Exploring the islands of Northern Croatia

Welcome back! In our last post, we were sadly saying good-bye to the island of Silba and continuing to make our way south. We headed out quite effortlessly despite a very full mooring ball field (summer high season is definitely in full swing!) July was high season for the Germans and Austrians to visit Croatia, and August is peak season for the Italians and Slovenians. Europeans definitely know how to do vacations….their people get the entire month off! But I digress….

Our next port of call was the town of Brbinj, about a four hour sail away. As we sailed along, we cruised past a submarine bunker used by the Germans in WWII. We pulled in closer to have a peek, but there were quite a few boats anchored, leaving very little room for us. Plus, the wind direction was not optimal (blowing us on shore), and I’ve been struggling with our new anchor 🙁 Lucky for you, we have been to one of these bunkers on a previous trip, and I remember every cool aspect about it. First, these concrete caverns are build deep into the side of the mountain, well hidden from sight. During our last visit, we swam deep into the bunker which was both eerie and super cool (literally and figuratively). As we swam in, the water got chillier due to the lack of light. The other interesting thing I noticed was the little bit of sea life living in there was albino. After exploring the depths by water, we walked the small cement walkway into the depths. We came upon a door and of course HAD to explore. As we walked into the dark corridor, we shined our flashlights around taking in every detail. It’s hard to describe the feeling of walking through these hidden tunnels once occupied by German Nazis! After a long, meandering trek, we came out of the bunker very close to the entrance yet quite hidden away. We do want to go and explore these bunkers again, but we will wait until it’s a little less crowded (and we can share more detailed pictures).

We continued on our way until we arrived in Brbinj. A large, semi-empty mooring ball field opened before us, and we were super excited to have such seclusion during high season. We picked the most isolated mooring ball we could find and settled in. By now, we are getting better and better at picking up the mooring ball in one shot. Dan is learning his new role at hooking the ball, running a line through it from each side of the boat, and then cleating each line off. I am learning my new role of coming up on the ball, in the precise spot, and then keeping this big girl on her mark regardless of what the wind and water are doing. Once we got her all settled in, it was time for our usual post sail swim (or should I say float) and our celebratory Karlovačko beer. We had an awesome view of the quaint little town and decided we would explore it the next day. On a side note, Croatia has been under an extreme heat advisory for about a week now. This makes time in the water a necessity (basically our only partial reprieve from sun when you are on a boat 24/7).

A large ferry came in 3 times a day which caused a few rollers through the bay but nothing uncomfortable. We also had a steady wind which helped keep things cool. A few boats came but very few stayed. How was this possible in the busiest month of the year?! I certainly wasn’t going to complain. This was paradise in my book! Dan, on the other hand, began to ponder what everyone else must know that we did not. Silly man! Just enjoy the solitude. As planned, the next evening we took the dinghy over to town. Our guidebook said there were 3 restaurants and a couple of markets. We wandered over to the other side of the island, where we had read there was another mooring field, as well as a small dock you could tie up to. There was not a lick of wind on this side of the island, and the water was still as glass. And guess what we found? All the missing boats! Racked and stacked! No thank you….I preferred my slice of solitude. Plus it was blistering hot on this side since the wind was blocked. We headed to the one restaurant on this side (it looked and smelled really good) only to find out they were booked solid. The waitress said they could maybe get us in around 9:30 or 10:00! Ummm, I don’t think so. We wandered back to our side of the island where the other two restaurants were located. We wandered by one little restaurant that looked rather busy and decided to proceed to the last one. Many tables had reserved signs on them, but no one was in the restaurant. It was still a little early by European standards (7:30 I think). We ordered a pretty basic and uninspired meal, and it tasted about as inspiring. A complete and total disappointment (and overpriced to boot). As a matter of fact, I gave a wandering kitty some of my meal. After dinner, we headed back to the boat to settle in for the evening. Tomorrow, we would be on the move again.

