Italy and Croatia

With a month left in the cruising season and just 200 miles to go to our final destination of Dubrovnik, we sat in Corfu and weighed our options.

Directly north of Greece on the way to Croatia is Albania. According to the Adriatic Pilot, formalities are complex, crime is high, and mines laid during WWII extend 20 miles out from the coast and still pose a potential hazard to navigation. This didn’t exactly give us warm fuzzies about option “A.”

The next option was to make a straight 200 mile run north, possibly against prevailing wind and seas. 24-36 hours of bashing is perhaps a small improvement on discovering an unexploded mine but still rather unattractive.

We decided to take what we thought would be most fun, if not the easiest option-head across Adriatic Sea to Italy and work our way north along her east coast and then head back across to Croatia. The thoughts of authentic Italian food, wonderful wines, excellent espresso and just plain Italy weighed heavily our decision making.

From Corfu town we made a short hop to the small island of Othoni and took anchorage for the night just outside the small harbor. Early the next morning, in a light southerly breeze, we set sail to the Italian port of Otranto, about 46 nm to the northwest. During the day the breeze gradually increased and backed, and for most of the day we had a pleasant trip. I say mostly, as during the last hour or so of the trip, the rains started. At least we would arrive with a clean boat!

The harbor at Otranto was chocker, and the only place for us to anchor was near the entrance in an area exposed to the swell, which by then coming in about 1 to 1.5 meters. The winds continued to back and by sunset were northeast, meaning we’d have to either bash to windward or head away from our destination if we wanted to find another harbor. We opted to tough it out in Otranto. With no improvement the next day, we were boat-bound again, occasionally rolling on our beam ends as Moonshadow hunted in the gusty winds.

The weather broke the following day, so we made a dash up the coast 43 miles to Brindisi. The port of Brindisi is large, modern, and picturesque and offers plenty of space along its municipal quay for visiting yachts to tie up. All of the officialdom, as well as the town’s main shopping district are within a short walking distance. We tied up across the street from a grand flight of marble steps that marked the terminus of the historical Appian Way, built in 312 BC and connecting Brindisi to Rome.

Arriving early on a Friday afternoon, we reckoned we’d have plenty of time to check in before happy hour. We reported to the harbormaster’s office which appeared to be closed for the afternoon. A ring on the doorbell and we were invited in. Thank goodness Merima is fluent in Italian, as nobody spoke English. Furthermore, nobody knew the procedure for checking in a yacht, so it was recommended that we return on Monday. Translation: We can’t be bothered with you as its time for us to go home, so come back on someone else’s watch, if you come back at all.

Brindisi’s “Old Town” is classic Italian, with lovely, ornate old buildings crowded along its narrow cobbled streets. The palm tree-lined pedestrian-only main shopping street is lined with up-scale shops and cafes and is pleasantly non-touristy.

After being boat bound for three days we were looking forward to a few good Italian meals out and we weren’t disappointed in Brindisi. The restaurants we visited all served excellent food, had great service and were very reasonably priced.

We were told the best shopping was at a mall outside of town, and we could get there, well almost there by bus, which ran hourly. We decided to head out there on Sunday morning to beat the crowds who were all at church. First of all, you can’t normally buy a ticket on the bus. You have to buy bus tickets at a kiosk. This is all fine except the kiosks are all closed on Sunday. We finally found a café that sold bus tickets. The hourly bus showed up a few minutes late and the driver informed us that he was going off duty and another bus on this route would be there soon. An hour later it finally arrived. Now you would think that with one shopping mall on the edge of town, the bus might take you right there. Not exactly. The bus takes you to the hospital a mile away and you have to walk the rest of the way. T.I.I. (This is Italy). Fine, we needed the exercise.

If the restaurants in Brindisi were excellent, the supermarket in the mall was to die for. If you have ever been to a real Italian deli in the States that have the wheels of cheese, cans of olive oil and great selections of wines, just imagine it, times 1000-overwhelming. I think we put on a few pounds just walking through the turnstile. Never have I seen so much beautiful food. I don’t remember the last time we had so much fun provisioning-except for that mile walk back to the hospital to catch the bus.

On Monday we returned to the harbormaster’s office to check in. This time we were directed to another building down the street in the ferry terminal. We couldn’t find the office that we were told to report to, and after asking at four nearby offices, we finally met a nice gentleman who walked us to another building next door and into the correct office. We would have never found this on our own. Arriving there we ran into a cruising friend, Thomas who I met in Auckland in 2003 where he was having his beautiful yacht Rubino built-small world! We filled out a few forms and were told that we were finished. This didn’t quite seem right as they didn’t even stamp our passports, but hey, we weren’t going to argue. We enjoyed a couple more relaxing days in Brindisi and then decided to head up the coast.

