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”.
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.
We are finally back on the move! Here is a semi-quick recap of what has transpired with the boat. The solar arch was fabricated and installed, solar panels installed and wired, new stern light wired up, new lithium battery bank installed, super powerful inverter installed, and everything wired up to some super fancy controllers (don’t you love my technical terminology?!). Our poor electrician spent 7 very long days (including a Saturday) working on this intricate system. We had also been talking about changing out our propane stove top with induction. We have never been a big fan of having propane inside the boat for safety reasons (it also makes the boat very hot when cooking). We decided we would save that project until the winter since we had already overloaded our electrician. Fate had other plans for us. Doesn’t it always seem to go that way? A day after we decided to postpone installing induction, we had a propane leak inside the boat! The worst part is that we had the boat all closed up and were inside with it so we didn’t pick up on the smell. Fortunately Dan stepped outside to check on something and immediately smelled it when he came back in the boat! We quickly scrambled to throw every window, hatch and door open to start airing out the boat. As you may or may not know, propane is heavier than air and therefore sinks to the lowest point possible. This is particularly scary on a sailboat because the lowest points are in the hulls, below the water line, with no ventilation. We made sure every electrical system was shut down, opened up all the floorboards, and placed battery operated fans into the hulls. Needless to say, I was completely freaked out. Nothing like sitting on a bomb in the water! That settled it….tomorrow we would start the process of putting in an induction stove top.
Since we had been talking about induction for quite some time, we had already looked at a number of options and done quite a bit of research. Since we were stuck in a city right now, it would be a good time to purchase one. Once we are back in the islands, there is no shopping for things like this. The good news is that Dan is finally learning to trust his wife’s instincts and not cut corners. Unfortunately, he has had to learn this the hard way a few times! When you cut corners, your wife is not happy. Then you end up replacing what you bought with what your wife wanted in the first place and you are BOTH blissfully happy. Yes, I say both. Almost daily, Dan remarks on how much he really loves our new gangway (the one I wanted in the first place instead of the moving wooden plank!). Long story short, we got the nice induction top. So after completing this HUGE electrical system upgrade, our wonderful electrician wired in my induction top (bye, bye propane inside the boat), added an electrical outlet to our cabin, and rewired our water maker (the original owner cut the lines when the water maker broke so that no one would accidentally turn it on). I have to say, the boat looks amazing and the systems are running flawlessly. We fill our batteries with solar power and make our own water. The only reason to come to land now is to refill food. We figure we can stay out on the water for 4-6 weeks at a time before needing to touch land! Woo hoo!
Let’s get back to the fun stuff….adventure on the high seas! On July 11th, we finally cut lines from the marina in Pula (one day before our month long contract expired). This put a serious dent in our cruising season since we MUST be out of Croatia no later than July 29th, or we are illegal. There had been quite a few storms and wind over the last few days, and things were still quite gusty when we pulled away from the dock. This was an adventure in and of itself. The channel was somewhat narrow and across from us sat a line up of large boats waiting to take tourists out to some of the sights (so we had an audience to boot!). The marina was full on our pier, so we were all squished in tight to one another. The last piece of the challenge was the huge, 50 foot power boat they put to the left us (the direction we were headed). On top of all this, every boat has front mooring lines which means each side of your boat is tied to a bow cleat (on the front) and goes down to the sea floor where it is anchored in to concrete on some other mechanism. These run off the front of the boats at an angle, so you have to be careful of those or they will wrap your prop and then you are really screwed. Don’t forget the gusty wind that I mentioned earlier. I was a nervous wreck (that’s what I do), but my very competent husband extracted us beautifully and even got some nods from the seasoned tour boat captains. You may be wondering why on earth I’m nervous if he’s the one driving??? Well, I am the one running from one side of the boat to the other with a boat hook and sometimes a fender to keep us from smacking into any other boats (me keeping a 25,000 pound boat pushed off of anything else sounds like a losing battle, don’t you think?). As I said, thanks to his docking/undocking skills I did not have to do anything except give verbal cues for distance and obstacles in the water.
We were finally set free! We had many, many miles to go in order to get to the southern part of Croatia. We have not yet done an overnight passage (this is where you take shifts round the clock), and neither of us felt like we wanted to jump right to this just yet. We decided our first stop would be the awesome town of Mali Losinj on the island of Cres. The winds were up and in the right direction for once, so we were able to sail most of the way there. We also did our first sea trial of the water maker and had success! After 8 hours, we were tied up to a pier in the heart of town. We wandered to my favorite little specialty shop to load up on truffle products (cheese and jarred truffles) along with some awesome local grappas and prosciutto carved right off the leg. We had a wonderful, traditional dinner of sea bass and blitva (a mixture of Swiss chard, garlic and potatoes) at a local konoba and then, spent the evening visiting with our contractor (from the house), and two wonderful young ladies who befriended us last year while acting as our translators in order to obtain our long stay visa. Tomorrow would be another early start and a long day of chewing up miles.
Next stop, July 12th, was the island of Dugi Otok and the town of Brbinj. Once again, the wind gods were smiling upon us, and we were able to sail most of the passage carrying a boat speed of over 1/2 the wind speed (that’s a really good thing). After 7 1/2 hours, we arrived in the beautiful bay and tied up to a mooring ball. There were very few boats in the bay providing us with the quiet isolation we had been seeking. We hopped in the water only to discover it was super cold! I did not last long before I was back out and on deck. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) Dan decided to check the anodes on our props. These protect our sail drives for stray electric currents in the marinas. Since we had spent a ridiculous amount of time in marinas up until now, they were very badly degraded. Having to replace sail drives is an outrageously expensive endeavor, and one we did not want to have to encounter. Dan did his best to try and replace the first one, but soon discovered he needed 3 hands to hold the two pieces and screw them in around the prop (oh yeah, this is all under water). Since it was getting late, we decided we would work on this tomorrow before we headed out. That night, I tossed and turned all night scheming on a solution to help Dan with the anodes that did NOT require me to get in the water 🙂 Yes, it was that cold. Wouldn’t you know, the next morning brought a wicked storm. We had gusty winds, pouring rain, thunder, and of course nasty lightning. It was looking like we would be spending another day in Brbinj. I ran Dan through several of my very brilliant solutions to how I could help him without coming into the water (Fear number 1: The anodes are very heavy and if I drop them, they are not retrievable. Fear number 2: I have to hold my breath and hang out under the hull and somehow communicate that I need to go up for air while still holding the anodes in place). Yes, this is the stuff that keeps me up at night! Anyway, the storm had passed by late morning, and we set to work replacing the anodes. You’re probably wondering which brilliant solution we opted for? We tied fishing line through one set of holes on each piece. I lowered the line to Dan and kept the weight of the anodes off of them through the line. This allowed Dan to secure the other screw into the hole of the two pieces with no risk of them dropping to the bottom of the bay. Once secure, he cut away the fishing line and secured the second bolt. Have no fear, the fishing line stayed secure in my hand and did not get left in the sea :). With that task done, we decided to get a few more miles south and left the bay that afternoon. Next stop: Vodenjak on the island of Iž.
They say that boat ownership is nothing more than fixing your boat in exotic locations. I am beginning to understand the truth in that. Our next stop was a quick 2 hours away. The seas were choppy after the storm and the wind was on our nose, so no sailing today. We pulled into this cute little mooring field and quickly tied up once again. Places were starting to get much busier the further south we got, and this was no exception. It was now July 13th. We had never been to this bay before and were very tempted to stay one more night but alas, we felt the need to keep getting south. I forgot to mention that we have friends coming in to Dubrovnik on the 22nd which is still a fair distance from us at this point.
