark and menacing, but with the wind astern  and the dark and menacing skies behind us looking some way off, we pressed on Westwards as the rain poured down, forked lightning lit the sky and the thunder exploded like canon fire, shaking the boat and resounding deep in the stomach. Our regrets were not packing waterproof trousers, though the jackets worked well. We elected to pass seaward of the islands of Solta, Drevnik M & V, making 8 knots on a broad reach under reefed main.

An hour later, the wind dropped off a little, so we shook out the reef and headed up for a close-hauled leg across the Drvenicki kanal and the final stretch to Rt Ploca – a headland which marked the start of our turning point towards our sheltered harbour. The wind picked up again to 20 knots and it was with relief that we finally dropped sails to head into Marina Frapa, cold and wet, for our only marina stop of the week. 

The rest of the day was gusty with the gale-force winds evident from inside the marina. Later, we heard stories of a tornado that had crossed the very same waters that day.

Day Seven. – Kastella.

We left the luxurious comfort of the new and modern Frapa Marina once the office was open, to pay the 65 Euro berthing fee and filled up with 13 litres of fuel, amounting to some minimal 3-4 hours of motoring during the week. 

Then it was sails up and away for a long challenging sail to return to the starting point by 7pm. 

We set off on a run in light winds. The wind shifted during the morning, until we were close-hauled, so we chose to sail inside the mass of small islands, rather than around them as originally planned. By midday, the wind was blowing 15 knots from astern, holding for an hour, before trickling away to 3-4 knots.

The wind swung all day. We gybed, pulled in sails and let them out again over the next 6 hours, without changing course at all! We finally turned into Split bay for the last 6 miles in 15 knots of wind on the nose. A glorious last beat to end a wonderful week of adventures. We packed up Minnie, ready for the next intrepid explorers.

And enjoyed a last sunset. 

I wonder where our next adventure will take us.

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