While Zoe sleeps for the long, cold winter in the Med, we are here in the States. After a number of family events and holiday gatherings, we decided we were much overdue for an adventure. Next stop….head out and explore Death Valley by Jeep and Turtleback trailer. This combo is perfect for the rugged 4×4 trails that the largest National Park in the lower 48 states is known for. It’s a great park to explore in a 4 x 4 vehicle because of the dramatic changes in scenery within the park. The landscape goes from the mountain peaks towering up over 10,000 feet to the lowest point in North America, Badwater basin at 282 feet below sea level.
We enjoyed the trip, but we were quite surprised to find ourselves camping in the 20’s (-4 C) at night. One morning we woke up to a frost covered tent…..INSIDE! Unfortunately, the high mountain passes were snowed in and icy. We ended up aborting Dan’s goal of driving Lippincott pass to Saline Valley after talking to the rangers at the visitor center. They said it was very icy at the pass and to drive it alone, like we were planning on doing, was extremely ill-advised. Good to know 🙂 We ended up skipping the pass to Saline Valley in the hopes of returning one Spring to try again. So much for the “hottest place on earth”.
Well, as the saying goes, better late than never. I’ve definitely drug my feet in completing our final post of the sailing season. I guess you could say I am in mourning 🙂 So, here is the rest of the story…..
As the close of our season was rapidly coming to an end, we decided to make our way to the town of Preveza. The thunderstorms had gone away, and we were left with sunny skies and moderate breezes. We had been watching the weather and our remaining days very closely after finding out that the swing bridge between the island of Lefkada and mainland Greece had broken. This is a car bridge from the island to the mainland that opens once on the hour to allow boats to pass through. When it broke down, it would no longer swing away which meant the only boats that would be able to pass through the channel had to have a beam (the width at the farthest part of your boat) no more than 5 meters. Zoe is 7.25 meters wide! We would not be able to fit. If the bridge did not get repaired in a timely manner, we would be forced to sail all the way around the island, adding significant time to our journey (an hour and a half trip would turn into an 8-9 hour trip). We had a slot booked at the Marina to have Zoe hauled out on Wednesday the 16th of October. We anxiously watched the bridge from our berth in the marina. You can imagine our excitement when we saw a couple of catamarans head up the channel, and the bridge fully opened. Woo hoo! We decided it was best not to wait until haul out time in case the bridge broke again. We scrambled to get underway and make the next bridge opening. At this point, we would have about a week to cruise around if the weather permitted.
We headed out of the marina and up channel to get in the line up of boats waiting for the bridge to be opened. Once it cleared, we all zoomed through the gap out into the open sea. It would be about an hour and a half to motor to Preveza. The forecasts were still all over the map, so we opted to head to a brand new marina in Preveza and spend some time digging deeper into this town since this was the area where Zoe would be wintering, and where we will prepare her for re-launching next spring. Anyway, we had tried to book with Preveza Marina before the last big storm, but they had been full. This time, they were able to accommodate us. Once we arrived, the marinero directed us to our spot and helped us to tie up. We were in an awesome spot close to all the marina facilities and an easy walk to the town center. It was a beautiful marina and definitely one of our favorites.
We spent the next few days getting to know our new stomping ground, eventually riding our bikes to the ruins of a castle nearby. As we rode down into the center “courtyard” of the ruins, we were quickly enveloped by a very creepy feeling. Surrounding us on all sides were high stone walls with rotting rooms behind them. As you walked by the dark, gaping openings, the roosting pigeons made their unhappiness very clear. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Birds,” this would be a scene out of that. The unease was further magnified by the graffiti and evidence of human misbehavior within the hidden sanctuaries of the castle. As we continued our exploration, we found our way up a decrepit, stone staircase that led up to the ramparts and an amazing view of the Ionian Sea. Despite the overcast skies, you could still see the varying hues of blue, green, and black across the water. Unlike sites you see in America (and even other parts of the world) which are fenced off for safety, the ramparts had an abrupt edge where one misstep would send you plummeting to the rocks or sea below…..no fence, no barrier, nothing…..just crumbling rock being retaken by nature. By this point, I had gotten a little bit braver and ventured into some of the abandoned halls…..yep, still super creepy. They were very, very dark, and I had no interest in encountering whatever might be hiding or lurking in there. After Dan managed to flush out a barrage of pigeons, we decided it was time to go.
At this point, we had paid for 3 days in this awesome marina, but decided that we could really have a lot of fun here. There were beautiful beaches not far away and great places to ride our bikes. We had just come to the decision that we would stay put in this lovely marina when Dan received an email telling us there was an issue with the large travel lift that would lift Zoe out of the water. They told us that they needed to move our winter haul out from Wednesday of the following week to Sunday! Are you kidding me??? We had less than 2 days to play around in the heart of Preveza before Zoe would be out of the water and stored on land. Then comes the real fun….prepping her to be shutdown for the next 5-6 months 🙁
Unfortunately, we had already purchased our tickets to fly out of Preveza which meant we could not head home earlier despite the boat being put away for winter. We decided we’d take our time getting her shut down and head inland by car for a bit of exploration off the water. We rented a car and headed to Meteora which is a rock formation consisting of one of the largest and most steeply built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries. The six monasteries are built on immense natural pillars and hill-like rounded boulders that dominate the local area. The sight of these very old monasteries perched high in the sky are absolutely breathtaking. We arrived in the town of Kalabaka, at the base of these towering rocks. Dan found us a great little AirBnb that looked out at the cliff face. We wandered the town that evening taking in the beauty and getting the scoop on where to go and the best things to see.
The following day, we drove up into rocky formations to take a closer look at these famous monasteries. Given the somewhat extreme locations of these monasteries, each had it’s own set of unique challenges for accessing them. Only one of the six had an easy entrance where you just walked straight in over the roadway. The remaining 5 required an incredible amount of stair climbing to reach the entrance (and of course lots more steps once you got inside). This day definitely provided a strenuous workout, but you could not beat the views. Check out the pictures, and you’ll see what I mean.
We spent a great 3 days driving through the inner parts of Greece before heading back to the boat to finalize her shut down. Once complete, we said a very sad farewell to Zoe. It was time to head home. We had a 3 hour flight from Preveza, Greece to London where we spent our 15th wedding anniversary. The next day was an 11 hour flight to from London to Phoenix. There you have it. We had another wonderful cruising season in the Med. and met so many great people. While we are happy to be home with family and friends, we are also very excited for the adventures ahead in our next cruising season. We wanted to thank all of you who have followed along on our journey. As I’ve mentioned before, our purpose of our blog is to document our travel adventures. We may go quiet for a period of time until we get our winter adventures figured out. We hope you’ll stick around to see what kind of trouble we can get into in the near future.
When you joined us last, we were once again happily anchored in Vlikho bay on the island of Lefkada. At this point, our final set of guests (Dan’s college fraternity brother and his wife) were due to arrive in 3 days, so this seemed as good of a place as any to pick them up. As luck would have it, another storm was forecasted (yes, this one was actually forecasted) to arrive the same day as our guests. We came to the conclusion that it just might be better all around to head into the marina. The boat would be secure, and they could walk on board with all their things rather than having to be shuttled in on the dinghy in rain. Besides, we didn’t want their first night on board to be another one of our hair-raising experiences (that could come later)! The day they were due to arrive, we pulled into Lefkada marina and cleaned up the boat. Remember, we had been at anchor for almost 3 weeks now, so Zoe was in need of a good cleaning. For the next two days, we explored the area with Jeff and April, our new guests. Since they had driven down from Athens, we were able to explore further afield in their car.
We drove to the River Styx (also known as the Acheron River). This was the river I mentioned in a previous post that was said to have ferried the souls of the dead to the underworld. Unfortunately, the boats were not running on this day, so we were unable to go to the underworld 🤣 We did enjoy walking along the river though. From there, we went to Necromanteion. This was an ancient Greek temple devoted to Hades. People would come here to speak to the dead. We tried to speak to the dead, but our reception was poor. Our next stop was the amphitheater of Nikopolis. It was founded in 29 BC to commemorate the Roman Emperor Octavian’s victory over Marc Antony and Cleopatra at a battle nearby. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get close due to the danger of falling stone. As we made our way back, we stumbled upon a local olive oil producer who kindly opened up his mill and sold us some of his oil….Yum!