July 14th, we cut ties bound for the island of Žirje. The morning began sunny and calm (like being on a lake), so there was no sailing in the morning. By the time the afternoon winds kicked up, we were once again under sail at a nice clip of 7-8 knots. We also had our first dolphin sighting in the distance. In the past, we have had them surfing off the bow of our boat. We have not yet had that this year :(. By the afternoon the winds had kicked up some white caps and things were getting quite gusty. After 5 hours of travel, we pulled into the mooring field only to find it completely full. This was not a good feeling. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon and every single ball was taken. We quickly decided to head to the bay of Primošten (another one of our favorite places) on the mainland of Croatia. This was about a 2 hour motor away. As we headed out of the bay, we had our 2nd dolphin sighting. This time they were much closer. Unfortunately, the little buggers are quick, and we did not get any good pictures. As we arrived in Primošten, our hope was to grab a mooring ball (never been a problem) but our back up plan was the anchorage close by. There were 2-3 foot swells and very gusty wind in the bay, so we really preferred to moor (it’s a little more sheltered inland than the anchorage). Wouldn’t you know, every ball was taken AGAIN! Where were all these boats coming from??? As we hung out just outside the ball field contemplating our next move, the sea gods smiled on us yet again! One boat dropped their ball and headed out. Needless to say, we took off like a bat out of hell to secure that free ball. No other ball became free that night which forced a number of boats to leave or go anchor. It was a bit of a rough evening as we pitched around in those 2-3 foot swells for several hours, but we didn’t look near as rough as the big power boats around us that were rocking side to side at 45 degree angles!
The very next day, we were on the move again (this was getting tiring). Our next stop has been one of my very favorite places, so I was busy angling on how to get Dan to spend 2 nights there! There is a bay on the island of Šolta that is tucked deep in and surrounded by these sheer rock cliffs. Not only is it pristine blue water, but the sounds of nature and the views are amazing. Oh, and there is a family run restaurant on the top of the hill, at the head of the bay. The food is amazing. If you eat dinner there (highly recommend booking ahead), your mooring ball is free. We ate there a number of times last year, and I knew exactly what I wanted this year! We tied up to our favorite spot, in a more isolated spot in the bay, and went for a swim. Our pre-order for tonight: Lamb peka! The restaurant offers a variety of meat and fish dishes which must be ordered ahead of time. Everything is locally sourced by them and is super fresh. I had Dan talked into doing two nights here so that I could get my fix of lamb peka and then octopus peka the next night. When we went to make arrangements for the 2nd night, they told us that was their day off! NOOOOOO! They did say we could stay in the bay for the night on the ball which we happily did. The next day we hung out and relaxed and did a nice, long snorkel of the bay. We swam through a variety of fish “nurseries” from the smallest looking fish (smaller than a tadpole), through some babies, teenagers, and some bigger guys. A curious Orada followed us around for quite a bit. It was a great afternoon, and my wonderful husband agreed to spend one more night so that I could get my octopus fix. Sadly, a captained charter boat came in, and they bumped us off our favorite buoy. However, the mooring guy did put us on a buoy at the base of the sheer cliff in a gorgeous little cove. As boats continued to pour in, the crosswinds were getting quite strong which makes for some tense, nail biting moments as you watch them try and tie up. It wasn’t long before there was no more room at the inn. They began turning boats away. Once again, dinner did not disappoint. This was a special treat for me. We had been logging very long days and moving every day. We also eat on board the majority of the time in order to save money. Which means I do a lot of cooking. I was very grateful for this multi-day rest and two fabulous dinners made by someone else 🙂
That bring us to today, July 18th. Since we took such a long break, we have some miles to make up. We dropped lines early this morning (very few in the bay were even up yet) and set off for the island of Lastovo, 7 1/2 hours away. We are now the furthest south (in Croatia) that we have ever been on a boat. We are now reasonably close to where we will meet our friends in 4 days. Our plan is to bounce around the islands and national parks down here, pick up our friends, show them some southern Croatian sights before we all head out to Montenegro! Since this is getting a bit long, I will leave you here, and we will catch up again real soon 🙂
We are taking a small reprieve from life on a boat to share some of the spectacular inland sights that can be found in this region of Europe. The architecture and rich history found in this part of the world never ceases to amaze me. We arrived in Pula around 7 pm on June 12th. As we came in, they told us they had a special place for us….hmmmm….that could be good or bad. It quickly became evident that it is all about perspective. While we have a great view of the ancient colosseum from our boat, we are also in a very tight channel with large tour boats across from us and the street directly behind them (this translates to constant boat traffic in and out in front of us and a great deal of road noise). Since the city is also right across the street, we are also subjected to really loud music until the wee hours of the morning (and not good music!). It’s going to be a long month 🙁
The following day, our arch fabricators came out to re-measure Zoe for the framework they are building to hold the solar panels. We were then hit with the bad news that it may take them up to 2 weeks before they would be ready to install. We wanted so bad to be out of the marina and in the islands that we could taste it. So, we decided to make the best of a bad situation. We concocted a plan to head out of Croatia by car and explore some other countries while we waited (this also had the added benefit of giving us more time on our visa within Croatia since we would be “tapping out.”) That Sunday, we made sure Zoe was tightly secured in her slip and ready for the impending weather system that was coming in while we were away. We hit the road toward our first destination, the capital city of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Three hours later, we arrived and headed off on foot to explore the old city. As has been the case in most cities we have visited, it consisted of ancient stone buildings, magnificent churches with their bell towers, and a castle sitting high up on the hill. This city also had a beautiful river that ran through it and bridges that took you from one area of town to the other. After wandering the cobblestone alleys drinking in all the sights, we settled on this wonderful little restaurant along the river. As we often do (when it’s offered) we opted for the chef’s tasting menu which did not disappoint! We decided it was time to find a place to stay for the night (yes, we wing it quite often….sometimes it works out great and sometimes it doesn’t). On our way back to the car, the impending storm I mentioned earlier reared it’s ugly head, and we were caught in a downpour of giant, pelting drops of rain. We ran for cover and waited for it to let up at least a little bit before racing the rest of the way to car. Dan found us a highly reviewed little apartment on the edge of town and off we went. We struggled to find the place since it was tucked up in a pedestrian zone and not visible from the main road. Luckily the owner signaled us from the road and guided us to the place. Remember how I mentioned that winging it was sometimes hit or miss? Well this was a miss. The place was nice, but the bed was hard as a rock and there was no air conditioning which meant it was sweltering hot. We tried to sleep with the windows open, but it was ridiculously loud all night long. Needless to say, neither of us slept well and were no longer happy campers.
We wanted to continue our journey to other countries since we had been to numerous cities in Slovenia on different vacations to Croatia. Our next stop was Budapest, Hungary about 5 hours away. Once again, we were winging it :). By the time we arrived in the city, it was rush hour and traffic was horrendous. It was also getting late, and we were both tired. Dan ended up finding us this awesome boatel on the Danube River. We quickly went to check in to this adorable mini river cruise boat (but it no longer “cruises”). We had a great little room with porthole views of the beautiful parliament building, downtown skyline, and the river rapidly rolling by us (the Danube has quite a current running). We decided we were too worn out to explore, so we headed to the market for some finger foods and opted for a mattress picnic in our room. Tomorrow would be a big day of exploration.
