[Kensblog#7] Welcome to Croatia!

 

Greetings all!

For our departure from Montenegro and to enter Croatia I hired one temporary crew member to assist us. This was extremely unusual but Roberta and I really had no choice. We were advised that in order to clear into Croatia we would need to stern-tie in a tiny port using our anchor. It was only a four-hour run to the port in Croatia, so having an extra body on board to assist seemed a great idea. I’m generally adverse to having crew on the boat, but for a short trip, it seemed fine.

As it turned out a real mess was waiting for us in Croatia and this would turn out to be the smartest $150 I ever spent.

Before I talk about our “day in hell,” I have a few pictures from our tour around the Kotor area:

Castle on the hillside above Kotor. To reach it there are 1500 steps. Steven, Carol and Carol’s sister, Tina, went for it, and said that I made a smart decision not to give it a try.
One problem we had touring around was that the hot sun heated the roads. Our dogs (Toundra and Keeley) couldn’t take the heat, which meant we had to carry them. Here you see Toundra hitching a ride on my shoulder in the quaint little town of Perast.
Beautiful sunsets over the Bay of Kotor!

I didn’t see much in the way of sand beaches in Kotor. Instead, there are concrete walkways lining most of the edge of the various bays and coves. There seems to be a sunbathing culture. Anytime the sun came out, these ” concrete beaches” would immediately load up with people, despite the cold water. One waiter I spoke to said that it had been a miserable start to the summer, with business at disastrous levels, due to an excess of rain and cold weather.

: The town of Perast in the bay of Kotor

I mentioned in my last blog that Porto Montenegro Marina was mega-yacht central. The marina is like a self-contained city, with an upscale hotel, many restaurants, shops, and condos. 

Roberta pointed out to me that she kept seeing young couples strolling around the marina pushing baby carriages. I hadn’t noticed it, but after she mentioned it I also started noticing. She was right! There were dozens of young couples each with one or more babies wandering through the marina. All were dressed up fancy, and enjoying their walk.

Finally, I was curious, and pointed out one of the couples to a waiter. He answered that the local people liked to fancy up and stroll through the marina with their kids. The marina offers a level of elegance beyond anything the locals have ever seen, so they like to walk through it.

Another incident that stood out in my mind…

One night we went to dinner at a fancy waterfront restaurant. As we were dining we noticed a 50′ yacht pull up directly in front of the restaurant and start spinning like it was going to stern tie directly in front of our table. We were disappointed to maybe lose our view, but it was what it was. Once the boat backed to within a few feet of our table, the passarelle (gang plank) came out and two extremely well-dressed couples stepped off the boat. The boat then went out to anchor in the bay. Impressive! When the waiter came by minutes later he explained that they were Russian locals, and good customers. He said they visited a couple times a week, and hired the local boat to bring them to the restaurant, “at 800 hundred Euro a trip” (equivalent to $1000.00 dollars). I asked if there were many Russians in Montenegro and he said that most of the ex-pats were Russian.

All of this got me thinking about the local economy. When Roberta and I were here in 1991, a year or so before war broke out in the region — while it was still communist Yugoslavia — it had been a very depressing place. There was little food to be found at the grocery stores, and even the few restaurants had very meager offerings (mostly bad pizza, it seemed). Roberta and I drove from Dubrovnik south to Sveti Stefan, a nine-hour trip through the formidable mountains between them, and remember searching at each little village we entered for something to eat. The ‘mini marts’ were empty in place after place. Finally, after at least 6 hours of driving, we found a box of Sugar-frosted-Flakes in one little town and a half-sized can of Pringles. That was all that we found until we reached Sveti Stefan! We commented to ourselves at the time that ‘something didn’t seem right’ there; something bad was happening. We weren’t surprised when the break-up of Yugoslavia happened not long after

I checked the average income in today’s Montenegro, and found that it is $618 USD per month. On the positive side, this is a tripling in the six years since Montenegro became an independent country. On the negative side, it is only $618 per month in a country where the living cost is high and rising quickly.

Our temporary helper on the boat, Dusan, mentioned that he needs to work three jobs to survive. I’m always curious about health care in other countries and couldn’t resist asking him who would pay if he broke his arm, or got cancer. He seemed puzzled by the question. There would be no cost he said, except for medications. Those, he said, are very expensive. I tried to ask “How expensive?” but he didn’t have a basis for answering. As long as I was already being nosey I couldn’t resist pushing further. “You have seen dramatic change in your lifetime. You were born in Yugoslavia, were part of Serbia for a while, went through the conversion to an independent country, and are now in the process to become part of the EU. Any thoughts on that?” He was the wrong person to ask the question. He really didn’t seem to “get” what I was asking. His response was that nothing from his perspective had changed except that it was getting tougher and tougher to earn a living.

