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Back at the Ranch

For the last few months, I’ve been laser focused on becoming a Sailing Instructor at OCSC.  Now, with that job in hand, I’m set up to have a fabulous summer of teaching sailing on the San Francisco Bay! 

The job is part-time, though, which is ok with me.  It allows me to pursue my other interests as well, like volunteering.

And that is exactly what I’m doing this week.  I’ve returned to Sonoma Valley (Glen Ellen, specifically) to volunteer for the same family I helped out last summer.

Their ranch is beautiful, complete with country-style home, horse barn, riding arena, enclosed pastures (which I helped construct last summer), horses, dogs, tractor, and LOTS of work!

I’ll spend a few days here pulling weeds, cutting grass, and mulching flowerbeds.  To some people, this may sound like hell on earth.  But for me, I love it.  I’m outside, I’m working with my hands, I’m getting dirty, and I’m tidying things up.  (And every good sailor likes things tidy!) 

In exchange for my landscaping skills, the family provides me with a private bedroom and bathroom, plus food, wine, great conversation, and a few hilarious episodes of "Fawlty Towers."  (They are British.)

I'm a stone's throw away from several wineries and the Jack London Historic Park.  So in my downtime, I'm free to explore the surrounding area... or just relax on the front porch, overlooking the horses, garden, and sunset.

I would like to stay longer, but I have to return to San Francisco this weekend to teach sailing on Saturday and Sunday.  I'm looking forward to teaching my next weekend of classes!

Then, to top it off, I leave on Tuesday, May 2, for New Zealand!! Yes, I’m back on sailing vessel Avalon to sail across the South Pacific Ocean to Fiji.  (Another perk of working for OCSC is that they are very supportive of this trip as a way to further enhance my sailing experience and my progress toward my U.S. Coast Guard Captain license.) 

In my former life, I would be working long hours right about now, reporting on the fiscal quarter and submitting a new forecast for the year.  Sure, I might be cashing in on some company stock and looking forward to a good performance review or maybe even a promotion.  But would I really be happier?

Instead, I'm volunteering in wine country this week.  I'm teaching sailing this weekend.  And I'm sailing across the ocean next month.  

Yeah, I'm good with that.

 

Dog #1:  Jefe.   (I think it's cool how the camera captured the sun beam right over him.)

Dog #1:  Jefe.   (I think it's cool how the camera captured the sun beam right over him.)

Dog #2:  Winston, looking regal as he surveys the property.

Dog #2:  Winston, looking regal as he surveys the property.

The view from my bedroom:  sunset-facing front porch, horse stable and riding arena, vine and trellis, and my Subaru :-)

The view from my bedroom:  sunset-facing front porch, horse stable and riding arena, vine and trellis, and my Subaru :-)

Spring is in the air!  Beautiful!

Spring is in the air!  Beautiful!

Some of my handiwork - cutting the tall grass.

Some of my handiwork - cutting the tall grass.

That's a lot of mulch!

That's a lot of mulch!

Dialing in the front garden.  It's going to look great!

Dialing in the front garden.  It's going to look great!

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Happy Anniversary to Me

This past weekend I celebrated my 2-year anniversary of… hmm…

“Being retired?”  No, I’m not retired.  I’m just redefining my career.

 “Being homeless?”  No, that doesn’t sound like something to celebrate. 

“Being a nomad?”  No, that suggests lack of purpose or direction.

“Traveling, volunteering, and sailing!”  Yep, I stick with that.

In any event, it was April 15, 2015, when I decided to “take time off from the working world to explore the actual world.”  At the time, I had no idea how long my “time off” would be.  In the back of my head, I was probably thinking 6- to 12-months.  I wasn't 100% confident I would be able to change gears and totally redefine my life and career.  Now, I am certain I can do it.  

After 24 months, I'm still on the go, loving my non-traditional lifestyle and the progress I've made.  I have no plans to return to what society would call “normal life.”  

I feel good about what I've done and how I've grown.  I’ve traveled to foreign countries to help struggling families, emerging businesses, and developing communities.  I’ve gained valuable sailing experience by earning my US Sailing Coastal Skipper certification and by sailing across the South Pacific Ocean twice.   And most recently, I’ve landed a part-time job as a Sailing Instructor to help others achieve their nautical dreams.

