Wednesday, August 25, 2010

First week in Greece

It’s hard to believe we’ve been here a week already. We arrived at the Gouvias Marina on the island of Corfu last Wednesday morning. We chose it because all the information we had said that was where we should go on Corfu to clear into Greece. Not true! The Customs and Immigration offices that were supposed to be at the marina aren’t there, so we ended up taking a taxi to the Port of Corfu to do our paperwork. (If we hadn’t been so tired after our 40-hour passage from Croatia, we could have taken the bus.) EU boats can do their check-in at the marina, but non-EU boats can’t.

Sunrise over the Greek mainland

Rocky bits

Corfu town anchorage

Greek fishing nets

Since then we’ve been pretty busy. We reconnected with Islay Mist and have also met some other American boats, including Sangaris and Cormorant. We’ve also heard that our neighbors from the winter in Cartagena are here, but we haven’t seen them yet. Besides the island of Corfu, we have anchored at Paxos, in a cove on the mainland, and at Nidri on Lefkas. Now we’re on Meganísi. (If you’re trying to follow along on Google Earth or in an atlas, you should know that there are different spellings for all of these places since Greek uses a different alphabet.) We’re going to follow Islay Mist around until they turn east and head for Athens. Then we’ll look for a weather window to go west across the Ionian Sea to Sicily.

Although we did go to the archeological museum in Corfu, we’ve mostly been sailing and swimming and enjoying what feels like a long summer vacation. That means that there really isn’t all that much to write about, but we’re having fun.

Playing with the girls of Islay Mist

Friday, August 13, 2010

Another great week in Croatia

It's only been about a week since my last post, but we've been very busy, so it's best to get caught up now before we forget.

Trogir and Stomorska

Trogir is yet another pretty, medieval town. I don't think we'll ever get tired of them, but we're feeling less compelled to visit each one we hear about. A highlight for us in Trogir was the excellent fresh produce market. Too bad it doesn't keep better: we would have bought lots more.

View of Trogir from the anchorage

Note to cruisers: The anchorage at Trogir cost 15 kuna/meter (Croatian currency currently about 2€), which is half what they charge for the city pier. (We yelped at the rate, and the nice young men in the dinghy only charged us for our first 10 meters.) There are lots of wakes from traffic in both places, and I figure it's more comfortable to be on the hook in those conditions than banging against a concrete wall. At the city pier they charge extra for the electricity and water, so it's only the convenience you're paying for. There were no normal yachts at the pier when we went by, just super and mega motor yachts.

Stomorska on the island of Šolta is only about 15 miles from Trogir, and we wanted to stay in close range for our rendezvous with Boris, so it was ideal. We found a spot to anchor, and when Islay Mist came in, they dropped anchor across from the town pier and took a line ashore. I think son Daniel is a big help to them; he was the one who swam the line ashore. After dinner we dinghied over and took everyone ashore for beers. It looked like the town pier was a very friendly spot, and Alisha, who has a keen ear for children speaking English, made friends with the British people at the table next to us, who were on a boat at the pier. After Linda and Alistair had a chat with them, Solstice and Islay Mist both decided to come to the pier the next day for water and a good charge of electricity, both of which are included in the rate of 20 kuna/meter.

We got a spot right next to Islay Mist, which was convenient for getting on and off the boat since they let us use their passerelle, and we didn't have to rig our own. We also borrowed their super-long hose again for water. When it came to power, though, we had some issues, and John spent quite a bit of time troubleshooting and repairing bits of our system while I started in on the laundry: three kitchen sinks full of hand washing. There are no washing machines for boaters to use at Stomorska, but the toilet and shower facility is very nice at a small extra charge. We had a little farewell party with Islay Mist that night after dinner, and everyone suffered a bit for it in the morning, but it was fun. We're hoping to catch up with Islay Mist again in Greece.

Starigrad, Korčula, Mljet, and back to Korčula

Starigrad on the north side of the island of Hvar is a nice little town with stores and markets for provisioning, as well as the usual full complement of restaurants. While we waited for Boris and crew (from Paris and London) to arrive, we took a trip ashore and wandered around. Later, after Boris got the last mooring buoy, we took everyone (six adults and four teenagers) in for ice cream and drinks. (Everyone loves our dinghy. It carried the adults comfortably, and we towed the young people in the dinghy that came with their charter boat.)

