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Sailing the Dalmation Coast, Croatia

Water smashed over the boat, drenching us as the bow dug into another wave. I needed one hand for the wheel and the other to protect my eyes from the rain, driven horizontally like pellets by the howling wind. Lightening flashes pierced the gloom, revealing the harbour entrance steadily getting closer but not as quickly as we would have liked.  We were still not sure how we would negotiate the entrance in these conditions. As it turns out, the squall moved away as we arrived and we tied up in golden, calm conditions.

That’s how our 2 weeks have been – a wide variety of weather, food and people.

Max wind reading

Kremik

We collected  “Madame Ayre” from the Sunsail base at Kremik. The  Jeanneau 373 was a welcome upgrade from the Gibsea 32 that we had booked and was by far the largest yacht we have chartered so far – so much space. We chose to sleep in the large fore cabin and had a cabin each to store our clothes. The local supermarket provided an array of mouth watering items and we conjured up a delicious pasta using local sausages washed down with a bottle of Plavina Red, compliments of Sunsail. I stayed up late getting the lay of the sailing area putting a rough plan together for the next 2 weeks. 

There are over 1,000 islands off the Croatian coast, some sizeable with infrastructure, restaurants and inhabitants; some smaller with quiet private anchorages; and some which are just large rocks.

Skradin and Krka Falls

We motor sailed 17km up the Krka River between steep, rocky hills, passing under two towering bridges to Skradin.  We did our first stern-to mooring (quite away from where we aiming) to the wry amusement of the dock hand. We can get used the idea of stepping ashore without getting our feet wet.

Skradin is an old town with narrow cobbled streets, passages, arches and stairs and is located at the entrance to Krka National Park.The most recognizable symbol of Skradin is the tower clock (Campanile). Because of its weight, it was built on the nearest cliff instead of beside the church, which was the usual custom.

Stern-to docking taken by local photographer

We took a ferry further upstream to the Krka falls. Krka National Park is one of Croatia’s natural jewels. The main attraction of the park is a series of travertine waterfalls, the biggest of which is Skradinski Buk. The travertine is formed by the build up of calcium carbonate, creating barriers over which the water then cascades. Apparently, the waterfalls never look the same – some days the water turns stunning shades of blues and turquoise, on others every shade of brilliant greens.

Krka is one of two places in Croatia where you can see such a spectacular series of travertine waterfalls. The other, rather more famous, being Plitvice National Park. 

We wandered around the falls along the walkways and scenic views over the roaring water and then up to the old turbine station.  Jaruga Hydroelectric Power Plant, the second oldest  in the world, opened only two days after the world’s first – Tesla’s hydroelectric power plant on Niagara Falls.

Back in Skradin we discovered Marko Polo restaurant in one of the many cobblestone streets. We had an outstanding seafood risotto and grilled fish with Mediterranean potatoes with lots of atmosphere and a perfect view of the church spire. Coffee whilst reading in our cosy cabin rounded off a perfect day.

The hourly dong from the church barely registered as we fell asleep snuggled in our warm blankets.

Šibenik

After a simple breakfast of toast and coffee, we motored back down the river to Šibenik and docked against the town pier (Kn75 for 4 hours) and strolled up the hill to the most amazing fresh food market. The choice of ripe, plump fresh fruit and vegetables was overwhelming.  We stocked up on potatoes, veal steaks, ricotta and strong cheese and cream, ciabatta and some chocolate pastries fresh from the oven. We also bought a few bottles of  Plavina. Lugging our haul back to quay we were enticed by the smell of roasting chicken from a streetcart  and couldn’t resist buying one.

So convenient to park here for grocery shopping!

Cathedral of St James – Frieze with faces of 74 local citizens

Prvč Luka

The wind had picked up and and we set sail while tearing chunks off the steaming chicken and hot, crispy ciabatta. A Securité fog warning came through and we decided to alter course from Borovnjak to the safety of the closer Prvč Luka. A delightful, quiet little harbour with the locals soaking up the sun at the harbours edge. After a nice hot shower we opened a bottle of wine and made a plate-licking meal of veal, mushrooms and cream with our re-creation of Mediterranean potatoes

Borovnjak

The weather so far, has been cool at night and warm during the day, so we are not driven from our beds early and can laze around in the mornings.  After concocting creamy eggs and veal fillet for breakfast, we set sail for the islet of Borovnjak and picked up a mooring in the crystal clear waters. It was idyllic and we were the only boat there. We took the dinghy ashore and did some snorkelling. There wasn’t much to see although the visibility was excellent and the water was a little chilly but we soon got used to it. We rounded off a perfect morning with a ploughman’s lunch from the goodies we got from the market.