It’s been a rewarding couple of years.  But it is not without challenges.  I miss the routine, the stability and comfort, and the intellectual and social aspects, of a Monday-through-Friday professional job.  In my current lifestyle, I wake up every morning and immediately log onto the internet to search for a place to sleep that night.  I’ve found myself in a few undesirable situations, most notably in Eureka, California where I was assaulted and robbed.  And yes, I do my laundry in a Laundromat, eat lunch at the grocery store, and sit at the local coffee shop or library for hours on end surfing the web.  

But these are small prices to pay for the freedom and variety I experience every day, and the pace at which I experience every day.  I find myself walking more frequently and more slowly, taking my time to get to places, and enjoying the journey.  I don't hesitate to just sit somewhere, relax, and watch the people go by. 

The further along I proceed down this new path, the harder (and in fact less desirable) it is to return to the old path.  

Although my focus in 2017 is becoming a great Sailing Instructor, I also have a few adventures planned.  The first one kicks off in just 2 weeks, when I'll head to New Zealand to join as crew again on the sailing vessel Avalon for her journey north to Fiji!!

More sailing adventures ahead in 2017!  Stay tuned!

More sailing adventures ahead in 2017!  Stay tuned!

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Take This Job and Love It!

In my last post, I announced that I had accepted a position as Sailing Instructor at OCSC, in Berkeley, California.  Even after an extensive interview and evaluation process, I still faced a lot of preparation before I could actually *start* teaching.  

And that's what I've been up to this past month.  My training and development included studying the syllabus, auditing classes, and certifying for CPR/First Aid.  I also did a lot of sailing on my own to really hone my skills on the class boat, which is a J24 (24 feet long, 8 feet wide, 3,000 pounds).  

Then, finally, this last weekend, I taught my first sailing class, and loved every minute of it!  I'm excited to have a job that is active and outdoors, that involves helping individuals achieve their personal goals, and that enables me to share my passion for the sport of sailing.

Teaching will be challenging for sure.  Students learn at different speeds and in different ways. Complex ideas may have to be broken down into bit-size chunks and explained multiple ways, and multiple times.  And sailing is not lacking in such topics.  We have our own nautical language, knots, navigational aids (lights, sounds, and symbols), and "rules of the road."  Add to this the dynamic environment of 3 strangers new to sailing working together to drive the boat safely and efficiently through choppy waves in 15-20 knots of wind, and you can get a pretty exciting classroom!  

My first class was just that.  In our first hour of sailing this weekend, my three students and I faced a squall and hail storm!  I can’t explain the feeling of responsibility that washed over me, as the boat heeled over, as the horizontal hail pelted our faces, and as my students’ faces reflected everything from terror to excitement!  I smiled and said “Welcome to the Bay!”

Fortunately, that squall subsided within a few minutes, and the rest of the weekend was filled with sunshine and fresh breeze.  Teaching is going to be great fun!

Although I have rejoined the work force, I am only working part-time.  Dannyboy still travels.  I have sailing, hiking, and volunteering trips planned to New Zealand, Germany, and one other secret location in 2017!  So be sure to stay tuned!

 

 

 

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My New Office

Here it is - a big update on my plans for 2017!  But first, a bit of a recap:

Two years ago, I quit my corporate job, rented my suburban house, and set out to travel the world.  I launched the website "Dannyboy Travels" to track my adventures.

Since then, I have lived in Chile, Thailand, and New Zealand while volunteering for local families; I have sailed across the South Pacific Ocean twice; I have navigated the coast of Croatia by sailboat and by bus; I have even explored a few neighborhoods in California, volunteering on a ranch in Sonoma Valley and experiencing the, um, culture in Eureka.

Indeed, Dannyboy has traveled.  

But, as the tagline on my website reads, I'm also "Charting a New Course."

I’m not just traveling randomly, counting countries and snapping selfies.  I’m on a journey to redefine my life.  

