31 July 2018


Dubrovnik was hot and crowded with zillions of tourists - but also stunning.  A walk around it's walls had us envisioning hundreds of years of history over red tiled roofs newly re-roofed after the 1991-92 shelling of the city by the Yugoslav military.  Although the city's history is long and touched by lots of invaders the modern history is chilling and vivid.  The new tiles tell the tale as do the remains of several demolished buildings.  The Croatians have done a exemplary job of restoration.  It is definitely thriving again as a tourist mecca!
We did a sail-by as we went to a nearby anchorage.  The walls were austere and the city seemed impregnable.

Difficult to get a perspective here but the hill/cliff behind the city rises very steeply and looks down on the roofs of the old city making it's population an easy target for snipers from the top.  Chilling!  I found it hard to get out of my head as we toured about.

We have been to many walled towns in the past few months but none is are so forbiddingly spectacular, at their highest 25 m and at their widest 12 m thick.  The highlight of our day trip was a stroll around the entire city atop the wall in just under 2 km through five fortresses and about 20 towers.  It took around 8 centuries to build beginning in the 8th.

The old city is built with the centre of the city in a valley and the edges rising steeply to the wall.  All streets and lanes are pedestrian - no cars.  The picturesque narrow lanes rise in series of staircases.

The acres of new tiles were only part of the rebuilding of the city.  Easy to see the extent of the damage when compared to the lovely old lichen covered tiles of yore.

The view from the highest point of the wall at a corner fortress shows a new sporting touch with the garden and cloister and herb garden of the monastery just behind.

The walk around the wall was one-way only which managed the masses quite well with only a few bottlenecks at tower stairs.

Herb garden for what is touted as the oldest pharmacy in the world and still operating today in the Franciscan Monastery.  Delightful green place in a garden of red roofs.

Although the fancy ornamental work on Onofrio's Great Fountain was lost in the Earthquake of 1667, the 15th century plumbing is still working and provided us with a hand wash after a melting ice cream.  The siege lasted from October 1991 to August 1992.  For three months there was no water except that provided by the fountain.

The 300 m main drag of the old town, the Stradum, is paved in marble and lined with shops.  The street was originally a marshy channel separating the Roman settlement of Ragusa from the Slavic settlement of Dubrovnik on the other.

The Game of Thrones was largely shot in Dubrovnik and there are tours completely dedicated to show-and-tell.  This was apparently one of the towers in the show.  Not being fans, it was completely lost on us.

Some of the bombed out buildings are still and most likely will remain in ruins.

Restoration is still going on or perhaps a stairway to heaven.

A telltale sign of daily life by people actually living in the old city.  

Venetian influence in The Sponza Palace, once cistern, custom's house and state mint.

A lovely day spent exploring the old city.  But that was enough.  We were looking forward to getting to the islands.

25 July 2018

Comedy of Misadventures! in Croatia

We count ourselves very fortunate to have mostly clear sailing (motoring in the Med) and peaceful nights at anchor.  The last 36 hours though, have been anything but....
Our good-bye to The Gulf of Kotor

We left The Bay of Kotor, Montenegro with a light south wind and were able to sail wing-on-wing about 30 miles dead downwind.  This a bit persnickety with shifty wind but it’s comfy and effective.  It was great to sail - too often Milly is a motorboat in the Med.

Arriving in Cavtat, Croatia to clear in to the country, we were ready to come alongside the customs dock as directed.  My lines and fenders were prepared for a starboard docking. But with a visual, we realized that a Med moor was required.  This means that the anchor is dropped about 3 boat lengths in front of the “parking space” and Peter backs the boat in perpendicular to the wall while I let out the chain and then dash to the stern to throw the ready lines to the guy on dock.  Except my anchor was not ready and the fenders were all on one side as were the lines.  And this was our first time Med mooring so the theory had to be put into practice and it’s never as straightforward as it reads.  Running, panting, sweating in a 35 degree sun blast moving lines, fenders, readying anchor while the guy on shore beckoned us urgently to an available spot.  Ready!  
There were no time for photos on the day of clear in but we did return to Cavtat to explore after all our misadventures when the skies had cleared.  This is the customs dock being the fence.  Super yachts line the wall outside the fence.  As all boats come into the bay they wait for a space at the wall within the fenced area.