Starigrad across the cove

Next morning early we set off for Korčula. Boris had reservations at the marina, and we headed for the cove where we had anchored with Islay Mist. The last hour or so of the 50+-mile passage, we finally got enough wind from the proper direction to turn off the engine, and we had a nice, fast, downwind sail the rest of the way to the anchorage. It was made more exciting by the wind surfers, kite boarders, and ferries that we had to dodge in the channel. One wind surfer fell in front of a ferry (just a little ferry), and we kept our fingers crossed every time one zipped across in front of us that they would make it. Of course, as we approached the narrow part of the channel where the big ferries dock, we had one pull out in front of us. We watched a sailboat slip through in front of the ferry and we chose to cross their stern. Finally, after we turned into the wind to drop our sail, a flock of kayaks and canoes decided to swarm around us. John finally yelled at the inflatable that was accompanying them that we were limited in our ability to maneuver and that they needed to keep a safe distance from us. Whew! We were glad to relax after we dropped the anchor in the cove and watch the charter boats come in to try to find a place.

Boat traffic around Korčula

View of Korčula from the water

The excitement continued when we took the dinghy into the town of Korčula to meet up with Boris and friends. The wind that had made our sail so great hadn't let up after sundown as it usually does, so there was lots of chop to slow us down. And as we rounded the point at the ferry dock (thankfully, sans ferries), a wave drenched us. Good thing we hadn't dressed up for the excursion. There is a bus from our cove to town, but it doesn't run at night. The trip back was drier but very dark, and we were glad that we had our hand-held GPS with us to guide us.

The town of Korčula is very beautiful, especially lit up at night. It's another of the ubiquitous (in Croatia, at least) walled towns, like Dubrovnik, but much smaller and more accessible. As we walked up the ramp to the gate in the wall with its lighted tower, the wall lined with trinket vendors, I couldn't help but say, "Welcome to the magic kingdom." It felt like Disneyland, but it was real.

Korčula during the day
(The camera didn't go on the wet dinghy ride.)

After a trip to town by bus the next day, everyone headed to the island of Mljet and its national park. We anchored in a long bay lined with charter boats and took a line ashore. Boris had planned to dock at a pier in front of one of the restaurants, but it was already full, so they joined us in the anchorage. They wanted to enjoy a traditional grilled fish dinner at a restaurant, but it would be dinner on board for them unless we wanted to go out too. No arm-twisting was needed to convince us, so the dinghy train went to town.

The fish dinner was excellent and fun. Boris's family and friends are a delight, and we really enjoyed visiting with them. I do remember all the names, but don't know how to spell them. We're so glad to have been able to share the experience.

Awesome fish dinner

The next day Boris's group went to visit the park's lakes. The young people swam across the cove while the adults paddled their dinghy. We were lazy and hung out on the boat. The swimming was excellent where we were. Meanwhile, a British couple we had met in Otranto, Italy, had arrived in Croatia and were spending the night at a different village on Mljet, so we arranged to meet them in Korčula the next day.

That was yesterday. Kadore with Steven and Fiona aboard was waiting for us when we arrived back at our cove. It's fun to see them again, and we've enjoyed showing them a bit of Korčula, but they're heading north and we're going south, so another farewell is in our immediate future.

As we were moving from island to island, we received a text message from Islay Mist. They're on their way to Greece now and were having wind on the nose, so they were looking for a weather forecast. Southerlies weren't in the forecast then, but now they are, so we hope their passage hasn't been too miserable. A cold front is approaching, which means unsettled weather ahead. After it passes we'll look for good weather to follow Islay Mist to Greece.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Up to Iž and back to Trogir

It’s hard to believe it’s been less than two weeks since we left Dubrovnik. Time just doesn’t seem very important here, and we sometimes have to look up the date in order to write our log entries. The weather is what we really pay attention to. It can change quite suddenly, and the Croatian meteorological service provides good forecasts, but you need to be sure to get the latest. I find an anchorage based on the morning forecast, but before we drop the hook, we’ve learned to see if something new has developed.

So where have we been since Dubrovnik? We spent the first few days in company with Islay Mist, stopping first at the western end of the island of Šipan in a cove protected by a small island. Boy was it hot that day! I could barely wait to get in the water when we anchored, and I swam over to Islay Mist to chat. The girls are getting to be good little swimmers and were eager to show me that they were swimming now without their water wings.

After our swims (John needed one too) we took the dinghy around the corner and down the long inlet to the little town of Šipanska Luka. It’s a pretty little town, but we didn’t linger there. All we really needed was to find an ATM so that we could buy more Internet credit. In Croatia you can buy credit for cell phones at the ATMs. It’s very convenient that way, and the USB modem is basically just a cell phone.

