Islands of Ionian

You may recall from our last post, we were happily ensconced in Vlikho bay on the island of Lefkada (also known affectionately as Jellyfish bay and Velcro bay).  It becomes quickly evident why it is also known as Velcro bay…..once in, it’s pretty easy to just stay parked….and we were no exception.  Your anchor digs in deep to this thick, sludgy mud, it’s usually well protected from all winds, it’s surrounded by high mountains, and it’s easy access to almost anything you could want. 

The taverna scene in Vlikho bay is great. You dinghy right to your table….
The resort town of Nydri is close by, with all kinds of restaurants and shops
Wonderful views leaving Nydri
Huge jellyfish surrounded the boat…

After the third day, we had to remind ourselves that we did not buy a boat just to sit in once place, so we reluctantly pulled up anchor and headed out into the beauty of the islands.  Our next stop was going to be the island of Kastos, anchorage to be determined upon my review 🤣 Yes, I hold THAT kind of power!  Our journey south would be about 3 1/2 hours with the wind at our back.  As luck would have it, we did manage to sail for some of the cruise there.  Despite it being mid-September, there were still a ridiculous number of boats in this part of the Ionian.  So much for it being low season!  As we cruised up the east side of the island (the perfect protection for the direction of the wind), we spotted a couple of empty anchorages and stored them in the back of our mind in case the one we had in mind was full.  When we arrived at the spot known as Wasp bay (none of these cute little names are official of course….they are the names that sailors before us have given title to), there were only 2 other boats anchored in this lovely bay.  We quickly chose a great spot that was respectfully distant from our two neighbors, and dropped the anchor.  The bay was surrounded by spectacular rock walls and crystal clear water.  This will definitely do!

Our Kostos anchorage was pretty with really interesting snorkeling amongst a lot of rock formations
The waters on this island are super clear!
Wasp bay, without the wasps.

Not long after we were settled, another boat came in and dropped anchor right in front of us.  This was a little unsettling as he was quite close and did not appear to do much more than drop his anchor overboard.  We seriously hoped he wasn’t staying the night since he would be a risk to us if the winds picked up even slightly.  Fortunately, he only stayed for a few hours and went on his way.  Dan had been out snorkeling to check our anchor and had said that their anchor was literally just laying on the sea floor, not dug in at all.  Not long after, a large catamaran came in and anchored behind us.  They caught our eye as they were flying a large California flag.  This was the first Americans we had encountered all season on the water.  They ended up inviting us to their boat for dinner and drinks.  As we motored over in our dinghy, we were greeted by the captain and his friend both decked out in Rasta wigs and Bob Marley playing on the stereo.  Needless to say, we busted up laughing….this was definitely going to be a fun night!  The 10 of us enjoyed a great dinner, lots of wine, some games, and of course laughter and storytelling.  We found ourselves disappointed that we had not crossed paths earlier in their voyage.  Despite meeting for the first time, it was like being with friends we had known for years.  The following day, they continued their journey, and we opted to spend one more evening in this beautiful bay (never mind the fact that we were nursing a wee bit of a hangover).

A catamaran filled with California people ready to party…they anchored next to us and we had a fun night onboard

After 2 nights, it was time to explore our next port of call…the island of Cephalonia, bay of Eufimia.  This passage was 24 miles to the west.  Initially, we had thought we might med moor to the town quay, but I quickly nixed that idea.  Since this would be our fist time to med moor our boat alone (and I had already been warned about the harbormaster who barks orders at you for how he wants it done), I didn’t feel like putting on my big girl panties and dealing with being yelled at. 🤣 We found a spot in that small bay that we liked and dropped the anchor.  Unfortunately the sand bottom was hard packed sand, so it took us 3 tries to get the anchor dug in and holding.  Later in the day, a small catamaran (looked almost homemade) with 4 young Germans dropped anchor somewhat close to us.  Given the amount of room in the bay, I was not super happy that they chose so close by.  Before long, one of the young men had rowed over to our boat to ask if we were okay with where he had anchored.  I told him that as long as he felt he was dug in and secure, I was fine.  He very kindly offered to move, but I told him it was fine and thanked him for asking (you know this random sidebar about our neighbor holds a key piece to this part of our story).  As the evening drew to a close, ominous clouds had begun to build.  None of the weather models had called for any sort of weather, but we have learned from experience that these type of cloud formations usually bring bad times if you are on a boat.

Our family car, our dinghy, at the dock in Ag Euffimia. It’s how we go to shore when we are at anchor

As we laid in bed, I could not shake the uneasiness I was feeling (this is often the case for me in unknown anchorages).  Around 2:00 a.m., I could see lightning flashing in the sky through the hatch over our head.  Not long after, it started to rain.  Dan and I scrambled to close up all the open hatches before heading up on deck to see what was happening.  By 2:30 a.m. all hell had broken loose.  The rain was coming down sideways, thunder and lightning boomed all around us, and then came the wind….the worst wind we have ever seen at anchor.  Within minutes, Dan and I were soaking wet as I ran below deck to grab our foul weather jackets (a little late at that point….we were already drenched from head to toe).  Dan fired up the engines in case we broke free.  When the wind hit 40 and 50 knots Dan powered forward on the anchor to relieve some of the strain.  This went on for about a half hour.  A couple of boats dragged and chose to head out to sea until the worst had passed.  Just then, we saw our German neighbors’ boat go flying by us…..and NO ONE was on deck!  They were headed straight for the jagged rocks of the shore.  I grabbed our air horn and big spot light and started blasting it at them.  It felt like it took forever for someone to finally come up on deck.  Thankfully, they were able to get control of their boat before they hit shore.  Several boats circled around in the chaos until things began to settle, and they could re-anchor.  Within 45 minutes, the storm had come and gone.  As I stood on deck shivering in my soaking wet pajamas, my crazy husband proclaims, “I’ve never felt so alive!”  Sometimes he baffles me beyond belief.  It was a terrifying experience with a lot of running around and yelling information to each other over the howling wind, but our anchor held like a champ.  We had survived our toughest storm yet.  I’ve come a long way in reading the clouds and understanding when things are likely to go sideways.  I also have full faith in my gut now….when it tells me to go sleep up in the salon or on deck….I do.

Drenched after the storm…but our anchor held and all was ok
Our “anchor kit” we keep readily available for nights like this. A spotlight and air horn at the ready

After our soggy, sleepless night (we were on a definite adrenaline high for the next few hours), we decided it was time to move on.  We had asked about the possibility of tying to the quay (yes, I was willing to brave it at this point), but the harbor master said there would be no room as a flotilla was coming in.  Well, that cinched it….time to find a quiet, safe place to anchor.  Where was our anchorage of choice?  Back to Vlikho bay, of course.  We knew we’d hold well and could get a good nights sleep despite being at anchor.  The one thing I have not yet learned is to get a deep, restful sleep at anchor, and we have been at anchor now for 17 straight days.  Thanks to last night’s storm, the seas were rough and confused (going in all directions).  It was cloudy and rainy with 3-5 foot seas.  As we came into the channel to the bay, we crossed paths with our California friends.  They were on their way to turn in their charter boat, so we passed close by waving and shouting our goodbyes to one another.  Once again, we were happily secure in our peaceful bay.  Time for some much needed rest.  

