[Kensblog#11] The Northern Adriatic, and the grumpy weather gods


Greetings all!

We now have less than three weeks of cruising remaining for this season. Recognizing that time is shortening, we decided to turn back south, at Pula, Croatia, rather than continuing farther north.

This map gives a very rough representation of the island hopping we’ve been doing in Croatia

At the end of my last blog entry we were at Soline Bay, near Pula, anchored, waiting on Steven and Carol of Seabird who had taken a ferry to Venice for a few days.

During this time we had several days of what they call here a Bura: a northeast wind, ranging between 20 and 30 knots. This is a fair amount of wind, but not enough to cause problems under normal conditions.

However, as I mentioned at the end of my last blog entry, a powerboat had anchored too close to us.


While I was sitting at my computer, I noticed this powerboat — which had been anchored in front of us — suddenly pass by my window. At first, I thought it must be pulling anchor to leave, but then realized it had dragged anchor and was heading towards rocks on the nearby shore. I ran outside and looked to see if anyone was in control of it, and there was no one visible. The boat was moving quickly and had less than a minute before it would be on the rocks. I started screaming the boat name, Antonella, as loud as I could, and a man came out from inside, holding a sandwich in his hand. He looked at me like I was crazy, yelling at him the way that I was. But then I started pointing at the nearby shore. He looked over and saw they were about to hit, and I saw the panic appear in his eyes. He immediately ran to the fly bridge, where his instruments were covered. He ripped off the covers, started the engines, and drove away with seconds to spare, anchoring elsewhere in the bay. On our tender, Roberta and I passed by his boat the next day, and his entire family, kids and all, came out to cheer us!

Each day at anchor we would repeat the same cycle. At around 10 in the morning the boats would start leaving. By noon, the anchorage would be down to a small number of boats. But then, by late afternoon the boats would start arriving.

The books will tell you that for safe anchoring you should put out five to seven times the water’s depth in anchor rode (chain or rope.) We were in 38 feet of water, in windy conditions, so I had initially put out 275 feet of chain (6 to 1 scope.) As the anchorage filled up I tried to keep other boats out of our swing circle. The goal was to have a 275 foot circle around my boat, with no boats in it, where I could swing with the wind without striking another boat. Different boats rotate at different rates, and so boats will put out varying amounts of rode. Plus, boats tend to swing back and forth at anchor, rather than neatly rotating into the wind.

Trying to send a message to one boat who was anchoring too close to me, but was ignoring my requests to move, I put this fender on the side of my boat while he watched. That worked, and he anchored elsewhere, although moments later, while I wasn’t looking, another boat anchored where he had just been!

I quickly realized how naïve I had been to think I could protect the area around my boat. It was an exercise in frustration. Most other boats refused to move, and even if they did, another boat would drop anchor where they had been within minutes. The best I could do was to hope that no other boats broke anchor and hit me during the night. Luckily, the nights were fairly calm and so we had no incidents. However, there were two times, during the daylight hours, when the wind came up and we swung around in our circle and came perilously close to another boat. Those two times, we definitely scared the people on the boat, who decided to quickly move. Wisely, I might add, as within a few minutes of their leaving, our boat moved into the spot where they had just been! Had that happened during the night, when everyone was asleep, we would have bumped…quite hard.


This picture taken at night of my radar shows the boats anchored around us. Our boat is at the center of the radar, and each of the rings represents a 150 foot distance. With 275 feet of chain out, I swing through a 340 foot circle, meaning there are 10 boats in this picture I could easily strike were the wind to come up.

Sans Souci is a lot bigger than most of the other boats we’ve seen.

Once I recognized I couldn’t do anything about all the boats around us, I relaxed and decided that if someone were dumb enough to anchor too close to us, they’d be the ones having a bad day, not Roberta and I. Our 120 tons would win any competition with a small boat. To give a little extra margin for error I shortened the amount of chain out, to 200 feet.

Our friends Braun and Tina, on Ocean Pearl, own a similar boat as ours: a Nordhavn 64. This sailboat made the mistake of bumping Ocean Pearl while tying up at the dock. There wasn’t even a scratch on Ocean Pearl.