After 2 days of land exploration, we were all eager to get underway. It was time to get out on the water. We decided to take our friends to the island of Kastos. This time we found a narrow, little bay with no one in it. We anchored in the center to give us the greatest amount of swing room which also meant it would be really uncomfortable for anyone else to come in and anchor. The sun was out and the water was crystal clear and inviting. The boys went exploring by kayak and played on the SUPs….yep, I say boys for a reason. The two of them laughed and played all day long. You know you have a good friend when you can pick up where you left off despite not seeing each other for many years. Above the anchorage was a cute little windmill that housed a cafe, so as sunset approached, we all headed up there for a drink. It was a great time. We all decided this was well worth a two night stay.
As much as we loved this bay, it was time to move on again. We headed back to Vlikho bay (jellyfish bay) since our friends had not yet been there. With solid holding, we would be comfortable getting off the boat to do some more land explorations. Our friends would be leaving us soon, so this was also a good place to be to avoid the expense of the marina. Our first stop was the waterfalls of Dimosari. After picking our way up the hill, we were treated to beautiful, lush vegetation and some small pools of water. The waterfall itself had definitely seen better days. It was falling down the rock face in a trickle. From there, we drove to the little town of Vasiliki….another cute little seaside village. This town is known as the windsurfing capital of Europe in August with over 100 windsurfers taking to the water. By now, the sun was beginning to go down, so we made our way back to the boat. Sadly, the next day would be the last day of Jeff and April’s visit with us, so we decided on a winery tour followed by a visit to the town of Nydri which is a quaint little seaside resort, and one of our favorite places to explore. The next day we headed to the small, hillside winery that we had driven by on numerous occasions. The four of us were treated to a private tour of the wine making facilities as we learned the process their grapes go through to become that delicious nectar of the gods that we all so love. You gotta love touring sights during off season. Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve pretty much had the sights all to ourselves. Anyway, after learning about the wine making process, we returned to the tasting room where we were treated to a variety of their wines. Needless to say, we all walked out with some of our favorites. From there, we decided to grab some lunch by the sea in Nydri. While waiting for the wine tour, I had been thumbing through a tourist guide and found a very highly reviewed restaurant. Sounded like a winner! As promised, it did not disappoint. It was definitely one of my favorite meals in Greece so far. Our friends dropped us back at our dinghy, and we all reluctantly said good-bye. All alone….once again.
Our time on the boat was rapidly slipping away….and with it, the weather was becoming less settled. It seemed as though we would have a few more days of calm weather, so we decided to head south again…..this time to the island of Ithaca. The 22 mile voyage brought us into the bay of Limin Vathi where we found a nice spot to anchor behind this tiny little church on it’s own little island. This islet was once a quarantine station long ago and then turned into a prison during English rule. It was destroyed in an earthquake in 1953 and never rebuilt. The “church” which was built in 1668 is the only thing remaining. The main part of the bay was full of boats at anchor, but our little spot on the outskirts consisted of only one other boat. Since we were confident that Zoe was secure at anchor, we rented a car to explore the island. There are a number of sites associated with Homer’s Odyssey that we wanted to check out. Once again, we found ourselves on very narrow, winding roads as we made our way into the mountains. We found some of the ruins to be a little bit questionable….meaning it looked to us that perhaps something more modern (in the last 100 or so years) had been built over top of the site and it was THAT which was actually in ruin. We aren’t archaeologists by any means, so who knows…..On our way back, we stopped in the village of Kioni for lunch. This was another potential anchoring spot, but after witnessing the utter chaos of the many boats trying to tie up while dodging one another, I decided this spot would never be on my list of anchorages.
We enjoyed two days on the island of Ithaca and decided it was time to move closer north. We had been carefully watching a very large storm system that was forecasted to come in, and we had already secured our spot in the marina. Our only worry now was whether or not it held true to it’s predicted date and did not arrive early. We contemplated heading back to…..you guessed it….Vlikho bay. As we drew near the channel entrance, we decided to head across to the mainland and check out the bay of Ormos Varko. It was close enough that if it didn’t look good, we would still have time to head back to our trusted hidey hole. When we arrived, there were only 2 other boats at anchor, so we picked a nice spot and dropped the hook. This turned out to be a phenomenal decision. We were surrounded by rock outcroppings, sand beaches, and sparkling aqua water. This might very well be our last few days of swimming this season….and swim we did. We swam 450 feet to shore and back and just enjoyed basking in the water one last time. We continued to keep an eye on the approaching storm and agonized over when it would be the best time to duck into the marina. In the end, we opted to play it safe and left the following afternoon. We arrived and got tied up a few hours before the winds started to kick up. In the end, we probably could’ve gotten away with one more night out at anchor, but when the storm took off the next day, we were grateful that we didn’t have to tie up in that craziness.
As I wrap up this tale, we have been in the marina (along with many other cruisers) for the last 3 nights. We have had pouring rain, thunder and lightning. We have also seen 40 knot winds IN the marina and bounced around in the 2 foot waves that came with that wind. There are still storm clouds all around, the temperature has dropped dramatically, and we are still blowing consistently at 15-20 knots. Unfortunately, rain is forecasted up until our last few days on the water, so at this point we will probably remain marina bound until it’s time to pull Zoe out of the water. For now, we will begin the process of packing up and shutting down for the season. Our plan is to do some more inland exploration, so we will likely have one more post from this part of the world before heading home. We hope you will join us as we close out one more sailing season.
You may recall from our last post, we were happily ensconced in Vlikho bay on the island of Lefkada (also known affectionately as Jellyfish bay and Velcro bay). It becomes quickly evident why it is also known as Velcro bay…..once in, it’s pretty easy to just stay parked….and we were no exception. Your anchor digs in deep to this thick, sludgy mud, it’s usually well protected from all winds, it’s surrounded by high mountains, and it’s easy access to almost anything you could want.
After the third day, we had to remind ourselves that we did not buy a boat just to sit in once place, so we reluctantly pulled up anchor and headed out into the beauty of the islands. Our next stop was going to be the island of Kastos, anchorage to be determined upon my review 🤣 Yes, I hold THAT kind of power! Our journey south would be about 3 1/2 hours with the wind at our back. As luck would have it, we did manage to sail for some of the cruise there. Despite it being mid-September, there were still a ridiculous number of boats in this part of the Ionian. So much for it being low season! As we cruised up the east side of the island (the perfect protection for the direction of the wind), we spotted a couple of empty anchorages and stored them in the back of our mind in case the one we had in mind was full. When we arrived at the spot known as Wasp bay (none of these cute little names are official of course….they are the names that sailors before us have given title to), there were only 2 other boats anchored in this lovely bay. We quickly chose a great spot that was respectfully distant from our two neighbors, and dropped the anchor. The bay was surrounded by spectacular rock walls and crystal clear water. This will definitely do!
Not long after we were settled, another boat came in and dropped anchor right in front of us. This was a little unsettling as he was quite close and did not appear to do much more than drop his anchor overboard. We seriously hoped he wasn’t staying the night since he would be a risk to us if the winds picked up even slightly. Fortunately, he only stayed for a few hours and went on his way. Dan had been out snorkeling to check our anchor and had said that their anchor was literally just laying on the sea floor, not dug in at all. Not long after, a large catamaran came in and anchored behind us. They caught our eye as they were flying a large California flag. This was the first Americans we had encountered all season on the water. They ended up inviting us to their boat for dinner and drinks. As we motored over in our dinghy, we were greeted by the captain and his friend both decked out in Rasta wigs and Bob Marley playing on the stereo. Needless to say, we busted up laughing….this was definitely going to be a fun night! The 10 of us enjoyed a great dinner, lots of wine, some games, and of course laughter and storytelling. We found ourselves disappointed that we had not crossed paths earlier in their voyage. Despite meeting for the first time, it was like being with friends we had known for years. The following day, they continued their journey, and we opted to spend one more evening in this beautiful bay (never mind the fact that we were nursing a wee bit of a hangover).
After 2 nights, it was time to explore our next port of call…the island of Cephalonia, bay of Eufimia. This passage was 24 miles to the west. Initially, we had thought we might med moor to the town quay, but I quickly nixed that idea. Since this would be our fist time to med moor our boat alone (and I had already been warned about the harbormaster who barks orders at you for how he wants it done), I didn’t feel like putting on my big girl panties and dealing with being yelled at. 🤣 We found a spot in that small bay that we liked and dropped the anchor. Unfortunately the sand bottom was hard packed sand, so it took us 3 tries to get the anchor dug in and holding. Later in the day, a small catamaran (looked almost homemade) with 4 young Germans dropped anchor somewhat close to us. Given the amount of room in the bay, I was not super happy that they chose so close by. Before long, one of the young men had rowed over to our boat to ask if we were okay with where he had anchored. I told him that as long as he felt he was dug in and secure, I was fine. He very kindly offered to move, but I told him it was fine and thanked him for asking (you know this random sidebar about our neighbor holds a key piece to this part of our story). As the evening drew to a close, ominous clouds had begun to build. None of the weather models had called for any sort of weather, but we have learned from experience that these type of cloud formations usually bring bad times if you are on a boat.