Vlicho bay is notorious for it’s jellyfish

Chairetismoús Apó Greece! (Greetings From Greece)

When we checked out of Albania, Dan was able to go ashore and take care of the paperwork the night before (this was a new treat).  The only caveat was that we had to be out of the bay by 9:00 a.m the following day….otherwise, we would be required to come back in and check out again.  We made sure to set an alarm to give us enough time to get underway and meet the 9:00 requirement.  For some bizarre reason, our process went a little slow.  We ended up motoring out right at 9:02….really hoping they weren’t militant about being gone before 9:00.  As we came out of the bay, the Greek island of Corfu was directly ahead of us.  This would only be a 2 hour cruise to get to our next port of call (a big change from the last 3 trips of 55+ miles each).  Unfortunately, after a phone call to the marina, we learned that we could not check in until 4 p.m.  Ugh.  After another phone call, we were told they could probably accommodate us if we came after 1 or 2 p.m.  There was very little wind (as usual).  Normally we would motor, but since we had so much time to kill, we decided to sail it…..ssssllllllooooowwwwwlllly.  It gave us a lot of opportunity to play around with our sail trim and get a feel for maximizing our speed in light winds.  We were able to match our boat speed to the wind speed much of the time, so we were quite pleased with ourselves.  It was finally time to head into the marina.  Wouldn’t you know, the wind picked up quite a bit right when it was time for us to dock (and it was a crosswind)!  Needless to say, docking was a lot more “fun” than we would’ve liked….but we managed to get securely tied up.

We arrived in Gouvia Marina on the island of Corfu on Sunday, September 1st.  We purposefully chose this date since Greece had recently instituted a cruising tax that is paid by the month (literally by the month, meaning if you arrive on August 31st you will pay for the entire month of August).  Anyway, once we got the boat secured and checked in with the marina, we set out to get ourselves and Zoe cleared into the country.  As I may have mentioned in our first post of the sailing season, checking into and out of countries is often its own little adventure.  Not only does the process vary between countries, but it can vary greatly even within the same country.  Sometimes this can be rather frustrating.  Our arrival in Greece was no exception. We were advised at the marina office to grab a cab into the old town since they would drop us in front of the correct offices.  We headed over to the taxi zone and waited….and waited….and waited.  Dan tried calling several times to no avail.  At this point, we were both hot, tired and frustrated, so we wandered off to find a place to rent a car.  As luck would have it, there was a rental car place right there in the marina compound.  We were able to quickly rent a car and get on our way to the old town (big shocker….there was a cab sitting at the taxi stand as we drove away).

Zoe in her berth in Gouvia Marina, Corfu

We had no clue where to find the port police or customs/immigration, so we headed for the port in old town Corfu hoping our destinations would be clearly marked (they of course were not).  We drove by a building that said “customs” on the front, so we quickly found a place to park and headed over.  It was clearly a defunct building.  We found a break in the fencing, and squeezed our way through to the interior of the port.  After several attempts, we finally found the port police.  He then told us to go to customs and immigration, and then return to him once more.  He pointed us to the building with no instruction as to where exactly we needed to go.  Once again, we wandered aimlessly trying to figure out where we needed to be.  To make a long story a little less long……we walked over 2 miles trying to find these offices and spent 2 hours taking care of paperwork.  The majority of our time was spent in the customs office trying to show that we paid the cruising tax and trying to explain that we were pretty sure we screwed up when paying it because we forgot to put in our “ID” number that would associate the tax with our boat.  The agent was kind, but she was definitely flustered and tired of dealing with us.  In the end, we were finally checked in and on our way (although still very uneasy about this cruising tax because if you don’t have proof that you paid it, you get HUGE fines).

The culmination of hours of red tape….the “Transit Log” that makes Zoe legal in Greek waters
Nice of the Port Captain to make our destination the Ionian Sea instead of a specific place. Gives us lots of flexibility!

After that long and stressful endeavor, we continued on our way to old town Corfu to wander around and grab some dinner.  The town is a maze of stone streets lined with cute little shops and restaurants.  Surrounding the old city is an old fortress and a new fortress.  Corfu was once controlled by the Venetians (many, many years ago) since it was considered the gateway to trade in the Adriatic, so their influence on the architecture is very evident.  It is a beautiful place to explore.  Unfortunately, several huge cruise ships arrive in port every day making the old town extremely crowded with large tour groups and buses.  On our way back to the car, we stumbled on this little dessert shop that had more than 50 different types of exotic baklava.  Needless to say, we bought several of the more unusual ones to try out.  They were amazing!  The next day, we popped into the port police at the marina (they were closed when we had arrived the day before) to show him our paperwork and explain our dilemma with the cruising tax.  The money had come out of our account, but without proof we’d be in trouble.  He looked over our papers and showed us that customs had stamped us as paid, but the reality was that we were not paid and the money would likely be refunded since it did not have a way to associate it with our boat.  We told him that it was important for us to be legitimately “legal,” and we weren’t looking for loopholes.  He was kind enough to tell us where several banks were that we could go into and pay.  He also told us that his colleague had been very kind to us because he had stamped us into and out of the Ionian.  This meant that we were totally free to roam the Ionian islands without having to check into and out of every port we visited.  Awesome!!!

Corfu old fortress
Maze of charming walking streets in Corfu town
So much history here
Such beautiful sights
New fortress, built even stronger than the last one
Driving goat tracks trough the Corfu countryside in a rare summer rainstorm
Top of Corfu…too bad we were clouded in and not much to see

We ended up staying in the marina for 3 days before we decided it was time to continue making our way south.  Our next stop was on the east side of the island in a small town called Petriti.  We found a great little spot outside of the main bay in the hopes of avoiding crowds of boats anchored on top of us.  I swear charterers are like moths drawn to the light!  Every boat that came in anchored closely around us!  This was not suppose to happen!  Everything we had read said everybody anchors in the bay right outside of town.  Liars!  It wouldn’t have been so bad except we ended up with two different charter boats very close to us.  One in particular re-anchored 4 different times (every time equally as close) throughout the day and evening…..that inspired a lot of confidence that he wouldn’t drag into us in the middle of the night.  There would be no sleep for me this night.  I literally slept up on deck, popping my head up every hour or so to make sure no one was getting any closer.  Buy a boat they said…..cruising is fun they said…’s so peaceful at anchor they said…HA!  More often than not, it really is peaceful and fun…..but it’s the bad times that really stick with you 😝 The next few nights were much better.  We had a few, very well spaced neighbors and the hordes had filled the main bay as expected.  After a few blissful days, we decided it was time to move again (can I just stay here?). We headed south again to our next chosen destination.  It was packed!  We cruised through at least 8 different anchorages, and every one of them was uncomfortably full of boats (as in reach out and touch your neighbor!). Nope, nope, nope….not gonna do it.  So guess what we did?  Yep, headed straight back to Petriti (2 hours away).  This time I talked Dan into anchoring even farther from the town.  Our old spot once again took on quite a few boats…..but not us!  Score one for team Muzich!  We giggled and marveled when 40 boats crammed into the town bay, all on top of each other.  We, of course, were blissfully secluded with only a couple of boats also anchored a nice distance away.  We enjoyed it here so much that we ended up staying for 9 days!