We got ourselves moving the next morning and headed out on foot to explore this magical place. This was going to be a walking tour, and a pretty long one at that. Our first stop took us high up a hill followed by an endless amount of steps. Here we arrived at a place called the Fisherman’s Bastion. This bastion features pointed towers and turrets that look like something right out of Disneyland. It was quite a sight to see. From there we headed down to the Chain Bridge and crossed over the Danube to take in the views of the Buda Castle which dominates the landscape on one side of the Danube. Once again, I will give a quick synopsis of the sights and let the pictures show you the beauty that is Budapest. Next stop: The Hungarian Parliament building. This neo-Gothic, neo-Romanesque, neo-Baroque structure is one of the main tourist attractions in Budapest, and it is quite a sight to see. It dominates the skyline of other side of the Danube, and is just as amazing lit up at night as it is to see during the day. From there, we wandered into a park area with a fun and interactive fountain in the square. Behind it stood a controversial memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The monument depicts Hungary as the Archangel Gabriel being attacked by a German imperial eagle, and the critics say it absolves the Hungarian state and Hungarians of their active role in sending some 450,000 Jews to their deaths during the occupation. The photos, relics, and letters surrounding the monument invoke chills and are quite sombering. As we continued our walk through the city, we happened upon a bronze statue of Ronald Reagan….definitely wasn’t expecting that….so of course we had to pose with him 🙂
After 6 1/2 miles of walking in the heat, Dan and I were exhausted. We still had a fairly long way back to our hotel, so we decided to take a couple hour river cruise and see the sights from the comfort of a boat with some champagne in hand. Needless to say, that was quite a bit of fun, and we got some great pictures of things we might not have gotten the chance to see.
Our plan at this point was to spend one more night and then head to Slovakia for a night and on to Vienna for a night or two. Yep….best laid plans and all that. I swear, our entire adventure this season has been plans written in the sand! We got a call from the distributor of our solar panels, and he needed us to meet him the next day to pick them up. Seriously???? This meant an early departure from Budapest and an 8 hour drive all the way back to Croatia! Ugh!!! We were disappointed to have to cut our inland exploration short but excited to finally have one piece of our boat upgrades in hand. Unfortunately, when we finally met up with the guy, he had the wrong panels. Ironically, this was probably a good thing because I am pretty sure they were not going to fit into our car! Since he brought the wrong ones, he wanted to do right by us and actually delivered the right ones all the way to the boat. That was a huge help!
At this point, we have been in the marina for 3 weeks. It seems every day something is delayed. Contractors tell us they will be here and then they no show without a word. Guess some things are a problem no matter where in the world you go. On a positive note, as I finish up this tale, our solar arch finally got installed today and all our new batteries, switches, and parts are on board. Our electrician is scheduled to arrive tomorrow (fingers crossed) to install the solar panels, wiring, and batteries. Once that is done, we will once again be on our way and hoisting our sails!
Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it sure feels that way :). Without a doubt, it is an awesome place to be trapped…..but it is seriously throwing a monkey wrench into our plans! We always forewarn those who come to play with us on the sea, flexibility is a must on a sailing vacation because you never know what might come your way. In this case, our house batteries (the ones that run the refrigerators, freezer, lights, plugs, etc.) gave up the ghost. This meant heading back to a big city, out of the islands, to get the work done. So, let me back up a little to where we last left you.
After 5 days at anchor in the bay of Punat, we were feeling pretty confident and successful with setting our hook and riding out moderate weather. As we made our way out the sea, we once again hoisted sails and set our course for the island of Rab. When we reached the island, we had a number of different anchorages to choose from, so we motored through a couple to find our happy place. While the first one was quite spacious with lots of room, we just weren’t feeling it (despite it being a very popular anchorage and town). In the end, we dropped anchor in a beautiful bay just outside the famous 4 steeples of Rab. We were tucked deep into the bay with forested land on one side and a towering monastery on the other. You definitely could not beat the views. Since we were a bit far from the main highlights of town, we were completely isolated from the number of boats that came in later that week.
We took our tender to one of the closer towns, and set off on foot to the ancient city of Rab. It was a long, lovely walk along a path that followed the sea until you reached the steeples, at which point you climbed a large number of stone steps into the medieval, walled city. We spent several hours taking in the sights before taking a different route back to our boat. This one took us through a maze of winding pathways that snaked through dense forested grounds. Despite being a tough uphill hike, the shading of the trees made it a very nice hike back.
At this point, we were approaching 10 days at anchor (our longest run ever being on the hook). We were feeling pretty confident and successful with ourselves at this point and super excited to carry on with our journey. Things were humming along far too smoothly, don’t you think? Here is where things start to go sideways. It soon became evident that we were having to rely on our generator for longer periods of time and more times throughout the day to recharge our batteries. It didn’t take long for Dan to discover that our house batteries were no longer holding a charge. This meant that we needed to go in somewhere that had shore power so that we could plug in.
We were once again very fortunate in that Dan discovered a hidden gem on the island of Cres in Punta Križa. This floating pontoon with shore power and water was not identified in any of our cruising guides and therefore not well known by people. It was tucked into this very isolated bay with only a campground and 1 restaurant at it’s entrance. Once we were plugged in, Dan decided to run some tests to confirm our fears. In the end, our batteries refused to hold a charge which meant no more anchorages or mooring balls until we got them replaced. Luckily for us, this isolated floating pontoon was the next best thing to being out at anchor. We enjoyed 5 days here while researching our next steps.
We had already made the decision to install solar, so now we were scrambling to price out a new battery bank and someone to install them. We also needed to find a marina to house the boat while the work was being done. Here is the kick in the teeth…..after 11 days of paying a daily rate, a monthly contract becomes much cheaper. At this point, we don’t know when they are going to start, how long it is going to take, and the batteries will take 5-7 days to arrive at the marina. To further complicate things, Dan is scheduled to attend a business conference in Greece in a couple of weeks! (I told you he was failing at being retired). After considering all factors, we decided to return to the city of Pula (almost all the way back to where we started this journey in April) and sign on for a month contract with the marina. While this is NOT our happy place, it’s definitely one of better cities to be stuck in…..and the view from our boat is amazing (the towering walls of the ancient coliseum are right next door). Since I already know my way around this city pretty well, it is a very convenient place for me to be stuck alone for a week when Dan heads to Greece.
After a 9 hour sail surfing some pretty good size swells, we arrived in Pula and are now tucked into our new home for at least the next 3 weeks. While this may seem like a little inconvenience, it is quite a bit more complicated. As you will see, we are pretty far north in Croatia, and we MUST be out of here by July 27th when our visa expires. Italy is no longer an option because the boat has to be in Montenegro by September to avoid that pesky 25% tax hit. We have to be out of Croatia for 3 months before we are allowed to come back through (that includes transiting in their waters). I’ve made it sound a little worse than it is…..we can be in Montenegro in 44 hours of non-stop sailing (so it is feasible), but that is a painful journey. Not to mention, for the 4 seasons we have sailed in this country, we have spent almost no time in the southern islands. So, provided we have no other “issues,” we will once again make our way south at the end of June and have a few weeks to explore before heading to Montenegro.
Since the goal of our blog is to share some amazing sights and places (and some of the craziness of living on a boat in foreign lands), we may go quiet for the next few weeks so as not to bore you :). We do plan to take some excursions during this down time, so we may include some pics with a brief synopsis. We just wanted you to know that we are still here and will be back to blogging when we have more interesting things to share!