Remember, back in April 2015, I was tired of, and unfulfilled by, my corporate life.  Although I may have been making a contribution to the company and its various stakeholders, I not could easily see, let alone feel, that contribution.   I wanted something more. 

And that is what the journey is about.

I want to base my life on activities that I am passionate about and on experiences that directly enrich the people, community, and/or environment around me.  

Travel is my primary passion and ultimate goal.  Sailing and volunteering are the means by which I hope to achieve that goal.  They make the adventure of traveling that much sweeter, for me.

Simply put, my long-term goal is to travel the world, volunteering and sailing as I go.   

The volunteering component is relatively straightforward.  I use a few online resources to find opportunities, but in general it’s been pretty easy to find people who accept a free helping hand in exchange for a bed and some food…after I fulfill any visa requirements of course.

On the other hand, the sailing component is much more complicated.  It is comprised of four sub-goals:  teaching sailing, skippering charters, delivering yachts, and cruising the oceans.  These sub-goals take significant planning and preparation, including certifications, licenses, references, and sea time.  

Over the last two years, amidst all my travel, I've made progress toward my sailing goals. I'm now certified with U.S. Sailing as Coastal Skipper.  I've accumulated nearly 3,000 ocean miles via crewing on two ocean crossings and skippering a charter in Croatia.

Today, I'm happy to announce another major step forward in my sailing career: I've been hired as a Sailing Instructor at the Olympic Circle Sailing Club!

I’m thrilled to join the OCSC organization.  This is the organization that taught me to be a safe and skilled skipper.  From my own first few classes at OCSC, I knew that the organization (its people, philosophy, and process) was special.  I am honored to have this opportunity.  Thank you OCSC!

Some of you may recall, I have been an instructor before.  My first job out of college was teaching high school calculus, geometry, and algebra.  I thoroughly enjoyed the work; it was as challenging as it was rewarding.  Those of you who know me really well may recall that I have frequently said I would return to teaching some day.  At the time, I never dreamed it would be teaching sailing! 

Working as a sailing instructor will accelerate my progress toward my other sailing goals – chartering, delivering, and cruising.  As an instructor, I will accumulate on-the-water experience, broaden my network, and strengthen my sailing resume – all while enjoying the process of teaching students new skills, helping people realize their dreams, contributing to the OCSC community, and working in my new office… the San Francisco Bay! 

Even more good news -- the new job is only part-time for now, so yes, Dannyboy will also continue to travel!

My new office = a J24 and the San Francisco Bay!

My new office = a J24 and the San Francisco Bay!

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When Nature Calls...Or Not

I love sailing for so many reasons, one of which is its connection to nature:  wind and rain; currents and tides; sun, stars, and moon; clouds and fog;  and marine life.  Nature is all around you, and in fact you depend on it for propulsion, direction, and in some cases survival.  The downside to this is we can’t always sail when and where we want to.  Sometimes we have to wait for Mother Nature to cooperate.   Crossing the South Pacific Ocean, we waited for days, even weeks, for the weather conditions to be favorable and safe.  Now, back in the Bay, I’m waiting again. 

My primary goal for 2017 is a yet-to-be-announced sailing activity that I need to be evaluated for, under certain wind-strength conditions.  This is what I’m waiting for.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature hasn’t cooperated yet, and my evaluation sail has been postponed several times due to light winds.   I’ve been riding an emotional rollercoaster as I psych myself up for the on-the-water test, but then have to put that excitement in check as the test gets postponed.    

(For those of you who might be wondering, the heavy rain we have had these last couple of weeks isn’t actually as big an issue when it comes to sailing.  We can and do sail in rain.)

So from the outside, I know it appears I'm not really doing anything, or going anywhere.  But this is the reality of sailing.  Sometimes you just have to wait it out for conditions to be right.    

That said, I haven't exactly been sitting idle.  I have made progress in other areas.

First, I researched and entertained a couple of opportunities to sail across the Pacific Ocean, from Mexico to Tahiti, in March/April.  In the end, I declined the offers, in favor of staying focused and committed to the evaluation noted above.  Why is this progress?  Because it gives me confidence that my sailing résumé (which I’ve posted online at various crew-finding websites) is gaining traction and visibility, now that I have over nearly 3,000 ocean miles under my belt.   It’s also available on my website here.