Pretty fishing boats in Petriti harbor
So many boats at anchor!
We were treated to a dolphin show while eating breakfast
Fantastic stifado at Savvas restaurant

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.  It was time to move again…..NOOOOO!  This was going to be a really long push.  Our goal was to make it to the inland Ionian Sea (about 57 miles away).  We had pre-selected a couple of possible anchorages in case we didn’t feel like doing a full 9-10 hour slog south.  Bet you can’t guess what we found???  Yep, each one we came to was full of boats 🤦‍♀️ Geez, I though we were finally out of peak season.  We did cruise through one bay in order to see the Acheron River where the souls of the dead were thought to descend into the underworld according to Homer’s Odyssey.  Supposedly we could’ve cruised up it a little ways, but once we saw how narrow and choppy the rocky entrance was…..we respectfully declined.  I am hoping to go back and explore it more thoroughly by land once we pull the boat out for the winter.  We finally had the channel markers in sight that would take us into the inland sea.  We also cruised past the marina where Zoe would be spending her winter.  I have never seen so many boats!  They can store 1000 boats on land!  Anyway, as the inland sea opened up before us, the winds had picked up quite a bit and there was a fair amount of chop and swell.  Storm clouds had begun to build off in the distance.  We had chosen a bay that would provide us with good protection from the predicted winds and made our way there.  When we arrived, there were only 2 other boats in the bay, so we found a spot that we were happy with (and well spaced from our neighbors) and dropped the anchor.  Unfortunately, the water here is not the typical crystal blue that we had grown use to….it was more like the murky green of a lake (clean, just not clear).  This would be a case of drop the anchor and pray.  Usually, we swim the anchor to verify it’s dug in and holding well.  Not a chance of seeing it here.

Pretty inland sea
All quiet in the anchorage with full moon rising

As the evening went on, two more boats joined us in the anchorage.  We continued to watch the storm clouds build.  This was not good…..when storms come in, so do big winds….and of course none of this was in any of the forecasts!  Not long after we sat down for dinner, all hell broke loose.  The winds were gusting to 30 knots, 3-4 foot waves came crashing into the bay, and big bolts of lightning rained down.  We were all now pointed in the direction of shore if our anchors let loose.  Every one of us was scrambling on deck securing things, closing hatches, and monitoring our anchor….oh, and of course night had now fallen.  Dan fired up the engines and I ran to the bow to monitor the anchor (my favorite place to be when there is lightning!). Whenever a huge gust would hit, Dan would give a little forward throttle to help ease the pressure on the anchor.  One boat ended up pulling his anchor up and moving to the other side of the bay.  Luckily, the storm blew itself out within about 30-45 minutes.  They say that sailing is 90% pleasure and 10% terror.  I think I’ve had more than my 10% of terror at this point.  The next day, all the boats had bugged out leaving us all alone in the bay.  We kayaked to another bay to check it out for future stays, and depth checked our bay close to the rocks just for peace of mind.  This little bay quickly became another favorite of ours, but after 3 nights it was time to move again.

Not so quiet as this thunderstorm blew through with 30 knot wind gusts!

We headed out of the inland sea and made our way to the swing bridge that opens your access to the Ionian islands.  This swing bridge is well traveled by many cars, so it only opens for boats to pass through on the hour, and the operator is very gruff about getting your butt through as fast as possible.  We arrived at the bridge about 10 minutes before opening and queued up with all the other boats.  As the bridge swung open, we all formed a single file line and blasted through the canal as the operator vigorously waved for oncoming boat traffic to get moving.  As we spilled out of the canal and into the sea, I was taken aback by the number of sailboats I saw.  If this is the decline of the season, I would hate to see what July and August look like here.  No thank you.  I have no plan to sail here in peak season!  Yuck!  As we made our way to several different anchorages, we found them stacked deep with boats.  I am so not ready for this.  I tell Dan in no uncertain terms that I do not want to do this….we need to find a place with less boats.  The conversation continued like this….Dan:  You’re not afraid to park a car between two other cars.  What is your problem?  This is just like parking a car!  Me:  (mouth hanging open and spitting fire) This is most certainly not like parking a car!!!  The wind does not push on the car! There is no current acting on a car!  You cannot possibly be comparing parking a car with backing a boat down in between 2 other boats and taking a line to shore so you don’t swing and hit them!  I’ll spare you the gory details, but our conversation rapidly devolved from there.  Cruising is fun….cruising is fun….cruising is fun!  We were at a loss as to where to go and the day was slipping away.  Fortunately, I remembered an email a new cruising friend had sent me with her tips for this area.  I quickly pulled it up and showed it to Dan.  We decided we would try Vliho bay on the island of Lefkada.  It was supposedly a huge bay with plenty of room for lots of boats.  When we arrived, it was certainly full of LOTS of boats, but there was plenty of room for us.  We chose a spot we were happy with and dropped the anchor.  Once again, we could not see the anchor through the murky green water, but we had read that you hold like glue in here.  We did.  It’s a beautiful bay despite the unpleasant looking water.  The major downside is that you can’t swim here.  Well, you can…..if you’re brave enough.  The bay is teeming with these giant jellyfish.  We’ve seen them before and read that they are not poisonous to humans (supposedly no painful sting), but I have no desire to be swimming around with them.  There are so many of them that you will be touched by them 🤢.  They are the size of a freaking basketball.  Nope….no thanks….that’s a hard pass on the swimming.  Since we were holding so well, we decided to dinghy into the town of Nidri and explore.  We wandered around this great little town that is lined with all kinds of shops and tavernas.  We both were really kind of digging it here.  Maybe we will just live here for the month 🤣 (You know that’s me, right?). 

Ancient venetian fortress protecting Lefkas town and it’s canal
Swing bridge that opens for maybe 10 minutes every hour
Man made canal between Lefkas and the mainland
Lots of boat traffic making it’s way through the canal
“Fried egg” Jellyfish were everywhere! No swimming here!
So many jellyfish! A night view.

After wandering for a bit, we decided to rent a car and go explore the island.  This is the first time we have left the boat on anchor and gone really far away….it was a little bit scary.  Ironically, we were more worried about the dinghy getting stolen than the anchor letting go and our boat ending up on land.  We drove all around the island….up steep winding roads with sheer cliff drop offs, overlooking beautiful crystal bays, and through adorable little villages.  We even stopped at an olive museum to learn some more about the making of olive oil (which of course came with some tastings of their products).  It was one of our nicest days in a long time.  Don’t get me wrong, we have been having a great time, but we have been at anchor for almost 2 weeks now and this was our first big adventure off the boat.  We thoroughly enjoyed it.  So, at the time of this writing, we are still at anchor in this bay.  This will be our third night.  Neither of us is in a hurry to leave.  As a matter of fact, we are thinking of renting a scooter tomorrow and touring some wineries before heading to a beach along one of those crystal clear, turquoise bays we saw.  Stay tuned….our finale is rapidly approaching!

So much olive oil, so little time
Goodbye from the Ionian Sea, for now!!!