Despite the crowded anchorage and the wind, we weren’t roughing it too bad. Here, we are enjoying parmesan-crusted chicken and arugula salads on the upper aft deck.

Triumphal Arch of the Sergi – Golden Gate. The “Golden Gate” was erected between the years 29 and 27 BC by the Roman Sergi family, in honor of three members of the family who held important positions in Pula at that time. This one picture is all that we took of Pula. It was hot and miserable, and we just wanted back on the boat. It had been our intention to also see the Roman amphitheater, in very good condition and still in use for concerts, etc, but the traffic was so bad that we gave up on it.

After four days at anchor the daytime winds finally calmed to 15 knots. When there is a lot of wind, we are trapped on the boat, as we don’t want to leave it alone at anchor. This wasn’t low enough that we could taxi the eight miles into Pula town, but was fine for visiting a restaurant at the edge of our own bay.

We found a vacant place at the tender dock, immediately next to a dive boat. Roberta was driving the tender while I was on the bow to tie us to the dock. The water was perhaps six feet deep. As I was reaching to grab the ring on the dock I looked down in the water, and saw several wet-suited divers immediately below the tender!!!!!! I started screaming at Roberta to kill the engine, and had visions of slicing open divers. She went to neutral, and I waited until the divers were a slip away, then told her to get out of there quick. There was no warning flag, and the dive master, sitting on the dive boat next to us, was sipping his coffee the whole time. He had to have seen us coming. Why didn’t he start waving his hands and screaming? We were so unnerved by the event we went back to the boat immediately. That was TOO close!

Finally, the wind calmed, and we immediately grabbed a ride into the nearby town of Pula. We had thought it might take 15 minutes, but with bad traffic it took nearly an hour. Once in town, it was hot and miserable with major crowds of tourists, and lots of dogs. Our little doggies don’t react well to other dogs, and we were constantly having to calm them down. We grabbed one picture, ate lunch at a restaurant, bought some fresh vegetables at the farmer’s market, and immediately summoned a taxi back to our boat. Our cab ride was cute. I knew the name of our bay, but our cab driver had never heard of it. It was far enough away that his map didn’t show the bay, and all I had was the Google Maps app on my cell phone which I kept pointing at. He didn’t understand what I was trying to show him on my cell phone. Luckily his 10-year-old son was along, spoke a few words of English and, more importantly, had geek skills that his father didn’t. Between my iphone and the driver’s son, we got back to the boat.

The next morning after Steven and Carol (Seabird, our traveling companions) returned from Venice, it was time to leave and explore new places. Our goal is to arrive in Sibenik around the 7th of September, where the two boats will spend the winter. We do not want to retrace steps getting there, though. One of the wonderful things about Croatia is that there are so many islands, and so many anchorages, that taking different routes is easy to do. 

That said, for expediency sake, we needed to return to our old anchorage at Mali Losinj, 35 miles south, where we had been immediately prior to Pula. We did that in order to get around the south end of a large island called Cres. We didn’t really want to hit the same anchorage twice, but figured it was only for one night.

That one night turned out to be one of the craziest, and most tense, we’ve experienced.

After four days we finally had some respite from the wind, but our calm seas were to be short-lived. The weather report was already warning of a coming wind, and we knew we needed to get somewhere secure. Our prior visit to the anchorage at Mali Losinj offered comfort that we would be safe there.

When we dropped anchor at Mali Losinj (in the Artetore anchorage) there were perhaps 20 boats. As I usually do, I dropped my anchor the farthest out from shore, in the deepest water, so that our bow was pointing at all the other boats from behind them. By doing this I usually have the fewest boats around me, and can have room to swing at anchor.

We arrived around noon. By evening the 20 boats in front of us had multiplied to nearly 100. There aren’t a lot of great places to go during a high wind, and this anchorage had a good reputation for being protected, so LOTS of boats had the same idea.

This picture explains why I keep talking about boats dragging anchor, when the wind hasn’t really been THAT bad.