Second, I interviewed for a great volunteering opportunity at a horse- and dog-rescue operation in the Gilroy area (south of San Jose).  The owners were very friendly and offered me a one-bedroom apartment in exchange for my part-time help with facility upgrades and animal care.  It was a tempting offer, but I decided the location was too far away and the 80-hours per month commitment might be too restrictive on my travels.  I reluctantly declined, even though they specialized in my all-time favorite breed of dog:  Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

Third, I have racked up a lot of rewards points on my Hotels.com account (and less proudly, on my Chase credit card) as I have bounced around from hotel to hotel these last 4 weeks.  

Unfortunately, the other thing going on these last few weeks is I’ve been sick off and on with the cold/flu.  I’m guessing the cause (or at least a contributing cause) is the constant move from hotel room to hotel room.  I read somewhere that the hotel remote control is one of the dirtiest things ever.  Gross.  I now wipe it down before I touch it.  Admittedly, I’m guilty of going on a few rainy, cold sails too, which probably hasn’t helped either.

For the rest of February, I’ll be house-sitting for a couple of friends who have been nice enough to let me stay in their homes.   You know who you are -- Thanks!!

I'll be patiently waiting for Mother Nature to turn on her wind machine... while also working on some additional and/or alternative plans for 2017 depending on how things shake out.

 Enjoying a night sail... under a bridge, under a full moon, under a shooting star, and unfortunately, under the weather.  

 Enjoying a night sail... under a bridge, under a full moon, under a shooting star, and unfortunately, under the weather.  

The full moon was super bright.  

The full moon was super bright.  

A highlight of my hotel stays:  The bed & breakfast at Point Montara lighthouse.  The signpost is a bit indicative of how I feel... so many directions and places I could go.  I'm doing my best to figure it out and get going!!

A highlight of my hotel stays:  The bed & breakfast at Point Montara lighthouse.  The signpost is a bit indicative of how I feel... so many directions and places I could go.  I'm doing my best to figure it out and get going!!

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Heaving-To

Well, in non-sailing terms, you might say I'm "shifting to neutral."  (Heaving-to is actually a brilliant tactic in sailing that you can read about here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaving_to)

It's been an exciting few months:  I explored Croatia by land and sea.  I crossed the South Pacific Ocean for the second time.  I road tripped over 1,200 miles along the California and Oregon coasts.  I was assaulted and robbed in Eureka, California.

Now, as 2017 kicks into gear, I am actually shifting to neutral.  Shifting to neutral not in terms of progressing toward my goals, but in terms of posting journal updates.  

I have a few things to figure out.  I'm talking to a couple of sailing and volunteering organizations about opportunities; and so as to not bore my handful of readers, I will be slowing down my posts.  I won't post weekly, but perhaps every two or three weeks -- trying as best I can to stick to Mondays.  Of course, given that it's Wednesday evening, I've already missed the deadline.  Or maybe I'm just really early for next Monday's update.  

Regardless, I hope you continue to check my site and read my posts from time to time.  I remain excited, optimistic, and committed to where this new path is taking me.  I can't wait to share more.

In the meantime, I'm happy to be "home" on the Bay... 

This picture reminds me that I am on a long-term trajectory to achieve some amazing life goals.  In the short term, my path may seem crazy or risky to some, but I have my eye on the horizon and know my heading. 

This picture reminds me that I am on a long-term trajectory to achieve some amazing life goals.  In the short term, my path may seem crazy or risky to some, but I have my eye on the horizon and know my heading. 

Why do I love sailboats so much?  This picture is from the Brisbane Marina.

Why do I love sailboats so much?  This picture is from the Brisbane Marina.

 

 

 

 

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Happy New Year!

After a 1,500-mile holiday road trip that was a little more exciting than I had planned (see "Dannyboy Troubles" post), I'm now back onto the streets of San Francisco.  Well, not literally on the streets - at least not yet.  This week I'll be house-sitting for some good friends in Mill Valley.  It should be a quiet, relaxing week which I will spend catching up on administrative things -- bills, taxes, computer backup, and perhaps some enhancements to my website.  I hope to finish a couple of DBT videos too.  All the while, I will have to fend off the two aggressively friendly cats in this house!