Albania or Bust

It was another hot and sunny day on the sea.  Despite leaving Bar, Montenegro with some decent winds, we seemed to struggle finding a sweet spot with the sails.  We started with the mainsail and gennaker up but the wind was somewhat shifty so our progress was rather slow (not what you want when there are 57 miles ahead of you).  We sailed along for about an hour before the winds started to get really gusty.  We were rounding the point where Montenegro and Albania converge, and the wind really took off.  We quickly dropped the gennaker (this sail is only used in light winds), reefed the main (lessened the sail area) and put out our genoa.  It wasn’t too far past the point that we soon discovered that we may have responded a little too quickly.  Just like that, the wind died down to nothing.  Since the sails were up anyway, we opted to motorsail our way down the coast of Albania.  After 8 1/2 hours, we arrived in the port of Durres, Albania.  This is a major shipping port in Albania, so navigating our way through the giant cargo ships and ferries was quite interesting (kind of like a game of real life Frogger).  At one point, we had to hover outside the breakwater while a huge cargo ship lumbered it’s way through the channel entrance.  Talk about feeling like a tiny fish in a huge pond!

We got ourselves tied up to the wall beside a very large, working tug boat.  He was at least twice as long as us and 3-4 times taller.  It definitely made for some interesting nights (he seemed to always have the night shift).  When he fired up his engines, our entire boat reverberated.  The force from his water intake exhaust was about mid-ship on our boat and sent us dancing about on our lines.  Then came his exit….his lights were so bright it made it like daylight on our boat, and as he pulled away from the wall,  we pitched around in 3 foot swells bouncing back from the wall.  The other fun part of our odd new home was the ridiculous angle our gangway was at in order to get onto the wall (the wall sat way above us).  If I thought the last marina in Montenegro was bad…..this took the cake.  We were surrounded by tug boats, tankers, and working cargo ships.  Behind us were walls of stacked containers just waiting to be loaded on boats.  Huge cranes were all around us and semi-trucks zoomed around from place to place.  What had we gotten ourselves into???

Our neighbor across the way was a huge ferry…this commercial port was a first for us.
A big tugboat for a neighbor. Whenever he started his motors our boat shook. Check out the angle on our passerelle!
Believe me the angle on this is a lot worse than it looks….see picture above.
Shade courtesy of huge cranes
It was entertaining watching the shipping come and go
We had a few yacht neighbors during our stay, but only a handful.

We spent our first two nights on the boat exploring the local sights.  The town outside of the port was very nice with lots of activity going on all over the waterfront.  We even encountered a fire dancing show which we stopped to watch for a bit.  Within the town, we saw the remains of an ancient Roman amphitheater and other evidence of past Roman occupation. 

Ruins of the ancient roman Ampitheatre
Strolling the Durres beachfront near the harbor.
Statues from a bygone era
Our first traditional Albanian dinner. $20 for drinks and multiple courses…
Out and about Durres
Former Venetian castle turned into a cafe

We had met a number of new friends on our way to Albania that had told us that the Albanian Alps were a must see.  After spending two days safely tied up, we felt comfortable leaving the boat behind for a couple of days.  We rented a car and made the 5 hour drive into the mountains.  The drive was quite beautiful, and the roads weren’t too terribly bad.  Of course, we did get to points where the road was a very narrow, two lanes with sheer drop offs….my favorite kind of drives 😬 Our biggest obstacles were small herds of cows and goats that occasionally blocked the roadway.  The mountains rose up into jagged peaks cut by deep valley gorges, and the road followed a crystal, clear, rapidly flowing river.  True to our nature (that seems to be our mantra), we had nothing booked ahead of time.  As we drew near the town of Valbone, Dan scrambled to find us a place to stay.  This area is very popular with hikers and backpackers, so there were an abundance of rooms for rent.  Unfortunately, I am not a fan of sharing sleeping quarters or a bathroom with strangers (I know….call me a princess).  Luckily we found a quaint little room overlooking the rushing river.  

Road trip! Deep into the Albanian interior
Rush hour traffic….
View from the inn we chanced on
Sunset from the Inn.
Gotta love the view!

The next day, we headed up to the end of the gorge where we would begin our hike.  We started out following a wide and rocky riverbed to the base of the mountain.  Since it’s been awhile since we’ve been hiking, we opted to do a hike to a waterfall rather than the amazing 6 hour hike (one way) that everyone recommended.  As it is, our hike turned out to be over 6 miles.  The views were awesome, but we were definitely hurting by the time we got back to the car.  That night we explored the riverbank opposite of our room.  There were a few ruins and a small gravesite.  The whole area was very green and peaceful.  That night, I started feeling a bit sick.  Uh oh.

The Albanian alps of Valbona National Park
Backpackers hired horses to carry their bags across the pass
Gorgeous Valbona

The next day, it was time to make our way back to the boat.  As much as we enjoy our inland explorations, we always find ourselves missing our boat.  We decided to take a different route home which would involve taking the car onto a ferry for a 3 hour ride down the fjords.  Although it was very hot and crowded, the views were spectacular.  Once on the other side, we still had a 2 hour drive ahead of us.  That turned out to be an adventure in and of itself.  You basically climb out of the valley on nothing more than a one lane road (but two way traffic) that is sometimes paved and sometimes not.  The paved parts are full of deep potholes, so it is very slow going.  Oh, and throw in some non-stop, hairpin turns and plunging drops to the river below.  Needless to say, we made it back in one piece!  Unfortunately, whatever was ailing me was really beginning to escalate.  I began processing what could be the culprit and soon came to a horrible realization….I have 2 cardinal rules when traveling in foreign countries (and especially countries that are not yet fully developed):  Never drink the tap water (bottled water only) and never eat raw fruits/vegetables that don’t have some sort of rind that you can remove.  Somehow, I managed to break both :(. My only excuse is that I got complacent.  I have been in Europe for 5 months now, and everywhere we have gone has provided bottled water.  Here, we were served up pitchers of fresh, mountain tap water.  What could be wrong with that, right?  Hmmm, remember those free roaming cows and goats I mentioned?  Oh yeah, I made a big mistake.  The next 24 hours were spent curled up in a fetal position in pain and unable to keep anything down.  For the next few days, I pretty much avoided food.  Great way to drop some pounds but not fun!  Being sick on a boat, far from home, really sucks.  You may be asking yourself, how did Dan avoid getting sick?  Dan is like a camel….he consumes very small quantities of water.  After the lengthy hike in the heat, I downed very large quantities of water over the next few hours.  Perhaps beer would’ve been a better choice 🤣

This ferry looked a little sketchy
We were the first ones on. Anxious I guess…
The views were amazing
Koman lake views

Our next stop was an anchorage outside the town of Vlore.  This was a 55 mile sail south.  Once again, we had no wind and had to motor.  As I sat watch, I suggested to Dan that he throw a line out and do some trolling.  He thought we might be going to fast to have any luck.  I told him that we weren’t doing anything else, so what could it hurt.  About 20 minutes later, we had a 16 pound bluefin tuna on the line.  It was a beautiful fish!  Dan had the fun time of killing and filleting it on the deck as we continued our journey (I couldn’t watch).  In the end, our back deck looked like a brutal murder had taken place on board.  Neither of us knew a fish could have so much blood!  We had a couple of fresh tuna meals and then vacuum sealed and froze the rest of the fish.  We spent two nights in the bay just basically killing time.  Our goal was to stage ourselves in such a way as to arrive in Greece on September 1st.  On the 31st, we made our last big push of the season….another 50+ miles….to Sarande.  We had heard a lot of good things about the sights here, but after a long day and a late arrival, we weren’t feeling much like exploring.  When we radioed our arrival, we were told to come stern to on the ferry dock.  The dock was lined with ferries coming in and out and we would be required to med moor (drop our anchor and back down to the wall where our stern lines would then be tied to the quay).  Neither of us liked this idea.  We have only med moored one other time this season, and it wasn’t pretty.  We had no desire to try it again amongst a bunch of large ferries.  So, we headed over to the nearby anchorage and dropped the hook.  When the extremely loud music started booming from the many clubs on shore (all blasting different music), we decided that one night here was all we wanted.  The giant, party gullet that cruised by 5 feet from our boat (with their music blasting) pretty much sealed the deal.  Tomorrow, we head for Greece!

