- Restrictions on Cruising in Europe
- Departure from Montenegro
- Our first over-nighter of the season
- Welcome to Italy!
- And, something for the boat geeks
- And, in closing
This summer’s cruising season is now officially underway, and our journey has begun. The last month was spent readying the boats for departure, and mostly just “waiting.” During our final week in Montenegro we were like racehorses before the start of a race, nervously pacing, impatient for the action to begin.
For immigration reasons we didn’t want to enter the European Union (EU) until around June the 15th. However, a few days ago we saw a weather window (a period of excellent weather) and decided to jump on it. There is a rule, called Schengen, that restricts non-EU residents to only 90 days inside the EU out of any rolling 180 day period. There are workarounds to this rule, but none that are easy. The usual workaround is to apply for residency in a Schengen country, but the application process is virtually impossible in some countries. Most cruisers find it easier to simply exit the EU within the 90 day period.
Because we have now entered the EU, our 90-day clock has started ticking. It’s really sad, because it adds a sense of time pressure, forcing us to constantly be thinking about the clock instead of leisurely cruising. There are rumors that rule-changes are coming which make it easier for world cruisers to spend time in Europe, but we are a tiny group and have little influence.
Our two boats (Seabird and Sans Souci) spent the winter moored in Croatia. As soon as the maintenance had been done on the boats we ran miles south to Montenegro for several reasons.
First, we deliberately tucked the boats away for the winter with empty fuel tanks. Montenegro offers fuel to visiting yachts tax-free as an incentive to bring the larger yachts into Montenegro. It’s an incentive that works! Instead of paying an equivalent $9 USD / gallon we would be able to take on fuel for under $4 USD per gallon. Sans Souci takes 3,000 gallons of fuel, so there was a powerful incentive to wait for Montenegro to take on fuel.
Second, Montenegro is outside the EU. I mentioned that there is a 90-day clock ticking on when Roberta and I need to leave the EU. There is another clock, which has an 18-month duration, that is ticking on our boat. Non-EU boats are permitted only 18 months for cruising within the EU before they are subject to VAT tax, which can represent 20% of the value of the boat. Our visit to Montenegro reset that 18-month clock as well. Sometime next year we’ll need to be thinking about where our next non-EU destination can be. My best guess is that we’ll be heading to Morocco.
And, another reason for going to Montenegro: We wanted to! It’s a spectacular place, with a wonderful marina.
Other marinas should study the Porto Montenegro Marina and learn from it. They do things right, and that is attracting the big boats to Montenegro. I know how much money we spent while there, and when you add moorage, electricity, provisioning, meals and hiring of local technicians, it adds to a significant number. And we were a relatively small boat on our dock; there are docks with a lot bigger boats than ours! On a bigger scale, some percentage of the visitors are buying slips and the fancy condos that line the marina.
It isn’t just the cheap fuel that is drawing people to Porto Montenegro. The marina is world-class.
- Fiber optic internet plumbed directly to the boat slips. I had a true 20mb download, and upload, speed that worked flawlessly throughout the two weeks we were there
- There are five restaurants within the marina, including a sushi restaurant, an Italian restaurant and a wonderful gelato shop
- A market, with high-end specialty items
- The electricity was solid, and worked reliably
- The marina team was exceptionally friendly and helpful
- There are customs/immigration/police agents ALL based right at the marina. The marina staff stayed with us through clearing in and out of the country
- Each slip is plumbed for black water pump-out
- You can park your car right at your boat slip!
- There’s an incredible swimming pool adjacent to the marina, which welcomes marina guests
- A wide variety of upscale specialty stores in the marina: Wine, Ice Cream, Fashion, Realty
- An easy walk into town, if you want “more.”