We are finally back at sea! It was a long journey to get here. At last post, we headed for the marina to get Dan to a doctor for his back. The short and dirty of it…..he had a bulging disc and some compressed nerves. This boiled down to 3 injections over 3 days to reduce the inflammation and pain, 1 MRI, and one surgical injection via x-ray into his spine. Each day he moves a little bit better but still requires constant vigilance over how he moves and the tasks he undertakes. On a more positive note, I have learned many new things since so many boat tasks have now fallen on my shoulders in order for him to recover properly. We also had the opportunity to spend some time with Dan’s mom and son as well as several cousins, aunts, and uncles. We really love the Opatija Riviera where we were holed up in the marina, but we were anxious to get back out on the water. Our plan was to spend 2-3 days at the marina. The reality was that on top of the medical necessity, we got pounded with some really nasty weather. We later learned that it was so nasty that the harbormaster wasn’t even letting the fishing boats go out. In the end, we spent 12 days in the marina! Once again, NOT IN THE BUDGET!! Needless to say, we’ve got some anchoring in our future to make up for the extra expense. Oh well, I still need the practice 🙂
The day we left the marina, the rain was coming down at a steady pace, and low lying clouds blanketed the water. It was a cold, wet and dreary cruise, but we were excited to finally be on our way again. Our goal was to find a protected cove on the island of Krk since another northerly blow (bura) was headed our way. We passed several beautiful anchorages, but we felt it would not be a good decision unless we took a stern line to shore which Dan was not capable of doing this early in his recovery. Instead, we continued south to a big, protected bay in the town of Punat. This would be our first anchoring of the season. Lucky for us, this bay is well known for good holding in a muddy, clay bottom. Our anchor dug in, and we settled in for the night. The first night we did not sleep well. You find yourself constantly waking up and making sure the boat has not moved from where you have secured it (this is despite having an anchor alarm set on our phone). We never budged. When the bura arrived the next day, we rocked and bounced in the wind and waves but never slipped from our position. This also meant we were boat bound since there were whitecaps, current and swell in the bay. This would be no fun in the dinghy (plus we weren’t sure if Dan’s back could handle getting into and out of dinghy just yet). Being boat-bound landed me a few new learning experiences. I learned a few new knots, one of which we used for the new dinghy lines to the davit. I have learned to mouse lines (a temporary stitch and wrap method that allows you to use an old line to pull a new line through various pieces of sailing hardware). My final new skill, and by far the most difficult, was learning to splice an “eye” into our lines. We decided to change out the bridle for our anchor and wanted an “eye” spliced into each end with metal brackets to avoid chafing. Dan made me watch several videos which made little sense to me, so in the end, I did it my way! Haha! It was super hard and left me with the knuckle pain of a 90 year old arthritic woman :(. Despite it being my first attempt and my own blend of methods, they turned out pretty damn good! Yeah me! I hope it’s a lot of years before I have to do another one!
The bay was much calmer the next day, so we decided to venture out to the little island of Kosljun in the middle of the bay. This was home to a 15th century monastery that we wanted to explore. Since we were still unsure of Dan’s back, we decided it was time for me to learn to be dinghy captain. It’s funny, I have no reservations about driving our 15 ton, 40 foot catamaran…..but our 9 1/2 foot rubber boat with a 8 hp motor had me very hesitant. Dan coached me through the steps of starting it up, switching between forward and backward, and a warning about going too fast and sudden movements of the motor. Yeah, this was gonna be fun. So off we zoomed to the island with me getting a feel for the movement of the motor in relation to the dinghy. Needless to say, I got us there in one piece and tied up to the wall without incident. I’m becoming a whiz at these “blue” jobs! Now if I could just get him to take some of the “pink” jobs off my plate :). The terms pink and blue jobs are used a lot in the context of sailing. As I am sure you figured out, pink refers to female roles (cooking, cleaning, laundry) and blue jobs are the more “manly” tasks of dealing with lines, captaining the boat, working in the bilges, etc. Dan and I have always agreed that all jobs will be done by both of us, but sometimes you fall into patterns and routines and that falls by the wayside. In order to support his recovery, I am fully purple now!🤣
Anyway, back to our story! As we stepped onto the grounds of this little island, it was like being transported back in time. Everything was extremely lush, green, and tropical looking. There were stone walls, overgrown with moss, that meandered the grounds giving the whole area a very medieval look. Our first stop was to explore the Franciscan monastery itself and many of the artifacts from that time period. As has been the norm in this part of the world, it was magnificent looking. But, it wasn’t until we discovered the hidden treasures on the grounds that a feeling of haunted eeriness crept over us (or me anyway). As we followed the moss covered stone walls down an outdoor corridor, it opened into a variety of stone structures (I don’t know what else to call them) which we soon discovered depicted the stations of the cross. The stations of the cross is a series of fourteen pictures or carvings representing successive incidents during Jesus’s progress from his condemnation by Pilate to his crucifixion and burial. Each stone structure housed an individual depiction. At the end, there was a tiny little shrine housing a beautiful alter and the replica of a glass coffin containing Jesus. Like I said, it was a very haunting experience. From there, we wandered further down the pathway where we encountered another small shrine. This one also contained a beautiful alter and the replica of a glass coffin containing a statue of St. Francis of Assisi. It is extremely difficult to capture the essence of the experience in words, but hopefully our pictures will give you a little of the flavor.
We returned to the boat and not long after, some surprise visitors arrived. I noticed a dinghy with three young men on board headed toward our boat. As they pulled up, they eagerly greeted us with a variety of questions and then asked us to do shots with them. Dan invited them to come aboard, and we spent the next hour or more visiting with these young men from Germany. After sharing their stories and our story, we shared a shot of a German vodka they had brought with them. When they departed, they insisted that we keep the bottle and enjoy it, as they would be flying home the next day. They had just come into the marina from a week long charter on a sailboat. They had been on their way to the little island with the monastery when they spotted our American flag and decided to come visit. It was a fun and entertaining diversion to our day.
In the end, we spent 5 days anchored in the bay of Punat. Our anchor held rock solid through a variety of winds and a couple of thunderstorms which made us really happy. Our last couple of days, we spent time wandering the boardwalk of this awesome, seaside resort and were able to meet up with family and a good friend I met last year. As much fun as it was to just “nest” in one place, it was time for us to get moving. Our plan is to explore a number of islands and their anchorages in this middle Croatian region before we head back north to have solar panels installed on the boat. We are very excited about this as it will allow us to stay out for very long periods of time without having to run our generator and burn diesel. Once we have solar on board, we will begin making our way south for the remainder of the season. For now, we are bound for the island of Rab to see what kind of mischief we can get into there :). Finally, the sun in shining brightly, and we have just enough wind to do some actual sailing. We have finally found our bliss. We will be back soon with some new tales from Croatia!
After our 5 day stay in Poreč (our longest stay in any one place), we were ready for some new sights. As we headed out to sea, the winds were a bit higher than forecasted. Unfortunately, it was right on our nose which meant no sailing. Believe it or not, we have yet to actually sail! We have either had no wind or the wind has been right on our nose. The seas were quite choppy as well which meant a rough and bumpy two hour ride to our next port of call, Rovinj. We arrived safely and tied up to the town wall. It was our first truly sunny day in quite some time (at least until the rain came in the evening). You definitely couldn’t beat the view from our new spot. As we were finishing tying up, a tour group rushed over to talk to us. Turns out they were Duke alumni on a cruise and were super excited to see our American flag. These were the first Americans we have actually encountered in the last month that we have been in Europe. Since the day was so nice, we enjoyed my birthday lunch out on the deck with an awesome bottle of the Prosecco that we had picked up in Italy.
Captain’s Log Day 2:
We awoke to the constant drum of rain and pretty strong wind gusts. I don’t recall that being forecasted! I am about ready to change our website name to Two Trapped on a Boat :(. We also had a new problem….the wind had clocked around to the west causing a confusion of seas within the bay. As I started making our breakfast, we surged to the wall and the dinghy hit. As the rear of our boat came within inches of smashing against the wall, Dan and I scrambled! Since cooking on a boat means propane and open flame, I quickly turned off the burner before heading out into the rain (in my pajamas) to try and secure our boat. We quickly loosened the back lines and motored forward to tighten up our front lines. We were now pitching around in a washing machine of 3 foot swells bashing us from all directions. The questions soon became….do we ride it out and hope it passes soon or do we drop lines and attempt to tie up on a mooring ball in the middle of a different bay with more protection. Neither option sounded overly great. So, life on a boat….every day tasks become quite challenging when your are pitching around violently in every direction. Imagine yourself in a 2’x3’ cubicle trying to take a shower….it’s quite the adventure! Imagine trying to put clothes on while not loosing your balance. Like I said, the mundane tasks of every day life take on a whole new meaning when living on a boat. So here we are…..Two Trapped on a Boat :). My above question was soon answered about an hour later. After spending 6 hours sitting in a horrendous whirlpool of waves and swell, 3 guys from the harbor master’s office came and said it was time to go….the situation was getting too dangerous. They helped spring us free from the wall so we could escape the mess as quickly as possible. We then headed around the bend to the mooring field. We are still rolling around, but we are not getting the backlash of waves smashing into the wall and then back at us. Things are much more comfortable, and our high level of anxiety has begun to subside. We have also found ourselves plotting our next hole up as another wicked, winter storm is headed our way in the next few days. This constant crappy weather is taking a serious toll on our marina budget! We get charged about $115 per night (and that is on the cheap end) to be in a marina. That is a pricey parking spot! You can get a nice room for cheaper than that!
