My First Solo Trip in a Foreign Country

I have been an airline brat my entire life.  Growing up my dad was a pilot, so our family traveled quite a bit.  I have always been fascinated by different places, cultures, and ways of life.  So no great surprise when my soul mate walked into my life and also worked for an airline.  We traveled extensively (thanks to me no longer being a stubborn teenager who never wanted to leave friends or boyfriends…dumbass!)  The key was we always traveled together, and Dan handled everything!  I just got to show up and enjoy!  No stress or scary stuff for me…I could always trust that Dan had everything under control.

I like to think I’m pretty independent and adventuresome in my own right, so when we decided we were ready to redo Dan’s ancestral home, I was no longer working and so the natural choice was for me to go to Croatia and oversee the work.  I would also be tasked with getting our new (to us) boat set up and ready for adventures.  Sounded pretty good….I could handle this, right?  As planned, my wonderful husband made all the arrangements which would include accompanying me to Croatia and spending a week getting me squared away.  “You can drive a manual, right?” He asks.  “Ummm….I guess.  My first car was a manual, but I really haven’t driven one in probably 25 years.”  I figure it’s no problem….kinda like riding a bike, right?  Except, I have NEVER driven in a foreign country (never mind an island that has steep cliff drop offs and crazy winding roads that in America are considered one lane, not two).  Okay, feeling a little queasy from the stress, but I got this….right?  Oh, I forgot to mention the ferry that I have to drive the car onto and get myself off of like something out of the starting line up of a NASCAR race.

On your mark….get set…GOOO!

Prior to leaving for this trip, we loaded up 6 large duffles with clothes, kitchen items, and boat things we have acquired over the years (careful to ensure that no bag is over 50 pounds).  We also pack up 3 large boxes with more household goods and things to furnish our boat (shopping is immensely easier in America).  We Fedex’d the boxes 2 weeks before our departure to a receiving facility in Trieste, Italy (Croatia did not have this available and would’ve charged a 25% tax on whatever we brought in).  We figured everything would arrive while Dan was still here so that we could drive together and pick up the 3 fifty pound boxes.  Can you guess where this is going?

My back hurts looking at this picture     

Dan and I scrambled, fast and furious, to try and accomplish as much as possible before he had to leave me to return to work.  Keep in mind, we now own a boat that is wired for 220v which means none of our household appliances would work on the boat.  Finding the creature comforts I am use to in America meant trips to a ridiculous number of stores (and odd looks when they had no clue what I was looking for).  For example, I was looking for new bedding.  They do not understand “queen” sized.  Sheets and blankets are labeled by size in centimeters!  I am out shopping armed with the knowledge that I have a queen sized bed, I don’t even know where to begin with sizes in centimeters!  And, they do not do top sheets here.  It is a bottom sheet with a duvet on top.  Needless to say, I brought sheets from the US 🙂 While we did get an incredible amount accomplished, it was not everything 🙁

As I said goodbye to my husband for my 1 month solo run, I naturally (for me) felt a little apprehensive (okay, a lot apprehensive) and very lonely.  Although I didn’t know anyone or have anyone to talk to, everyone was very friendly and helpful to the crazy American who could only speak English.  

We got notice that two of our 3 boxes had arrived in Trieste which meant  I had to drive alone to Trieste.  It’s a 30 minute drive to the ferry, a half hour ferry ride, followed by a 2 hour drive to Trieste, crossing 2 borders.  Uh yeah, I’m a little freaked out!  I find my ferry time, work backwards with my time, and begin my journey.  I decide to spend the night in Trieste in the hopes that the 3rd box will arrive the next day, and I don’t have to make this drive again.