We drove south about an hour to vist a small island with a quaint town connected to shore by a thin Isthmus, called Sveti Stefan. In ancient times, this was a monastery and small walled town. Nowadays this island and walled town is owned by the Aman company (of the famous Aman Hotels) and is called Aman Sveti Stefan. For Roberta and I this was important sightseeing because we had stayed in that very hotel in the late 80s (way before it was part of the Aman family of hotels) when Montenegro formed the southern tip of the now non-existent country, Yugoslavia. At that time Yugoslavia was communist, and there were already signs that the country was collapsing. This was just before the breakup of Yugoslavia when war broke out. At that time you could sense the tension everywhere. We remember having a hard time putting together a meal (unless at the hotel) and having to settle for sharing one box of Frosted Corn Flakes bought at a small mini-market during an all-day drive through the countryside. Why did we go to Yugoslavia then? We were young and naive, and it was an adventure. I remember that most housing at the time were big, identical run-down apartment buildings that we called rabbit hutches. Today, Montenegro has been reborn, and Aman Sveti Stefan is an ultra-luxury hotel.
The best thing about Europe is that our dogs are welcome anywhere there is outside dining, and often for inside dining (we’re not sure… I doubt we dine indoors more than a handful of times per season.) I missed taking the picture, but a tuxedoed waiter had just served the dogs each their own personal bowl of water seconds earlier.
On the way back from Sveti Stefan we stopped in the Montenegran town of Budva. Several people have described Budva as similar to St. Tropez, including one person who suggested that tripping over supermodels was a serious hazard while walking the beaches. However, we saw no indication of anything like that. Generally, we weren’t that impressed with Budva. We saw some indications that many tourists to Budva are Russian, and one restauranteur told us that the Russians are here in significantly lower numbers this year, due to the political situation in the Ukraine. Maybe we were just in the wrong part of town, or here in the wrong season, but overall, Budva was a bit of a let-down. Anyway… This picture shows the pups at a Thai Restaurant when we stopped to eat in Budva. It was awesome! The dogs weren’t sure what to make of their swinging chair though!
Finally! After what seemed an eternity of waiting, the time had come to depart Montenegro and start the summer’s cruising. Our first leg would be a 15-hour run across the Adriatic Sea to Brindisi, Italy. If you think of Italy as a leg, with a foot facing west at the bottom — we would be arriving at the ankle, on the east side.
The procedure on departing Montenegro is to take fuel and clear out of the country simultaneously. Once you have fuel you need to get out of the country immediately, and are not allowed to go to anchor. It is imperative to leave or hefty fines could be coming your way. One of the things that concerned me in the days prior to departure was that we needed to make our fuel reservation days in advance, and couldn’t easily bail on the trip if the weather turned bad. We heard stories of one boat that decided to drop their anchor, to hide from weather, and was caught doing so. They had to pay a large fine, PLUS pay the taxes on the fuel they had taken (an extra $5 per gallon.)
Luckily, the weather just got better and better, so there was no issue when departure time came.
The fuel dock at Montenegro has to be one of the busiest non-commercial fuel docks in the world. I tried to guess how much fuel the boat just ahead of us took (a 200′ yacht) and guessed 50,000 liters (around 15,000 gallons.) The attendant indicated that I was way low. Personally, I needed 2,000 gallons for Sans Souci. The process to take fuel is the most organized and planned out I’ve ever seen. There is a long checklist that you must sign off on before given fuel. I forget the items that were on it, but they centered around preventing spills. As we approached the fuel dock a tender circled our boat surrounding it with a floating ‘fence.’ This fence would contain any potential fuel spills. And, I was left with the definite impression that I wouldn’t want to find out what would happen were I crazy enough to try spilling fuel. Two large fire extinguishers were brought to me while I fueled, and a large bucket of soapy water, to instantly dilute any fuel I spilled on the deck. They require that I, as the Captain, do the fueling personally. I had prepared a detailed spreadsheet showing exactly how much fuel I wanted in each tank (three of them) which helped. For instance, I knew that I wanted 4,100 liters in the forward tank. I had them call off the liters every 500, and then slowed down the pump as we got close. Other than that it was a long (nearly two hour) painful process, it went smoothly and every drop went into the tank.
After fueling we had to clear out of the country. On entry each person is given a little white card; kind of a tourist card. Mine somehow got lost. This created some last minute confusion as everyone scrambled trying to think what to do. Luckily, the customs people didn’t make a big deal of it, and waved me through. We were free to go.
Our passage from Montenegro to Brindisi
We targeted leaving Montenegro for a departure at 5pm, knowing that with a 15-hour run this would put us into Brindisi around 7am. We were late getting to the fuel dock (stuck behind a megayacht that was very thirsty) but were able to get underway before 7pm.