As we laid in bed, I could not shake the uneasiness I was feeling (this is often the case for me in unknown anchorages). Around 2:00 a.m., I could see lightning flashing in the sky through the hatch over our head. Not long after, it started to rain. Dan and I scrambled to close up all the open hatches before heading up on deck to see what was happening. By 2:30 a.m. all hell had broken loose. The rain was coming down sideways, thunder and lightning boomed all around us, and then came the wind….the worst wind we have ever seen at anchor. Within minutes, Dan and I were soaking wet as I ran below deck to grab our foul weather jackets (a little late at that point….we were already drenched from head to toe). Dan fired up the engines in case we broke free. When the wind hit 40 and 50 knots Dan powered forward on the anchor to relieve some of the strain. This went on for about a half hour. A couple of boats dragged and chose to head out to sea until the worst had passed. Just then, we saw our German neighbors’ boat go flying by us…..and NO ONE was on deck! They were headed straight for the jagged rocks of the shore. I grabbed our air horn and big spot light and started blasting it at them. It felt like it took forever for someone to finally come up on deck. Thankfully, they were able to get control of their boat before they hit shore. Several boats circled around in the chaos until things began to settle, and they could re-anchor. Within 45 minutes, the storm had come and gone. As I stood on deck shivering in my soaking wet pajamas, my crazy husband proclaims, “I’ve never felt so alive!” Sometimes he baffles me beyond belief. It was a terrifying experience with a lot of running around and yelling information to each other over the howling wind, but our anchor held like a champ. We had survived our toughest storm yet. I’ve come a long way in reading the clouds and understanding when things are likely to go sideways. I also have full faith in my gut now….when it tells me to go sleep up in the salon or on deck….I do.
After our soggy, sleepless night (we were on a definite adrenaline high for the next few hours), we decided it was time to move on. We had asked about the possibility of tying to the quay (yes, I was willing to brave it at this point), but the harbor master said there would be no room as a flotilla was coming in. Well, that cinched it….time to find a quiet, safe place to anchor. Where was our anchorage of choice? Back to Vlikho bay, of course. We knew we’d hold well and could get a good nights sleep despite being at anchor. The one thing I have not yet learned is to get a deep, restful sleep at anchor, and we have been at anchor now for 17 straight days. Thanks to last night’s storm, the seas were rough and confused (going in all directions). It was cloudy and rainy with 3-5 foot seas. As we came into the channel to the bay, we crossed paths with our California friends. They were on their way to turn in their charter boat, so we passed close by waving and shouting our goodbyes to one another. Once again, we were happily secure in our peaceful bay. Time for some much needed rest.
When we checked out of Albania, Dan was able to go ashore and take care of the paperwork the night before (this was a new treat). The only caveat was that we had to be out of the bay by 9:00 a.m the following day….otherwise, we would be required to come back in and check out again. We made sure to set an alarm to give us enough time to get underway and meet the 9:00 requirement. For some bizarre reason, our process went a little slow. We ended up motoring out right at 9:02….really hoping they weren’t militant about being gone before 9:00. As we came out of the bay, the Greek island of Corfu was directly ahead of us. This would only be a 2 hour cruise to get to our next port of call (a big change from the last 3 trips of 55+ miles each). Unfortunately, after a phone call to the marina, we learned that we could not check in until 4 p.m. Ugh. After another phone call, we were told they could probably accommodate us if we came after 1 or 2 p.m. There was very little wind (as usual). Normally we would motor, but since we had so much time to kill, we decided to sail it…..ssssllllllooooowwwwwlllly. It gave us a lot of opportunity to play around with our sail trim and get a feel for maximizing our speed in light winds. We were able to match our boat speed to the wind speed much of the time, so we were quite pleased with ourselves. It was finally time to head into the marina. Wouldn’t you know, the wind picked up quite a bit right when it was time for us to dock (and it was a crosswind)! Needless to say, docking was a lot more “fun” than we would’ve liked….but we managed to get securely tied up.
We arrived in Gouvia Marina on the island of Corfu on Sunday, September 1st. We purposefully chose this date since Greece had recently instituted a cruising tax that is paid by the month (literally by the month, meaning if you arrive on August 31st you will pay for the entire month of August). Anyway, once we got the boat secured and checked in with the marina, we set out to get ourselves and Zoe cleared into the country. As I may have mentioned in our first post of the sailing season, checking into and out of countries is often its own little adventure. Not only does the process vary between countries, but it can vary greatly even within the same country. Sometimes this can be rather frustrating. Our arrival in Greece was no exception. We were advised at the marina office to grab a cab into the old town since they would drop us in front of the correct offices. We headed over to the taxi zone and waited….and waited….and waited. Dan tried calling several times to no avail. At this point, we were both hot, tired and frustrated, so we wandered off to find a place to rent a car. As luck would have it, there was a rental car place right there in the marina compound. We were able to quickly rent a car and get on our way to the old town (big shocker….there was a cab sitting at the taxi stand as we drove away).
We had no clue where to find the port police or customs/immigration, so we headed for the port in old town Corfu hoping our destinations would be clearly marked (they of course were not). We drove by a building that said “customs” on the front, so we quickly found a place to park and headed over. It was clearly a defunct building. We found a break in the fencing, and squeezed our way through to the interior of the port. After several attempts, we finally found the port police. He then told us to go to customs and immigration, and then return to him once more. He pointed us to the building with no instruction as to where exactly we needed to go. Once again, we wandered aimlessly trying to figure out where we needed to be. To make a long story a little less long……we walked over 2 miles trying to find these offices and spent 2 hours taking care of paperwork. The majority of our time was spent in the customs office trying to show that we paid the cruising tax and trying to explain that we were pretty sure we screwed up when paying it because we forgot to put in our “ID” number that would associate the tax with our boat. The agent was kind, but she was definitely flustered and tired of dealing with us. In the end, we were finally checked in and on our way (although still very uneasy about this cruising tax because if you don’t have proof that you paid it, you get HUGE fines).
After that long and stressful endeavor, we continued on our way to old town Corfu to wander around and grab some dinner. The town is a maze of stone streets lined with cute little shops and restaurants. Surrounding the old city is an old fortress and a new fortress. Corfu was once controlled by the Venetians (many, many years ago) since it was considered the gateway to trade in the Adriatic, so their influence on the architecture is very evident. It is a beautiful place to explore. Unfortunately, several huge cruise ships arrive in port every day making the old town extremely crowded with large tour groups and buses. On our way back to the car, we stumbled on this little dessert shop that had more than 50 different types of exotic baklava. Needless to say, we bought several of the more unusual ones to try out. They were amazing! The next day, we popped into the port police at the marina (they were closed when we had arrived the day before) to show him our paperwork and explain our dilemma with the cruising tax. The money had come out of our account, but without proof we’d be in trouble. He looked over our papers and showed us that customs had stamped us as paid, but the reality was that we were not paid and the money would likely be refunded since it did not have a way to associate it with our boat. We told him that it was important for us to be legitimately “legal,” and we weren’t looking for loopholes. He was kind enough to tell us where several banks were that we could go into and pay. He also told us that his colleague had been very kind to us because he had stamped us into and out of the Ionian. This meant that we were totally free to roam the Ionian islands without having to check into and out of every port we visited. Awesome!!!
We ended up staying in the marina for 3 days before we decided it was time to continue making our way south. Our next stop was on the east side of the island in a small town called Petriti. We found a great little spot outside of the main bay in the hopes of avoiding crowds of boats anchored on top of us. I swear charterers are like moths drawn to the light! Every boat that came in anchored closely around us! This was not suppose to happen! Everything we had read said everybody anchors in the bay right outside of town. Liars! It wouldn’t have been so bad except we ended up with two different charter boats very close to us. One in particular re-anchored 4 different times (every time equally as close) throughout the day and evening…..that inspired a lot of confidence that he wouldn’t drag into us in the middle of the night. There would be no sleep for me this night. I literally slept up on deck, popping my head up every hour or so to make sure no one was getting any closer. Buy a boat they said…..cruising is fun they said…..it’s so peaceful at anchor they said…HA! More often than not, it really is peaceful and fun…..but it’s the bad times that really stick with you 😝 The next few nights were much better. We had a few, very well spaced neighbors and the hordes had filled the main bay as expected. After a few blissful days, we decided it was time to move again (can I just stay here?). We headed south again to our next chosen destination. It was packed! We cruised through at least 8 different anchorages, and every one of them was uncomfortably full of boats (as in reach out and touch your neighbor!). Nope, nope, nope….not gonna do it. So guess what we did? Yep, headed straight back to Petriti (2 hours away). This time I talked Dan into anchoring even farther from the town. Our old spot once again took on quite a few boats…..but not us! Score one for team Muzich! We giggled and marveled when 40 boats crammed into the town bay, all on top of each other. We, of course, were blissfully secluded with only a couple of boats also anchored a nice distance away. We enjoyed it here so much that we ended up staying for 9 days!