Another problem, wind on the beam, our high freeboard acts like a sail, making steering between two superyachts a challenge.  The hired crew come to the rail with fenders to ward off wayward yachts.  Peter managed perfectly, I threw the lines with aplomb and Milly was safe.  Phew!  

For the first time, I had to do the clearing in bureaucracy - the dock guy requested that Peter stay aboard to take care of the boat if necessary.  First stop, the police who took our passports, directed me to the harbourmaster’s office and told me not to come back for 30 minutes - they were having lunch.  Couldn’t find the harbourmaster office.  Asked guy with (super)yacht uniform and VHF radio clipped to his belt - dead give away - and he very courteously gave directions with British accent.  Harbourmaster needed lots of cash - Croatia has exorbitant cruising tax plus some other tax.  Went to ATM for $$.  Harbourmaster didn’t have small change.  Went to ice cream vendor who kindly provided change - I promised to return for a cone.  Back to police.  Door firmly shut.  Waited ten minutes, knocked, door opened, they took stamped papers provided to me by harbourmaster (I was the deliverer) and then I was done.  And Peter does this every time!  Back to boat, more cash paid to dock guy.  We were told to leave immediately.  There were plenty of boats waiting for our space.
The walk to the police and somewhere down there, the harbourmaster's office.
No time to change so in my best bureaucracy duds that were fast becoming sweaty, I let go of the stern lines and reeled them in.  Meanwhile, Peter took up the anchor chain blindly from the helm.  I ran to the bow to take over anchor detail but my remote didn’t work!  Damn!  I could tell something was amiss at the anchor - it was chugging up at a belaboured pace, like it was pulling up…another anchor.  And one of the charter boats at the quay was yawning toward us.  
The customs dock and town the day after...
Meanwhile, the wind was pushing Milly across the bows of the super yachts with their anchor chains slicing down into the water.  Peter is now sweating too, even though he is not in the sun.  Rude guys are coming onto their bows and yelling at me to be careful of their chain.  I respond with some vigour that of course we are trying to be careful of their ^%%^$#%^^* chain - it would do more harm to Milly then to their chain.  Finally, I get my remote working - somehow I figured out previously that I have to push the light button three times when the windlass motor seems to die - we should really get that fixed!  I pull up, let down, pull up and see an anchor chain around our anchor with another anchor dangling from it.  Oh, shit!  Working with chain underwater with a madly swingling, difficult to steer boat attached is almost impossible.  Eventually, Peter reverses back into our dock place.  I throw the lines to an asshole on the dock who has the impudence to tell me how to throw the line.  Lots of quiet swearing - I did not thank him for his help.  Back to the bow where Peter could join me.  Raised the anchor to within sight and diving depth.  Peter dove to the anchor and secured a line.  It is scary being in the water with boats motoring about.  It was my job to haul our anchor up so that the chain of the other anchor would “slip” off.  With the two Russian guys from the charter yacht and the nice Brit who had directed me on shore on the superyacht, as well as a crowd of onlookers on the dock cheering me on, I tried and tried again to lift the bloody anchor at all angles.  Peter also rooting me on from the water.  I almost felt that I was in child labour again with everyone telling me to push.  This time it was a pull.  Finally, got it.  Released from the chain!  Cheering from all sides.  The rest was easy.  We motored away, anchored in the next harbour, cooled down in the sea and had a beer or two.  On doing some research, Peter added an “anchor thief” which releases chains from over anchors to his Milly wish-list.  He never thought he’d need one and maybe we never will again - but we’ll be ready if we do.  
Our view of the shoreline as we settled for the evening.  Serene!  But not so several hours later.

Before settling for the evening, I dove on the anchor to make sure it was secure and found that the bottom was covered in thick grass as far as I could see.  The anchor was dug in…grass.  Foreshadowing!