I’m ready for my big adventure!  I head out making my way to the ferry.  What follows is a recap of an earlier Facebook post about the scariest drive of my life:

“It’s been a wild 26 hours!  Went to the ferry at the farther end of the island.  This requires driving a narrow road that winds along the top of the island and without a guardrail between you and a 1000 foot plunge to the sea.  Normally not a huge deal, but yesterday the island was engulfed in fog.  I could not see more than 2 feet in front of my car.  I watched the white line like it was a life line and drove 12 mph, praying anyone else driving was being as cautious.  You are probably wondering, as any seasoned driver would, why didn’t you pull off the road and wait?  Well, here is a Croatian fun fact….there is no such thing as a shoulder here on the island.  Rarely you might find a tiny pull out barely big enough to fit a very small car (and remember, I can’t see what lies beyond that white line).  Then I hit the old road, no more white line, so I watched the dirt edge.  Eventually I came upon some large flashing lights and discovered a cement truck stopped in the road.  I stopped behind him and waited.  After a bit, I decided to get out and see if he spoke enough English to tell me whether to go around him or stay put.  At that point I see head lights emerge and someone starts yelling in German.  I understood 1 word (trajekt), but it was the word I needed.  Ferry traffic was coming up the hill so stay put!  Once clear, the truck began moving again.  I was completely content to sit behind him (safe barrier, right?). He pulls aside and waves me to pass…noooo 😞

Whew, survived that ordeal.  The drive through Slovenia and Italy was painless and beautiful.  And then I hit Trieste…ack.  Total chaos and me trying to find the place that has our shipped boxes and close parking since each box weighs 50 pounds.  I think I may have pissed off some of the Italians with my driving. Ordeal complete…yeah me.  Off to find the Airbnb Dan booked for me in this little hillside town.  Perfect.  Out of the city and off the beaten path.  I wind through tiny little one way streets and dead ends (which you don’t know ahead of time) and have to back down them.  After repeated, failed attempts the owner walks to a corner I am now very familiar with and guides me in.  I think I will stay a few days since we are waiting for one more box to clear customs.  Nope, could take 3 or more days to clear before being delivered to Trieste.  So back to the island I go.  And I have several days to fret over making the drive into Trieste once again 😥”

So needless to say, I had to make one more trip to Trieste.  This time, no fog, I knew exactly where I was going, and I left early enough to miss the chaos of lunch hour traffic.  Yeah me!

Well, I survived my solo month and actually learned to enjoy it.  The winter storms on the boat kept things interesting (including preventing me from sleeping) but in the end, she looks great and very livable.  Our next few trips out here brought more bags as we shuttled goods, so I am looking forward to the day that I am no longer unpacking stuff!

Story of buying Zoe Part 2

After Zoe’s successful haul out, papers were signed and she was quickly returned to her berth.  Our new friend, Oliver (Zoe’s owner) broke out a wonderful bottle of Champagne, and we toasted our deal.  It was a quick celebration as Dan and I needed to hustle back to the airport (about an hour away) to catch our flight to Madrid.

We landed in Madrid with plenty of time to catch our connection back to the US.  As we sat in the lounge, the shock of the whirlwind weekend began to wear off only to be replaced by the overwhelming feeling of the many hurdles we needed to navigate our way through in a ridiculously short period of time.  As we discussed the many things that we needed to do to ensure this deal went through, snow had begun to fall.  I can’t say I have ever seen or heard of it snowing in Madrid.  The longer we sat there, the flakes became very large and began to fall at a much more rapid pace.

The time came, and we headed to our gate and boarded our flight.  I’ve never seen anything like this in this part of Europe….the window on the plane had begun to accumulate snow!  No problem……everything appears to be under control.  The plane door closes, and we begin our taxi.  We are a bit behind schedule…but hey, that’s the nature of the beast.  As we sit on the tarmac waiting for our turn to take off, the captain comes on to inform us we have been put into a weather hold and needed to be de-iced.  We sat waiting for our turn to be de-iced, and the snowstorm continued.  Four hours later, we are informed that they have run out of de-icing fluid, and we have to return to the gate.  Uh oh!  Our tight timeline has just gotten a little tighter!  We are all told to deplane, and our flight cancels….noooooo!