The problem that occurred, after the wind started up at midnight, is summarized by this picture. In it you see a 42′ sailboat who anchored in 40 feet of water. I watched as they put out perhaps 90 feet of rode, giving themselves a scope (ratio of rode to depth) of slightly over 2 to 1. That’s fine on a nice calm day, but when the wind picks up, it is a formula for disaster. I am only showing this particular boat because he happened to put down an anchor marker, making it easy to demonstrate the short amount of rode he put out. The vast majority of the boats around us seem to put out an inadequate amount of anchor rode (rope or chain).

I’ve also noticed that their anchoring technique is open to debate. Whereas Roberta and I are very methodical in our anchoring, and careful to get a nice neat line of chain on the bottom, putting out plenty of chain and setting the anchor as we carefully back up, most of these boats just drop their anchors, with an extra 50’ or so of rope, or chain, in a pile, then slam the boat into reverse, back up quickly, and hope the anchor sets. I’d say that over half of all the anchorings I saw were unsuccessful and had to be done over again. My guess is that many of these are charter boats, with relatively inexperienced crew. Mixing inexperience and high wind can mean disaster.

Anyway.. back to my story.

At midnight the wind picked up. It woke us up and we went up to the pilot house to see how much wind there was. It wasn’t that bad: 15 to 20 knots. The highest we ever saw was 24 knots. Sans Souci was well set, so normally I would have gone back to bed. But… we saw a dark shape moving and realized it was a sailboat about to hit our bow! The sailboat had dragged anchor and was coming our way. I turned on our night vision camara and could see the crew jumping to action getting the engine started, and grabbing control of the boat. They missed us by no more than a dozen feet. Had they not woken, we probably would have been hit.

We knew immediately that we’d get no more sleep. The boat attempted to re-anchor behind us, and failed. As we were watching them another boat broke loose, and repeated the story. Then, a 35′ power boat arrived. Perhaps they had broken anchor elsewhere, and were just re-anchoring. We didn’t know anything other than that they suddenly dropped anchor right in front of us, and were floating 50 feet upwind from us. Watching them anchor, we were convinced that they would drag before the night was out. We couldn’t believe it as, after they anchored, they shut off all the lights, did not turn on an anchor light, and apparently went to sleep. We saw no sign they were in the least concerned about how close they were to us, or how much wind there was.

To cut this story short, nothing ever happened. We spent hours wondering when we’d be hit. We survived the night just fine. But, along the way we saw many boats drag anchor, and a continuous stream of boats anchoring three and four times, dragging repeatedly. All of this in pitch black. Without night vision to watch the action, nothing would have been visible except moving lights. We also followed the action on our radar. I keep it set such that each ring is 150′ apart and that lets me know where everyone is, and most importantly how close they are to us. Whenever the wind would pass 20 knots, I’d start Sans Souci’s engines, to be ready to take evasive action if needed.

The wind continued all night, and no one in the bay got any sleep. That said, at 4:30am Roberta and I went to bed. It seemed that those who would drag had dragged, and the action was calming, if not the wind.

At 7:00 a.m. Seabird and us discussed leaving, but we were too tired. We needed more sleep. Seabird had an equally tough night, also sitting anchor watch much of the night. At 9:30 we pulled anchor and ran another 33 miles to the island of Rab, where we found an incredible anchorage just outside the quaint town, which was so well protected that we enjoyed several days of calm weather, despite the wind that continued to blow nearby.

Church of St. Mary the Great (Sveta Marija Velika.) Both the church and its bell tower were built in the 12th century. The pieta above the church door dates to the early 16th century. The church itself is full of centuries of history with its 11th-century altar canopy, its 15th-century choir stalls, and its 16th-century architecture. We had dinner beneath the bell tower, and can attest that it is fully functional as we spent nearly 30 minutes listening to a call to a church service. We were then surprised when, as we later walked past the church, we saw that it was full, and everyone was singing “Kumbaya” along with the white-robed priest. We thought it interesting as, even though Kumbaya is nominally religious, you don’t really think of hearing it in an ancient church in Croatia!

Rab is a VERY tourist-centric town, and I mean that in a good way. There was a lot to see and do, ranging from history to faux-submarine rides, fishing, diving, restaurants, nightclubs and more.