The next morning the wind had picked up, making our anchorage a little uncomfortable, so I was up to see Islay Mist sail off to our next destination on the island of Korčula. It looked like so much fun that we hurried and set off after them. We had a couple of lovely hours of sailing, towing the dinghy behind us and still doing more than six knots, before the wind changed direction and then died. Islay Mist was about five miles in front of us, and when Linda sent me a text that they had seen lightning and dropped their sails, we followed suit. (I don’t remember ever texting in the States, but I’ve been doing a lot of it since last summer to coordinate with sailing friends. Yes, I do sometimes text while driving the boat, but never in traffic.)

When we arrived at the little cove just west of Lumbarda, I swam over to Islay Mist again, and Alisha swam out to meet me. Then Kaylee showed me that she could swim around the dinghy. I showed them how to float on their backs to rest, but so far they don’t like it and would rather tread water.

Holiday activity at the cove

We spent two nights in the little cove, one quite windy, but the holding was excellent. Then we got word from our friend Boris, a former colleague from the States, that he would be visiting friends on the island of Iž and that we were welcome to join them. After staying up late to celebrate Linda’s birthday, we set off fairly early the next morning.

It took us the best part of three days to get to Iž. The first night we had planned to anchor on the island of Hvar near the town of the same name, but what a busy place that turned out to be! We couldn’t find an anchorage to suit us that wasn’t already full, so we went around the little island of Sv. Klement and anchored at Soline. It was crowded too, but we found room.

Our destination for the next night was the town of Rogoznica. We had the wind on our nose, and there was so much of it that we really had no choice but to sail. Even tacking back and forth we made more forward progress than we could with our motor straight into the wind, but it made for a long day. It was also a little wet because that stretch of the coast isn’t protected by islands, so we had waves. We were happy to find that Rogoznica had lots of room to anchor and good shelter.

When we arrived the next day at Knež on the island of , we found that the anchorage we had planned to use had been taken over by mooring buoys. There may still have been room to anchor, but we decided to take a buoy for a change. In Croatia many of the mooring buoys are maintained by restaurants on shore, and that was the case here. If you eat at the restaurant, you can moor for free. That isn’t really such a bargain because the mooring usually only costs about 20€, and dinner for two at a restaurant is more than that, but we decided to splurge. Boris and his friends had gone to the beach on a neighboring island, but we told him where we were going, and he found us at the restaurant.

The next morning the wind had changed direction leaving our buoy exposed to the building waves, so we moved to another buoy closer to the shelter of a little island before going to join Boris and his friends, the Slamnig/Novković family, for coffee at their summer home, which is part of an old castle. Well, it was actually coffee and the local grappa. Plus, we learned that the island of grows olives, and our hosts have olive trees. They take their harvest to the local co-op to have them pressed for oil, so the family has its very own olive oil. Of course, we had to try it, and it really was delicious, as were the olives and cheese and wine that we were served with it. We all met again later in the afternoon, but by the time we returned to the boat from the afternoon excursion, summer thunderstorms had set in, and we just stayed put that night.

We had been invited back to the house the third evening for a barbecue, but it just wouldn’t quit raining, so it didn’t look like we would make it. At the last minute, however, the skies dried, so we hurried ashore. In addition to delicious food, we had the treat of spectacular views including a double rainbow and live guitar music by Boris and friends. It was a lovely evening, and we are very grateful to the Slamnig/Novković family for their hospitality. We’ll see Boris again this weekend when he and some other friends go sailing and we tag along.

Boris with his guitar-playing friends

Rainbow from the top of the castle

After Iž we decided to head to a Croatian national park called Krka. It’s up the Krka river, and the major attraction is its waterfalls. We had seen so many waterfalls in British Columbia that we considered skipping this, but we’re both very glad we didn’t. It’s like another world as you follow the river through its limestone gorges to the town of Skradin. From Skradin you take a national park boat to the base of the falls. There’s a walk that takes you to the top and across the river in a loop back to the base. It’s very much worth doing. We were advised to go in the morning, and as we headed back to the boat before noon, we could see the crowds arriving.


Bottom of the falls

Leaving Iž we were very lucky with our anchorages. Even though they were documented in our guide, we had them to ourselves. Considering how many boats are on the water here, that’s pretty amazing. It was a different story when we arrived at Trogir, of course, and this is the first anchorage we have had to pay for. We’ve met up with Islay Mist again here, but we haven’t yet done the tourist thing in the old city. We’ll do that today and then find another free anchorage, we hope with Islay Mist, somewhere that has nice water for swimming.