My 2017 plan is still a mystery to you... and to me.  But I'm working on it.  Stay tuned.  It will likely continue to be a medley of sailing, volunteering, and traveling.  But the exact activities and locations are TBD.  In 2016, I focused on accumulating richer experiences as a sailor:  I crossed the South Pacific Ocean twice, and skippered a two-week charter in Croatia.  This added nearly 3,000 sea miles to my sailing resume!  In 2017, I want to build on this foundation, with the goal in 2018 or 2019 of having a "career" sailing.  I don't know what that exactly means yet, but I hope it includes a bit of income. :-)

As always, I welcome any house-sitting or overnight crash-pad opportunities while I'm in the Bay Area.  And if you have a boat, then by all means, please contact me if you need crew!

Happy new year everyone!

Here are a few obligatory selfies from my road trip:

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Dannyboy Troubles

After more than 20 years of international travel – most of the time by myself – I had to come back to California to get assaulted and robbed.   Fortunately, they walked away with only $100 cash in my fake wallet, and I walked away with only a few cuts and bruises.

I’m still in shock, but looking back at that evening a few days ago, I realize I got lazy and let my guard down.  I forgot that crime can happen to anyone, anywhere. 

I have visited rich countries and poor countries.  Within those countries, I have stayed in countless cities, towns, and villages:  some friendly, some not; some developed, some not; some overflowing with tourists, some not.

Even if I could afford it, staying at fancy hotels in the “good areas” or hiring a driver to take me around in a town car just isn’t my preferred travel experience.  I want to be amongst the locals.

As a result, during my travels I have certainly taken my share of chances with regard to safety.

I’ve explored cities known more for their trouble than for their tourist attractions.   I’ve visited the dirtiest dive bars and the most crowded discos.  I’ve walked home alone in the middle of the night.  Yes, I’ve even carried my camera on my shoulder and my (fake) wallet in my back pocket.

In all of my adventures, I’ve only had trouble a few times:  chased and cornered by thugs in Krakow, Poland; intimidated into handing over my ‘fake’ wallet in Buenos Aires, Argentina; tricked into over-paying a restaurant bill in Riga, Latvia (and again in Mexico City, Mexico).

Looking back at all the things that could have gone wrong, I guess I’ve been lucky…

…Until 10:30pm on Tuesday, December 20, 2016, in Eureka, California.

I was on a road trip from San Francisco to a few cities in Oregon to see family and friends for the holidays.  Having driven for most of the day, I stopped in Eureka for the night.

I picked a hotel close to the freeway for convenience.  I checked in, stored my bags in my room, and headed out to dinner on foot.  After driving all day, the walk felt good.

I chose a local steakhouse and savored a huge meal:  salad, rib-eye steak, fries, and onion rings.  After dinner, I took a walk through the holiday-decorated Old Town and then began the walk back to my hotel on the outskirts of town.

The sky was clear, the air was cool and crisp, and the street was dark and deserted.  I was actually kind of enjoying the quiet walk.   Nearly back to the hotel, I noticed two men leaning up against the building on my right. 

As I approached, one of them went to the curb and threw his cigarette butt into the street.  This forced me to walk between them, unless I crossed the street before I reached them.   But, being in California after traveling the world, I didn’t think much of the situation, and just proceeded down the sidewalk.

 “Spare a dollar?” asked the guy on my right. 

“No, dude.”  And I kept walking.

The next sequence of events happened so fast, I find it difficult to recount.   A fist came from the right and caught my upper lip, tearing it open.  I stumbled into the guy on my left who smacked me again, and down I went.  Stunned and shocked.

They took my wallet (full of crisp $20 bills from the ATM earlier that night) from my back pocket, and ran off.  Little did they know that this was my "fake" wallet.  My ID and credit cards were in a separate zippered pouch in my front pocket.