Looking at our anchorage from Rab town. Lots of room in the anchorage, and calm seas.

There was a smaller marina just in front of our anchorage. As we got closer we couldn’t believe the docks. It looked to us like they’d fall apart any moment.

Just on the other side of our anchorage from Rab town is a long peninsula, perfect for hiking. I’m always a fan of beachside restaurants, and we had a very nice lunch at one. Hiking up the beach with the dogs we hit a sign which had a diagram of people with “X”s over their clothes, indicating, “No clothes beyond this point.” We turned back. Steven and Carol took the same hike, venturing a bit further because they didn’t notice the sign, and were confused when a naked guy who was clearly upset made them turn back. They thought he wanted their money, but it was their clothes he was after!

Roberta driving the tender as we return from dinner and stopped to get fuel.

Sans Souci and Seabird at anchor on the island of Rab

After several awesome days at Rab, I read about a town on the nearby island of Pag, called Zrce, which was described as “Ibiza-like.”

Well .. I like Ibiza (in Spain), so we decided to head to it. We knew we might not be staying though, as the cruising guide explained that it is a party island and the noise extends out for miles. All night long while trying to sleep we’d be hearing the music, “Boom boom boom boom…”

Running south along the east coast of Pag Island, between Pag and the mainland. About half-way down the island we crossed a ferry route connecting the mainland with Pag. From what we could see, Pag was a barren, desolate island, yet there was a line of cars waiting for the ferry, on both sides of the ferry run, stretching for a mile or more. After thinking about it, we decided that the line of cars for the ferry belonged to all of the kids who wanted to party at Zrce.

The Bura winds are strong around Pag Island and over the years they have converted Pag into a lunar landscape. That said, Pag’s current “claim to fame” is that it is famous for producing Croatia’s ‘national’ cheese, Pag cheese. It is a cheese made from sheep’s milk and raising sheep is a primary activity for the island’s few residents. It is said that there are over 40,000 sheep on Pag – many more sheep than people residents!

As you might guess, it was Steven and I who made the decision to go to the party place of Zrce, not the girls. When Roberta and Carol complained about the potential noise we explained that, if late at night it becomes too loud, Steven and I would tender to shore, visit the discos one by one, and ask them to keep it down. We are gentlemen, of course….

So…35 miles after leaving Rab we were in the town of Zrce on Pag Island. We dropped our anchors in front of town, and tendered in.

WOW … it was a bizarre place!

Zrce, party-central for the northern Adriatic.

As we were tendering to the beach, we were zigzagging between lots of jet skis. Then we saw cables overhead, with lines dropped down, towing a dozen water skiers! We saw a person with jet boots, levitating off the water, and many bars and discos. It was like Disneyland for college age kids!

Bungee jumping – right on top of our tender!

As we were tying up to the only dock we could find Carol said, “Where was this when I was a kid? I’d have done anything to go to a place like this!” Steven said the same thing minutes later. There was a line of discos, some with fun things like hammocks over the water, tables sitting in swimming pools. It wasn’t hard to imagine this would be a wild place at night.

The only problem was that we were the oldest people there by at least 35 years (I’m including all of the staff), and my guess is that the discos don’t open until after our bedtime.

I suddenly felt VERY old…

As we were tying to the dock, we were suddenly shouted at to GO AWAY. A guy on a speed boat was freaking out and waving to us to leave. “Why?” I said. He pointed upwards. Oops — we were trying to tie up beneath the bungee jump “ride”! We got an amazing view of a bikini-clad bungee jumper as we were pulling away. None of us ever considered getting in line.

We found an over-water disco where we tied to a ladder, then went ashore for an unimaginably bad lunch, after which we returned to the tenders, and then pulled anchor for a quieter anchorage seven miles away.

Where was this place when I was college age?

Pag is an enormous island: nearly 40 miles long, and ranging from 1 to 6 miles wide. The island is shaped like a giant stretched out donut with a long bay in the middle, Zrce at the north end of the bay, and Pag town at the southern end. There is only one entrance to the bay, which is towards the south.

We headed for the south end of the bay, and anchored in front of Pag town, just outside the harbor.