At about three a.m., I was awakened by the distant rumble of thunder and the occasional flash of lightning.  Otherwise, it was very still, no wind, dead calm seas.  Over the next half hour the thunder became a roar and the lightning brilliant.  We scuttled around putting electronics in the oven which probably does nothing but makes us feel better, closed portlights etc.  And then the wind hit with a sudden ferocity. And all hell broke loose.

Our App that alerts us to a dragging anchor alarm went off.  It was very dark.  Peter went into the cockpit and said, “We’re too close” , meaning, I soon understood, too close to shore.  Rain was pelting down and the wind was blowing. Two docks seemed to be feet away as was a very firm cement wall.  We were in 1.5 m depth of water - our keel hits at 1.2 m.  After grabbing a flashlight, I could just see that a buoy line demarcating a swimming area came behind our starboard stern but came out our port side about where the propeller is.  Lots of yelling…
This was the beach and the docks that we came way too close that dark and windy night.  It's taken from a safe distance when we came back to the scene of our delinquency.  We planned to go own up to cutting their buoy line but the storm broke....and honestly, on looking through our binoculars when we returned the buoy line was in place.  It probably happens regularly.

(I should add that Peter has had a plugged ear for a few days.  He has not been able to hear my loving words of encouragement or my frantic directions.  We have prepared it with hydrogen peroxide and I had planned to syringe it today - excuse the health professional talk.  All of our exchanges  - bow to helm, stern to helm - are done at full volume with many “I can’t hear you.” exclamations.  This definitely threw an added challenge into the situation.)

…”Don’t use the port engine!!”  “Go right!”  “No, left!”  “Go forward!!”  “Watch out for the dock!!”  Eventually, we figured out that Milly was held tight.  We couldn’t escape.  We had to jump in to find out what was holding us in place.  Already soaked and shivering, I opted for the water instead of trying to keep the boat in place with one engine in the mayhem on the surface.  Wearing swimming goggles only,  I jumped in to find the buoy line so tightly wrapped around the propeller and shaft that it had to be cut.  That complete Milly started to move and poor Peter who couldn’t start the engine until I was on but couldn’t see where I was, was yelling, “Get on the boat!”  which I happily did.  We were free!!  We reanchored further from shore among the superyachts.  Peter succumbed to bed, and I, after my energizing dip and a hot shower stayed up on anchor watch.  There was no way I was going to be able to sleep!
Cavtat, the day after.

The a.m. was bright and sunny and hot.  We planned to explore the sweet looking town of Cavtat.  After Peter dove on the shaft to cut off the remains of the buoy line and we set the anchor which we couldn’t do proficiently with only one engine the night before, we noticed some gray cloud upwind.  We decided to sit tight.

The gray fast became larger with a defined darker grey arc leading the way.  The wind at Milly was still only a few knots but in the distance and advancing quickly right down the bay to us was a band of whitecaps.  It hit hard and fast.  From no wind to more than 30 knots - the highest Peter saw was 39.  Peter turned on the engines to assist the hold on our anchor.  We watched as all but two super yachts dragged in chaos around us.  Each of half a dozen yachts were broadside to the wind getting blown very quickly toward the rocky shoreline.  One person was on the bow windswept and wet the other was at the helm.  Lots of faint yelling to be heard.  Some tried to reanchor, others motored off in search of a more protected anchorage.  We held along with our superyacht neighbours.  The wind remained sustained, the whole sky was grey and it didn’t look like we would find any relief soon.  Initially, Peter kept the boat in place with the aid of the engines.  Gradually, the wind eased enough to turn the engines off but the wind was veering gradually too.  Once it veered 90 degrees our anchor gave up!  And we started to slip.  

No real problem.  Engines were already on so Peter had control.  I weighed anchor to find at least 60 cm of thick clay/mud packed onto the anchor.  No wonder it couldn’t reset as the boat turned.  It took me at least 15 minutes of stabbing the heap with the boat hook while the anchor hung off the bow roller and the occasional dip into the water to rid the Rocna of it’s sticky unwelcome visitor.