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. It was time to move again…..NOOOOO! This was going to be a really long push. Our goal was to make it to the inland Ionian Sea (about 57 miles away). We had pre-selected a couple of possible anchorages in case we didn’t feel like doing a full 9-10 hour slog south. Bet you can’t guess what we found??? Yep, each one we came to was full of boats 🤦♀️ Geez, I though we were finally out of peak season. We did cruise through one bay in order to see the Acheron River where the souls of the dead were thought to descend into the underworld according to Homer’s Odyssey. Supposedly we could’ve cruised up it a little ways, but once we saw how narrow and choppy the rocky entrance was…..we respectfully declined. I am hoping to go back and explore it more thoroughly by land once we pull the boat out for the winter. We finally had the channel markers in sight that would take us into the inland sea. We also cruised past the marina where Zoe would be spending her winter. I have never seen so many boats! They can store 1000 boats on land! Anyway, as the inland sea opened up before us, the winds had picked up quite a bit and there was a fair amount of chop and swell. Storm clouds had begun to build off in the distance. We had chosen a bay that would provide us with good protection from the predicted winds and made our way there. When we arrived, there were only 2 other boats in the bay, so we found a spot that we were happy with (and well spaced from our neighbors) and dropped the anchor. Unfortunately, the water here is not the typical crystal blue that we had grown use to….it was more like the murky green of a lake (clean, just not clear). This would be a case of drop the anchor and pray. Usually, we swim the anchor to verify it’s dug in and holding well. Not a chance of seeing it here.
As the evening went on, two more boats joined us in the anchorage. We continued to watch the storm clouds build. This was not good…..when storms come in, so do big winds….and of course none of this was in any of the forecasts! Not long after we sat down for dinner, all hell broke loose. The winds were gusting to 30 knots, 3-4 foot waves came crashing into the bay, and big bolts of lightning rained down. We were all now pointed in the direction of shore if our anchors let loose. Every one of us was scrambling on deck securing things, closing hatches, and monitoring our anchor….oh, and of course night had now fallen. Dan fired up the engines and I ran to the bow to monitor the anchor (my favorite place to be when there is lightning!). Whenever a huge gust would hit, Dan would give a little forward throttle to help ease the pressure on the anchor. One boat ended up pulling his anchor up and moving to the other side of the bay. Luckily, the storm blew itself out within about 30-45 minutes. They say that sailing is 90% pleasure and 10% terror. I think I’ve had more than my 10% of terror at this point. The next day, all the boats had bugged out leaving us all alone in the bay. We kayaked to another bay to check it out for future stays, and depth checked our bay close to the rocks just for peace of mind. This little bay quickly became another favorite of ours, but after 3 nights it was time to move again.
We headed out of the inland sea and made our way to the swing bridge that opens your access to the Ionian islands. This swing bridge is well traveled by many cars, so it only opens for boats to pass through on the hour, and the operator is very gruff about getting your butt through as fast as possible. We arrived at the bridge about 10 minutes before opening and queued up with all the other boats. As the bridge swung open, we all formed a single file line and blasted through the canal as the operator vigorously waved for oncoming boat traffic to get moving. As we spilled out of the canal and into the sea, I was taken aback by the number of sailboats I saw. If this is the decline of the season, I would hate to see what July and August look like here. No thank you. I have no plan to sail here in peak season! Yuck! As we made our way to several different anchorages, we found them stacked deep with boats. I am so not ready for this. I tell Dan in no uncertain terms that I do not want to do this….we need to find a place with less boats. The conversation continued like this….Dan: You’re not afraid to park a car between two other cars. What is your problem? This is just like parking a car! Me: (mouth hanging open and spitting fire) This is most certainly not like parking a car!!! The wind does not push on the car! There is no current acting on a car! You cannot possibly be comparing parking a car with backing a boat down in between 2 other boats and taking a line to shore so you don’t swing and hit them! I’ll spare you the gory details, but our conversation rapidly devolved from there. Cruising is fun….cruising is fun….cruising is fun! We were at a loss as to where to go and the day was slipping away. Fortunately, I remembered an email a new cruising friend had sent me with her tips for this area. I quickly pulled it up and showed it to Dan. We decided we would try Vliho bay on the island of Lefkada. It was supposedly a huge bay with plenty of room for lots of boats. When we arrived, it was certainly full of LOTS of boats, but there was plenty of room for us. We chose a spot we were happy with and dropped the anchor. Once again, we could not see the anchor through the murky green water, but we had read that you hold like glue in here. We did. It’s a beautiful bay despite the unpleasant looking water. The major downside is that you can’t swim here. Well, you can…..if you’re brave enough. The bay is teeming with these giant jellyfish. We’ve seen them before and read that they are not poisonous to humans (supposedly no painful sting), but I have no desire to be swimming around with them. There are so many of them that you will be touched by them 🤢. They are the size of a freaking basketball. Nope….no thanks….that’s a hard pass on the swimming. Since we were holding so well, we decided to dinghy into the town of Nidri and explore. We wandered around this great little town that is lined with all kinds of shops and tavernas. We both were really kind of digging it here. Maybe we will just live here for the month 🤣 (You know that’s me, right?).
After wandering for a bit, we decided to rent a car and go explore the island. This is the first time we have left the boat on anchor and gone really far away….it was a little bit scary. Ironically, we were more worried about the dinghy getting stolen than the anchor letting go and our boat ending up on land. We drove all around the island….up steep winding roads with sheer cliff drop offs, overlooking beautiful crystal bays, and through adorable little villages. We even stopped at an olive museum to learn some more about the making of olive oil (which of course came with some tastings of their products). It was one of our nicest days in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, we have been having a great time, but we have been at anchor for almost 2 weeks now and this was our first big adventure off the boat. We thoroughly enjoyed it. So, at the time of this writing, we are still at anchor in this bay. This will be our third night. Neither of us is in a hurry to leave. As a matter of fact, we are thinking of renting a scooter tomorrow and touring some wineries before heading to a beach along one of those crystal clear, turquoise bays we saw. Stay tuned….our finale is rapidly approaching!
It was another hot and sunny day on the sea. Despite leaving Bar, Montenegro with some decent winds, we seemed to struggle finding a sweet spot with the sails. We started with the mainsail and gennaker up but the wind was somewhat shifty so our progress was rather slow (not what you want when there are 57 miles ahead of you). We sailed along for about an hour before the winds started to get really gusty. We were rounding the point where Montenegro and Albania converge, and the wind really took off. We quickly dropped the gennaker (this sail is only used in light winds), reefed the main (lessened the sail area) and put out our genoa. It wasn’t too far past the point that we soon discovered that we may have responded a little too quickly. Just like that, the wind died down to nothing. Since the sails were up anyway, we opted to motorsail our way down the coast of Albania. After 8 1/2 hours, we arrived in the port of Durres, Albania. This is a major shipping port in Albania, so navigating our way through the giant cargo ships and ferries was quite interesting (kind of like a game of real life Frogger). At one point, we had to hover outside the breakwater while a huge cargo ship lumbered it’s way through the channel entrance. Talk about feeling like a tiny fish in a huge pond!
We got ourselves tied up to the wall beside a very large, working tug boat. He was at least twice as long as us and 3-4 times taller. It definitely made for some interesting nights (he seemed to always have the night shift). When he fired up his engines, our entire boat reverberated. The force from his water intake exhaust was about mid-ship on our boat and sent us dancing about on our lines. Then came his exit….his lights were so bright it made it like daylight on our boat, and as he pulled away from the wall, we pitched around in 3 foot swells bouncing back from the wall. The other fun part of our odd new home was the ridiculous angle our gangway was at in order to get onto the wall (the wall sat way above us). If I thought the last marina in Montenegro was bad…..this took the cake. We were surrounded by tug boats, tankers, and working cargo ships. Behind us were walls of stacked containers just waiting to be loaded on boats. Huge cranes were all around us and semi-trucks zoomed around from place to place. What had we gotten ourselves into???
