We sailed back over to the east side of the Adriatic Sea to the small town of Umag to check into Croatia – a procedure we had done many times before so we knew what paperwork to have on hand and roughly how long it would take so armed with our folder containing everything necessary we docked next to the police station and started to check in.
The first thing we noticed was how surly the police seemed – I don’t think they were unhappy, but they don’t smile as spontaneously as we do and tend to have an aggressive manner. We were then sent upstairs to get our cruising permit. This was when things started to go wrong… they asked for our Certificate of Competency, so Ian gave them his rather tatty skippers licence from Western Australia which had been sitting in his wallet for years. Now we had never been asked for anything like this before and we were confident that having sailed 30,000nm from Australia, the skippers ticket would be ok. Not so, as Western Australia is not listed in their book as a recognised authority for skipper competency. We were being refused entry and had to leave immediately. Ian told them we didn’t have enough fuel to get to Montenegro but he was adamant we had to go. We started discussing quietly our options, maybe we could enter somewhere else, could we return to Italy if the winds were favourable etc when we realised he was filling out the Big Book with our details and asking for 1000 kuna ($250) for our cruising permit. Before he changed his mind again we thanked him, paid our fees and quickly got back to the boat.
We spent a quiet afternoon just outside the harbour on anchor and sailed south the next morning for the town of Pula. We came in by dinghy and were very impressed with the Pula Arena, which is one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres.
We like Pula – it had a centre square with a few coffee shops and many old Roman ruins dotted around. There was a park on the waterfront with a huge anchor – very nautical for us. We were surprised at the lack of tourists but as it is the end of October we suspect we are at the very end of the season and will probably not see many more boats.
Another quiet night at anchor and we continued south the following morning to the island of Unije. We headed round to the eastern side to avoid the onshore winds and anchored in a lovely little bay that had some holiday cottages ashore, a playground, a shop and a cafe – all closed. There were no other boats in the anchorage so we were rather surprised when a police launch came up and asked to see our papers. We duly obliged and they photocopied every page, but luckily didn’t ask for our Certificate of Competency – we were not sure whether this was going to happen every night but they were fine – it just reminded us of the Andamans and all their beaurocracy in India.
We island hopped down the coast stopping at some beautiful little anchorages, using the moorings without fear of being charged as there was nobody around. One day we sailed to the island of Ilovik and anchored on the south side of the island. It was so beautiful and we had it to ourselves- the weather was too cold to swim but the water looked very inviting. We walked across the island to the little town which was deserted but we did find one bar open for a drink- all the shops were shut and obviously this town had also shut down for the winter. The little towns in Croatia are so beautiful – colourful and clean. Even though they are mostly shut down for the season, they still have a real ambience, especially with all the little fishing boats in the bay.
The next stop was the old town of Zadar. Wikipedia tell me that Zadar is the longest continuously inhabited town in Croatia with an old town situated on the peninsula which has many old Roman and Venetian ruins. The old walled town has some gorgeous gates which are all still in use today. We dinghied over and spent a lazy few hours exploring the lanes and squares – again we had the whole town nearly to ourselves.
We met a couple whose dried meat shop was packed with some of the best meats we have ever tasted. I think they were so pleased to have some custom that they kept on giving us tastings – we loved this place and bought a few different types of smoked ham.
Zadar was delightful and we stayed for a couple of wines at the end of the day but as the sun set we had to get back to the boat as the evenings were starting to get really chilly.
We then headed down to the popular island of Hvar. The old town of Stari Grad was another delightful place. Again we could wander around in peace, have a coffee without waiting for a table and get some tourist free photos. The sun shone for us too which considering it is early Nov we were lucky. The locals still patronized the coffee shops but all the tourist shops and holiday apartments were closed. Stari Grad is built at the end of a 4 nm long inlet so the harbour was very well protected. We were able to come right in as there were no charter boats – another plus for travelling out of season.
We would have liked to have stayed here longer but the weather was changing and we had to get further south so we only spent the day here and set off for the island of Korcula. Again Korcula has an old walled town perched on the peninsula – and is a spectacular site as you enter the bay. We had chosen an anchorage in front of a renovated monastery and arrived at dusk.
This has to be one of our favourite anchorages of all time … we were the only yacht here sitting imbetween three small islands and the island of Korcula. It was so peaceful and that evening we took the dinghy to Badija and walked the 5km around the island. The monastery was shut so we couldn’t go inside but on our walk we saw some deer who were as surprised to see us as we were to see them. During the daytime in the summer this island must have stunning water views as even on a November evening we were getting different shades of blue in the water.
The next day we dinghied over to Korcula to check out of Croatia and see the old city. We decided on walking the old city first which was a other example of amazing old stone lanes, little gems of buildings hidden down winding lanes and stone staircases that seemed to lead to nowhere. The views from the top took our breath away and we felt very lucky to be seeing this top tourist spot completely empty.
We laughed when we realised that all these walled cities were built to keep people out and the locals in and now hundreds of years later these towns invite thousands of people in and have a hard time keeping their local people from leaving!
We then went to look for the harbourmaster and customs to clear out but they were all shut, so we will have to check out at Cavtat further down the coast.
Our last anchorage in Croatia was another idyllic bay. The weather was atrocious- we had 35knots with huge seas and we had to get somewhere safe to bunker down for the night. We were not used to such conditions here in the Med and think we may have left it a bit late to come down this coast
We found an anchorage on the island of Mljet called Okuklje which was really well protected. At the end of a long inlet which then opened out into two fingers, we anchored right up the end of the furthest finger. With only about 50 houses in the bay all tucked around the end, and a couple of restaurants – this anchorage was incredibly beautiful. One of the restaurants opened up for us to give us a lovely albeit expensive meal (Aussie prices) – we would definitely be his last customers of the season. It was a lovely evening to end our journey sailing down the Dalmatian coast.
The next morning was not much better, in fact it was the first time I have ever been seasick – a horrible experience. We had current against us, 30-35 knots, short seas and heavy swell. We headed straight to Cavtat to check out and get down to Montenegro as fast as we could to reach the relative safety of the Bay of Kotor. By 11am we were pulling into Cavtat and got Indian Summer docked against the quarantine jetty. The swell was pushing her onto the quay and there was a rusty ring to take the heavier lines embedded into the side of the quay which took lump out of our gelcoat, so Ian stayed to fend her off to prevent further damage and I went off in search of customs and immigration. I again found the offices shut which meant we couldn’t check out of Croatia
After a bit of searching around the internet we discovered to our shock that they shut down their offices from 31st Oct to 1st April as the charter season only runs over the summer months. We assumed the airport customs and immigration would be open but we couldn’t leave the boat in these conditions so we had no option but to leave Croatia without checking out of the country. A first for us and hopefully we won’t get into too much trouble on our return to Montenegro.
First the wouldn’t let us in and then they wouldn’t let us out!!
We only spent a couple of weeks in this beautiful country which was a shame but we really had no option but to leave as the weather was changing daily. We didn’t get the problems other cruisers seem to get with police and other people demanding money wherever you go and we could take moorings in bays without being charged. We had 2 or 3 anchorages completely to ourselves which was lovely but it has started to get very cold and so it’s time to head south.