Captain’s Log Day 3:
Finally! A beautiful day of sunshine and calm seas! Since we still had some time before the bad weather was due in, we decided to stay another night on the mooring ball and go explore the town of Rovinj. We took the dinghy and found a spot to tie up that didn’t require the usual acrobatics (other than climbing around a steel girder and some glass walls surrounding a seaside restaurant we traipsed through :). We headed straight for the basilica and bell tower. As we entered yet another beautiful church, we were treated to a group of people singing. We don’t know if they were there to practice or a random tour group that just decided to sing for everyone. Needless to say, the combination of acoustics in the church and their voices actually gave me chills. I’ve included a brief clip to give you an idea. Our next stop was to climb the bell tower (you actually pay to do this!). So up we climbed 150 very steep and winding stairs made from 2×4 planks of wood. Some steps had a downward pitch, some were worn into slickness, and all had big open gaps just waiting to catch a foot! It is also very narrow in the tower, so your goal is to make it to a small landing before the next group of people starts coming down. The final ascent to the bell tower is basically a ladder with a handrail on one side only and nothing to assist you when you reach the landing. We had some beautiful views of the Adriatic and Rovinj. After taking some pictures, I decided to start down. I am not a fan of heights or confined spaces filled with people, and I knew at some point others would be coming up the steps. Dan decided to stay behind and take a few more pictures. I had just reached the second set of steps when I heard the bells begin to chime! My first reaction was “Oh no!” My next reaction was to laugh hysterically picturing poor Dan up there standing under those giant bells. Did I mention it was noon? Yep, that means twelve giant gongs that can be heard throughout the city. When Dan finally came down, he said that the clicking of the bell gears gave him warning that the bells were about to go which allowed him time to shove his earlobes and fingers into his ears to prevent him from going deaf. On the downside, he wasn’t able to capture any pictures or video of this since his hands were otherwise occupied 🙂 We enjoyed wandering around the cobblestone streets before heading back to the boat.
Captain’s Log Day 4:
We awoke earlier than usual since we wanted to get underway to our next destination, Pula. This would be about a 2 1/2 hour trip south where we would pull into the marina for the next 4 days to ride out the storm. Weather was predicted to begin tonight, and we wanted to be safely in place before this happened. As we headed out to sea, the skies were overcast and the wind had already picked up. Once again, it was right on our nose so still no sailing. We arrived in Pula as scheduled and made our way to the marina. We had stayed in this marina last season to ride out a storm as we made our way North to Venice for the winter. There is a a beautiful colosseum that rises up very close to the marina. The wind was beginning to pick up and dark, menacing clouds were beginning to form. This created some challenges for docking. The marina had given us a spot on the inside of one of the pontoons lined with large boats and a narrow channel. On top of that, we had a fairly strong cross wind. Because our boat is a catamaran, it has very high sides which the wind loves to take advantage of and push us where we don’t want to go. It took us 3 attempts to get Zoe docked and tied up! But hey, any time you can dock without hitting another boat or the dock is a score, and we will take as many attempts as necessary to ensure success. Since the rain had not yet started, we decided to take the opportunity to get off the boat and wander into the old town for a nice walk. We stumbled onto a fun little concert happening in the square, so we stopped for a drink and a listen. We then decided to head back to the boat. On our way, a wedding procession was driving down the road. They definitely know how to do a car procession here! The lead car had two gigantic flags waving out of the windows on each side of the car. The second car was waving these very bright flares. All the cars were honking and waving. It was quite the spectacle to witness. As predicted, the rain began and increased in intensity.
Captain’s Log Day 5:
We awoke this morning to heavy rain and gusty wind. We were happy to be tucked safely in our marina. Once again….we are “Two Trapped on a Boat.” The rain has been relentless, and the really big winds are slated to start tonight and through the next two days 🙁
Captain’s Log Day 6, 7, 8:
Needless to say, we ended up staying a little longer than expected. The weather was horrible, as predicted, so most of our time was again spent trapped on the boat. On day 7, the wind gusts were particularly bad, and the stern of our boat banged into the dock. Dan and I immediately scrambled out on deck to pull us up tighter on our front lines. In these kinds of winds and with the boat weighing about 15 tons, this required us to use the motors to help keep the pressure off the lines while pulling them tighter. Unfortunately, Dan decided superhuman strength was needed and tweaked his back. This was not overly apparent until the next day. The weather finally cleared, and it was time for us to make our way north on the eastern side of the Istrian peninsula since Dan’s mom and son would be arriving soon.
Captain’s Log Day 9:
The day was calm and the seas were flat (which still meant no sailing). Our plan was to find a nice anchorage for a few days before arriving at the next marina. Following our pilot book, we pulled into several different anchorages that no longer looked anything like the pictures we saw in the book. After repeated failed attempts to find the right spot, we threw up our hands and decided to head to the quaint seaside village of Rabac where we would tie up to the town quay. After 8 hours of cruising from our last home to this new one, we were finally tied up. Unfortunately, we were handed a few more lessons on this excursion as well. By now, Dan’s back is giving him a lot of trouble, and he is in a tremendous amount of pain. The bay we are tied up in turns out to be very bouncy which requires a great deal of line adjustment to avoid smacking our boat on the stone wall. This has now fallen squarely on my shoulders since Dan is down for the count doing anything strenuous with his back. The other piece of fun is that the town wall is super high and uneven which means our plank is very precarious (a steep angle and very wobbly) to walk across. We pay for 2 nights and settle in.
Captain’s Log Day 10:
Well, things have gone from bad to worse. Dan’s back goes completely out, and he is frozen in place down in the hallway of our hull. He can’t move, turn, walk….nothing. This goes on for 45 minutes before we can finally get him up to the main floor of the boat. This is bad….really, really bad. We are also continuing to pitch around and on alert to avoid hitting the wall. He finally agrees that it’s time to see a doctor. I am slightly panicked because I cannot undock and dock this boat alone. After making some phone calls, he gets set up with an appointment for the next day in the city of Rijeka, about a 1/2 hour drive from where we are scheduled to tie up 3 days later. We decide it’s time to go despite having paid for 2 nights (one of those lessons I mentioned earlier….never pre-pay more than one day on a town quay). I quickly drop lines and we begin our journey further north. We are both a little stressed because we have not yet received confirmation that the marina we are headed to can accommodate us coming in 3 days earlier than planned. It is a 2 hour cruise to the marina and if they can’t take us, the only other marina that might be able to accommodate us is 4 hours back south to the island of Cres (where I lived last spring). Eventually we hear from the marina and all is good…..whew! Dan was at least able to drive us in, but fully muscling the lines was all on me now (along with any other physically strenuous task!) We walked along the beautiful seaside boardwalk to go pick up our rental car. This would be our next great challenge. Dan can barely get into and out of the car, and I have to be his neck in watching for oncoming traffic since he can’t twist his body. He also requires a lot of assistance to get up from sitting and getting dressed. This has gotten really bad, and we are now both strategizing on what we will do if this becomes the end of our sailing season. Adding insult to injury, we MUST have our boat in Montenegro by September in order to avoid paying a 25% VAT (tax) on her. We also have the Schengen dance that we are doing (a fun bit of country hopping that we have to do in order to be in this part of the world legally).