We scramble to find a hotel and attempt to regroup.  The next day all is good, and we make our way home.  At this point, by the time we land, Dan and I are racing to get to the bank before they close so that we can wire the money to finalize this transaction within the time it needs to be done.  As you will recall, this deal needed to close in an unheard of period of time.

Now mind you, we are 8 hours behind where all this is happening.  This becomes a huge complication in communications and ensuring everything is running according to schedule.  Our first major complication hits when the Coast Guard did not accurately translate that the owner was using his sister’s address as a point of contact.  They insisted that she was also an owner in the boat and that she needed to relinquish ownership via notary.  Our owner is in Tunisia, his sister is in France and not readily available to sign away ownership that she doesn’t actually have.  After both sides scrambling, and a great deal of stress and emotional upheaval, we acquire paperwork that is acceptable to the Coast Guard.  Hurdle number one, overcome.

Our next HUGE hurdle, was simultaneously transferring title and bill of sale at the same time as the money.  This means, we have released our funds strictly on pictures of seeing the official title and bill of sale express mailed to the title agency.  Yikes!  There was no time for anything other than a leap of faith.  We had spent many hours with Oliver and had a very good feeling about our relationship with him.  I think he struggled greatly to understand our American nature of distrust in unfamiliar territory.  Our greatest fear was receiving an empty envelope, but we had to maintain our faith in human nature.  We were not disappointed!

Then began the waiting game of getting Coast Guard documented after being a foreign flagged boat.  Remember, our baby is still in Tunisia (complete with travel advisories).  We wanted her out and out quick.  It took weeks for the Coast Guard to process title paperwork so that Zoe could be released and sailed into international waters.  Paperwork finally cleared….whew!  Now to get her moved.

We hired an Italian crew, from a UK company, who headed to Tunisia to pick up our girl and safely (hopefully) deliver her to a marina in Croatia 20 minutes from Dan’s ancestral home.  The great part was that we could watch her progress through a maritime app and track her route.  The downside was we were able to see whenever weather was foul and seas were wicked, which was often during this time of year, which forced them to pull into port, slowing progress.  Just outside of her arrival point, she stopped transmitting…..seriously???  It would be another 3 weeks before we were able to get out here and lay eyes on her once again.  At that point, I spent the next month living on her and turning her into our island hopping, country exploring home.  I was busier than I have been in a long time with no time to get bored or lonely in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language or really know anyone.

Once our tracking system is up and running again, we will provide a link where you will be welcome to follow us wherever we go in the world.

Break out the bubbly…we have a deal!
Enjoying the moment
Tunis Airport at the start of a long trip home
DHL office in Hammamet Tunisia. A critical step in the process.
There the documents go…

 

Zoe finally leaving Tunisia a few weeks later. She has a transponder that updates near real time so we could track her journey.

Success!!
How we felt in the weeks between visits…. 🙂

 

Story of buying Zoe

Love at First Sight

As the years passed, our vision of our dream boat changed, shifted, and evolved. What started as a 46 foot monohull, eventually morphed into a catamaran.  We came close to pulling the trigger on a purchase many times, but it just didn’t make sense.  Being landlocked and Dan’s limited vacation time just did not make it feasible to own a boat.  So we waited…and dreamed…and prepared.

When we reached the point that Dan considered retiring, we started combing the ads.  No rush….we still had lots of time.  Boats came up but none sparked that fire inside me.  It’s a lot like buying a house.  When it’s right, you just feel it down to your soul.  This was an important purchase, and it had to be just right.

One day, Dan was scanning the Facebook Lagoon owners group (dreaming) and up popped Zoe.  He was super excited….me, I was a little more reserved.  I had grown tired of looking at boats that just didn’t  feel right….or they did and they sold immediately.  Dan walked me through the pictures, and now I became very excited.  It was priced to move and move fast.  There was already a potential buyer coming to see it….noooooo!