Peaceful, undisturbed lunch stop

Stupica Vela

A slow sail took us to the island of Žirje and we picked up a buoy at an inlet on the south end  in the late afternoon. Stupica Vela lies at the foot of an old Roman fort on the hill looking out towards Italy. Initially alone, several yachts joined us as dusk approached. We couldn’t help being amused while watching a yacht hurtling up to a buoy, with three people on the bow all involved in trying to grab it with lots of advice, getting helplessly tangled up in their lines, and eventually losing their hook overboard. They finally managed to grab the buoy with a second hook roaring their heads off the entire time.

After a hot shower, we sat on the deck sipping wine and chatting, rounding off the evening with a superb Chicken Alfredo followed by Amarula and coffee while star gazing under the clear sky.

The next day we took the dinghy ashore and climbed through the redolent pine forest up to Roman ruins, the stark landscape reminiscent of the Cape West Coast. 

Trogir

As we set off for Trogir, the winds steadily increased to 20 knots making sailing more challenging. The ACI Marina was quite full and docking stern-to was very difficult in the cross wind and only on the fourth attempt, with much advice and encouragement from the neighbouring yacht, did we manage. The Marina was connected by a bridge to the old town, a labyrinth of stunning little streets and shops. We found a casual street restaurant and enjoyed large plates of mussels and calamari and then wandered through the night streets with ice cream cones for desert.

The next morning we were keen to emulate the locals by having pastries and coffee at one of the many coffee bars, but none of the coffee bars sold pastries. Eventually we noticed people queuing at a nearby bakery and then bringing their purchases to the coffee shops. We followed suit and enjoyed out chocolate croissants with fragrant hot coffee. 

After a morning of window shopping and exploring we had lunch at one of the quayside restaurants – risotto and crispy pizza reflecting the Italian influence on the Croatian coast.

Načujam Rat

We headed out to Šolta in the middle of a Laser dinghy race, careful not to blanket their wind. The sea very choppy and felt wild although it was only 15-20 knots and we had a brisk sail to Načujam Rat. We found a little channel of crystal clear shallow water to anchor in – very pretty, quiet and peaceful. Once again, we had the anchorage entirely to ourselves. We relaxed with tea, chocolate pastries and our books. It got damp and chilly quite early so we had a shower and then enjoyed sundowners with pâté,  cheese, olives, wine and opera music together with the tantalising aroma of slow cooked spaghetti bolognaise.   Condensed milk coffee after supper alleviated the chill a little.

Stari Grad

Awoke to a slight drizzle and overcast sky. We studied the charts and cruising guide and planned the next week.

Then we motored around Solta and through the channel next to Brac. It got really cold and we put on some extra layers. We arrived in Lucile Bay but realised it would be too exposed to the SE wind. and decided to sail to Stari Grad on Hvar. We found a secluded bay just before Stari Grad anchored there instead. We were starving and made a lunch of gammon, cheese salad and bread, washed down with Kavlovaschka. Lay in the sun and read our books, dipping into the sea to freshen up now and then. Later we took the dinghy ashore and climbed up through the pine forest overlooking our quiet, private anchorage. Yummy supper of liver and onions and Mediterranean potatoes. 

Peaceful anchorage near Stari Grad

Palmižana Marina

We enjoyed a great breakfast of savoury mince and fried eggs followed by toast, honey and coffee in our tranquil haven. The wind was up early when we left – 18-20 knots gusting 25 and we were heeled over all the way to  the ACI Marina on Palmižana. Our stern-to docking is getting very slick.  We went for a stroll over the hill through the woods to the other side of the island and spotted a restaurant that looked good.