I sat there for a minute, still trying to process what just happened.  I couldn’t believe it.  I put my hand to my face, and felt the warm blood running down my lips and chin.  I tasted it in my mouth.

I got up and headed to my hotel room, where I cleaned myself up and inspected my wounds.  They didn’t look that bad:  a cut above my upper lip and a raspberry on my left cheek.  Both were bleeding, but after cleaning and applying some pressure, I stopped the bleeding.

At that point, I decided to just go to bed.  I didn’t think I needed immediate medical attention.  I could ask the hotel to call the cops but there was nothing they could really do now.  I would report the crime in the morning.

The next morning at 7:30 am I woke up on a bloody pillow.  I’d bled more overnight, apparently.  My cheek and upper lip were pretty swollen, too.  At this point, I decided to head to the Emergency Room to see a doctor.  Maybe I needed stitches after all.

I packed my bags, checked out, and headed to the local hospital.  The ER doctor examined me (including checking for a concussion) and said I didn’t need stitches. She gave me a tetanus shot, a penicillin boost, and a prescription for antibiotics.  Neither she nor the nurse seemed surprised when I recounted last night’s events.

I headed next to the police station to file a police report.  The officer did not look surprised at all.  He said the town has seen an increase in transients, drug users, and crime over the last few years.  

I’ve since done a little research on the town of Eureka, which seems to validate what the doctor and police office said.  It’s not the safest of town.  Crime is on the increase.

One of the sites I looked up is here:

https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ca/eureka/crime/

This says that on a scale of 1 to 100 (100 being safest), Eureka is a 1.  The rate of robbery is 2x that of the national average.  The rate of assault is 25% higher than the national average.

Lucky to walk away from this experience, I have learned a few lessons that are good reminders to us all:

1)   Do your research.  Like visiting any new place, I should have done a bit of reading about Eureka before stopping there for the night.  I still might have stayed there, but I would have at least been more aware of what to expect and therefore taken more precautions (e.g., Lessons 3 and 4).

2)   Crime can happen anywhere to anyone.  There is no such thing as “back home, safe in California” which was my mentality.

3)   Avoid dark streets.  I shouldn’t have walked home alone on that dark street.  The street just two blocks over was a major thoroughfare and would have been more populated and better lit.  A taxi would have been the safest option, probably.  (However, there are some foreign cities where I would question the safety of the taxis at night!)  

4)   Assume the worst.  When I saw the two guys loitering, I should have avoided them by crossing the street or turning around.   

5)   My fake wallet works.  They got my cash, but not my credit cards or ID.

In the end, I know I was lucky.  The incident could have been much worse.   I’m not deterred from traveling.  I’m not scared of the night.  But, I certainly will put my guard back up and be more cautious when I’m traveling, and even when I'm staying local.

Be careful out there!

Back in my car, continuing my road trip after being assaulted and robbed.

Back in my car, continuing my road trip after being assaulted and robbed.

Close-up of my wounds a couple of days after the incident.

Close-up of my wounds a couple of days after the incident.

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Happy Holidays!

I have been back in the San Francisco Bay Area now for about two weeks, and have fully recovered from my sailing adventures in Croatia, Fiji, and New Zealand.  I've been gone since August, basically, so it feels good to be back in the Bay for a bit.

Besides doing laundry and paying bills, I have been lucky to catch up with a handful of friends via various holiday parties, coffee dates, and happy hours.  I'm grateful to those friends who have also hosted me (or offered to host me) in their homes, as I continue to be homeless, indefinitely.

Ah, yes.  So what is my next adventure?  Good question!  My renter has confirmed he'd like to extend his lease for another year (which would take us into 2018), so I'll need to come up with something!  I have been scouring the usual sources of Help Exchange, Crew Bay, Find-a-Crew, etc. for opportunities abroad, either sailing or volunteering.  But I'm also pursuing something locally, which I'm very excited about.  

When I'm ready, I'll post my decision and destination.  In the meantime, I am taking a mini-adventure -- a week-long road trip in my Subaru to Oregon to see family, and take advantage of free housing. :-) 

Happy Holidays to everyone!