Captain’s Log Day 11:
We painfully arrived at a specialized hospital to see a neurosurgeon about Dan’s back. We will forever be grateful to Dan’s distant cousin Kristian for arranging all of this for us. This turned out to be a remarkable experience. Not only did Dan get seen 20 minutes early, but they immediately did an MRI and had us back in the doctor’s office reviewing the images instantly. It turns out he has a bulging disc and some compressed nerves. The doctor gives him a shot and a couple of prescriptions for pain relief, and books him an appointment to return in 2 days. Here is the amazing part….we did not need to fill out any paperwork and our entire bill for this experience (keep in mind, we are not using insurance) was $250!!! Are you kidding me? Our out of pocket with insurance would’ve been a great deal more in the US. The doctor (and us) are hoping that with time and rest, his back will heal itself. In the meantime, the poor guy struggles to stand up, drive, or even bend over. We are hoping for the best, and praying that our sailing season is not coming to an abrupt end. Fortunately, we are safely tied up in a beautiful marina in the town of Ićići. Unfortunately, it is very expensive and once again killing our marina budget. Oh well, what are you going to do?
Captain’s Log Day 12:
Today we welcomed our first visitors of the year onto Zoe. We had the pleasure of meeting the man who was our broker when we bought Zoe. Up to this point, our contact had only been via email and phone. We were excited to finally meet him in person. He and his wife and child joined us on board before heading to a lovely little fishing village called Volosko. He has also been a huge source of help and guidance whenever we have needed it. We definitely feel blessed for the friends and family we have in this part of the world! Tomorrow, we will drive 2 hours to the capital city of Zagreb to pick up Dan’s mom and son. This should be an adventure in and of itself given Dan is still in a lot of pain and can’t sit for very long. Our next post should entail more sights and adventures…..I hope. But hey! This is life on a boat, right?
For those who do not know, Istria is home to some of the most amazing olive oil, wine, and truffles. I am a complete truffle addict (you thought I was going to say wine, didn’t you?). It is definitely one of my all time favorite treats here. So far I have made pasta in a truffle sauce, truffle polenta, and truffle smashed potatoes. The last two were new experiments and a definite hit! I had one other, out of the ordinary, culinary adventure the other day. I made stuffed zucchini blossoms. Now mind you, I have never eaten a zucchini blossom, much less prepared one. A friend offered up a suggestion, and I ran with it. They came out quite tasty. Definitely something I will play with in the kitchen again.
So, enough of the culinary adventure, let’s get back to the adventures of life on a boat and hanging out in medieval towns. After our unpleasant experience with the harbor police, things got much better. We spent two nights in Umag on the mooring ball, and it was very enjoyable (although our first night came with some heavy boat bouncing….talk about getting your sea legs fast!). Our last day was May 1st (Labor Day) and a big holiday in Croatia. As we made our way out of Umag, a marching band was busy playing tunes in the town square, and many people were out and about. We chose to move our way down the coast to the city of Novigrad…..another quaint seaside village resort. This town was beautiful as well. A big church tower sat at one entrance to the bay and a big, green park at the other side of the bay. There were lots of restaurants on the water surrounding the bay, and the holiday was in full swing here as well. As we tied up the boat, we could hear the music from several different bands drifting out over the water. This town was very lively and full of people as well. It was finally a gloriously sunny day, and everyone was out enjoying the holiday. We ventured into the town to do some exploring. The one major downside that I have with these quaint little towns is that there are absolutely NO dinghy docks. Because of this, we have had to get very creative with where we pull in because the seaside walls are so much higher than our dinghy. This town was no exception. In the last town, we tied up near stone steps that came down to the water. The problem here is that our dinghy would get thrashed on all the sharp shelled mussels and other shelled organisms growing along the wall. The other problem is that the lower steps are so often submerged that they are like trying to climb ice due to the algae growth. As we pondered where to tie up in Novigrad, we found a number of areas with ladders going down to the water. Hmmm, that seemed like a little better option. We tied up and climbed out….perfect….I can handle this. Unfortunately, the climb down looked like it was going to be nightmare since the ladder did not reach up above the wall (needless to say….I fretted over the acrobatic moves that would be required of me throughout our stroll of the town).
At this point, Dan and I were actively monitoring 5 different weather reports since another big storm was headed our way. We were debating whether to spend 3 or more nights in this lively little town before heading for shelter. Well, that was quickly decided for us when we were told how much they wanted for us to be on the mooring ball. They charged us extra for being a catamaran. I understand this when we are in a marina or tied to the town quay (we basically fill the width of what two monohull sailboats would occupy), but we were on a ball in the bay with no other boats, and the balls were spaced far enough apart that we did not impede anyone using a ball beside us. I think Dan very seriously thought about leaving and going elsewhere. Anyway, we sucked it up and continued our adventure (but decided that two days would be the max here). After wandering around town, we decided to rent a scooter and go explore an ancient hilltop fortress known for their truffles. We headed out of town on our little scooter (yes, I say little for a reason) and descended into a beautiful, green valley which followed along a winding river. The sun was out (for the first time in a number of days), and we were happily drinking in the sights. As we began approaching the winding road 750 feet up to the town, our scooter got slower and slower. We are talking 12%+ of uphill grade. With two of us on this little 50cc scooter, it was having none of this. I jumped off the back and began to walk up the hill (so not fun). I walked for the beginning, and then Dan decided I should drive the scooter, and he would hike. I have never driven a scooter before. Yes, I know it’s not that difficult! But after struggling to navigate the turns while going uphill, I eventually gave up (for fear of plummeting over the side of the mountain). Luckily by now, we had made it to the top. We explored the town which was extremely busy with tourists, and when we finished we took a much kinder route home. Yes, it was downhill from the fortress, but remember…we descended into that beautiful valley. Three hours later, we made it back to town and headed back to the boat. Tomorrow, we would head for the medieval city of Poreč where we would tie up to the town quay to ride out the storm.
The rain had arrived during the night and was still around when we cut lines the next morning. Fortunately, it was a short one hour blast to our next stop. This would be our first time tying our boat to a town quay. This is it’s own bit of fun and stress. These town quays are lined with many restaurants and bars guaranteeing a large audience to watch you as you pull in. There was no exception on this day. As a matter of fact, the many people strolling the promenade made it a point to stop and watch as we brought our boat in and tied up. Here is how this bit of fun goes: Dan backs down to the wall where I have to hook a line that is held up by the harbor master and toss him my stern line. I then have to drag this wet, dirty line (it’s been lying on the floor of the sea) to the front of the boat to pull up the thick mooring line and then cleat it off to the front of the boat. We then repeat this process on the other side of the boat. This is all done while Dan ensures that we don’t back into the wall or pivot in any direction into neighboring boats. We managed to get tied up with minimal fuss. Since we are tied to a wall, no dinghy needed….Yay! Well, not so much. As I said, the town walls are very high. We are very high as well which is normally not a problem, but there are very big tidal swings here which meant the plank we set up from our boat to the wall was at an incline I was not comfortable with (not to mention there were only a couple of inches on either end of the plank supported on the boat or the wall and the boat was pitching around….so not good). We did a lot of fiddling with the lines to try and get us as close to the wall as possible while still being safe when the storm arrived. As I’ve said before, in calm weather, navigating the plank is not a big deal. However, when the boat pitches around….so does the plank (a sure fire recipe for ending up in the very cold water in front of many witnesses!)
The next day, we rented a car to go do some exploring of the nearby sights. We started at a nearby Karst cave which we toured. We went down, down, down into 5 different chambers. The final chamber (open to the public) was 160 meters underground and allowed us to see some albino salamanders that live in these depths. The formations within the cave were amazing to see….some of which were over 100,000 years old. The experience did not disappoint. Of course, what goes down must come up :). The climb out was slick and steep but pretty quick. We were definitely sucking wind by the time we emerged from the entrance. Our next stop was a local winery that was highly reviewed. The grounds were beautiful, and we sat and enjoyed a tasting of 8 different wines produced on sight (and of course we purchased a couple of our favorites). We are literally beginning to create a wine cellar on board with all the fun and fabulous wines we have discovered! After, we took a drive to a viewpoint of a local fjord. The view was amazing, and the wildflowers surrounding the cliffs were incredible. We also took some time to hunt for some wild asparagus. We did not find any :(. At least, we don’t think we did…haha. I think we need to see one up close and personal before we risk picking something that might just be a fancy weed! We had a little bit of a reprieve in the weather today….the rain came and went throughout our excursion. Tonight, heavier rain would begin and the high winds would arrive by tomorrow (near gale force). We were fully prepared for a day stuck on board to ride out the storm.