My first real fish! A bluefin tuna….
Could not resist some fresh sashimi
Tuna steaks ready for searing

In the end, we did not experience as much of Albania as we would’ve liked…..but we also found ourselves ready to be done with the transit south.  It was time to get settled into Greece for our final 6 weeks of the cruising season.  Before long, it will be time to head home.  We are definitely ready to go home, but I also know that we will be longing to return to Zoe within a few weeks.

Bye Bye Montenegro

It was finally time to bite the bullet and get our butts out of the marina once and for all.  When you find yourself in a really nice marina, it’s very easy to grow barnacles.  After all, who doesn’t want to be safe and snug in their home?  Besides, our purchased time in Montenegro was quickly coming to an end (yes, sailors have to buy a cruising permit which allows you to stay a certain period of time….a month in our case).  So, we cast lines and said a sad farewell to Marina Lazure and made our way down the coast to a town called Bigova.  

Marina Lazure – a very nice place to dock our boat for a few days.
Montenegro views as we head south
Moonrise over the anchorage

We decided that we would ease ourselves back into the anchoring scene by taking a mooring ball for our first night.  These are a rare find in Montenegro, and since they were put in by the local restaurant, it required us to eat dinner at their establishment.  Given that I cook almost every night on board, who was I to complain about a night out for dinner?  The tender driver for the restaurant greeted us as we entered the bay, and ushered us to a great spot in the bay.  Once we were settled in, it was time for some swimming.  The water was crystal clear and very refreshing after several hours in the blazing sun.  Before long, a lovely couple from the UK swam over to our boat to introduce themselves (we fly a Cruising Association and a Women Who Sail the Med burgee which identifies us to other members of these two groups).  Since we were both headed in the direction the other one had just come from, we decided to get together on board for drinks and swap information.  We had such a good time together, we ended up spending the rest of the evening and dinner together swapping tips and stories.

The restaurant sends out a boat to pick you up for dinner
Sunset over Bigova Bay

Unfortunately the restaurant food was average, the wait staff was kind of surly, and it was kind of expensive (remember you have to eat there to stay on their mooring ball), so we headed to the other side of the bay to finally try our luck at anchoring.  We spent the next two nights anchored here pretty much all alone.  We dug in well and felt pretty good since we had no one around us, and if we broke free we would blow out to sea rather than onto shore (both dangers that were in play during our anchoring disaster).  Despite all this, I struggled to sleep (plus it was stifling hot down below).  In the end, we ended up sleeping up on the trampoline.  The downside of this…..yacht week (18 boats loaded up with 18-23 year olds) had tied up in front of a beach club about 1/4 mile from us.  This meant the beach club blasted loud, thumping music until 4 a.m. (I think I am getting use to this no sleep thing).  On the plus side of all this, we were awake to watch the meteor shower, and it did not disappoint.

Yacht week craziness. There are 18 boats rafted up and ready for a party!

After two nights at anchor (and some gusty winds forecasted to come in), we decided to slide on over to the mooring balls outside of the beach club.  We had no idea if there was a charge, who they belonged to, or if you had to eat at the restaurant.  We figured it was probably the typical set up where you had to eat at the restaurant.  Since we moved over as soon as we were up, we had our pick of the balls.  We selected one of the outermost balls (furthest from the beach and club scene).  We were definitely in our happy place and spent hours in the water.  Our plan was to go in for dinner, but as darkness descended and no one came calling, we ate on board.  The next day we felt a little guilty about our free night on the ball, so we made a reservation to go in for dinner.  When the tender driver blew by us almost a half hour late, we had to flag him down (I’m not sure they would’ve missed us if we would’ve just let him go).  It turned out that we were the ONLY ones in the restaurant!  We did end up at an amazing table with an awesome waiter.  We took his recommendation for the lobster pasta (we had read rave reviews for this dish) which was the most expensive dish on the menu (I told you we felt guilty about our free night).  The meal was fantastic!  Since there were still open balls the next day, we decided to stay a third night (I told you we really loved the place), but we would only get a drink and appetizer (gotta mind the budget you know).  Once again, no one came by……so, once again…..we ate on board.  Maybe they let us slide given the price of the dinner we ordered, or maybe they didn’t care that we were squatting on their ball since it wasn’t keeping anyone else from coming in to the restaurant.  

Lobster dinner? Why yes please!

As much as we loved this spot, it was time to get moving down the coast.  Our next stop would require us to anchor yet again, and I wanted to get there before the crowds in order to secure ourselves in the best location.  We arrived at the beautiful island of Sveti Stefan.  This was a former village at one time which was later bought out and turned into a luxury resort.  By luxury, I mean LUXURY!  Each villa goes for $1600 euro per night!  Several times a day, we watched this beautiful, gold helicopter buzz in and out dropping off and picking up guests.  Anyway, we anchored behind this lovely little reef on the outskirts of the island.  In front of us was the rocky reef and behind us was the beach….uh yeah, there would be no sleeping tonight!  Despite swimming our anchor multiple times, putting out some extra chain, and backing down hard on it, I did not sleep well for the next two nights.  Every time the wind kicked up, I played a game of whack-a-mole…..head popped up, then back down….all night long.  Are we closer to shore?  I think we are closer to shore.  No, we are right where we are suppose to be.  Ughhh…when is the sun coming up?  Oh, I forgot to mention that the beach that lay behind us only 500 feet away was filled with nudists by day… about a disturbing view 😝

The island of Sveti Stefan
Drone shot of the Sveti Stefan
We had to pick our anchor spot carefully….lots of rocks and weeds to snag the anchor.
Very pretty spot to anchor for a few days

We were rapidly coming to the end of our Montenegrin journey.  Our next stop was the town of Bar.  This is where we would check out of Montenegro before heading on to Albania.  We arrived at the marina which was quite dumpy looking.  This was quite a shock after the beautiful, luxury marinas up in the Bay of Kotor.  The worst part was this one was almost twice the price!  In almost all the marinas that we have been to, you back down to the wall and pull up lines from the sea floor to tie up the bow of your boat.  You then throw the dock hand your back lines which they tie to the dock and pass back to you.  In this marina, they had us tie up side to which means you pull up with the wall along the side of your boat and tie off to the dock.  We loaded up on fenders since the dock was nothing more than crumbling concrete and rebar.  This was a tough one because you have to climb off over the side of the boat.  Our sides are quite high which meant some odd looking acrobatic moves on my part, and one ass baring (ok, undie baring) pair of shorts after they split from top to bottom.  We felt pretty good about the set up.  We had a boat in front of us and wide open space behind us so departing the dock would be super easy! Ha!  You know by now, the story never ends that easily…..but I will come back to that.