Anyway, I don’t want to bog the blog down in a discussion of economics, and to be honest I haven’t done enough research that my opinions should be taken as informative or accurate. All I can say for sure is: We liked Montenegro and the Montenegran people and look forward to returning there next year

 
Departing Montenegro

Seabird left before us to go to the fuel dock. In order to get duty free fuel you need to be departing Montenegro within 24 hours. I asked what they paid, and they took fuel for $3.60 a gallon! Incredible. I should have bought fuel, but waited too late to make the decision, and it was impossible to make an appointment.

Our run from Croatia to Montenegro was a very easy one: four hours in totally calm seas.

This picture, which looks so peaceful, was taken just moments before chaos set in.

Capt. Ken, bringing the boat into Cavtat, Croatia, happy to have an additional crew member for the day!

Calm and sunny for our arrival in Croatia

This was our first arrival in Croatia, at the town of Cavtat, where we had to clear customs. My goal was to back the boat neatly toward shore, drop the anchor and tie the stern, so that customs could inspect the boat and process our entry into Croatia.

See that large gap between the sailboat and the big boat? That’s where I wanted to put my boat. I prepared to drop the anchor and back up when the guy on the big white boat ran out and started waving me off. He indicated with his arms the direction that his chain extended out from his boat; far to the right. He wanted me much closer to the sailboat, so as not to tangle our two anchor chains.

Meanwhile, on the sailboat, they ran out to shout to Roberta and Dusan that they were leaving, and we could have their spot.

Once the sailboat left, I dropped the anchor and headed towards the now-vacated location. What I hadn’t realized was that the wall behind me was not straight. I had thought it was, but it was curved like an arc. Once I backed up, the starboard side (right side) of my boat reached the wall at least four feet before the port side (left side) of my boat. But the anchor had been dropped at an angle more to my starboard side. Sans Souci couldn’t straighten out, what with the anchor chain taut! This made tying the stern lines difficult. Dusan threw the stern lines to shore, where the customs agents caught them and tied them. We were now tied to shore. We were crooked, but at least we were at the dock.

Unfortunately though, we had no way to get to shore. We have a gangplank, on the port side of the stern of the boat, but with the port side so far from shore, the gangplank was useless.

That was the least of our problems though.

Just barely as the customs men got our stern lines tied, our calm summer day turned into the day from hell. A squall hit in seconds. We probably should have known it was coming, but there had been nothing in the forecast, and the weather was calm just minutes before. We had been lured into complacency.

Blindsided by a squall on arrival in Croatia

We went from sunshine to pounding rain so thick we couldn’t see, accompanied by strong winds that were blowing the boat sideways to starboard. Further complicating the situation, we had lightning. This was 100% unexpected. The customs guys were on shore looking at us, and were getting drenched. Dusan, Roberta and I were looking back at them, helpless. They indicated they wanted our boat papers, but we had no way to get them to shore. Soaked to the skin in seconds, I had Roberta keep the boat stable at the controls while I put out some more anchor rode, allowing the boat to back close enough to the dock that our papers could be thrown to the custom’s officials. I then tightened the chain again so that we wouldn’t smash into the dock. 

We were being slammed from the side by 25-30 knot winds, and I was worried about our anchor holding. I had no reason to believe it wasn’t well set, but the truth is that we didn’t do our full “set the anchor” drill. This was intended as a quick ‘in and out’ in calm weather. I would have anchored differently had I known to expect high winds from the beam. Lesson learned.

Minutes after leaving with our papers, the customs agents were back to the boat shouting that they needed four copies each of our passports, my captain’s license, the boat certificate of documentation and the insurance papers. I had sent all of this to our agent a week ago, but he was nowhere to be seen. Roberta was still working the boat’s controls, trying to keep us stable through the storm. Dusan and I were soaked to the skin, and I rushed upstairs to print off the needed copies.

As one would expect, given that I obviously had done something to anger the cruising-gods, after printing one page, I ran out of printer paper. I’m sure I have an unopened package somewhere on this boat, but finding it while under duress was physically impossible.