The 64 nm run up to Bari was an easy trip in light airs and calm seas. We pulled into the large commercial port and headed to the area designated for visiting yachts in the most recent Adriatic Pilot. It turned out to be a fenced-off secure Customs area. Rather than anchor, we decided to try the smaller Porto Vecchio or Old Port a mile or so to the south. There was plenty of room along the quay; in fact there were no other cruisers, just a few fishing boats. There was still plenty of daylight left so we decided to pop into the port offices and check to see if all the i’s were dotted and t’s crossed on our check-in to Italy. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished.

We locked up the boat and Merima chatted with a few of the old men who were fishing from the quay. As we headed into town, she felt as if we were being followed by someone. I didn’t pay much attention to it, thinking to myself, “What could happen in broad daylight in a busy place like this?” I forgot, T.I.I., and I’m learning to trust her intuition, which is usually right. Apparently an unattended yacht was an offer someone couldn’t refuse.

We went to the harbormaster and passport control. They were all very friendly and helpful, and we were able to complete the remaining aspects of our check-in. They spoke little, if any English, and once again it would have been a real mission if Merima had not been able to speak to them in Italian. Officially checked in to Italy, we headed back to Moonshadow for happy hour.

When we returned we discovered that in our one-hour absence, somebody had attempted to break into the boat. This idiot was obviously an amateur as he had attempted to break the companionway lock with a tire iron. While he managed to ding the lock, hasp and the teak around the companionway, he was unable to gain entry. Perhaps he was scared off by our return or else he was just too lazy to break his way in. Either way, this mafia-reject was no match for our oversized stainless steel padlock and hardware. He did mange to get away with a few low-value items from the cockpit, but we cringed to think about what would have gone missing if he had gotten inside.

We didn’t want to take any more chances with the local bandits, so we immediately shook off the lines and anchored in the middle of the small harbor for the night. Not impressed with our welcome to Bari, we set sail for Croatia at first light the following morning. We didn’t even bother checking out of Italy.

Our second crossing of the Adriatic Sea was a 109 mile straight shot to Gruž, the commercial port for Dubrovnik. We made the trip in 12.5 hours and arrived just around sunset after an easy approach. A friendly Customs official waved us in to the quarantine quay, welcomed us to Croatia helped us to tie up, after which he directed us to the first stop of the check-in process. In less than 45 minutes I had checked in, gotten a one-year cruising permit, and picked up a handful of Kuna, the local currency, from a nearby ATM. In contrast to the country we had departed just that morning, all the officials were courteous, knowledgeable and spoke excellent English. After we checked in we headed a couple miles up the Rijeka Dubrovačka, a long fjord-like inlet, and anchored for the night in the calm waters. Autumn was definitely in the air and it was noticeably chillier than on the Italian side. Time to pull out the comforter!

The next morning we headed further up the inlet to the ACI (Adriatic Croatia International Club) Dubrovnik Marina, topped off the diesel tanks and then Med-moored Moonshadow in the spot where she will remain for the winter. With a bit of extra time up our sleeves, we had the chance to catch up on a few lingering maintenance and repair items before we mothballed her for the winter.

ACI Marina is set near the head of Rijeka Dubrovačka where Dubrovnik’s rich and royal used to keep summer homes or palaces. In fact, on the grounds of the marina is the fabulous if slightly crumbling old Sorkocevic Summer house, with much of its extensive garden and grounds relatively intact. With high mountains on its south side, the sun rises late and sets early, providing some relief from the summer heat. At the head of the inlet is a massive spring where fresh water gushes from the base of the mountain. Quaint village homes dot the hillsides and waterfront. The marina definitely wins on its setting, even if it is a bit pricey.

The marina itself it quite a pleasant place. There are three restaurants on site, a large swimming pool, tennis court, excellent toilet and shower facilities, a small chandlery, reasonable repair facilities, WiFi, free power and water, a well stocked grocery store and an ATM. The local bus stops at the marina entrance and in about 15 minutes one can be in the center of Dubrovnik. All in all it is a good place to winter over, whether or not one is planning to stay on board.

We took off on a Sunday afternoon off and hopped a bus into the old town of Dubrovnik. This rather small 13th century walled city is largely unchanged from its original form-it’s so beautiful there would be no reason to. While most of the shops were closed, the city was still busy with tourists visiting on cruise ships. We walked down the wide, marble paved Plaka, around the old harbour, on parts of the city wall and through some of the back streets before coming back down to the center and relaxing over a glass of good Croatian wine in a trendy café on the street. About four thousand people still live in the in the old town. One of the nicest things about this place is that motor vehicles of all types are banned within the walls.

We finished putting Moonshadow in mothballs for the winter and caught a flight back home to Auckland for the southern summer.

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