Boat munching docks….we moved every fender we had to be ready!

We had planned to spend a couple days here, so we booked a boat tour on this incredible lake that spans both Montenegro and Albania.  We hopped in a cab to the train station and took the train to the town of Virpazar (about 30 minutes away).  We had been warned that to try and drive it would take over 2 hours because traffic was so horrendous.  Our tour operator met us at the train station and took us to our boat.  The lake is now a National Park in order to protect it and it’s inhabitants.  One part of the lake is a breeding ground for pelicans, but we did not get to see any.  There are a number of monasteries around the lake, a castle, and some fjords.  Our captain took us through the channels in the lake through a myriad of lily pads and blooms.  The yellow blooms are male, and the beautiful white ones are female.  The female flowers bloom once a day, opening with the sun, and dying below the water as the sun sets.  There are also fields of bamboo throughout the lake, and many species of birds.  We cruised up the fjord which ended in a quaint little village.  The tour took 5 1/2 hours, and we were pretty beat up at the end from being in the blazing sun all day long.  As we made our way back to the boat, we ended up getting off the train a little too early (they don’t announce any of the stops!) which meant a 4 mile walk back to the boat.  Yep…hot, sticky, worn out mess.

Train inland to Virpazar
Lily pads everywhere!
Heading out from Virpazar
Our boat and guide for the lake tour
Pretty flower for a pretty lady!
Ancient bridge over the river

On our last day, we rented a car to explore some local sights and re-provision before heading to Albania.  Driving in Montenegro is quite interesting.  For example, there is a 4 way busy intersection with no signage!  Everybody just muscles through and makes their way across…..definitely not for the faint of heart.  Our fist stop was to the oldest olive tree.  This tree is over 2000 years old, and you get to pay to go look at it….haha.  We did.  It was pretty cool looking with it’s giant, gnarled trunk rising out of the ground.  The surrounding olive trees didn’t look too much younger given their slightly smaller trunks.  From there we headed up the mountain to the old city of Bar.  True to form, we arrived here in the heat of the day.  After all, there is no better time to be climbing hills, clamoring over toppled stone blocks, and climbing steps to highest points 🤦‍♀️ Nope, we never learn!  Oh, and I have neglected to mention that every day, for weeks now, we have been under an extreme heat advisory.  Yeah, good times! Stari Bar is a cobblestone road lined with quaint little restaurants and shops rising up the mountain.  At the end, you arrive at an ancient Roman fortress surrounded by the remains of an ancient Roman town.  The views from the top of the fortress were quite spectacular, and it is easy to see why this was built as their stronghold.  

World’s oldest olive tree!
Over 2000 years old! (How do they know?)
Wandering the markets of Stari Bar
Old city walls
Stari Bar is perched high above the surrounding areas – perfect place for a fortified keep
Earthquakes have done damage to Stari Bar over the years
Ancient fresco amongst the ruins

When we arrived back to our boat, we discovered that we now had a new neighbor at our stern.  See, I told you nothing was simple.  We were now officially parallel parked with our boat.  One boat in front of us and one boat, very close, behind us.  I now had a new thing to fret about all night.  How on earth were we going to extricate ourself sideways???  As we always do, we talked through our ideas and came up with our plan of action.  Wouldn’t you know, that night a Bura (strong NE wind) came in.  Are you kidding me?  I said I wanted to build my skills and confidence this year, but come on.  The next morning, we still had 15 knot winds blowing.  We needed to leave the marina, motor out and around the bend to the customs dock, get tied up and do the formalities of checking out of Montenegro.  We made a couple of little tweaks to our departure plan, and the wind that I was so freaked out about, blew us easily off the dock while Dan pivoted our stern out.  We sure made that look easy! Thanks for the help wind 🙂  Now it was time to tie up to the customs dock.  This would also be side to, but there would be no help with the lines on the dock.  As Dan carefully navigated us up to the concrete wall (remember we still have a lot of wind to deal with), I lasso’d our front line to a bollard and got us tied off.  I then ran to the back to grab the back line and jumped off the side of the boat to tie off our back end.  That went really well also!  What was I losing sleep over???  Because that’s what I do 🙁

All alone on the customs dock
When leaving a country, it’s customary to fly a yellow flag (a quarantine flag) indicating you are in between countries.

Everything went amazingly well, and we were on our way by 8 a.m.  It would be a 57 mile cruise to get to our first port of call in Durrës, Albania (our longest cruise yet).  We hope you will stay with us as we explore the wonders of Albania.

An Inland Adventure to Bosnia

After spending a large chunk of time on board, we decided it was time to get off the boat for a few days and explore some inland sights.  We had met several new friends here in Montenegro who highly recommended a visit to the city of Mostar in Bosnia (about a 3 hour drive away).  We rented a car, and by late morning we were on our way out of Montenegro.  This was now our 6th country to visit since arriving in Europe in early April.  

Road trip!
Three border signs within 5 minutes of driving. The Balkans are complicated.

The drive inland takes you way up into the mountains of Bosnia on a simple, two lane roadway.  After a period of time, you start making your way down into this amazing, fertile valley cut through by a beautiful, teal colored river.  Towns at this point have been very few and far between and cell service even less (definitely not a great place to run into car problems).  Before we knew it, we had arrived in Mostar.  It was blazing hot and packed with tourists (par for the course at this point).  I think we’ve come to the conclusion that we might need to go to the Arctic for the month of August….that shouldn’t be crowded or hot, right?

So, what is significant about Mostar?  Mostar is a crossroads of where East meets West.  Bosnia is as far as the Ottoman Empire pushed into Europe.  Mostar is renowned for some of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans.  It is also one of the epicenters of the Balkan conflict in the 90’s.  This is the first place in Europe (that we have seen) where the landscape is not only dotted with Christian churches but also Islamic mosques and minarets.  The streets overflowed with tourists dressed in the traditional summer attire of western cultures and full on head to toe burkas (only the eyes were visible) of some Islamic cultures.  It is also the only place in Europe I have heard the call to prayer by the many minarets.  It was definitely a fascinating confluence of cultures all in one place.

Beautiful Neretva river in Bosnia-Herzegovina

We spent a little time wandering the streets once we arrived in order to get our bearings and make our plan for a full day of exploration the next day.  The city itself blankets both sides of that beautiful river I mentioned earlier.  In the heart of town, spanning the river, is Stari Most (Old Bridge).  This bridge was destroyed during the war, but rebuilt to it’s original glory.  The bridge is very picturesque and popular.  At the highest point, it is an 80 foot plunge into the cold, swift moving water below.  I mention this because this bridge is famous for it’s “cliff divers” (obviously it is not a cliff, and they do not dive….they jump).  This draws quite the cheering crowd to watch them leap off this very high bridge (my heart stops and my palms get sweaty just watching these guys).  People have died attempting this.  The local divers prance around the bridge in their speedos, collecting money from the tourists.  Once they deem that they have collected enough, they jump.  If you’re really nuts (I try to think that I am not!), you can actually PAY to do this.  There is some coaching involved to guide you in your technique so you don’t kill yourself 😬🙄

Crazy jumper will dive for euros….