Soaked custom guys on the dock, Roberta miserably trying to hold the boat in position, no agent in sight, and no printer paper. What’s next? I quickly grabbed a stack of already-printed paper (old out of date insurance papers) and printed on the backs of the pages, scribbling across the reverse side of the pages a giant “X.” I then rigged up a zip lock bag with the papers and a weight, and went to the cockpit to toss them to shore.

The customs guys had disappeared! For over half an hour we stood in the cockpit, soaked, and waiting, wondering what was going on.

A soaked Ken and his day-crew, Dusan.

As quickly as the storm started, it ended, and the world was looking bright again. When the customs guys finally re-appeared, they were accompanied by our agent (Marko) who was smiling, giving me a big thumbs-up, and holding the bag with my paperwork. He shouted over to us that all was good and we were cleared to go. Yay!!!!

With the weather now calm, Seabird, who had been floating for the duration of the squall in the center of the tiny bay, backed up to the dock on my port side. My papers were passed to them, and we then used a boat hook to pass them to me.

We asked the agent what we owed, and it was 750 euros (nearly $1,000) each! We were paying the agency fee, plus for a one-year cruising permit. Ouch. [Note: Later Seabird handed me 100 euros saying the agent had overcharged me, and gave them my refund.]

After clearing into Croatia we were exhausted, so we only went a couple more miles around the corner to drop anchor.

Dusan left us at the customs dock in Cavtat, and taxied back to Montenegro. We departed for a bay just a couple miles away, where we dropped anchor.

After settling in, I spoke with the Australian captain of a large boat anchored near us. He cautioned me to make sure our anchor was well set, as there had been high wind the previous two nights. On the prior night it had reached 38 knots. This was not what I wanted to hear, but felt fitting with the day.

Sure enough, at 10pm, the winds started climbing.

One project on Sans Souci that I kept forgetting to do is that I’d really like a way to dial in a particular wind speed, and then have some alarm sound, audible in the master stateroom if the wind speed passes some pre-defined threshold. For example, I’d like to be able to have an alarm sound if the wind passes 20 knots. I’d like to know that if there were a squall I wouldn’t sleep through it. Given that I don’t have such a system, I got curious if there were any iphone apps that would at least wake me if the anchor were to drag, and downloaded several.

A nice feature of Nobeltec Odyssey (my navigation software) is that I can ask it to track the path of my own boat, or any other boat. Here you see that I’ve drawn circles on the chart representing my potential swing circle as well as Seabird’s. You can also see the actual path that the two boats traversed during the night. The smaller “inner circle” on my path represents our rotation during the day before the wind came up.

The DragQueen app on my iphone. Yes, that is its name.

I downloaded an app called “Drag Queen” which somehow is able to determine my location. I then told it to trigger an alarm if the boat moved more than 10 feet. I just wanted a quick test. Minutes later the alarm went off. Pretty cool! So, I went to bed, and set it to warn me if I went outside my swing circle. The wind rose to about 25 knots, and stayed between 20 and 28 all night long. At about 4:30am the alarm did go off, but after jumping out of bed in a panic I realized that I had just set the parameters too tight. All was fine. My first reaction is that this is a pretty handy app, and will be part of our regular anchoring ritual.

By 10am the next morning, the winds disappeared completely. Thus, we felt safe to leave the boats and grab a taxi into nearby ancient walled city of Dubrovnik (about 10 miles away.)

 

The walled city of Dubrovnik

While our wives toured the city, Steven and I spent the day trying to get internet going. We had just changed countries, and our solution for internet in Montenegro was no longer working.

Warning! Geek alert. This next section is only for techies

Sans Souci has a variety of ways to get internet, including from a satellite, but the fastest and most reliable method we’ve found, in virtually every country, is to use local 3g data cards. These are typically sold as a USB stick, and are typically very cheap (under $75.) In addition to the purchase price for the USB stick, which has a SIM card in it, like a telephone, you have to pay for data as you consume it. Prices for data run from very low to very expensive. They are all over the map. It is best to compare multiple carriers, and even within a given carrier there can be multiple packages with dramatically different pricing. I’ve now used these data cards in a dozen countries, and they are awesome, but always difficult to get going. An average price for data might be $20 per gigabyte, but as I said, it varies enormously from country to country and package to package.

Both Seabird and Sans Souci use vast amounts of data. Because we are traveling internationally we watch news from home on the internet. Plus, we just generally like our internet.

Even as often as we have gone through the process, it is never easy. It was particularly frustrating here in Croatia for a variety of reasons. The store clerk wasn’t very familiar with the data pricing, and gave us pricing that was incorrect. Then when we tried to use the data cards, they simply wouldn’t work. After hours of effort, the card worked, for minutes, then quit. The information and instructions on the internet were out of date and didn’t match the product. Steven and I spent a long frustrating day trying to get the cards working, and when they finally did work, they consumed money at twenty times the expected rate. We’d go broke using them! Steven thought he was running fine when I broke the news to him that the pricing was all screwed up and not what we had thought. After many calls to support we got onto the correct billing plan, and after a lot more experimenting we found a package better than any we had hoped for – $2 per day, for unlimited usage!

To complete this story, once we have a working data stick, we plug it into a computer which has something called “Internet Connection Sharing,” which allows one computer on a network to share its internet connection with other computers. We plug this into the WAN port on a router, and then the whole boat runs off that router.

And.. back to our story…

After losing an entire day to resolving internet issues, we never really got a good chance to explore Dubrovnik. The cab ride back and forth to Dubrovnik, from Cavtat, was a long miserable one. There is a water taxi that goes from Cavtat to Dubrovnik, but the Seabird crew had taken it and said it was horrible. They described it as, “60 people crammed into a boat meant for 40, sloshing back and forth in roll-y seas for an hour.”

Roberta had an idea! There is an anchorage right in front of the old city of Dubrovnik. On the chart it looked very exposed to potential wind and swell, but it would be cool to be anchored in front of the old city. We thought that once we got there we could evaluate the situation, and either stay the night, or move to some other place. Where we were wasn’t that great, anyway; we kept seeing high winds that were lasting all night. To my surprise everyone agreed. What had pushed it over the edge was the opportunity to not only to better visit Dubrovnik itself, but to explore the adjacent island of Lokrum, which is a nature preserve.

Anchored directly in front of the old city of Dubrovnik

 

Tendering in to Dubrovnik. Does it get any cooler than this?
We were anchored alongside a monster-sized 300′ megayacht named Phoenix 2, which had a helicopter. So, in a moment of silliness, when riding in our tender, Roberta adjusted the camera angle on my iPhone, to see how a helicopter might look on Sans Souci’s bow. I think it looks good! Now, all I need is a helicopter! On a more serious note, it was interesting to watch the helicopter take off. For each takeoff/landing there was a person to direct the action, plus two fire-fighters standing by, in full firefighting uniforms.

We wanted to get the dogs off the boat, and took them into the old city. Unfortunately, there were lots of dogs wandering through the city, some on leashes, and some that weren’t. Our dogs freak out when they see other dogs, so after creating a scene when another dog started following us around, we decided to try our luck on the adjacent island of Lokrum.

We tendered over to Lokrum, tied to the tender dock, and just as we were about to step ashore, we were intercepted by an official-looking guy who waved us away. We assumed we were tied somewhere we shouldn’t be, and tried to ask where we should tie. After a bit of confusion, we understood that the problem was the dogs. No dogs allowed in this nature conservancy. Argh!

Disappointed, we decided to circle the island in our tender for a little sight-seeing.

As we passed the south side of the island, we saw a series of very cool caves, including this one that had a bunch of kayaks coming out. We couldn’t resist tendering into the cave! A fun experience.

We are now into the part of our trip where distances have become small. From Cavtat to Dubrovnik was an eight-mile run. Our next anchorage was only five miles north, on the island of Lopud. We anchored in front of Sunj beach.

I always like the bays with a beach and a restaurant on the beach. The funny thing is that we couldn’t get to the restaurant. There was a large swim area between us and the restaurant. To reach it we’d need to tender to the edge of the swim area, anchor the tender, then swim. Swimming in fairly cold water (it was 72 degrees) with two little dogs, isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Here’s a 3d picture showing our anchorage: CLICK HERE

Not being able to reach the beach turned out fine. I spent the day trying to get the hot tub going (it has been broke for a while, with replacement parts slowly moseying their way our direction from the US.) After hours of effort I was able to somewhat get the hot tub going. This meant barbecuing, dinner on the back deck, and an evening sitting in the hot tub, listening to soft music, and thinking about how great life is.

We thought about staying for another day, but have a lot to see, so we decided to move to another anchorage on the island of Mljet, once again, a short distance away. It almost feels like cheating to do such short cruises, in this case, only 8 miles, to the bay of Saplunara on the island of Mljet.

A wonderful anchorage. There was a restaurant on the beach, which made for a nice lunch, but for dinner we decided to stay onboard. Chicken piccata, arugula and mozzarella salad with sun-dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts, roasted potatoes, well-fermented grape juice, and mellow jazz. Because of the way the wind turned the boat we had an audience of dozens of sail boats. We felt a little decadent — make that a lot decadent! — but it didn’t spoil the evening!

 

I like to over-light the boat at night, to triple-be-certain that other boats know where we are. I also turn on the underwater lights, so that our tender becomes ultra-visible.

When we dropped the anchor there were only three or four other boats. By the evening, we were surrounded by sail boats. Each of the rings on this radar display represents only 150 feet. Luckily, there was never any wind during the night.

A correction to my last blog entry

Just a small note of correction on some of your blog notes;

Montenegro gained independence from Serbia in 2006.
And for chartering (my occupation) … it all depends on Country….
In Greece I can charter anyone a sail AND/OR power yacht with little or sometimes no certification. In Croatia and Italy paperwork is mandatory and an IYT, ASA or equivalent certificate is required for ALL (power and sail) charters as well as a VHF radio operators card. Without both – you will not get a charter yacht, or at least you will have to hire a skipper. In Spain, boating certificates required – no VHF. Of course BVI is as well nothing but a short resume (but should be!). I feel the VHF license should also be a must in the Caribbean. Too many companies are relying on cellular coverage and it just is not consistent. Todays VHF radio also offer the convenience and safety of AIS, so being able to operate and understand the radio should be mandatory in all countries (in my opinion).

cheers – Patrick Festing-Smith
www.mangoyachtcharters.com

And, lastly: A sad email from some close friends in Seattle

Ingrid and I were anchored yesterday early morning in Bedwell Harbor when we received a text message saying our friend’s 80 ft. boat “Irish Bull” was on fire. The boat was located only 10 miles away so we hauled anchor and ran full throttle to give aid. We arrived to find our (4) friends had gotten off the boat and safely to shore. We brought them onboard and for the next seven hours watched fire fighters try to put out the blaze that eventually caused the boat to sink. There was nothing anyone could do. At the end of the day we headed backed to Roche Harbor – everyone sad and devastated after watching the event unfold.

Upon arriving at Roche we witnessed the remains of another boat 85ft Ocean Alexander that had also caught fire and sunk. Two boats in one day is hard to believe. We are still in shock, heartbroken over our friend’s loss, but grateful for NO loss of life or injury. Newspaper links to the two fires are attached. This is one day we will never forget.

Dean

1) http://tinyurl.com/o3yvb64
2) http://tinyurl.com/off3hpd

 

That’s it for this edition of the blog!

Thank you all,
Ken and Roberta Williams
http://www.kensblog.com

With daily blog updates, at: http://www.facebook.com/kensblogdotcom

5 Responses

  1. Love your blog Ken.
    been following now for a number of months. We were in Roche and tie next to the 85 footer that burn up. Very scary.
    John & Tina
    N7509 Sockeye Blue

  2. Ken and Roberta,

    Thanks for sharing your adventure. Your latest blog was a great read. Looking forward to more.

    Jim

  3. SUBJECT: Sans Souci

    Hey Ken —

    My wife and I are in Potsdam, Germany, and as a follower of your blog, I had to send you this picture of us in front of Schloss Sans Souci–built by William the Great.

    Wishing you good boating the rest of your trip, I am

    Very truly yours,
    Don Heckman

    Sent from my iPad Mini

  4. Hey Ken,

    Appreciate the blog. We met once in passing down near your home in Cabo. I hAD owned a 112 footer and we exchanged a few emails.

    On your note of the guy yelling you off when anchoring – I once charted a large boat over there and without exception 1 to 3 guys would come running and yelling everytime we came into a port. The captain just ignored them, they kept yelling and eventually the agent showed up. After a few calls, the agent could then be seen talking to the harbor police who then paid the guy a little visit. After that, the nut job shut up very fast and never even looked over again. Seriously played out over and over again.

    Sounds a little mean, but that is just the way they operate.

  5. Hi Ken,

    I have this fantastic app (works on both iPad and iPhone) which dekights me when it makes its “splash” noise when I let the anchor go! It also shows a little google earth view of your anchorage so you can eyeball your swing circle.

    It’s called Anchor Alert.

    Best wishes, Colin N40#65

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