We decided it was time to begin making our way back north and back to port. From Brbinj, we took a short hop to the town of Veli Rat. We cruised through the first bay disappointed to see all the boats racked and stacked. So, we headed out towards the marina and a quiet little mooring field outside of a tiny little bay. Once again, we found ourselves blissfully alone. This island was home to the tallest lighthouse in the Adriatic and a short 20 minute walk from the little bay. We hopped in the dinghy, tied up to shore, and headed down the road to the lighthouse. It was quite busy with cars and people on this island, and the lighthouse sat next door to a very large camping area where people were stacked on top of one another (not my idea of a fun way to camp). We wandered around the lighthouse which was an awesome sight. We marveled at how rough the open sea was on this side of the island (a direct shot to the coast of Italy). As we made our way back along a different route, we stopped in the little camping market to see what they might have available (at this point our provisions were getting a little low). We opted for some varieties of cheese and salami and were super excited to find mussels….something different from our usual fare of chicken, turkey or čevapi (a type of meat sausages eaten with a red pepper and eggplant relish). We got back to the boat, and it wasn’t long before the guy came by to collect the mooring fee. This one was by far the most expensive one we had (about $47). Needless to say, we only stayed a night. Weather forecasts were calling for a Bura (very strong winds and potentially dangerous sea conditions) so we decided to get closer to home and tuck into a protected bay. This meant a 7 hour day of cruising, our longest one yet.

We opted to head back to the island of Unije to ride out the storm. We were familiar with the mooring field, and the bay was fairly well protected from the high winds that were forecasted. We spent 7 long hours under the blazing sun making our way to a Unije. As we made our approach (around 4 p.m. which is quite late for us), we noticed a huge amount of masts in the first mooring field and quite a few in the anchorage. With the storm approaching, we preferred to be snug on a ball rather than trusting our brand new anchor (well, it was more my lack of confidence in getting this new beast of an anchor to dig in). Handling the anchor has always been my job, and I have always been very good at it. I instinctively knew when to snub it and when to pay out more chain. I felt totally in tune with the anchor and the boat. Recently we upgraded our anchor to a beefy 72 pound Rocna. King of the anchors! But it has been kicking my butt and draining my confidence. Don’t you worry, I will win this battle, but close quarter anchoring with a big blow coming in is not the time to practice. At this point, Dan and I both admit to each other that we have knots in our stomachs. If our little known mooring field is full also, we will be forced to continue to home port which is another 4 hours away. This would mean arriving home at 9 p.m. and having to dock Zoe for the first time just the two of us (and in the dark and in the wind)…..ack! As we came around the point to our little mooring field, we whooped with joy. It was virtually empty! We quickly tied up (we have now gotten super proficient) and…..you guessed it! Time for the celebratory swim and beer (after 7 hours in the blazing sun, we are both quite pink).

We spent the next 2 nights here listening to the wind howl and rocking around, blissfully happy to be back in our wonderful little bay (which was shockingly empty compared to our stop here at the beginning of our trip when every ball was taken). We had been out for 12 days and were feeling a little homesick for our marina (it is a beautiful place only a mile from the city center, and the people here are amazing). We check the forecast which says the Bura should be dying off by 11. We decide to head out at 9 figuring the Bura will be gone by the time we come into dock four hours later. You are probably wondering where we get such precise and amazing forecasts. We are now wondering that too. As we made our way home, we were beating straight into the wind which was howling. The seas were somewhat tumultuous but manageable. Unfortunately our 4 hour journey took 5 1/2 hours (but hey! At least we didn’t end up on Gilligan’s Isle!) and wouldn’t you know, the wind did NOT die down. We now had new knots in our stomachs. First time docking this big girl with just the two of us. Since Dan has to drive the boat, that leaves me to scamper around securing all 4 corners of the boat. The back end requires throwing a line to the dock (while keeping it out of the water so as not to foul the prop) and then hooking a sand line which you then pull as your scamper to the front of the boat and tie off. Remember the awesome marina we are living in and the great people? Well those wonderful marineros were on the dock to assist, and one even jumped on board to secure one side of the boat while I did the other. These guys are our heroes, and we love them to pieces!

So here we are, safe and snug back in our berth. Unfortunately that meant a very un-fun, hot day of washing down the boat, doing laundry, cleaning the inside of the boat….and just basically getting her back in tip top shape. We arrived here Saturday afternoon and will be heading out again on Tuesday…..this time to the north. For now, I got my fix of hobotnice salad at (octopus salad), we hit the ribarnica (fresh fish market), local produce stand, and pekara (bakery) for some amazing fish dinners. And we are currently sitting on deck listening to music blast from the city center after a spectacular fireworks show in honor of Croatian Victory Day (Independence day).

Here is a short video of a few parts of our day coming back to port during the Bura wind:  Zoe during the bura

Victory day fireworks:  Fireworks!

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Don Morrison
Don Morrison
5 years ago

What a great sail even with the strong winds. The scenery is fabulous and I must say that life style seems to be agreeing with both of you. On another note, school is back in session…are you missing your classroom yet?

5 years ago
Reply to  Don Morrison

I very often miss the kids and the great people I’ve had the opportunity to work with, but I really don’t miss the stress and politics of it all 🙂 I’m having way too much fun even when there is work involved!

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