The following day, we got an early start and headed out exploring.  The city itself is very picturesque.  You would never know that this place was once ravaged by war….until you take a closer, deeper look.  While they have rebuilt the heart of the city in spectacular fashion, deeper down the alleys and on the outskirts you can still see the bullet and mortar shells pocking the structures.  Some of the buildings outside the center are nothing more than skeletal ruins from being blown apart.  From there, we headed to the genocide museum.  We choose to visit these types of places wherever we go in order to learn more about the history of the countries we visit.  Needless to say, we always walk away feeling sad and empty inside that humans can do these kinds of things to one another.  This one perplexed me even more so given that history’s most notorious genocide happened in Europe only 50 years prior!  As a person who loves traveling the world and learning about other cultures and ways of life, it breaks my heart that humanity cannot get to a place of live and let live.

View from the top of the minaret on the river. Claustrophobic climb up the turret!
Made it!
Walk back in time…
Across the ancient bridge
Bullet marked homes as a reminder of a troubled recent past
Most of the town has been rebuilt but there are still ruins from the 90’s war
Bosnia Genocide museum in Mostar
Chilling photos from Srebrenica
Dioramas of concentration camps

We spent one more day wandering the streets of Mostar and enjoyed some wonderfully authentic Bosnian dishes, but it was time to make our way back to the boat and start making our way south.  As we made our way out of town, we made a couple of other stops to see some sights.  The first place we stopped was an old airplane bunker built into the mountainside.  Tito had built this to hide his planes during the Cold War.  Unfortunately, it appeared as though the locals have turned it into their dumping grounds as the roadway into the tunnels were littered with piles of trash and discarded furniture.  Dan walked as far in as he could see, but without a flashlight, he could not go all the way in.  No way in hell was I going inside this pitch black tunnel that looked like the perfect set for a horror movie kill scene!  As we made our way back to the car, I caught sight of this giant mop of fur laying on one of the trash heaps.  The closer I got, I noticed legs….pretty sure it was a very large dog.  Needless to say, I ran back to the car.  Gross! 

Cold war bunkers for the Yugoslav air force
That’s as far as we were willing to go!

Driving in a foreign country is always an adventure in and of itself.  This trip was no exception.  Google maps is our lifeline for finding our way around.  Unfortunately, google maps is not always right.  Several times we were sent down roads that we were pretty sure were not roads.  We were mapped down one way roads, going the wrong way.  And my all time favorite….being guided to cross a foot bridge in the car as a means to cross the river.  When we finally managed to find our own way across the river, we continued on our journey to our next stop.  Once again, this was a highly frequented tourist attraction, so it was a zoo!  This was a Dervish house in Blagaj.  Despite the huge crowds, this beautiful place sits on the river beneath huge cliffs.  It is surrounded by tranquil gardens along with many riverside restaurants to cater to the tourists.  This place existed in the mid 17th century and was renovated in the mid 19th century.  It is quite a sight to see.

Beautiful setting…
Cave tours bye hand towed dinghy
Dervish house from Ottoman times

Needless to say, this was just a very tiny glimpse into a piece of Bosnia, a former part of what was Yugoslavia.  Once we are back on board, we will continue our journey down the coast of Montenegro with some new sights and adventures!

Fortress overlooking the valley

Welcome to Montenegro!

After 3 months of enjoying the beauty of Croatia, it was time to get moving.  If you’ve been following our blog, then you are fully aware that our departure from Croatia came with a great deal of trauma, stress, and a major lack of sleep.  Upon clearing customs, the expectation is that you leave Croatia immediately and by the most expeditious route.  The little bit of wind that we had was right on our nose which meant motoring down the last little bit of Croatian coastline before rounding the corner into the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro.

The first sight that greets you is an ancient fortress that once guarded the entrance to the Bay of Kotor.  Some of it appears to be in the process of being restored and proudly flies the Croatian flag….it is literally the end of the Croatian coastline.  Our first stop was the customs dock to take care of formalities.  While this was much, much easier than the customs dock in Croatia (very large pier where you tie up side to and only one other boat present), we were still grateful for the extra set of hands that came with our friends.  Tying up is always so much easier when you have the extra help (special thanks to Tim and Aline).  Once the formalities were taken care of, we headed off in search of the marina that Dan had found.  It was a brand new marina and resort that was not yet officially open (and was still under construction).  This meant super cheap rates for us!  The marineros all came out to assist us in getting tied up.  The marina was absolutely stunning, and we were one of about 6 boats in a home that could house several hundred.  It was a quiet, peaceful bliss that we really needed after our stressful departure from Croatia.  Today would be a day of rest and relaxation for all of us, and the exploration of Montenegro would begin tomorrow.

The southernmost tip of Croatia and a fortress protecting the entrance to the Bay of Kotor
Customs dock in Zelenika, Montenegro- our first stop in the country
Zoe all alone in newly opened Portonovi Marina.
Portonovi Marina beach club….we were not roughing it!

The next evening, we grabbed a cab and headed for the old city of Herceg Novi.  We are definitely in the height of peak season.  Traffic and crowds are overwhelming.  Despite the heat and the crowds, we climbed up to the tower walls to take in the views.  We wandered the ancient cobblestone streets immersing ourselves in the ancient history that surrounded us.  We took a break for a fabulous dinner on a tree lined terrace, underneath the towering fortress walls.  We returned to the boat and called it a night earlier than usual in preparation for a big day exploring the city of Kotor, deep inside the bay.

Herceg Novi church in the Old City walls
Cannon eye view of the Bay of Kotor from Herceg Novi’s battlements.
Patron Saint looking over the harbor

The following day, we had a later start than planned since our rental car did not get delivered until 10:00.  We had hoped to get an earlier start since it was now extremely warm this time of year, and the old stone fortresses did not offer much reprieve from the heat.  Driving in this part of Montenegro is fairly simple (from the perspective of getting lost).  There is one main road, two lanes only.  Unfortunately, it was not designed to see the amount of tourist traffic that arrives in late summer.  The drive was quite long, and the ability to pull over and take in the sights along the way was practically non-existent with the number of visitors everywhere we went.  Even the car ferry was not equipped for these kinds of traffic loads since the loading areas overfilled and backed up onto the main roadway for miles.  Occasionally you would see a frustrated local pull into the oncoming lane of traffic to try and zoom ahead of the stand-still we were stuck in.  No way were we attempting that bit of fun!  When we finally arrived in the old city, we had to park on the outskirts and walk back into town.  The fortress walls were incredible to see and walking around the fortification was quite amazing.  There was also a non-stop parade of large cruise ships that come in, so you can imagine the insane amount of people wandering around the city.  After spending a few hours within the walled fortress, we decided to drive up the mountain to an observation point that overlooked the entire bay of Kotor and looked down on the fortress.