As I mentioned before, there are many restaurants and bars about 50 feet behind our boat (picture a narrow street and we are backed up to one side and the restaurants and bars line the other side). On this night, the bar directly behind us was doing some sort of disco night with colorful flashing lights and very loud music. It was looking to be a long night. I think I finally put earplugs in around 1 a.m. and could still hear the music! That is one of the downsides of tying up to the town quay. The other downside is that you are in a fishbowl. Many, many people walk by and stop at our boat to check it out, and some even take pictures. As a catamaran, we are a little bit unusual in this northernmost part, and our American flag with hailing port of Phoenix, AZ definitely makes us an oddity. You definitely have to get used to the lack of privacy when you are on the wall. As predicted, the rain arrived very late in the night and by morning, the wind was howling with gusts up to 30 knots. We spent the day on board taking the opportunity to do some chores and work around the boat. It’s been a whopping 54 degrees today and the rain has not let up. In the week that we have been underway, we have only had one nice day of sunshine :(. We are really hoping that changes soon. We are ready for the sunshine!!!
We ended up growing very fond of Poreč, and decided to stay a few days longer than we had originally planned (gotta love not having to sail a schedule!). We tried to rent a car for our last day in town, but they emailed us that morning telling us they had nothing available. That limited our explorations, but we made the most of it. As a matter of fact, our first adventure was to explore a 6th century Euphrasian Basilica that had been built over top of the original 4th century Basilica. This was one of the earliest churches ever built and is famous for it’s frescos and mosaics. The wall mosaics were constructed by Byzantian masters. There is a mosaic of a fish on the floor that dates back to the 2nd half of the 4th century. The fish symbol was significant because it had become the secret symbol of Christianity during a time when the practice of Christianity was illegal. This basilica had been built after the Roman persecution of early Christians. We have included several pictures and a very brief background in this post. I am hoping to create a post later that is solely dedicated to touring the basilica for those who might be interested. After, we walked to a place for wine, olive oil, and cheese tasting. We had read really good things about this tour and were excited….especially since it was quite a long walk to get there. Unfortunately, it was a huge disappointment, so I will leave it at that :). We have really enjoyed our 5 nights in this city, but we are ready to explore some new sights. Tomorrow we will set sail for the city of Rovinj and some new adventures!
We returned from a nice weekend in the Dolomites where we did some hiking and exploring, and jumped right back into boat work. After all, Zoe was set to go into the water in only two days. We worked tirelessly for the next couple of days trying to get as much done as possible….well, at least the stuff that could not be done on the water. When Wednesday finally arrived, the wind had picked up substantially. This was not looking good. Dan and I were both feeling extremely uncomfortable with the strong wind and the extreme narrowness of the channel in the marina that we would have to get ourselves through without being pushed into the other boats. Fortunately, the crane operator was feeling equally stressed about hoisting our big boat in such high winds. Lucky for us they had a cancellation for two days later, and we were able to delay lifting Zoe into the water until then. Heavy sigh of relief on my part :). On the down side, we no longer had our little apartment booked. We decided we would tough it out and live on the boat in the air for the next two nights. Keep in mind, our boat is 10 feet in the air and not level by any means. All part of the adventure, right?
We took the opportunity of extra time on land to tackle some of our bigger jobs. We bought some new lines in order to change some of our old and worn ones. Dan decided it was time to change our halyard. This bit of fun required him being hoisted to the top of the mast….some 70 feet off the ground! Needless to say, I was not happy about this. I had read far too many stories of people falling while trying to ascend their mast…and of course dying. We had even done some training classes before leaving. A good friend (and highly skilled climber/canyoneer) helped us create back up systems, as well as an emergency plan for getting Dan up and down if a problem developed. None of this gave me comfort. So, we started with a practice run, and I hoisted Dan about 10 feet off the deck and back down again. Now it was time for the big show. With my stomach churning, I slowly raised Dan to the top of the mast…watching and waiting anxiously until he was ready to be lowered. With the new halyard installed, I started bringing him down. Everything went off without a hitch! I was so relieved. We now have a beautiful new halyard to raise our mainsail.
The day finally arrived to put Zoe in the water. The morning was amazingly calm, and we were extremely excited and grateful for no wind. HA! You know nothing goes that smoothly. Without fail, as soon as the crane had us in the sling, the wind picked up…..awesome! Once Zoe was lowered into the loading bay, we were instructed to get on board. At this point, we checked to make sure there were no leaks anywhere in the hulls and fired up both motors. Sure that everything was working fine, I took position on deck to help guide Dan out and fend us off any boats that we might get too close to. This went extremely well, and we were feeling really good. We got out of the channel and waited just outside the entrance for the marineros to arrive and help us tie up. We waited…..and we waited. Dan finally had to call the marina and remind them that we needed help tying up to the wall (the wind was really blowing by this point). Finally two of the marina guys came down and grabbed the lines that I tossed to them. The wind was so strong that it took these two, strong men about 20 minutes to finally get us securely tied to the wall. Ahhhh, back on the water again. Life was finally starting to feel normal again.
Dan and I carefully monitored several different weather forecasts to find our weather window to head to Croatia. This time of year is very unpredictable in the Med. One day it is 70 degrees and sunny, and the next it’s in the 50’s with pouring rain and heavy winds. We decided that Monday (3 days later) would be our best bet. So, we figured the following day (Saturday) would be a good day to run any final errands before turning in our rental car.
We headed back to the big marina store in Trieste in order to buy some more boat parts and lines. We also took the opportunity to find the port authority where we would need to check out of the country before heading to Croatia. We found the location, determined that they would in fact be open on Sunday, and got all the necessary information we needed. We were armed with everything we needed and made our way back to the marina. Tomorrow we would make the hour drive to Trieste once again in order to check out with immigration (you have 24 hours once you check out, to get out of the country…and their waters). We would then go to the Trieste airport (nowhere near the city) and return our rental car. From there, we would have to figure out how to get ourselves back to our boat which was about 1/2 hour away.
Sunday was a very wet and cold day in Italy. As we drove down to the waterfront of Trieste, we were shocked to see a huge cruise ship in port. While this should not have been a big deal, it created a huge nightmare for us. Every bit of parking that was down near the water had been barricaded off! We had to figure out somewhere else to park the car (not an easy task anywhere in European cities!). On top of it all, we were now racing the clock since the port police was only open until 12:30 on Sunday. After much frustration and failure, we finally found a spot (although not sure if we were legally parked) and set off to the station. Now we had to navigate through the security that was in place for the cruise ship. We finally got an officer to escort us to where we needed to go and got our passports and boat papers taken care of….whew! I just wanted to get the hell out of there at this point. Well, that was a whole lot of fun in and of itself. Not only was there all this cruise ship chaos, but apparently they had a big street fair going on as well, so many of the streets were blocked off! Traffic was horrendous and lanes were often restricted down to one. I was so relieved by the time we escaped the city. On to the airport!