We spent our first two nights on the boat exploring the local sights. The town outside of the port was very nice with lots of activity going on all over the waterfront. We even encountered a fire dancing show which we stopped to watch for a bit. Within the town, we saw the remains of an ancient Roman amphitheater and other evidence of past Roman occupation.
We had met a number of new friends on our way to Albania that had told us that the Albanian Alps were a must see. After spending two days safely tied up, we felt comfortable leaving the boat behind for a couple of days. We rented a car and made the 5 hour drive into the mountains. The drive was quite beautiful, and the roads weren’t too terribly bad. Of course, we did get to points where the road was a very narrow, two lanes with sheer drop offs….my favorite kind of drives 😬 Our biggest obstacles were small herds of cows and goats that occasionally blocked the roadway. The mountains rose up into jagged peaks cut by deep valley gorges, and the road followed a crystal, clear, rapidly flowing river. True to our nature (that seems to be our mantra), we had nothing booked ahead of time. As we drew near the town of Valbone, Dan scrambled to find us a place to stay. This area is very popular with hikers and backpackers, so there were an abundance of rooms for rent. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of sharing sleeping quarters or a bathroom with strangers (I know….call me a princess). Luckily we found a quaint little room overlooking the rushing river.
The next day, we headed up to the end of the gorge where we would begin our hike. We started out following a wide and rocky riverbed to the base of the mountain. Since it’s been awhile since we’ve been hiking, we opted to do a hike to a waterfall rather than the amazing 6 hour hike (one way) that everyone recommended. As it is, our hike turned out to be over 6 miles. The views were awesome, but we were definitely hurting by the time we got back to the car. That night we explored the riverbank opposite of our room. There were a few ruins and a small gravesite. The whole area was very green and peaceful. That night, I started feeling a bit sick. Uh oh.
The next day, it was time to make our way back to the boat. As much as we enjoy our inland explorations, we always find ourselves missing our boat. We decided to take a different route home which would involve taking the car onto a ferry for a 3 hour ride down the fjords. Although it was very hot and crowded, the views were spectacular. Once on the other side, we still had a 2 hour drive ahead of us. That turned out to be an adventure in and of itself. You basically climb out of the valley on nothing more than a one lane road (but two way traffic) that is sometimes paved and sometimes not. The paved parts are full of deep potholes, so it is very slow going. Oh, and throw in some non-stop, hairpin turns and plunging drops to the river below. Needless to say, we made it back in one piece! Unfortunately, whatever was ailing me was really beginning to escalate. I began processing what could be the culprit and soon came to a horrible realization….I have 2 cardinal rules when traveling in foreign countries (and especially countries that are not yet fully developed): Never drink the tap water (bottled water only) and never eat raw fruits/vegetables that don’t have some sort of rind that you can remove. Somehow, I managed to break both :(. My only excuse is that I got complacent. I have been in Europe for 5 months now, and everywhere we have gone has provided bottled water. Here, we were served up pitchers of fresh, mountain tap water. What could be wrong with that, right? Hmmm, remember those free roaming cows and goats I mentioned? Oh yeah, I made a big mistake. The next 24 hours were spent curled up in a fetal position in pain and unable to keep anything down. For the next few days, I pretty much avoided food. Great way to drop some pounds but not fun! Being sick on a boat, far from home, really sucks. You may be asking yourself, how did Dan avoid getting sick? Dan is like a camel….he consumes very small quantities of water. After the lengthy hike in the heat, I downed very large quantities of water over the next few hours. Perhaps beer would’ve been a better choice 🤣
Our next stop was an anchorage outside the town of Vlore. This was a 55 mile sail south. Once again, we had no wind and had to motor. As I sat watch, I suggested to Dan that he throw a line out and do some trolling. He thought we might be going to fast to have any luck. I told him that we weren’t doing anything else, so what could it hurt. About 20 minutes later, we had a 16 pound bluefin tuna on the line. It was a beautiful fish! Dan had the fun time of killing and filleting it on the deck as we continued our journey (I couldn’t watch). In the end, our back deck looked like a brutal murder had taken place on board. Neither of us knew a fish could have so much blood! We had a couple of fresh tuna meals and then vacuum sealed and froze the rest of the fish. We spent two nights in the bay just basically killing time. Our goal was to stage ourselves in such a way as to arrive in Greece on September 1st. On the 31st, we made our last big push of the season….another 50+ miles….to Sarande. We had heard a lot of good things about the sights here, but after a long day and a late arrival, we weren’t feeling much like exploring. When we radioed our arrival, we were told to come stern to on the ferry dock. The dock was lined with ferries coming in and out and we would be required to med moor (drop our anchor and back down to the wall where our stern lines would then be tied to the quay). Neither of us liked this idea. We have only med moored one other time this season, and it wasn’t pretty. We had no desire to try it again amongst a bunch of large ferries. So, we headed over to the nearby anchorage and dropped the hook. When the extremely loud music started booming from the many clubs on shore (all blasting different music), we decided that one night here was all we wanted. The giant, party gullet that cruised by 5 feet from our boat (with their music blasting) pretty much sealed the deal. Tomorrow, we head for Greece!
In the end, we did not experience as much of Albania as we would’ve liked…..but we also found ourselves ready to be done with the transit south. It was time to get settled into Greece for our final 6 weeks of the cruising season. Before long, it will be time to head home. We are definitely ready to go home, but I also know that we will be longing to return to Zoe within a few weeks.
It was finally time to bite the bullet and get our butts out of the marina once and for all. When you find yourself in a really nice marina, it’s very easy to grow barnacles. After all, who doesn’t want to be safe and snug in their home? Besides, our purchased time in Montenegro was quickly coming to an end (yes, sailors have to buy a cruising permit which allows you to stay a certain period of time….a month in our case). So, we cast lines and said a sad farewell to Marina Lazure and made our way down the coast to a town called Bigova.
We decided that we would ease ourselves back into the anchoring scene by taking a mooring ball for our first night. These are a rare find in Montenegro, and since they were put in by the local restaurant, it required us to eat dinner at their establishment. Given that I cook almost every night on board, who was I to complain about a night out for dinner? The tender driver for the restaurant greeted us as we entered the bay, and ushered us to a great spot in the bay. Once we were settled in, it was time for some swimming. The water was crystal clear and very refreshing after several hours in the blazing sun. Before long, a lovely couple from the UK swam over to our boat to introduce themselves (we fly a Cruising Association and a Women Who Sail the Med burgee which identifies us to other members of these two groups). Since we were both headed in the direction the other one had just come from, we decided to get together on board for drinks and swap information. We had such a good time together, we ended up spending the rest of the evening and dinner together swapping tips and stories.
Unfortunately the restaurant food was average, the wait staff was kind of surly, and it was kind of expensive (remember you have to eat there to stay on their mooring ball), so we headed to the other side of the bay to finally try our luck at anchoring. We spent the next two nights anchored here pretty much all alone. We dug in well and felt pretty good since we had no one around us, and if we broke free we would blow out to sea rather than onto shore (both dangers that were in play during our anchoring disaster). Despite all this, I struggled to sleep (plus it was stifling hot down below). In the end, we ended up sleeping up on the trampoline. The downside of this…..yacht week (18 boats loaded up with 18-23 year olds) had tied up in front of a beach club about 1/4 mile from us. This meant the beach club blasted loud, thumping music until 4 a.m. (I think I am getting use to this no sleep thing). On the plus side of all this, we were awake to watch the meteor shower, and it did not disappoint.
After two nights at anchor (and some gusty winds forecasted to come in), we decided to slide on over to the mooring balls outside of the beach club. We had no idea if there was a charge, who they belonged to, or if you had to eat at the restaurant. We figured it was probably the typical set up where you had to eat at the restaurant. Since we moved over as soon as we were up, we had our pick of the balls. We selected one of the outermost balls (furthest from the beach and club scene). We were definitely in our happy place and spent hours in the water. Our plan was to go in for dinner, but as darkness descended and no one came calling, we ate on board. The next day we felt a little guilty about our free night on the ball, so we made a reservation to go in for dinner. When the tender driver blew by us almost a half hour late, we had to flag him down (I’m not sure they would’ve missed us if we would’ve just let him go). It turned out that we were the ONLY ones in the restaurant! We did end up at an amazing table with an awesome waiter. We took his recommendation for the lobster pasta (we had read rave reviews for this dish) which was the most expensive dish on the menu (I told you we felt guilty about our free night). The meal was fantastic! Since there were still open balls the next day, we decided to stay a third night (I told you we really loved the place), but we would only get a drink and appetizer (gotta mind the budget you know). Once again, no one came by……so, once again…..we ate on board. Maybe they let us slide given the price of the dinner we ordered, or maybe they didn’t care that we were squatting on their ball since it wasn’t keeping anyone else from coming in to the restaurant.