Now where to go?  Across the bay we found an anchorage that had a sandy bottom and was relatively protected from the still high wind with calm waters.  We set the anchor and relaxed.  We didn’t leave the boat but enjoyed beer, wine, a pasta dinner and I went to bed early.  
The bay we found was completely dominated by abandoned building shells, disintegrating beach steps, and suspiciously round scars on the walls.  This area had been bombed from sea, land and air in the 1991-92 war.  Our imaginations told us that this former resort on a lovely beach with sandy - great for anchoring bottom - had been a victim of the war.  The beach was still crowded with people and the parking lot full of cars but surrounded by pretty ghastly reminders.  There were even guys on the top of the buildings parkour training.

My imagination tells me that this once villa now pockmarked with very round scars was the dining room etc of the resort.  Sad, tragic times.

Peter, though, stayed awake to make sure that the boat did not get too close shore in the now calm sea.  The current was pushing us in, the wind when it came pushed us out.  We now hoped for wind - go figure.  Eventually, he felt good enough to escape in sleep.

It’s been a very busy, over-stimulating 36 hours.  We now have a certain anxiousness about finding protected anchorages with excellent, not just good, holding.  Apparently, eel grass is rampant on the Med floor.  Oh, for the sand and consistent winds of the tropics!...occasionally we yearn for them!  But...Dubrovnik calls.

20 July 2018

Montenegrin Road Trip

The road is really narrow.  Meeting a bus or even a car meant backing up and a tight squeeze with a sheer drop or a snuggle up to a rocky cliff.  The Gulf of Kotor was our constant companion at every turn.  Stunning views.  I have not photoshopped!
Sometimes we feel that we only see the coast.  We do our best to take local buses - fun - and occasionally rent a scooter or a car.  Montenegro has a road, featured in a dangerous roads.org website, "the most challenging part of the road is a short 8.3km stretch with 16 hairpin turns called Kotor Serpentine. It’s one of the most famous hairpinned roads in the world."  Of course, it was on our must-do list.  We rented a car with three Aussie/Kiwi fellow cruisers.  Peter kindly drove.  Not quite a Lotus - a Renault Cleo - but he still had fun while three of us in the back seat swayed to and fro and the passenger seat navigator directed.

More stunning views.  A bit repetitive but very hard not to post!

Milly is down there.  Yes, Peter took the picture of his favourite subject but what a backdrop!

The trail on the hill opposite was our hike up beyond the ladder crossing avalanche runs - a bit tricky.  

A mausoleum to Petar Petrovic Njegos (1813-1851) Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, philosopher and poet, perches on the top of the second highest peak in Lovcen National Park at 1657 m above Milly and reached by 461 steps through a long tunnel.  Guarded by two granite giantesses.  Njegos requested to be and initially was buried in a humble chapel he had built before his death.  Damaged during a war, the grand mausoleum was built in 1974.  

The mausoleum from the viewing platform which gave a 360 degree eye-popping view.

Peter and I walked over the tunnel instead of returning on the stairs where inukshuk's marked the spot of thousands of tourists.

We also went to the old royal capital, Cetinje.  Lunched and strolled around the largely tourist-empty, charming, provincial town viewing previous embassies, yet another monastery, several more churches, the national museum, the king's palace etc.  No pictures - it's landlocked :)

A great day.  

19 July 2018

The Gulf of Kotor....Pretty much Perfect

A hike up The Ladder of Kotor, climb 72 switchbacks to this spectacular view of the inner of the three gulf basins of Kotor or Kotorski Zaliv.  Although not carved by a glacier and, hence, not officially a fjord, the 1,000 m steep slopes that rise from the narrow bay sure make it look like one.
Montenegro started out great but ended up almost perfect in the Gulf of Kotor.  It is everything I love best - protected anchorages, clear blue water (for the most part), steep, rugged and wild mountains that plunge into the sea with sweet old stone houses built hanging along the shore, friendly and proud locals who speak some English, historic walled towns, clean streets provided with lots of rubbish bins, little traffic for easy coastal biking, well-marked challenging hiking trails, tastefully developed coastline.  We even have a few buddy boats for rollicking evening company.

