Captain Jean de Keyser, who led the American Sailing Association?nid=89601 (ASA)’s 2011 Croatia flotillas and operates the affilliated Gulfcoast Sailing School, recounts the story of the ASA's second Croatia Flotilla for 2011, he and his wife/first mate sailing the Ana B. (See story of the first 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:
As the first ASA flotilla came to an end on September 3, the participants for the next week’s event had already started checking in at the Trogir Palace Hotel. Mila, Captain Jean's wife and first mate, was on hand to welcome them and to help them get settled. Everybody was in great spirits and looking forward to the upcoming trip.
Ariana with Steve and Nancy - ASA
We decided to change the itinerary and, instead of heading for Primosten for our first night, we headed for the familiar village of Milna. We could have chosen another port but, from experience, we know that everybody loves Milna! Like the previous week, we docked at the ACI marina and all four yachts tied up, side by side.
On Sunday morning, we took some of the participants to Josip’s wine cellar where they could buy some of his family’s local production. Many sampled Josip’s wares and before we knew it our boat had some extra cargo hidden in the bilges.
Around 10:00AM, we sailed out of Milna harbor and headed for the Splitska Vrata pass between Brac and Solta islands and started sailing westward along the south coast of Solta. We stayed close to the rocky shore to enjoy the beauty of the cliffs. The nice thing about sailing in Croatia is that, even when you get close to shore, you are still in deep waters with very little risk of running aground.
The anchor was dropped for lunch in a cove on Drvenik Mala island at around 2:00PM and, a refreshing dip in the Adriatic later, we sailed on to our next stop in Primosten.
That night in the bay of Primosten, we cooked on board and Ana B got transformed into a night club and disco with some wild music and even dancing. Thanks to Dirk, we even had psychedelic lighting on board. Quite a few of the wine and grappa bottles were sacrificed to Bacchus that night. I am quite sure that this was the first time ever that the sounds of Zydeco music reverberated over Primosten…..
While checking the anchor during the night, we could see lightning in the distance and, by the time we got up, lightning flashes followed by loud thunder claps were hitting the mountain sides of the bay.
Sara, the Beneteau 37, crewed by Brook and Ella from Alaska and Scott and Lori from Montana, had dragged her anchor and was now quite a distance away from Ariana and Ana B.
Suddenly, two lightning bolts struck on land, almost at the same time, and started two different forest fires. Fanned by the strong wind these fires were soon threatening houses and, from our vantage point in the bay, we had an excellent view of what was going on. We saw fire trucks racing up the slopes and soon ashes started falling on our boats. A small skiff made the tour of the anchored yachts and recommended that we leave immediately as firefighting planes would be using the bay to take on water to douse the flames.
Fire plane overhead - ASA
Before long a modified crop duster on floats flew low over the water, landed, filled up and started a slow take- off to drop its load on the fire. It flew right over our mast and too close for comfort. We saw it making its aerial ballet approaching the fire and saw the water being sprayed over the forest.
There was no way this small plane could handle this by itself but soon two larger Russian-made Antonov seaplanes joined the dance and, with all these planes buzzing close overhead, we decided that it was definitely time to leave!
On the way to Sibenik, we reached the narrow channel between Zlarin and Drvenik islands and Ana B crew member, Gary Lee, smoothly steered our yacht through the gap. Once out of the wind shadow of Drvenik, we reached the entrance of the Sveti Ante pass that leads to the river and Sibenik.
This pass must have been a death trap for any invading naval force as it is narrow and protected by a fortress and high cliffs on either side. The late communist leader of Yugoslavia, Marshall Tito, had tunnels carved out inside the cliffs from where fast torpedo boats could intercept and destroy any invader.
On the other side of the pass Sibenik appeared with its old fortresses and cathedral. We by-passed the city and went upriver towards Prokljansko Jezero, a large lake located between Sibenik and Skradin.
Along the way, we saw several mussel farms. One of them is owned by a man named Zoran, whom I had met on a previous trip and I called him with the request that he have 20 kilos of his mussels ready on our way back from Skradin. More on that later…..
Krka Falls - ASA
Wednesday morning we headed to the absolutely gorgeous waterfalls which are located in the Krka National Park. We had to take the park ferry to bring us there and, a short trip up the river later, we docked at the entrance of the park, paid our entrance fee and started our walking tour around and above the falls.
Hundreds of small falls, ponds and creeks feed water from higher up to the majestic falls and, in all these ponds and creeks you see thousands of fishes. The water was unbelievably clear.
Only two days left and we still needed to get to the Kornati Archipelago. To the blaring sound of the Ride of the Valkyries (Apocalypse Now), we left our dock and steamed downriver back to Sibenik and the Adriatic. Along the way, we stopped by Zoran the Mussel-man and picked up our twenty kilos of freshly harvested shiny black bivalves.
Zoran and his Mussels:
Zoran and his mussels - ASA
That evening we brought five kilos of mussels to each yacht and organized a mussel cooking contest. Each boat had to come up with its best recipe. Soon all crew members were cleaning mussels, removing the beards, scrubbing them and getting them ready for their last hot bath.
Ana B being at a mooring ball, we had decided to clean the mussels on board and prepare the ingredients for the recipe but to do the cooking on one of the boats at the quay. Dirk and I concocted our 'top secret' preparation and, once on board of Sara, we cooked our mussels while listening to the Bolero of Ravel. As if by miracle the mussels opened right as the music reached its climax and we knew that we would serve the best mussels of the contest.
Judging and consumption of the mussels was done in a local restaurant on the waterfront. Ella Goss and Gwen Risner had made a deal with the owner that we could serve our culinary wonders but that we would drink his wine and beer and buy his bread to dip in the sauces. He also sold a few pizzas and ice creams.
After much tasting and re-tasting, the verdict was that there was a tie between Ana B and Sara but, as Ana B was the lead flotilla boat, the corrupt judges decided that we could not get any of the prizes, such as a subscription to Latitudes and Attitudes magazine, sailing DVDs, sailing gadgets, etc.
We sailed on to Rogoznica is a cute little town on a peninsula inside the bay that bears the same name. Marina Frappa is located across from it and is one of the best equipped marinas in the Adriatic. Our 49’ yacht was dwarfed by huge mega-yachts with ports of call like Gibraltar, St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida), Georgetown, Panama and so on. The facilities in this marina are absolutely superb and they have a choice of several restaurants, bars, a swimming pool and much more.
Friday has arrived! This means the end of our second week flotilla is in sight. It sneaked up on us way too soon, but we had to return to Marina Kastela. Good bye, Marina Frappa and see you again, hopefully next year.
Dirk who, with Mila, had gone on a discovery mission of Ciovo Island near Trogir on the day before the start of the charter, suggested that we anchor near a small resort in Uvala Duga, a cove on the south side of Ciovo. It was a beautiful anchorage, ideal for lunch and a swim after which we hoisted the sails for the final leg to Split and Marina Kastela.
Saturday morning meant check-out time and return to the Trogir Palace Hotel and before you knew it, all our crew members and new friends left for home or for their next destination.
We have lost our sailing hearts to Croatia and are already planning our next flotilla for 2012. See you there?