We made our way out of town, and started our ascent up the mountain.  Before we go too far, let me set the stage for you on this little adventure!  Come on, I know you’ve been hoping for a little bit of drama and excitement….and we always aim to please 🙂  Imagine a roadway that is no more than 1 1/2 car lengths wide (sometimes less).  Imagine that road filled with 35+ hairpin turns.  Let’s not forget that this narrow, little road is built for two way traffic.  At this point, you might be saying “big deal….so it’s a little narrow.”  Now picture those giant, private, shuttle buses on the very same road.  So up we go, winding through tight turns and sheer drop offs, side mirrors nearly kissing oncoming traffic (and there is a lot of oncoming traffic).  Then comes a bus (or two or three).  This usually requires all oncoming traffic to back up to some scarce little squeeze out spot so that the bus can scrape by you.  As you can imagine, there was a lot of squeaking and squealing from my side of the car as we backed down (or up, depending on which direction we were coming) and off into the brush to give the buses room.  I think I hit my workout goal on my Apple Watch based on my heart rate alone.  I will say, the views were spectacular, but the drive surely left me with a bunch more gray hairs.  Anyway, we made it up and back in one piece with some stories to tell.

Kotor and it’s amazing old city walls.
It was magical wandering the old cobble stoned streets
Robyn and Tim…
View of Kotor and the non stop cruise ships from the vantage point high in the mountains over the city.

The following day it was time for our friends to say good-bye and make their way home.  Dan and I set about figuring out our next steps.  A very big storm was forecasted for tonight, so we made sure the boat was secure on her lines.  As forecasted (for once), the storm came in with a fury.  There were strong wind gusts, pouring rain, thunder, and lightning.  Once again, we were grateful to be safely tucked in the marina to ride it out.  As it was, it was much shorter lived than the fun we had out on anchor in Croatia.  We spent a few more days in this beautiful, luxury marina and then decided to head to another fairly new marina with even cheaper prices.  We had heard good things about this marina and were excited about the fact that it was within walking distance to the old town of Herceg Novi.  So we said farewell to Marina Portonovi and did a quick ride up into the Bay of Kotor before heading back down toward the entrance of the bay and Marina Lazure.  This of course came with it’s own bit of fun.  By now, the winds had really picked up (which makes for a really fun time docking).  This marina was quite a bit smaller than the one we had come from and quite a bit fuller.  As we started down the fairway, the marinero signaled us to come down a specific finger.  It was incredibly narrow, so Dan shouted out to him asking if he was sure it was wide enough for us.  He just waved us down again.  As we slowly made our way down, fighting the crosswind, our rudder snagged a boat with lazy lines that rose ridiculously high on the surface of the water.  Luckily, I was watching it as it happened, and Dan was able to quickly reverse us and pop us free.  Next came the fun of pulling into our spot.  We had plenty of room between the two boats we were going between, but our marinero did not seem to know what he was doing.  The first line he handed me to run to the front of the boat was tied to boat beside us!  What the hell!  He quickly scrambled to pull up a line on the opposite of our boat which meant I had to drop everything and run to the other side.  In the meantime, Dan has left the helm station to help with back lines and I’m yelling to him to stay at the helm because we have no lines tied to the boat at this point.  We finally get one side secured and move back to the original side we started on.  The marinero now hands me a line that has been severed so it is no longer attached to the lazy line on the sea floor.  The next one he grabs is right under our rudder and prop!  Seriously?!?!  He finally gets his act together and takes the extra line off of our neighbor (the one he tried to give me originally while it was still attached) and hands it to me to tie off the other side of our bow.  We were finally safely tied up in our new spot.

Big storms bring big rainbows…
Onwards to the next marina – Lazure Marina which was also newly opened.

At this point, we are pretty much just trying to burn off the month of August.  It is the hottest month in this part of the world along with the absolute busiest month for tourism.  The high temperatures and crowds quickly overwhelm my spirit of adventure, and I find myself longing for those quiet little anchorages that can only be found in the earlier part of the season.  Our stay here has reset the tax clock on our boat, and reset our visa time in both the EU and Croatia.  In the next few days, we will continue our exploration along the coast of Montenegro and then make our way down to Albania.  Our cruising season is rapidly coming to a close, and by September we will arrive in Greece.  Our hope is that some of the summer tourism traffic will have died off as people go back to work and school.  

Goodbye from Montenegro!

The Twelve Hour Nightmare From Hell

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… 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.

Bucket list moment sailing past the Ancient walls of Dubrovnik
One of the best maintained walls from the ancient world in existence

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. 

Sunset over the Croatian archipelago from the Cavtat anchorage. Looks calm right?
25 knot gust….oh how we missed those as we were blasted with 40 knots plus a few hours later

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).

Cavtat – southernmost port in Croatia. And the jumping off point for Montenegro
Customs Quarantine dock -AKA “Q- dock”

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.

Free To Chase Sunsets Once Again!

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!

This is one heck on an electrical upgrade! But it unlocks unlimited off the grid living…
Our electrician hard at work…
Installing solar panels on a custom stainless steel arch
Cutting a larger hole for our new induction stove
Much better!

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.

Happy hour with our translators…

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.

Sacrificial saildrive anodes that protect expensive underwater parts.

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.

Brbinj, island of Dugi Otok
Dan at the wheel in his happy place
Flying our big Gennaker and enjoying the winds in the right direction for a change

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!

Sunset over Primosten, Croatia

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 🙂

Slow cooked octopus peka. Yummy!
Dinner with a fabulous view. Our moored boat is over Robyns shoulder in the distance
Boats racked and stacked and waiting for dinner!
Cliffside views right from the back of our boat
Zoe moored for the night in our favorite spot

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 🙂

Land ho!

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 🙁

Back through the narrows to the ancient city of Pula.
Zoe in her berth. We are pretty much the only catamaran here and stick out!

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.

Wonderful Ljubljana
My best “be a dragon” pose. Needs work.
The dragon bridge. They like dragons here….
Ljubljana castle high over the city.

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.

Our “boat-tel” on the Danube
Our room on the former river cruise boat
Can’t beat the view from the room!

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 🙂

Fairy tale land
Fisherman’s Bastion
Chain bridge
The Hungarian Parliament building. Quite an impressive sight.
Guards circling a flagpole over and over and over…
A picture with the Gipper….his role in ending the Cold War is appreciated here.
Controversial memorial to the Nazi takeover of Hungary

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.

Danube river cruise, champagne in hand
Budapest Castle
So many sights along the Danube in Budapest.

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!  

Too bad these weren’t the solar panels we were looking for…

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!

It’s finally here! This entire pallet is for us… Big electrical system upgrade coming up….
But first, we needed solar panels. This is our installer pulling a monkey move 8 feet over the water.
1300 Watts of solar panel goodness. Should be enough to cover our daily electrical needs at anchor
Nighttime view from the boat of the ancient Roman Ampitheatre

Trapped in the Northern Adriatic!

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.

Famous bell towers of Rab.
View of a Franciscan monastery from our anchored boat

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.

Seaside promenade on way to old town of Rab
It was great wandering the ancient cobble stone streets
The waters of Croatia are amazingly clear

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.

Drone shot I took of our pontoon home. The dock is not in any guide books yet so isn’t heavily trafficked….yet
All lit up and hoping for some fish to bite. No such luck.
Lazy days are made for hammocks…
Robyn knows how to put out a spread!

  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.

Narrow channel entrance to harbor.
Zoe is in parking spot right on the downtown promenade
Celebratory end of passage dinner…
Ancient roman coliseum view from our boat

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!