A church and monastery sitting on Otocic Otok in the second or middle basin.

Our first two nights in the gulf were spent anchored beside the super yachts paying exorbitant fees at Porto Montenegro, a marina founded by Canadian Peter Munck when he was disgusted by condoms floating by his nose while swimming in the Med at the French Riviera - or so the story goes.  He picked a magnificent site and, so far, nary a condom to be seen.

The Boka Kotorska or cut from the middle to the third basin is narrow with progressively higher and more austere mountains making us excitedly anticipate what lay hidden in front of the bow.  

The cut opens to this view on the port bow.   Otok Gospa Od Skrp Jela, the island with the blue domed church is actually artificial.  Legend has it that on July 22, 1452 an icon of the Madonna and Child was found on a rock where the island is now.  The local seamen laid a rock on the site whenever returning safely from a voyage, eventually heaping enough to make an island.  Each year, on July 22 the locals take to their boats to contribute more rocks to the island.  The church was built in 1630.   Beside it, another actual island houses a monastery.

And on the starboard bow, the mountains were stupendous!

The green smallish mountains on one side are bottomed by old stone houses, churches and palaces.  All red-roofed. Some, rattled and cracked by earthquakes, have been abandoned and others restored.  Their view across the bay is....

...this.  The towns on the opposite shore are dwarfed by the higher rock mountains on which growth is tenuous.

Our view from anchorage.  The old walled town of Kotor is at the end of the bay.  The fort, built on the steep cliff and made from the same rock is barely visible.  The walls and staircase climb  from the town with a church midway and a fort at the peak.
After the cruise ships go our view from Milly down the bay is awesome.

Rooftops and churches in the old walled city of Kotor.

Walking through the narrow, cobbled alleyways of Kotor it is impossible not to notice or trip over a multitude of stray cats and kittens.  They are everywhere as are bowls of food and water to keep them satisfied.  For hundreds of years Kotor was an important port and cats were often on board ship to keep vermin at bay.  Many got left behind and the cat population is now probably more international than the human.  They are a symbol of the city.  Not really being keen on strays, this one was our favourite.

Very talented buskers abound in Kotor, many more than any other city we have been to lately.

Difficult to see how steep this is but the fort wall is at the top of the cliff backing on the town.

We climbed up and beyond the Ladder of Kotor one day which is on a mountain behind and way above the fort.  Seventy-two switchbacks reportedly, some of which you can see.  This trail used to be the only route from the port of Kotor to the inland town and once capital, Cetinje.  The only invader that actually successfully took the fort, hauled his cannons via his anchor windlass up this precipitous slope and shot down on the fort.  Crazy?  Greedy?  Power hungry?  Hating to give up on a challenge?  It was quite a climb and we only had water bottles.  

There were two houses on the switchback both inhabited at least at this time of year.  We met one toothless elderly woman walking down the trail on our way up and passed her again on her way up carrying groceries!  When passing her house, we had noted that her husband? or son? was sitting having a drink in the shade of a big tree.  No comment!

Nearing the top.  Even the cruise ship looks like a toy.

And the second over the now looking short ridge with the first basin at the top right of the picture and Adriatic at the top left.

Once higher than the ladder, we walked through what could only be an enchanted forest.  The spruce clad mountains gave Montenegro it's name.

On our way down, still above the fort hill.  Milly is there.

The ladder

A mountain biker from Bosnia who pelted past us at great speed eventually waited for us to exchange picture taking.

Biking the coastal road, mostly at sea level which made for a relaxing day, let us see up close what we had passed on Milly.  Chapels, churches and monasteries - we have only seen minarets in the south of the country - are all over the place here.  My favourites are the tiny, stone chapels with stone roofs.

The delightful tourist town of Perast where all the buildings are restored.

We have sailed/motored, biked, hiked, walked, climbed, kayaked, and driven the area and there is still so much more to do and see!!  If Croatia didn't have such great cruising waters by reputation, we'd stick around longer.