When we arrived at the airport, we found out that the rental car agent would not be there for a 1/2 hour, so we set about trying to find our way back to the boat. A taxi was looking like it would be around $100….eeesh. We could get a train to a few different cities closer but no guarantee of finding a cab once we were there. We finally found a train to the city where the marina was and the number of a cab who agreed to pick us up (this was all thanks to a wonderful woman who worked at the visitor center in the airport). We headed to the train station at the airport to buy our tickets. By now, it is pouring down rain with thunder and lightening. We repeatedly fail to purchase the tickets at the tracks, so Dan books it back to the airport to seek the assistance of our visitor angel. With tickets firmly in hand, we hustle back to the track (it’s an 8 minute walk each way from the airport to the tracks). Everything is looking good and going well. Haha! This wouldn’t be worth telling if there wasn’t an evil twist, right? It is one minute out, and our train’s arrival is announced. Next thing I know, Dan shouts out that his ticket just blew out of his hand and down to the field below! Are you kidding me???!!! He quickly searches for way to get down the next level and get it….there is no way down and no time left. He quickly decides to buy another ticket. The train is coming! As he rapidly types in the details and follows the prompts on this very slow machine, the train is arriving…..I am panicking! If we miss this train, we have to wait another hour in the pouring rain! The ticket spits out and we hustle to the train and jump on….wet, cold, and mentally exhausted.
The following day, we cut lines and said good-bye to Marina Planais. Croatia here we come! It was a quick 4 hour crossing in cold, rainy weather. As we came into the harbor of Umag, we were told someone would be at the town quay to help us with lines. As we circled and circled, no one came. After much frustration, we headed to the mooring field and tied up to a mooring ball. We quickly jumped in the dinghy and headed to town to check in with the port police and port captain (bringing our foreign selves and our foreign flagged boat into these various countries comes with a lot of paperwork and some stress). First stop, the customs dock for immigration. Here we were quickly chastised (and not nicely in any way, shape or form) for not tying up to the customs dock to check in. He refused to deal with us and told us to get our boat to the their dock and that we should know better! NOWHERE we have checked in, this year or last, has required us to tie up our boat outside their office! Needless to say, I’m pissed at this point. We race back to our boat, drop lines, and head to the customs dock where we have to figure out how to tie up with only 2 of us on board. As we slide in, I manage to lasso a giant bollard on the dock and get our back secure while Dan jumps off and ties our front end off. Not bad for a couple of newbies! We head back in to try this again. This time the officer was a little less surly and a little more helpful. After getting squared away legally, we headed to the port captain to take care of the rest of our paperwork and pay the visitor tax. Yep, we had to pay $355 to spend 3 months in Croatia on our boat 🙁 Unfortunately, the office closed at 3:00 (it was 2:50….and yes, it was already closed). So we would have to return the next day. We jumped back on our boat and headed back out to the mooring ball field. Once again, we got Zoe secured, and we settled in. For our first day back in Croatia, we both were feeling a little beaten down. But, we found a quaint little Croatian restaurant, with extremely friendly staff and super yummy food, so we quickly reset to our happy place.
On the down side, another big storm is predicted in the coming days, so we will want to be tied up somewhere a little more protected and secure. We figure we will spend a couple of nights here and then make our way to the historic town of Poreč where we will ride out the storm and do some more exploring.
It’s finally here! Time to return to Europe and get Zoe ready to be dropped back in the water. We’ve been given a splash date (when Zoe will be hoisted up by crane and set back in the water) of April 24th. There is much to do to make sure she is ready for the next 6-7 months of sailing. We got this!
Ha! How quickly that warm, fuzzy feeling has been beaten down. We have now completed our first full week of work on the boat, and I can tell you that along with the blood, sweat and tears (literally) there have been extreme emotional highs and lows. To begin, the exterior of the boat was absolutely filthy after sitting for 5 months in wind, rain, and a hail of bird poop. As we entered the inside, my heart sank even further. Just to refresh your memory, shutting down the boat at the end of last season required the following tasks: All clothing was removed and stored in vacuum pack bags; all bedding, pillows, and towels were removed and vacuum packed; all remaining food and spices were taken out and placed in air tight containers; all cushions and mattresses were up-ended and stored away from walls and windows; all sails and canvas were stripped from the boat; all lines were removed and stored. So this entire mess, was now sitting inside the boat, along with the contents of 5 large duffles worth of supplies that we ferried over from the U.S. I think I felt a panic attack coming on 🙁
Where to begin?! I figured the quickest way to make the biggest dent was to unpack all the sealed bags and containers and put the stuff away. That relieved some of the debris and allowed me to get the guest cabin made up and ready for future visitors.
At this point, Dan and I decided to take a break and go in search of a new mattress for our bed. We had decided to purchase a memory foam mattress which turned out to be quite a challenge. Knowing that it would need to be cut down to fit the unique shape of the bed in our cabin, we could not buy one that needed to be contained within a cover. We finally decided on one that we found at IKEA. The trick now was to get it back to the boat in our tiny, little clown car. As the pictures will show, we managed to wedge it into the car with me fighting to keep it off the steering wheel and gear shift.
Next was hauling it up 10 feet to the deck of the boat, down the stairs into the hull and our cabin. I think you are starting to get the “sweat” part of where this story began. Have you ever cut through 8 inches of foam with a box cutter and a serrated bread knife? I’m here to tell you, it SUCKS! Not only did it take forever, but left a barrage of foam snow all over our cabin. Great! I now created a new mess to clean up!
With the inside starting to show signs of improvement, we decided it was time to tackle replacing our trampoline. The trampoline on the front of our boat was really showing it’s age and had a lot of sag making it super uncomfortable. We purchased a new, tighter woven trampoline. After receiving a $800 euro quote to install it, Dan decided we could do this ourselves. At this point, picture my eyes bugging out of my head. Step number one was to soak the trampoline in water for 24 hours so that we would be able to stretch it into position. We put it into a giant, plastic tub and filled it with water. Being on the hard, our boat is not resting level. So, the water in the tub was about 2 inches lower on one side of the bin. My very helpful husband (he is on the ground manning the on/off knob of the faucet) tells me to put something under the low side to level it. Did you know that those big plastic tubs are not meant to hold 100’s of pounds of water (ok, it wasn’t quite that much)? As I went to lift up one side, the plastic broke slicing through my finger and palm in two separate places. Yep, it hurt like hell and now I’m bleeding (I told you there was blood, sweat and tears). The tears came next as I sat down to wrap my bloody wounds, feeling totally defeated by my boat 🙁
If you know me very well, you know that my pity party was short lived and I was back at putting the boat back together. I forgot to mention that during this entire week it has been cold, windy and rainy. Fun times, right? It was finally time to install the trampoline. The dealer told us it would only take 5 hours….uh yeah right! I know how this goes. There are 60 lash down points to secure the trampoline to the deck, and every one of them requires gorilla strength (and pulleys, winches, and pliers) to stretch the trampoline to each point and secure it. At this point, my hands are raw and my body is broken. Let’s just say there have been some contortionist moves required. After 5 hours on day one and 4 hours on day two, we are still not done :(. We are getting closer though, and it looks amazing so far.
Well, our 5 hour trampoline job took us days and 16 hours. It nearly did us in :(. On top of that, we winched too hard on one corner and tore a hole in it! Add another job to my list….attempt to weave the hole closed (which I did and, it doesn’t look too bad).
Fortunately for us, putting the sails back up was a much less painful job. We managed to get the mainsail back up in about 4 hours after watching the videos we took at the end of last season to refresh our memory of where everything went. The genoa was up in about an hour.
Score 1 for team Muzich! Over the next few days, we got the leak in the dinghy repaired, dinghy scrubbed, chaps back on, and back in the “garage.” We got the cockpit enclosure put up, have begun the clean up, and got my cilantro planted!
Hopefully we will have homemade salsa before time to leave the boat at the end of the season…..lol! At this point, Easter weekend has arrived, and we have decided it is time for a boat/work break. We are heading to the mountains for a little play time before the final push to get Zoe ready. It is now T-minus 4 days until launch! I promise our next post will be more fun and a lot less drudgery….but in all fairness, I did promise to bring you the good, the bad, and the ugly of life on a sailboat!