The seas could not have been calmer. Roberta and I took three-hour turns at the wheel for what was a totally uneventful passage.
Our biggest challenge was staying awake during the overnight run. There are custom devices that are aids to keeping crew awake on long passages, such as the Watch Commander. It is a simple device which allows you to dial in a time interval, like 15 minutes, and unless the helmsman presses a button within the designated time a truly annoying alarm sounds. It’s a simple system, but works. On Sans Souci I just use my iphone and the alarm function. I dial in 15 minutes and press START. 15 minutes later an alarm sounds that I must clear. I clear it and start the process over. I’ve never fallen asleep while on watch, but I know people who have, sometimes with disastrous results.
Welcome to Italy!
As we approached Brindisi we called on the radio for “Brindisi Traffic Control.” I wasn’t sure exactly who to call, but could see on the chart that there were designated travel lanes for arriving and departing traffic, and figured the safe thing to do was to alert Italy to our presence. The person who answered welcomed us to Italy in a thick accent, and gave us a different person to contact on another channel as soon as we reached a certain point.
Italy! Arriving in a new country is a very cool experience, and we were all thinking the same thought: Dinner was going to be excellent! We had visions of plates piled high with pasta and thick slices of mozzarella and tomatoes for caprese salad!
As we travel from country to country, we usually use ship’s agents to handle the customs formalities. It is possible to do it yourself, and when we have been to a place before, and know the procedure, it is worth it. But generally, for the $100 to $300 that an agent typically charges it can make the process much easier. It also gives you someone who knows the local lay of the land, and speaks the language, who you can talk to. In this case we wanted moorage, and preferably wanted to be able to side-tie our boats instead of Med-mooring…never our favorite thing!
Normally in Europe most boats over about 50 feet in length have crew. Our two boats are unusual in that each is run by a couple, with NO crew. Med-mooring (parking the boat with the stern to a low concrete wall, using your anchor or a bow line extended to the bottom of the marina) is simple with three or four people but can be a challenge for two people alone, particularly in the off-the-beaten track marinas which do not offer people to help work lines (typically kids you throw a few dollars to after they help with your lines.) Seabird is at the grey-limit size for two people to Med-moor alone, and Sans Souci is well into the “it ain’t happening” category. We can do it when pushed, but .. it is best avoided.
I normally find agents just by googling on the internet. In this case I found this company:
Ph: +39 0831 524872 – Fax: +39 0831 564025
Branch Office: 70100 BARI (Italy)
Skype: Poseidone – Adriano Guadalupi
I phoned to ask if they would handle the clearing in and out of our boats. They said absolutely, and I asked about moorage – especially side-tie moorage — and he said he would find something for us. He informed us that a sailboat rally would be leaving as we were arriving, and that the public dock would be taken but that he could probably find us a place to park the boats for a fee of $100 euro a night. We agreed. Later he sent an email saying he had found us space on the public dock, but with no electricity or water. I said we might prefer the private dock, but he said there was no electricity or water there either.
One of the best things about using agents is that often they come to you, and handle everything in the nice air-conditioned salon of Sans Souci, rather than our standing in line at immigration, customs, and the local police. Here we see Antonio from Poseidone speaking with Steven. He is asking for our “green cards,” and we are saying, “What’s a green card?” Agents tend to speak significantly better English than the local authorities but sometimes communication can still be difficult. PS — That’s Roberta’s coffee grinder sitting in front of Steven. He had borrowed it and was bringing it back…
Clearing into Italy went smoothly until the agent asked for our green cards. We had no idea what he needed and he left frustrated by our inability to produce them. This led to a serious of confused emails between myself and the Poseidone main office. In the United States there is something called a green card, which is a form of a Visa that foreigners wanting to work in the US must obtain. We were confused about why we needed one. Then for a while we thought the agents were requesting that we have health insurance. Finally we figured out that all they needed was a summary of our insurance policy in Italian. Apparently it is common in Europe to carry a card, often printed by the insurance companies on green card-stock, summarizing the policy highlights. We could not clear into Italy until we had this.