As we returned to the boat, clouds moved in, the temperature dropped and we felt the first scattered rain drops.  We had a hot shower in the Marina and dressed for dinner. Meneghello’s Ristorante was cosy and we had a fish soup and octopus salad to start, followed by risotto with clams, mussels, prawns; and green tagliatelle with prawns

Hvar

The next day, the sky cleared up and the sun came out. But as we were paying at the Marina office before leaving, it turned black and windy and a squall came blasting through. We battened down the hatches to a torrent of rain and read until it cleared around 11. We then wandered over the hill to inspect the South side which was calm and clear although it was still gusty on our side. We decided to dash across to Hvar. Sea was quite swelly with a 18 knot wind. We docked stern-to on the town quay using lazy lines.

The sun came out and the sea was like a mirror. What a contrast to the morning! We wandered through the streets of this really pretty town – Nikki’s favourite in Croatia. We hiked up to the old fort which provided a spectacular view of the harbour and the neighbouring islands. We came down meandering through old streets and alleys and had pizza on the piazza followed by delicious gelato cones.

We spent the afternoon relaxing on the boat, reading and watching yachts coming and going. It was very busy  and to think this is the off-season!

We had a lovely hot shower and got dressed up for the quaint restaurant Macando – fish and fries and risotto. We fed the stray kittens until the waiter asked us to stop encouraging them and if we wanted one he would happily supply a box for us to take it away.

I had to be very firm otherwise Nikki would have taken him up on the offer. The harbour was quite lumpy when we got back and sleep was fitful.

Palmižana

Woke up to rainy, overcast and windy weather – not Nikki’s favourite sailing conditions. (Not mine either).  We wandered around the shops and market and stocked up. Then we had cappuccinos and pastries until we couldn’t put it off any longer. At 11 we made a dash for Palmiźana, SE sideThe sea was lumpy with big swells and gusts of 25-30 knots. Luckily it wasn’t far away. The bay was peaceful with only one other boat. We went ashore with the dinghy and checked the weather at the Marina. The forecast wasn’t very encouraging – no sun for the rest of the week and heavy seas. It rained all afternoon and we cuddled up with our books in our warm and cosy boat and bowls of Fettucine Alfredo comfort food.

Vis

The next day, the weather was marginally improved and we decided to sail a cross to Vis. Pleasant sailing although the sea was rolling. We conveniently docked stern-to outside a laundry and pizza place. We had planned to hire a scooter to explore but everything was closed – one of the drawbacks of off-season. We had just dropped off a load of washing when it started raining heavily and the sea was noticeably rougher, bashing against the quayside. The boat was rocking back and forth like a seesaw and we had to move the stern 2m from the quay to make sure it didn’t hit it. We made a dash for the pizza place which had a very disappointing looking menu but luckily the pizzas were delicious. The weather worsened and the boat had a horrible corkscrew motion all through night. Sleep was difficult and we were apprehensive about our return trip to the mainland.

We had coffee and pastries debating about what to do. We had just decided to leave when we saw a Sunsail cat that had left earlier, return. Had a chat to them. They were a delivery crew and said it was really unpleasant out there with big seas and 20-25 knots and had decided to return and wait it out. Now we were really apprehensive as the professionals were worried. Eventually we decided to take a chance, as things could get worse and we didn’t want to be stuck on Vis.

Sesula

We stuck our nose out of the bay. The wind was OK but the swells were severe. We were aiming for Maslinica but crossing the swells was uncomfortable and nerve racking. As the boat heeled over from the first wave a second wave would threaten to swamp us. We changed course to Milna and it instantly became easier, so much so that Nikki was able to take over helming so I could take a break. We were hit with some driving rain storms and we were soaked but at least the wind was manageable. 

We made it across to Spilica on the NW corner of Hvar and found a sheltered spot to anchor and catch our breath. We dried off, changed clothes and had a snack and coffee.

Recharged we set off for Maslinica on the western side of Solta. The sea was much calmer and we sailed comfortably. The sun even came out and we hung up all our wet stuff. We anchored in Sesula Bay just next to Maslinica. So very happy and relieved to be here. Had hot showers as we were cold to the bone. Had beef patties, puttanesca, and Mediterranean potatoes and then fell into an exhausted sleep.

Our relief was short lived as I woke up at about 3am to see that we had dragged anchor right to the other shore.  We dressed, picked up anchor and relocated in the darkness. Luckily there was plenty of lightning and we had a torch. Once we had re-anchored I stayed awake to make sure we were secure. The wind changed again and we were now drifting onto the rocks. All hands on deck as we up anchored and tried for a better spot. I realised why people do Mediterranean mooring here. The shore rises very steeply and you have to let out a large amount of chain which increases the swing area. If your stern is moored to a tree, there is no swing area and it is easier to set your chain lengths.