As much as we loved this spot, it was time to get moving down the coast. Our next stop would require us to anchor yet again, and I wanted to get there before the crowds in order to secure ourselves in the best location. We arrived at the beautiful island of Sveti Stefan. This was a former village at one time which was later bought out and turned into a luxury resort. By luxury, I mean LUXURY! Each villa goes for $1600 euro per night! Several times a day, we watched this beautiful, gold helicopter buzz in and out dropping off and picking up guests. Anyway, we anchored behind this lovely little reef on the outskirts of the island. In front of us was the rocky reef and behind us was the beach….uh yeah, there would be no sleeping tonight! Despite swimming our anchor multiple times, putting out some extra chain, and backing down hard on it, I did not sleep well for the next two nights. Every time the wind kicked up, I played a game of whack-a-mole…..head popped up, then back down….all night long. Are we closer to shore? I think we are closer to shore. No, we are right where we are suppose to be. Ughhh…when is the sun coming up? Oh, I forgot to mention that the beach that lay behind us only 500 feet away was filled with nudists by day…..talk about a disturbing view 😝
We were rapidly coming to the end of our Montenegrin journey. Our next stop was the town of Bar. This is where we would check out of Montenegro before heading on to Albania. We arrived at the marina which was quite dumpy looking. This was quite a shock after the beautiful, luxury marinas up in the Bay of Kotor. The worst part was this one was almost twice the price! In almost all the marinas that we have been to, you back down to the wall and pull up lines from the sea floor to tie up the bow of your boat. You then throw the dock hand your back lines which they tie to the dock and pass back to you. In this marina, they had us tie up side to which means you pull up with the wall along the side of your boat and tie off to the dock. We loaded up on fenders since the dock was nothing more than crumbling concrete and rebar. This was a tough one because you have to climb off over the side of the boat. Our sides are quite high which meant some odd looking acrobatic moves on my part, and one ass baring (ok, undie baring) pair of shorts after they split from top to bottom. We felt pretty good about the set up. We had a boat in front of us and wide open space behind us so departing the dock would be super easy! Ha! You know by now, the story never ends that easily…..but I will come back to that.
We had planned to spend a couple days here, so we booked a boat tour on this incredible lake that spans both Montenegro and Albania. We hopped in a cab to the train station and took the train to the town of Virpazar (about 30 minutes away). We had been warned that to try and drive it would take over 2 hours because traffic was so horrendous. Our tour operator met us at the train station and took us to our boat. The lake is now a National Park in order to protect it and it’s inhabitants. One part of the lake is a breeding ground for pelicans, but we did not get to see any. There are a number of monasteries around the lake, a castle, and some fjords. Our captain took us through the channels in the lake through a myriad of lily pads and blooms. The yellow blooms are male, and the beautiful white ones are female. The female flowers bloom once a day, opening with the sun, and dying below the water as the sun sets. There are also fields of bamboo throughout the lake, and many species of birds. We cruised up the fjord which ended in a quaint little village. The tour took 5 1/2 hours, and we were pretty beat up at the end from being in the blazing sun all day long. As we made our way back to the boat, we ended up getting off the train a little too early (they don’t announce any of the stops!) which meant a 4 mile walk back to the boat. Yep…hot, sticky, worn out mess.
On our last day, we rented a car to explore some local sights and re-provision before heading to Albania. Driving in Montenegro is quite interesting. For example, there is a 4 way busy intersection with no signage! Everybody just muscles through and makes their way across…..definitely not for the faint of heart. Our fist stop was to the oldest olive tree. This tree is over 2000 years old, and you get to pay to go look at it….haha. We did. It was pretty cool looking with it’s giant, gnarled trunk rising out of the ground. The surrounding olive trees didn’t look too much younger given their slightly smaller trunks. From there we headed up the mountain to the old city of Bar. True to form, we arrived here in the heat of the day. After all, there is no better time to be climbing hills, clamoring over toppled stone blocks, and climbing steps to highest points 🤦♀️ Nope, we never learn! Oh, and I have neglected to mention that every day, for weeks now, we have been under an extreme heat advisory. Yeah, good times! Stari Bar is a cobblestone road lined with quaint little restaurants and shops rising up the mountain. At the end, you arrive at an ancient Roman fortress surrounded by the remains of an ancient Roman town. The views from the top of the fortress were quite spectacular, and it is easy to see why this was built as their stronghold.
When we arrived back to our boat, we discovered that we now had a new neighbor at our stern. See, I told you nothing was simple. We were now officially parallel parked with our boat. One boat in front of us and one boat, very close, behind us. I now had a new thing to fret about all night. How on earth were we going to extricate ourself sideways??? As we always do, we talked through our ideas and came up with our plan of action. Wouldn’t you know, that night a Bura (strong NE wind) came in. Are you kidding me? I said I wanted to build my skills and confidence this year, but come on. The next morning, we still had 15 knot winds blowing. We needed to leave the marina, motor out and around the bend to the customs dock, get tied up and do the formalities of checking out of Montenegro. We made a couple of little tweaks to our departure plan, and the wind that I was so freaked out about, blew us easily off the dock while Dan pivoted our stern out. We sure made that look easy! Thanks for the help wind 🙂 Now it was time to tie up to the customs dock. This would also be side to, but there would be no help with the lines on the dock. As Dan carefully navigated us up to the concrete wall (remember we still have a lot of wind to deal with), I lasso’d our front line to a bollard and got us tied off. I then ran to the back to grab the back line and jumped off the side of the boat to tie off our back end. That went really well also! What was I losing sleep over??? Because that’s what I do 🙁
Everything went amazingly well, and we were on our way by 8 a.m. It would be a 57 mile cruise to get to our first port of call in Durrës, Albania (our longest cruise yet). We hope you will stay with us as we explore the wonders of Albania.
After spending a large chunk of time on board, we decided it was time to get off the boat for a few days and explore some inland sights. We had met several new friends here in Montenegro who highly recommended a visit to the city of Mostar in Bosnia (about a 3 hour drive away). We rented a car, and by late morning we were on our way out of Montenegro. This was now our 6th country to visit since arriving in Europe in early April.
The drive inland takes you way up into the mountains of Bosnia on a simple, two lane roadway. After a period of time, you start making your way down into this amazing, fertile valley cut through by a beautiful, teal colored river. Towns at this point have been very few and far between and cell service even less (definitely not a great place to run into car problems). Before we knew it, we had arrived in Mostar. It was blazing hot and packed with tourists (par for the course at this point). I think we’ve come to the conclusion that we might need to go to the Arctic for the month of August….that shouldn’t be crowded or hot, right?
So, what is significant about Mostar? Mostar is a crossroads of where East meets West. Bosnia is as far as the Ottoman Empire pushed into Europe. Mostar is renowned for some of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. It is also one of the epicenters of the Balkan conflict in the 90’s. This is the first place in Europe (that we have seen) where the landscape is not only dotted with Christian churches but also Islamic mosques and minarets. The streets overflowed with tourists dressed in the traditional summer attire of western cultures and full on head to toe burkas (only the eyes were visible) of some Islamic cultures. It is also the only place in Europe I have heard the call to prayer by the many minarets. It was definitely a fascinating confluence of cultures all in one place.
We spent a little time wandering the streets once we arrived in order to get our bearings and make our plan for a full day of exploration the next day. The city itself blankets both sides of that beautiful river I mentioned earlier. In the heart of town, spanning the river, is Stari Most (Old Bridge). This bridge was destroyed during the war, but rebuilt to it’s original glory. The bridge is very picturesque and popular. At the highest point, it is an 80 foot plunge into the cold, swift moving water below. I mention this because this bridge is famous for it’s “cliff divers” (obviously it is not a cliff, and they do not dive….they jump). This draws quite the cheering crowd to watch them leap off this very high bridge (my heart stops and my palms get sweaty just watching these guys). People have died attempting this. The local divers prance around the bridge in their speedos, collecting money from the tourists. Once they deem that they have collected enough, they jump. If you’re really nuts (I try to think that I am not!), you can actually PAY to do this. There is some coaching involved to guide you in your technique so you don’t kill yourself 😬🙄
The following day, we got an early start and headed out exploring. The city itself is very picturesque. You would never know that this place was once ravaged by war….until you take a closer, deeper look. While they have rebuilt the heart of the city in spectacular fashion, deeper down the alleys and on the outskirts you can still see the bullet and mortar shells pocking the structures. Some of the buildings outside the center are nothing more than skeletal ruins from being blown apart. From there, we headed to the genocide museum. We choose to visit these types of places wherever we go in order to learn more about the history of the countries we visit. Needless to say, we always walk away feeling sad and empty inside that humans can do these kinds of things to one another. This one perplexed me even more so given that history’s most notorious genocide happened in Europe only 50 years prior! As a person who loves traveling the world and learning about other cultures and ways of life, it breaks my heart that humanity cannot get to a place of live and let live.