I was nervous because this would need to be issued by my insurance company, Lloyds of London, who I think of as a large conglomerate. I couldn’t imagine them immediately issuing the document I needed. I sent an emergency email to my insurance agent, who contacted Lloyds. They knew exactly what to do, and mentioned a Hollywood celebrity who had also been caught in the same trap entering somewhere in Italy on their yacht. Within 24 hours we had the document in hand, and our agents were greatly relieved.
Here we see Carol and Roberta enjoying our first dinner in Italy. Yay! We were exhausted after traveling all night, but excited to be here! In the picture you see that we were alone. We are early-eaters; usually having dinner around 6pm to 7pm. In Europe the restaurants don’t even open until 7pm, and most people dine at 8pm or later. I should also mention that we learned quickly that everything in town closes from 1pm to 5pm. Then, reopens for the evening. This will take some getting used to…
Boat Geek Report
With our smooth arrival into Brindisi I should have known things were going too well.
The day started with a hike into town to find the vegetable/fruit market. I then had to find an ATM machine to get some euros (EU money) to pay the boat-agent.
Finally, back on the boat I noticed the odor of diesel. Ouch! This sent me scurrying to the engine room where I lifted the floorboards.
Oh [censored]! There was several gallons of diesel fuel sitting in the bilge. I immediately killed the bilge pumps and looked overboard to see if any fuel had gone over the side. Thankfully, none did. Whew!
I then returned to the engine room to find the leak and didn’t have to look too hard. There is a sight-glass on the side of one of my fuel tanks. Fuel was streaming from it. I’ve never trusted those sight glasses and keep the valves shut, but one had been opened by someone unknown and not re-closed. It hadn’t been an issue while the tanks were dry, but we topped them off before leaving Montenegro.
I called Steven for advice on how to proceed. My first reaction was to get out the wet/dry vacuum. Steven thought that was a bad idea and brought over a hand-pump he uses for these jobs. Unfortunately, the fuel was everywhere, and clean-up became a much bigger job than either of us expected.
Ultimately, we filled three five-gallon buckets with diesel fuel, grabbed from various pockets in the bilge. Anyone who has ever laid on their belly for over three hours, on the floor of a tight engine room, trying to vacuum fuel from tiny crevices, will tell you that it isn’t a pleasent experience. Diesel fuel does not smell pretty.
On completion I had three 5-gallon containers of diesel fuel. We had poured cleaning solution into the bilge, so it couldn’t be poured back into the tanks. I then called our ship’s agent and said, “Where can I dump three five-gallon buckets of diesel?” The agent was awesome. He had an environmental truck on site within minutes of the phone call. They took the diesel giving me back my empty buckets (I need them for oil changes.) The cost: $140 euro — just over $200 USD. I was happy to pay it.
This was pretty embarrassing… Within a minute of hanging up the phone with our agent I saw this garbage truck driving along the dock. Both Roberta and I started waving our arms and shouting. I ran out with two large zip-tied bags of garbage. The driver looked confused but accepted them and threw them in the back. I asked him to wait while I went inside to get a tip (I had asked Roberta for five euros.) As I was returning with the coins I noticed him setting two ten-gallon fuel cans onto the dock. OOPS! This wasn’t a garbage truck. It was an environmental clean-up truck, and he was here to collect the fuel. How embarrassing. He was a very nice guy who didn’t speak a word of english, and I helped him pour the fuel from my containers to his. He drove away with the trash, the fuel AND, his tip – made larger!
Steven lost an entire afternoon helping me, and I now owe him a big favor… With my luck it will be his black water system that springs a leak. And that said, I almost think I’d rather spend a day shoveling black water than EVER spend another day in an engine room cleaning diesel fuel. It’s really nasty stuff…
Our next few days will be challenging ones. We were spoiled in Greece, Montenegro and Croatia where 99% of our passages were short day-trips. Over these next few days we will be venturing to Malta, which is another country. We’ll get to clear in and out all over again. We’ll also have a couple of overnight passages, and potentially some wind in our faces to deal with.
That said, as I am typing this, we have been at sea for several hours, and I’ve been in rougher swimming pools. We’re underway, and life is good on Sans Souci!
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Ken and Roberta Williams
MV Sans Souci