We waited with baited breath to see if the owner would accept our offer (contingent on seeing the boat, a survey, and a sea trial).  What ensued over the next few weeks was an emotional rollercoaster, filled with highs and lows.  Here is where the story gets interesting….

Zoe was in port for the winter in Tunisia.  Tunisia?!  I’m not sure I even know where that is!  Zoe was priced for a quick sale because the owner decided to open a boutique hotel in Morocco, and the proceeds of this sale were funding that deal.  Wait, it gets better.  He was under a tight timeline or his deal would fall through and there would be no sale of the boat at this great price.  This meant we had to see the boat, do the survey and sea trial, commit to the contract, and the boat HAD to fund within a couple of weeks.  Impossible!  We were booked on a flight to Madrid and then on to Tunisia that weekend.  Everything was arranged to take place on Saturday and part of Sunday with us flying home that day.

When traveling to places unknown to me, I typically do a scan for travel advisories.

I found that Tunisia was partly ISIS controlled, and the state department warned against Americans traveling there.  Are you kidding me!? After an unsettling ride from the airport to the marina, through a bombed out town that reminded me of pictures of Iraq, we arrived at our hotel and made arrangements to meet Zoe’s owner.  Fortunately, the marina was several hours drive east of the troubled areas.  

She was everything he had said, and the pictures were actually true to what we saw.  We loved her.  Our host rolled out the red carpet, allowing us to spend hours on Zoe.  Visual approval….success.  Now for the survey and sea trial.  The next day we spent a grueling 8 hours as our Tunisian surveyor went through the boat with a fine toothed  comb.  Surveyor gave her a big thumbs up….great condition.  Next came the sea trial.  In the very tight marina, the skipper wrapped the prop on the sand line.  We had to pull the boat back into her slip (playing bumper boats as we went) and try to find a diver to cut the line away.  Now mind you, we are scheduled to fly out in a few hours.  The owner is freaking out that we’ve come this far and now the deal is going to fall through.  A diver is quickly found, prop unwrapped, and off we go.  We only had limited time to sail, but that’ll do.  Out we went, hoisted the main, unfurled the jib and let loose the huge gennaker….now, we were even more in love.  We still had time for the all-critical haulout.  This is where they lift the boat out of the water so the surveyor can inspect the hulls for damage or other issues that would otherwise be unseen.  Crawling around underneath the almost 24,000 pound boat, hoisted high in the air, was interesting to say the least.  But at the end of the day, Zoe was in tip-top shape.   

Gut check time.  Are we doing this?  Is it really happening?  Our life savings was on the line, and we had one shot to get this right.

We signed the deal and got scrambling.  Paperwork had to get moving so money could move, and money wasn’t going to move without a clear title and bill of sale.  So, you have two Americans in Tunisia using a Croatian boat broker, buying a Dutch flagged boat from a Frenchman, needing to reflag her American and up to Coast Guard regulations, and get her moved out of Tunisia to Croatia.  Here is where the hurdles really began…but that is a story for another day.

Diver needed!
Haulout to inspect the hulls
Signing the contract papers

 

 

Happy couple at sunset…our dream boat

Haulout of Zoe as part of the pre-purchase survey

Welcome!

We are a couple of recently retired intrepid explorers hoping to travel this earth by land and sea.

We are starting the journey in the Mediterranean on a Lagoon 400 S2 sailing catamaran.  We think this is the ideal adventure platform as it is a proven circumnavigator and small enough to be handled by two people.   Our boat is named ZOE, which is Greek for life.  Something we are trying to live to it’s fullest!

Our favorite quote, attributed to Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

We’re sure going to try.   If you are interested to see how this journey into the unknown unfolds, please subscribe using the form on this page and you will get an email whenever any new blog entries get posted.  

And feel free to comment…we love to read them!