We spent one more day wandering the streets of Mostar and enjoyed some wonderfully authentic Bosnian dishes, but it was time to make our way back to the boat and start making our way south. As we made our way out of town, we made a couple of other stops to see some sights. The first place we stopped was an old airplane bunker built into the mountainside. Tito had built this to hide his planes during the Cold War. Unfortunately, it appeared as though the locals have turned it into their dumping grounds as the roadway into the tunnels were littered with piles of trash and discarded furniture. Dan walked as far in as he could see, but without a flashlight, he could not go all the way in. No way in hell was I going inside this pitch black tunnel that looked like the perfect set for a horror movie kill scene! As we made our way back to the car, I caught sight of this giant mop of fur laying on one of the trash heaps. The closer I got, I noticed legs….pretty sure it was a very large dog. Needless to say, I ran back to the car. Gross!
Driving in a foreign country is always an adventure in and of itself. This trip was no exception. Google maps is our lifeline for finding our way around. Unfortunately, google maps is not always right. Several times we were sent down roads that we were pretty sure were not roads. We were mapped down one way roads, going the wrong way. And my all time favorite….being guided to cross a foot bridge in the car as a means to cross the river. When we finally managed to find our own way across the river, we continued on our journey to our next stop. Once again, this was a highly frequented tourist attraction, so it was a zoo! This was a Dervish house in Blagaj. Despite the huge crowds, this beautiful place sits on the river beneath huge cliffs. It is surrounded by tranquil gardens along with many riverside restaurants to cater to the tourists. This place existed in the mid 17th century and was renovated in the mid 19th century. It is quite a sight to see.
Needless to say, this was just a very tiny glimpse into a piece of Bosnia, a former part of what was Yugoslavia. Once we are back on board, we will continue our journey down the coast of Montenegro with some new sights and adventures!
After 3 months of enjoying the beauty of Croatia, it was time to get moving. If you’ve been following our blog, then you are fully aware that our departure from Croatia came with a great deal of trauma, stress, and a major lack of sleep. Upon clearing customs, the expectation is that you leave Croatia immediately and by the most expeditious route. The little bit of wind that we had was right on our nose which meant motoring down the last little bit of Croatian coastline before rounding the corner into the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro.
The first sight that greets you is an ancient fortress that once guarded the entrance to the Bay of Kotor. Some of it appears to be in the process of being restored and proudly flies the Croatian flag….it is literally the end of the Croatian coastline. Our first stop was the customs dock to take care of formalities. While this was much, much easier than the customs dock in Croatia (very large pier where you tie up side to and only one other boat present), we were still grateful for the extra set of hands that came with our friends. Tying up is always so much easier when you have the extra help (special thanks to Tim and Aline). Once the formalities were taken care of, we headed off in search of the marina that Dan had found. It was a brand new marina and resort that was not yet officially open (and was still under construction). This meant super cheap rates for us! The marineros all came out to assist us in getting tied up. The marina was absolutely stunning, and we were one of about 6 boats in a home that could house several hundred. It was a quiet, peaceful bliss that we really needed after our stressful departure from Croatia. Today would be a day of rest and relaxation for all of us, and the exploration of Montenegro would begin tomorrow.
The next evening, we grabbed a cab and headed for the old city of Herceg Novi. We are definitely in the height of peak season. Traffic and crowds are overwhelming. Despite the heat and the crowds, we climbed up to the tower walls to take in the views. We wandered the ancient cobblestone streets immersing ourselves in the ancient history that surrounded us. We took a break for a fabulous dinner on a tree lined terrace, underneath the towering fortress walls. We returned to the boat and called it a night earlier than usual in preparation for a big day exploring the city of Kotor, deep inside the bay.
The following day, we had a later start than planned since our rental car did not get delivered until 10:00. We had hoped to get an earlier start since it was now extremely warm this time of year, and the old stone fortresses did not offer much reprieve from the heat. Driving in this part of Montenegro is fairly simple (from the perspective of getting lost). There is one main road, two lanes only. Unfortunately, it was not designed to see the amount of tourist traffic that arrives in late summer. The drive was quite long, and the ability to pull over and take in the sights along the way was practically non-existent with the number of visitors everywhere we went. Even the car ferry was not equipped for these kinds of traffic loads since the loading areas overfilled and backed up onto the main roadway for miles. Occasionally you would see a frustrated local pull into the oncoming lane of traffic to try and zoom ahead of the stand-still we were stuck in. No way were we attempting that bit of fun! When we finally arrived in the old city, we had to park on the outskirts and walk back into town. The fortress walls were incredible to see and walking around the fortification was quite amazing. There was also a non-stop parade of large cruise ships that come in, so you can imagine the insane amount of people wandering around the city. After spending a few hours within the walled fortress, we decided to drive up the mountain to an observation point that overlooked the entire bay of Kotor and looked down on the fortress.
We made our way out of town, and started our ascent up the mountain. Before we go too far, let me set the stage for you on this little adventure! Come on, I know you’ve been hoping for a little bit of drama and excitement….and we always aim to please 🙂 Imagine a roadway that is no more than 1 1/2 car lengths wide (sometimes less). Imagine that road filled with 35+ hairpin turns. Let’s not forget that this narrow, little road is built for two way traffic. At this point, you might be saying “big deal….so it’s a little narrow.” Now picture those giant, private, shuttle buses on the very same road. So up we go, winding through tight turns and sheer drop offs, side mirrors nearly kissing oncoming traffic (and there is a lot of oncoming traffic). Then comes a bus (or two or three). This usually requires all oncoming traffic to back up to some scarce little squeeze out spot so that the bus can scrape by you. As you can imagine, there was a lot of squeaking and squealing from my side of the car as we backed down (or up, depending on which direction we were coming) and off into the brush to give the buses room. I think I hit my workout goal on my Apple Watch based on my heart rate alone. I will say, the views were spectacular, but the drive surely left me with a bunch more gray hairs. Anyway, we made it up and back in one piece with some stories to tell.
The following day it was time for our friends to say good-bye and make their way home. Dan and I set about figuring out our next steps. A very big storm was forecasted for tonight, so we made sure the boat was secure on her lines. As forecasted (for once), the storm came in with a fury. There were strong wind gusts, pouring rain, thunder, and lightning. Once again, we were grateful to be safely tucked in the marina to ride it out. As it was, it was much shorter lived than the fun we had out on anchor in Croatia. We spent a few more days in this beautiful, luxury marina and then decided to head to another fairly new marina with even cheaper prices. We had heard good things about this marina and were excited about the fact that it was within walking distance to the old town of Herceg Novi. So we said farewell to Marina Portonovi and did a quick ride up into the Bay of Kotor before heading back down toward the entrance of the bay and Marina Lazure. This of course came with it’s own bit of fun. By now, the winds had really picked up (which makes for a really fun time docking). This marina was quite a bit smaller than the one we had come from and quite a bit fuller. As we started down the fairway, the marinero signaled us to come down a specific finger. It was incredibly narrow, so Dan shouted out to him asking if he was sure it was wide enough for us. He just waved us down again. As we slowly made our way down, fighting the crosswind, our rudder snagged a boat with lazy lines that rose ridiculously high on the surface of the water. Luckily, I was watching it as it happened, and Dan was able to quickly reverse us and pop us free. Next came the fun of pulling into our spot. We had plenty of room between the two boats we were going between, but our marinero did not seem to know what he was doing. The first line he handed me to run to the front of the boat was tied to boat beside us! What the hell! He quickly scrambled to pull up a line on the opposite of our boat which meant I had to drop everything and run to the other side. In the meantime, Dan has left the helm station to help with back lines and I’m yelling to him to stay at the helm because we have no lines tied to the boat at this point. We finally get one side secured and move back to the original side we started on. The marinero now hands me a line that has been severed so it is no longer attached to the lazy line on the sea floor. The next one he grabs is right under our rudder and prop! Seriously?!?! He finally gets his act together and takes the extra line off of our neighbor (the one he tried to give me originally while it was still attached) and hands it to me to tie off the other side of our bow. We were finally safely tied up in our new spot.
