Cruising Croatia- From James Bond to Marco Polo
by Jean de Keyser, Gulfcoast Sailing School on 8 Oct 2011
Captain Jean de Keyser, who led the American Sailing Association (ASA)’s 2011 Croatia flotillas and operates the affilliated Gulfcoast Sailing School, recounts the story of the ASA's recent Croatia Flotilla. If you are a non-competitive sailor who has never joined such a flotilla or rally, this description may give you a picture of what you are missing:
A great week flotilla sailing in Croatia .. .
On August 26 crew members from all over the U.S.A. gathered in the Trogir Palace Hotel located just outside of the stunningly beautiful medieval city of Trogir, Croatia.
A spread of Dalmatian specialties consisting of cured ham, local cheeses, salads, wines and delicious bread awaited them during this initial meeting of the first week’s ASA flotilla, the first of many delicious Croatian meals to be had.
ASA members from Florida, California, Connecticut, Oklahoma and Maryland had traveled all the way to this historic part of Europe for some great sailing fun along the Croatian coast on four yachts.
Captain Jean De Keyser and First Mate and wife, Mila, gave the sailors their first briefing on what they could expect during this trip and provided lots of interesting information about the itinerary, local islands, marina facilities, docking, administrative procedures in each port and on provisioning during the week.
At around 12:00PM the following day, we made our way to Marina Kastela, a very large and modern charter base where several charter companies operate from. As most charters in Croatia start and end on a Saturday, the base was swarming with people from all over Europe and the U.S. It was like a marine version of the Towers of Babylon where, without a doubt, well over twenty languages could be heard.
The first yachts started leaving the marina at 3:30PM and headed for our first stop, the village of Milna on the island of Brac (pronounced Brasj). Upon our arrival at Milna, our skippers and their crews got their first taste of the Croatian version of Mediterranean mooring. The fact that one of the dockhands of the Milna marina was not very diplomatic made for some tense moments, but Capt. Jean advised the skippers to relax and ignore his yelling, and soon all four yachts were safely ensconced in their berths for the night.
At 6:00 the following morning, we were roused from our deep sleep by the bells of the church across from the basin. After breakfast, a short chart briefing and once we had recovered our boat papers, we set sail for our next destination, the island of Vis.
During the Cold War, when Tito was the communist dictator of Yugoslavia, this island was off-limit to foreigners and non-residents of the island. It was a secret military base and its mountains have countless tunnels in which the armed forces could hide in case of an invasion. Sailing along the coastline of Vis, one can still see many bunkers from where Tito’s forces could lob artillery shells on any would-be invader.
After about four hours of sailing we entered Rogacic Bay and anchored in front of the abandoned submarine base which was featured in the James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough. Everyone went for a swim or motored with the dinghies inside the submarine tunnel. The waters there are so clear you could see an octopus swim at the bottom.
We had lunch on board of our yachts. Our lunch typically consists of bread, cheese, 'prosciut' ham, a salad of lettuce, tomatoes (they are super delicious here!), mozzarella and basil with olive oil and vinegar; all this, of course, generously accompanied by the delicious local wines.
After another refreshing swim, we headed for the port of Luka Vis and, another short sail later, docked across the harbor from the ancient little abbey.
One of the highlights of this voyage was the dinner in a vineyard, high in the mountains of Vis. Years ago, we discovered this family owned restaurant where they serve the most unbelievable lamb dish, prepared under the so-called Peka bell. Imagine…. generous portions of lamb, potatoes and tomatoes cooked in a dish covered by a bell on top of which hot ashes are piled. After two hours of slow cooking the food is served, accompanied with lots of bread to soak up the juices and with bottles and bottles of the wines produced in that same vineyard.
Bise(Bee-Zay), the owner of this place had us also sample other local delights, like carpaccio of sardines, a variety of cheeses and fried zucchini flowers. Let us not forget the various homemade brandies!
Monday morning the 'blue cave' on the island of Bisevo was waiting for us. We had a few hours of exhilarating sailing ahead of us and, one after the other, all boats anchored in the cove of the blue cave.
Suddenly, this 40’ yacht with a Polish flag entered the cove under full power and looking for a place to drop the hook. He decided to try his anchoring skills quite close to our boat which allowed us to see that the skipper was buck naked………. Not a pretty sight. Fortunately he anchored a bit further away and donned a speedo. Still not a pretty sight…….
Soon the dinghies were dropped in the water and we made our way to the blue cave and, of course, we had to swim in the electric blue waters. A magical experience!
Tuesday morning saw us heading towards the island of Hvar. We had some fairly decent winds when leaving, but soon the water became glassy calm and we had to leave a larger carbon footprint behind us. That afternoon the wind picked up again and we tacked our way up the channel while playing chicken to see how close we could get to the cliffs on either side of the channel before shouting 'Hard A-lee!'
That night in the glamorous city of Hvar, which has become one of the places for the glitterati to be seen in Europe, we had an evening happy hour onboard Lejla, the ASA yacht of Dr. Kevin from Oklahoma. While enjoying a good drink and some appetizers, we saw this guy walking the docks looking for a doctor. One of his friends had dislocated his shoulder. Fortunately for this friend, we had Dr. Steve from Orlando in our flotilla. Apart from being an experienced sailor, he is a skilled orthopedic surgeon and in no time he reset the shoulder of this young man. Quite a crowd was swarming all over the place when he performed his healing wonder and he got quite a loud applause when the bone popped back in its joint. If he had been a bullfighter in Spain, they would probably have given him the two ears…..
The week was now in full swing and on Wednesday morning we motor-sailed to Korcula. Legend has it this adorable city was the birthplace of Marco Polo. You can still visit his house and climb the attached tower from where you have an impressive view of the city and the surrounding area. Of course, the nearby Marco Polo gift shop will gladly sell you souvenirs bearing his name and likeness.
Wandering through the narrow streets you realize that you are walking on cobble stones that are centuries old. If only these walls could speak but, fortunately for me, some of them have been remodeled to accommodate ice cream and gelato shops. Civilization and progress are beautiful things indeed.
Sunrise brought us into our last sailing day of Friday and we sailed our way back to Marina Kastela with a stop in Milna where the skippers got to practice the 'Diesel Dance' or 'Fuel Waltz'. Before heading back to the marina, all yachts must be refueled and, as there are not that many refueling docks available, skippers must get in line and have to keep a watchful eye on the surrounding yachts while maintaining their position. This requires some deft maneuvering and it results in a few tense moments but, in the end, all of our boats got refueled.
Three of the yachts’ crews opted not to return to Marina Kastela that night. Capt. Dr. Kevin and Capt. Dr. Steve decided to spend a last night in Milna. The boat crewed by ASA’s very own Brenda Wempner and her shipmates decided to head for one of the marinas in Trogir but the lead boat, Ana B, needed to be back in Marina Kastela that night. On the way back, we had a nice last and refreshing swim in a cove outside Milna.
All ASA chartered yachts were in Marina Kastela in time for the check-out on Saturday morning and, before we knew it, the first ASA flotilla week of this year was over. Effusive good byes later all crew members prepared to travel back to the U.S.
This has been a wonderful week and we got to know some very special sailors whom we now call Friends. We do hope to sail with them again at some point.
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