Tendering into Pag Town. There are many tourist boats taking kids out to Zrce.

The island itself is sparsely habited, and strangely this is the first place we’ve visited where we’ve been cruising alone. There are a few small pangas, and tiny local boats, but no other cruising boats or sailboats. We have reached a part of Croatia that few cruising boats visit.

After a night in Pag town – where we went out for dinner and bought two loaves of rustic bakery bread — we were ready for a new experience. Looking at the charts we noticed two inland lakes, 35 miles south of us, recessed within the mainland, and connected by small rivers. After we convinced ourselves that we would be able to enter at least one of the lakes, tender to the other, and that the depths were ok for anchoring, we prepared to head there.

Normally, we get underway around 8am, however our departure was delayed by the need to look at my 20kw generator. I had turned it off briefly the day before to run the larger of my two generators (our 25kw generator), so that Roberta could do laundry and run the dryer and also the dishwasher. I run the 20kw 99% of the time. Generally, if we are away from the dock the 20kw is running. This has meant five years of it running non-stop 24 hours a day, seven days a week, during our summer cruising seasons – when not at a marina.

My 20kw generator has always been reliable, but suddenly, when I went to turn it back on, nothing happened. It didn’t even try to start.

Steven came over to help me “debug,” and the first thing we checked was the batteries. I had watched the battery voltage while trying to start the generator and it dropped immediately from 12.9 volts to 9.5 volts. Either the starting batteries were dead, or the generator had seized up. I was voting for dead batteries.

Sure enough, a battery tester confirmed dead batteries. This is a somewhat serious issue on Sans Souci. I do have the 25kw generator, which is virtually new, however, should the 25kw fail, I’m not sure what would happen. On most boats, the house battery bank can be charged from the main engines, and that MAY be true on Sans Souci, but I’m really not sure. I looked at the electrical plans, and can’t find where the house battery bank is connected to the main engine alternators.

To make a long story short, I contacted a boat mechanic from Sibenik, and started a quest for new batteries. With a little luck I’ll get them sometime in the next week, and the 25kw generator will keep running until that time.

While we were en route to the lake area we started studying the weather.

To look at the weather, we have several different sites we look at. Sometimes they agree on the forecast, but often they don’t. We usually look for the worst forecast and plan accordingly. In this case, the weather forecasts all showed bad weather (a Bura wind) coming in a couple of days, but varied as to the strength of the winds. Most indicated a wind coming that would be 15 knots, but one of the forecasts was saying we’d see gusts to 65 knots! With wind there is an exponential component. Remember Einstein’s theory about force being equal to mass times speed squared? I doubted we’d really see anywhere near 65 knots, but there is less of a penalty for being over-prepared than being under-prepared.

We did not want to be caught in a large inland lake surrounded by high mountains in a storm. This started us looking for well-protected anchorages. We saw one interesting bay on the chart, called Uvala Jasenovo. There was virtually no information we could find about it, in books or on the internet, but it seemed perfect: 29 foot deep, plenty large but not too large, sheltered from the northeast (the direction of the Bura winds) and a sand bottom (for good holding.)

At the southern tip of Pag Island there is a bridge connecting it to the mainland. This picture is of Seabird going under the bridge, and of an old castle we saw as we came under the bridge. Passing under the bridge was made a bit more interesting by a bit of a current, and by a sailboat which had broken down right in the center and was being towed by a small tender.

We passed this church as we entered our anchorage. It was alone in the middle of nowhere. I’m sure there is some story to it, but I don’t know what it is.

A few hours later we turned into the bay, and were delighted by what we found. It was a big empty bay, with only a few sunbathers on shore, and all the room to swing at anchor that we could want. Our only worry was that this appeared to be a perfect anchorage, but no one was in it. What had we missed? Why would such a nice anchorage be empty?

Seabird at anchor (or, to view it in 3d, click this link: http://tinyurl.com/km9r2j5
This “picture” would look much different 48 hours later.

We had 48 hours before the storm would set in so — time to swim and explore!