At this point, we are pretty much just trying to burn off the month of August. It is the hottest month in this part of the world along with the absolute busiest month for tourism. The high temperatures and crowds quickly overwhelm my spirit of adventure, and I find myself longing for those quiet little anchorages that can only be found in the earlier part of the season. Our stay here has reset the tax clock on our boat, and reset our visa time in both the EU and Croatia. In the next few days, we will continue our exploration along the coast of Montenegro and then make our way down to Albania. Our cruising season is rapidly coming to a close, and by September we will arrive in Greece. Our hope is that some of the summer tourism traffic will have died off as people go back to work and school.
I am jumping ahead of myself to share a story while it is still fresh in my mind (which it is because it is hard not to keep reliving it). I will get back to our regularly scheduled adventures (of the fun kind) soon. Unfortunately due to the nature of the story, there will not be an abundance of pictures (and none from what you would probably really like to see as it unfolded).
On July 24th, we left our anchorage in a beautiful bay on the island of Lopud. We set sail earlier than normal in order to get to our final stopping point in Croatia where we would clear customs and immigration and make our way to Montenegro. As we traveled down the coast, we briefly hovered outside the beautiful city of Dubrovnik and it’s magnificent ancient walls in order to take pictures from this unique perspective. From there we continued our way down to the town of Cavtat. It is in this town that you have to clear out of Croatia before continuing on to Montenegro since they expect you to get out of their waters by the fastest means possible (and they watch you on radar to make sure you do!). We arrived by late morning, found a spot we liked for anchoring, and dropped the hook. We spent several hours swimming and hanging out…..no problem. Later we took the tender into town to see about clearing out with the harbor master before going to the customs dock in the morning. It took us a bit of wandering around to finally find the harbor master who then informed us that we could not check out with them the day before but needed to tie up to the customs dock on the day of check out and then come see them before clearing customs and immigration. From there, we wandered over to find the customs dock and office in order to be more efficient in the morning. The dock requires you to med moor (drop your anchor out in front, get it set, back up to the wall and then tie your back end to the wall). This looked like all kinds of fun since the wall was only big enough for two or three mega yachts or 5-6 normal size boats. The wall also curves slightly pretty much insuring the strong possibility of crossing anchors with someone. We returned to the boat feeling pretty good that we had a full understanding of the procedures for tomorrow.
We spent the rest of the day swimming and hanging out with friends who had joined us 3 days earlier. As the evening rolled around, the bay became very rough with swells. We spent the next several hours pitching around, sometimes a bit violently. By nightfall, the swell had really died down and the winds had begun to pick up. We headed to bed around 10:30 and did a final check of several forecast models.
All looked well. The wind continued to pick up, causing the boat to creak and groan. Dan checked our anchor alarm regularly to ensure we were safely hooked in and not dragging. At about 1:15 a.m, we heard a rather loud bang, and almost simultaneously, the anchor alarm sounded. We were dragging at a very fast pace. We scrambled on deck just as someone in the anchorage started blasting their horn and another person yelling to us. The wind was howling at 30-40 knots and we were within a few meters of hitting a trimaran that had been anchored in the same vicinity. Dan quickly fired up the motors, and I ran to the front to start getting the anchor up. The water in the bay had breaking waves from all directions. The entire by was a buzz of activity as nearly every boat had broken free and were scrambling to avoid either other boats or the shore. We later learned that a 50 foot catamaran had actually hit another boat when he dragged.
With the engines gunned in forward gear, we managed to avoid hitting the boat we had come so close to. We motored around trying to find a place to re-anchor in the pitch black. The water churned violently and sent spray up as the wind blew across it. I will forever be grateful that our friends, Tim and Aline, were there to help us. While Dan drove the boat, we made several attempts to anchor but could not get it to set for more than 1/2 hour or so. Despite using spotlights to find land masses and obstructions in the water, it was impossible to see what lay underneath us each time we dropped the anchor. Each time the anchor was pulled back up, it required both Tim and I to use the boat hooks to stab through the weed and clay that caked the anchor. Aline kept the light wherever we needed it and scampered back and forth between Dan and I to relay messages (the wind was shrieking so bad that neither one of us could hear the other despite yelling as loud as we could). While all this is happening, many other boats are doing the same thing. Everyone circling around, trying to avoid other boats, and find a safe place to get anchored. We were reaching the point of giving up and just heading out to sea to motor around until daybreak. We made one final attempt (this was now our 4th or 5th) and dropped the anchor. We let out 150 feet of chain (well over the 7:1 storm ratio) and waited anxiously. It was now 4 a.m. Tim, Dan and I sat in the cockpit for some time waiting and watching. So far, so good. Tim eventually headed down to bed to try and get a little sleep. Dan and I opted to stay up on deck as the wind was still gusting in the 20-30’s. Around 7 a.m., I headed down below to try and get some sleep and Dan slept on deck. We weren’t taking any chances this time. Unfortunately, it was one of those times when there was no possibility to try and capture this on video given the speed and danger of the situation as it unfolded. To put a little humor into a situation that still has a little traumatized….I will never again sleep in a nightshirt while at anchor. As it should be, the situation was all about protecting the boat and the people on board. Unfortunately, in winds this high, my stupid nightshirt left me regularly flashing the entire anchorage as it threatened to blow completely overtop of my head. Now, here’s the stuff MY nightmares are made of! Hopefully, everyone was too busy with their own situation to notice 🤦♀️😬
After a short two hours of sleep, I rousted Dan so that we could get moving over to the customs dock and get ourselves checked out. We had wanted to be there right at 7 a.m. when the harbor master opened, but after last night….that wasn’t happening. We hustled to get underway and rounded the bend to join a number of boats already circling and waiting for their turn at the dock. Now mind you, we are all on boats, so there no “line up” and you have to rely on the courtesy of others to respect who has come before you. Yeah right. As in land life, some people just don’t care if it’s their turn and will happily cut you off to take their place ahead of you. To add to the fun, the wind gusts were still high and blowing on our side (this makes for a real good time trying to anchor and tie up…..especially when you are coming in next to a multi, multi million dollar yacht with full crew…..ugh. Instead of giving you time to get yourself tied up, the other boats are coming in on top of you which severely limits your maneuverability! It took us 3 attempts to get the damn anchor set and finally secure ourselves. Poor Dan was dealing with all this chaos on 2 hours of sleep! We finally got settled, and Dan was off to take care of all the legalities. Ironically, that part went really quick and smooth. I give a huge shout out to the harbor master staff and customs/immigration staff for their helpfulness and pleasantness, but their docking situation SUCKS!!! They need a bigger and less chaotic customs dock given the amount of traffic that is forced to check in and out of this location…..or at least let the boaters anchor and come in! Afterall, no one even looked at our boat.
Everything was done, and it was time for us to get going. Of course, that did not come without it’s fun as well! I told you it was a 12 hour nightmare! Several of the boats that insisted on racing in and not letting others get settled first managed to cross their anchor chains. This required a person on one boat to swim his anchor and figure out how to move it off of someone else’s without dislodging the other guy. When the next guy went to leave, his was crossed as well. Since we had come in before all of these boats, we waited for them to untangle since they were surely all over top of ours (remember that crosswind….our anchor was no longer right in front of us). The harbor master ended up boarding this one big power boat (this guy had been a total ass….trying to cut everyone off and throwing his hands in the air when the harbor master signaled him to stand down until we all got settled) and made him lift his anchor and move off the dock so the rest of us could leave free of his anchor. At this point, we are ready to move very quickly to avoid any collisions due to the gusty conditions. Right as we are about to release the final line, a family on a paddle boat cruises in front of us waving! EVERYONE on the dock was yelling at him to get out our way NOW! We luckily extricated ourselves from the mess without incident. We were finally under way to Montenegro with a big sigh of relief. At this point, I was ready to say good-bye to Croatia. As I mentioned before, we are still somewhat traumatized by the whole experience, but we have talked through it numerous times with our friends who helped us every step of the way, and some new friends who had been in the anchorage with us (turned out they were the ones sounding the horn to get everyone up….we will forever be thankful to them for that).
Anyway, we have learned a great deal from the experience and how to better prepare ourselves in the future. This is the worst weather situation we have experienced out on the water. With warning, we always head for the safety of a marina. This came out of nowhere for us. We have slowly been restoring our faith in our knowledge and abilities and appreciate the friends who have helped us process the trauma of the experience.