The wind was noticeably harder and driving straight into our bay. At least it was a little lighter with the onset of dawn. Eventually we managed to get the hook to grab. I tied a shore line, but it was hard to know whether we could depend on it. We still moved around too much so we let the shore line go and motored into the middle inlet and found very good holding. I used the dinghy to retrieve the shore line and fell into an exhausted sleep while Nikki kept watch. The wind had definitely picked up outside our bay. The windmeter showed max 60 knots, but that has to be an error.

Had a hearty breakfast of the previous nights leftovers and felt a lot better.

As we sailed past Maslinica on our way to Rogoznica, it looked calm and protected. Perhaps we made the wrong decision the previous day? Once we left the rough swells we sailed in comfortable 10-15 knots. The sun came out and it warmed up enough to put on costumes and do some sun tanning. We anchored in a bay opposite Smokvica Vela island.  Used up all our leftover salad ingredients and made “Quattro Formaggio” salad washed down with our last shandy. We lolled about, alternately swimming in the fresh 19 degree crystal clear waters and baking our brains on the deck. 

Rogoznica

We were both torn about whether we should leave our pristine and quiet bay or stay for another night. But at 5pm we motored in the windless conditions to Rogoznica. It was beautiful. The water was like a mirror. Apparently it is the most protected harbour in the Adriatic so we should sleep well tonight. Marina Frappa looked horrible and commercial so we decided to berth side-on to the town quay. We nearly chose the shallow end and at 1.5m we did some rapid reversing, tied up perfectly at the correct end and went exploring before sunset.

Beautiful wooden schooner

The old town is linked by a bridge to the modern part which is less appealing. There was good selection of restaurants and we eventually chose Jere’s Restaurant. Great menu with pictures! with more variety than most Croatian restaurants. We had octopus salad to start, but had had enough fish and seafood and tried the beefsteak stuffed with Dalmatian ham; and cheese; and a schnitzel with mushrooms. Both came with green beans and pommes frites. Absolutely yummy and we struggled not to lick our plates. Polished off two carafes of wine and felt quite plastered (just 258 Kn). The staff were also amazing. We met a nice golden retriever and chatted to her owners for a while before staggering home. 

 The wind started picking up. And it felt good to be in a safe harbour.

Bad weather began in earnest during the night with the wind howling outside the harbour. We bumped a bit and we had to get up during the night to adjust the bolsters as the tide had come in.

Nice to lie in and sleep late as we had a cumulative lack of sleep over the last 3 nights. Eventually we got up and went in search of our breakfast pastries (Croatian Barac cheesy phyllo quiche thingy and a chocolate pain) at a bakery and then found a nice coffee place. There was quite a contrast to the previous day – overcast and raining – and we had a chat to the harbourmaster about the weather forecast. A man of few words, he said, “It’s bad”. We lazed around, reading, shopping and exploring. We tried Jere’s pizza – crispy base and interesting toppings for lunch. We splashed out and tried the maraschino cherry liqueur and cherry brandy.

Kremik

The sun came out so decided to mosey on around the corner back to Kremik base. As we were casting off the man helping us said it was very choppy out there. Sure enough the sea was up and quite heavy but we were fairly confident in big swells by now.  Wind was 10 knots, but the sky was a black ahead with lightening bolts. We decided to change into wet weather clothes and secure everything in case we hit a storm. As Kremik came into view, the squall hit us. A yacht ahead had full sails up and was pushed right over. She disappeared in the bad visibility and we never found out what happened to her. We were better prepared (over cautious) and coped very well.

As with so many times over the last two weeks after the violence, the sun came out and we docked at the fuel bay to fill up and then our last stern-to at the Sunsail base. (Perfectly executed into a narrow spot in front of the full team).

Helping hand while refuelling

We had our final supper – schnitzel, creamy mushroom sauce and Mediterranean potatoes. Then a comfortable sleep, secure in the harbour, with the wind shrieking through the riggings.

What a wonderful experience – wildly varying sailing conditions, great learnings, lots of reading and relaxing, quiet secluded anchorages, convenient quayside docking, great restaurants with good food, and of course our own culinary creations.

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