Dinner our first night onboard Sans Souci was magical. We had music going, wine open, Mexican tacos and spicy black beans on the table, the hot tub warmed, a gorgeous sunset and — to make things even better, a dolphin showed up to perform a little show for us. (Actually, it wasn’t actually “performing”; it was following a school of fish all around our boat for a good 15 minutes, jumping out of the water multiple times. The dogs were barking their heads off watching it, but the dolphin didn’t seemed fazed by us, or by them!) It was the kind of evening that makes you quickly forget all the expense and frustration that we sometimes experience with world cruising.

Our anchorage is near Nin, a town with a three thousand year old history.

Nin, Croatia

Yesterday we tendered to the town of Nin (only about 3 miles.)

It doesn’t show it in this picture, but the most interesting part of the trip is that Nin is hidden from view from a tender on the water. We could see in Google Earth that there was a small dredged passage to it. The water gets extremely shallow around there and you can’t see the dredged passage.

Roberta and I tendered over there on our first day, and ran the entire shore of the nearby bay and couldn’t find the entrance to the channel. Then, Steven and Carol (Seabird) took their tender over, and couldn’t find the city, despite seeing the belltower in the distance. 

The shallow dredged passage leading into Nin. In this picture we are returning to the boat from Nin. The passage is obvious when you know where it is, and not so obvious otherwise.

Finally, Roberta and I studied Google Earth, and mapped out a route, putting the GPS waypoints into the charting system on our tender. When we arrived near the entrance, we were positive we were in the wrong place. There was nothing but a beach with a bunch of swimmers and very shallow water. Then, I noticed a small boat heading towards the swimmers. The water was only four feet deep there and we were still perhaps 100 yards from shore. We raised the outboard engine on the back of the tender a bit higher and then followed the boat, working our way through the swimmers, and discovered that what I had thought was a series of floats marking off the swimming area was in reality marking a dredged channel to the town of Nin.

The channel was SHALLOW, running 2 to 4 feet deep, with swimmers in it. We followed the other boat and finally made it into the town. I phoned Steven as soon as we were in, and said, “You have to come do this! I don’t know what the town is like but the passage in is a real adventure!” I gave him the waypoints I used, and a description of what to watch for. He and Carol jumped in their tender immediately.

The town was great once we were in, and we had a nice lunch. The truth is that I’m starting to burn out on old cities, ancient churches, belltowers, and tourist towns — but, the ride in was a blast!

The parish Church of St Anselm located in the centre of Nin, was the Nin cathedral during the rule of Croatian Kings and later. It was built in the 6th century and restored during the reign of King Zvonimir in 1070 and through history suffered damage several times and assumed its present-day appearance in the 18th century.

There are some amazingly well preserved boats in the museum, dating back to the 11th century. It’s interesting how they were put together: sewn with line rather than using nails.

As I type this, the Bura has now started and our idyllic anchorage has turned into a much different place. The wind has just hit 45 knots, and is expected to climb through the day. Our boats are holding their positions just fine, and there are no other boats or people anywhere around. It will be a long day!

That’s it for now. As always, thank you!

Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci
With daily updates at: http://www.facebook.com/kensblogdotcom

P.S. The wind has continued to climb, reaching 47 knots a bit ago. To see a video of the wind, click this link: http://tinyurl.com/ld6h5uc

2 Responses

  1. Great blog post Ken. I really enjoyed all of the pictures. I hope you and Roberta enjoy your last few weeks of the season.

  2. The picture “Pag-town tourist boat” is great. It appears when looking at Seabird as if they are pushing it with the tender. Also, the water is absolutely amazing. Clear as spring water. I believe I read you are not a fisherman but just curious how good the fishing is there? Don’t see many sport fishers, just sailboats and old guys in yachts :). Great story.

    ————Response by Ken — August 21 2013 —

    JC, As you said, I’m not a fisherman, so I really don’t know how the fishing is. That said, an educated guess would be: horrible. I’ve dived a few places here and have yet to see a large fish. Nor, have I seen even one sport-fisher (boat.)

    They’ve been fishing these waters for a very long time, and it’s tough to believe that many fish survived.

    That said, virtually every restaurant here features fish on the menu, so the fish are coming from somewhere. But, where?

    -Ken W

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Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson