The Adriatic

Cruising the Adriatic

We left the Greek Ionian Islands the last week in May and headed north into the Adriatic Sea.  We wanted to spend a month cruising the Balkans before going through the Corinth Canal and on to the Aegean islands of Greece.  Because of past problems off the Albanian coast, most cruising boats still cross to Italy to avoid Albania when heading north in the Adriatic.  We asked as many people as we could for the latest information, and things seemed to have calmed down. After 8 months in Italy, we didn’t want to back-track, so we decided to stay just a little over 12 miles off Albania, in international waters, and made an overnight passage to Montenegro.

Montenegro

We had no trouble with the Albanians, though we must admit to keeping a close watch on the radar all night for fast-approaching unlighted boats. We also talked through what we’d do in the event of such an incident.  Luckily, we didn’t have any problems, instead, we had another sort of worry when we heard on the BBC that at the same time we were heading for Montenegro, the Montenegrans voted to secede from their federation with Serbia!  History tells us that countries are often not very happy when their partners decide to declare independence, so we quickly sent off emails to friends in the States, asking them to check the news and the State Department web site. Word came back that Serbia seemed to be accepting the

Suzanne w flag

Suzanne shows off the new Montenegro Flag

vote with no problem, so we pressed on.  We arrived in Bar, Montenegro the day after the vote for independence and found that the Serbia-Montenegro courtesy flag that we’d bought was no longer valid!  A locan man in Bar happily gave us his celebratory flag, and we became what we believe is the first US cruising boat in the country to fly the brand new independent Montenegro flag!

Newspapers

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

We were amazed how one 24-hour passage had launched us into a whole new world. Signs and newspapers were a mixture of Roman and Cyrillic letters. Unlike Greece, very few people speak even a few words of English.  Our Serbian is, shall we say, rather limited, so upon pulling up to the customs pier in Bar, we resorted to the old faithful pointing and gesturing. We found it rather disconcerting to tie up beside the Montenegran Navy missile patrol boats -- old Russian Komars with Styx missile launchers! Ty spent the next half hour making a path back and forth between the Customs and Immigrations offices and the Port Captain, none of which seemed to care much for each other. Smiles were noticeably lacking in spite of our friendly greetings. A holdover from Communism, perhaps?

After an all-night passage, we were pleasantly surprised to find a cafe that served omelettes -- our first egg breakfast in the Med, other than a couple of “Full English Breakfasts” in the real touristy spots (Most Europeans only eat a small roll or croissant with coffee). When the bill came, we had our first introduction to how incredibly low the prices are in Montenegro compared to other places we’ve visited. .  Two 3-egg omelettes, a loaf of bread, and coffee, came to only $6.   

Another thing we noticed was how different the people look. There are more dark-haired women than in Italy or Mexico, and the majority of men are great big bruisers who look like they should be in the Special Forces -- the kind you definitely wouldn’t want to mess with! Yet even the toughest looking men would stop and fawn all over Rudy... it turns out most Montenegrans have never seen a dachshund!

It cost about $100 for a cruising permit.  Even though there are only a handful of harbors to visit along the coast, we found it was worth the money. We were also glad we had checked in and done everything by the book, for upon arriving in Budva, our second port of call, we were immediately met by an armed port policeman.  Since the

Cheese Lady

A Woman Sells Homemade Cheese in a Bar Market

majority of foreign boats are from Germany or Austria, he asked Suzanne, “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” She answered, “No, English.” So what does he do?  Asks her in German for our papers!  She went with him to the little police station, where they scanned and saved digital images of our passports and cruising documents. 

Budva

Beautiful Budva

Once again, one of the policemen, who Suzanne nicknamed “Boris” was someone you would not want to tick off!

Budva turned out to have a fabulous old walled town with a maze of narrow streets. We moored at the sea wall right by the historic section for some great people watching.

The next day we headed out in the morning, hoping to go 30 miles north to the town of Kotor. The weather was gorgeous and the forecast was good. Once we left the excellent protection of Budva’s harbor, we came face to face with the effects of an offshore storm... waves well over six feet and winds at 18 knots -- and this was still in protected waters.  We could tell that once

we made the turn around a cape up ahead, it was going to get even worse. We looked at each other and said, “Let’s see... we can bash into this stuff for four or five hours, or we can go back and enjoy another nice day along the sea wall in Budva...”  So we did an about-face and went right back to the spot we’d just vacated. Another boat which had left even earlier came back in shortly behind us and confirmed that we’d made a good call.  No need to be macho and bash your heads in when the schedule is wide open.  That’s the beauty of being cruisers.

Another unique experience was in watching the Montenegran “special police” in action. Ty had heard about them from an Internet cafe owner who had lived in Nashville for 30 years running an Italian restaurant. He said, “If you are approached by the special police, who are all over 6 feet tall and wear black uniforms, make sure to

tell them you’re tourists, and do whatever they say. They were trained by the UK and the US, are very professional, but don’t take any lip from anyone.” Well, not two hours later we were walking down the street when we saw a Land Rover going one way down the road and a Mercedes sedan going the other way. As they approached each other, an arm stuck out the window of the Land Rover, and the Mercedes screeched to a halt. Four huge, armed guys in black jumped out of the Land Rover and surrounded the car. The driver jumped out and immediately went spread eagle on the front fender while they frisked him. They searched the car, and in less than a minute everyone was on their way again. We have no idea why they stopped the car, but it was very cool.

Kotorski gulf 1

Mountains in the Kotorski Gulf, Montenegro

Kotorski gulf 3
Kotorski gulf 2

There aren’t many ports to visit along the coast of Montenegro, but just at the northern border with Croatia is the Kotorski Gulf, which goes inland about ten miles and is made up of 3 inter-linked bays.  At the innermost point of the gulf is the walled city of Kotor, which was the highlight of our visit to Montenegro. The cruise into the gulf made us feel as if we were in a Norwegian fjord.  You can see in the photos how we were surrounded by mountains that got higher and more rugged the farther we went.  The coast was spotted with little towns, each one dominated by a beautiful church.  There were very few other boats, making it feel like we had the whole gulf to ourselves.

Best Kotor02

We really love the walled cities in this area, and Kotor was one of the best. The walls not only went around the town, but straight up the mountainside behind it. There was a fortress at the top that just begged to be conquered, so we took a morning and made the hike up along the walls.  The photo at the left shows the awesome view of walled Kotor the climb afforded us (and this was only part way up!)  You can see Liberty, wayyyyyy down there (the middle boat at anchor). See the Photo of the Month for the prize at the top of the mountain.

<-- Bird’s Eye View of Kotor

Croatia

Once out of the Kotorski Gulf and back into the Adriatic, we were off the coast of Croatia.  First stop: Dubrovnik, where we cleared in with customs. The price for a cruising permit varies with boat length and

number of passengers.  For the two of us in our 46-foot boat, the price was US$330 for a one year permit. There are no marinas nor anchorages right in Dubrovnik, so we got a slip at the very nice, but very pricey marina up a nearby river ($70/night).  Bus service ran from the marina gate to the walls of Dubrovnik, so it was easy to get around.

We found Dubrovnik to be one of the top cities we’ve visited anywhere in the world.  We walked the perimeter of the city walls for some awesome views.  It’s no wonder the city was included in a Time/Life book of “The 100 Places to Visit in Your Life”.

The southern coast of Croatia is known as the Dalmatian Coast, and is a prime cruising ground, thanks to the many islands

Dubrovnik

Downtown Dubrovnik

just off the main coast that are not only beautiful, but offer great protection from the sea.  The scenery reminds us of cruising British Columbia or Nova Scotia.  We’re enjoying good sailing on the short hops between the many ports.  We bought a local English Cruising Guide entitled “777 Harbours and Anchorages”, and we’re trying to choose the best ones from the many choices.

Ty and walls

There is no shortage of walls in Croatia

Some observations on cruising Croatia:

- Things are expensive.  Unlike in Greece, you’re charged for tying to town walls.  Luckily, there are plenty of anchorages, but boats in the national park areas are charged, even for anchoring. Internet usage, buses, food in markets, and especially food in restaurants is much higher than in Greece, and is on par with or even higher than in Italy.

- Restaurant meals vary little and are pretty unimaginative. We’re saving money by eating onboard, and it’s tastier anyway!

- The vast majority of the boats here are German or Austrian.  Most are charter boats. The Croatians do not speak much

English, so the language barrier with both the locals and the other boaters is a downside. We find we miss the English-speaking cruising community and will strike up a conversation with every British boat we see and all American tourists (few and far between).

- Croatia is more advanced than Montenegro.  They speak the same language, but all publications are in Roman letters vs. Cyrillic.  Facilities and infrastructure are more modern.

- Evidence of the war with the Serbs is still prevalent and sobering.  Some of the towns we’ve visited have been completely rebuilt in the last 15 years, and most still have ruins of bombed buildings.

Nevertheless, we very much enjoyed the many walled towns along the coast, with our favorites being Korcula, Hvar, and Trogir.  Another highlight was sailing up the Krka River to the town of Skradin, where we hiked among the amazing waterfalls at the national park. A “must see”.

Suzanne w pastry

Food may be expensive, but a cafe goodie now and then keeps the crew happy.

Skradin falls

On the left are Ty and Rudy enjoying the falls up the Krka River.

On a final note, we’ve decided Croatia should sell more t-shirts with “Sail Naked” on them, as this seems to be a favorite past time.  Most of the “naturists” are charterers from other European countries.  We have yet to see any Americans partake in this particular sport.  While we admire these sailors’ free spirit, we found it a bit odd to see people trimming sails, anchoring, and riding in their dinghies without a stitch of clothes on.  Sorry, but no photos...