 

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Sailing the South Pacific

After three weeks of boat jobs, shakedown sails, and unfavorable weather, we finally departed Fiji on Thursday, November 17, to sail 1,200 miles across the South Pacific Ocean to New Zealand.

At 8:45am, we eased out of our slip at Port Denarau, Fiji, as the friendly staff from the Rhum-Ba Restaurant smiled and waved goodbye from the restaurant’s balcony which overlooked the dock.  We were wearing our Rhum-Ba branded polo shirts that we had purchased on one of our near-daily lunchtime visits to the restaurant.

We proceeded slowly through the channel and into the Bay of Nadi.  We then set course for nearby Vuda, where we would meet with Customs & Immigration to officially sign papers and check out of the country.  We had a 10:00am appointment. 

We arrived at Vuda on time, dropped anchor, launched the dinghy, and motored the smaller craft into the small circular marina to meet with Customs & Immigration.

Except… the Customs & Immigration officials weren’t there yet!   10:15am.  10:30am.  Fiji time.  Ok maybe they are a few minutes late.  We went for a coffee.  11:00am.  11:30am.

Well, it turns out they didn’t show up until 2:00pm! 

By the time we checked out, returned to Avalon, and secured the dinghy on the foredeck, it was 3:00pm.  Because of the delay, we now didn't have enough time to sail to the outer reef and navigate our way through the dangerously shallow water.   This late in the day, with the declining sunlight, the reefs would be too difficult to see.

We decided to wait it out until morning.

Friday morning came soon enough, and we were on our way – proceeding slowly around the reefs, carefully watching the electronic chart plotter, the depth sounder, and of course the water around the boat.   We needed an absolute minimum of 8 feet of depth.  More like 10 feet for peace of mind.

We made it safely into open ocean, happy with our decision to wait until morning to get through the reefs.

From here, the real adventure would start!  And it started immediately.

The first four days we faced high wind (25-30 mph) and big seas (3-4 meter swells and 1-2 meter wind waves), and not in the most favorable direction.  We made good speed but, in our effort to sail fast and efficiently and avoid slamming into waves, we headed a bit further to the west than we ideally would have wanted.  "More west" was better than "more east," though, given the likely wind and wave conditions down in New Zealand. 

During this period of rough weather, the boat heeled (leaned) over in the wind, and rolled through the confused waves.   So we didn’t do a lot of sophisticated cooking.  Our meals were pretty simple consisting of yogurt and granola, sandwiches (PB&J or tuna), and instant soups.   Skipper Tom boosted morale a few times with a hot bowl of spaghetti or tray of baked fish sticks and beans, and Oreos.

To keep the boat balanced and not overpowered, we “reefed” the mainsail.  Not to be confused with coral reefs, a “reefed mainsail” means lowering the mainsail to designated “reef points,” thereby reducing the amount of sail area and de-powering the boat.  We departed under the 1st reef point.  By the third day, we had reefed all the way down to the 3rd (and final) reef point.  That is to say, we had the least amount of mainsail up as possible.  The winds were that strong – approximately 30 knots!  We also used the staysail in our upwind effort, saving the bigger jib for any downwind we might get later.

After four days of rough upwind sailing, the wind and seas died down a bit.  We were exhausted, having hand-steered day and night for 4 days.  With the lighter conditions now, Skipper Tom made the call to start the engine, turn on autopilot, and motor sail more directly into the wind and waves. 

Using autopilot had a couple of benefits.  First, we would be moving more directly on our desired course.  Second, we would be able to get more rest.  Hand-steering in high wind and big waves required concentration and focus.  Watches were limited to two hours.  With three crew, two-hour watches meant the downtime (i.e., sleep) was only 4 hours, or really about 3 hours when you account for time to change clothes, use the bathroom, make your bunk, etc. 

With autopilot doing the work, watches were extended to 3 hours, so downtime was 6 hours (or net, 5 hours of rest).  So we were all relieved to turn on the engine and let autopilot take over for a night.  (Due to autopilot’s high power consumption, we can really only use it when the engine is on.  The engine charges the batteries as autopilot uses the batteries.)

As it turns out, the next several days were relatively calm, and the wind continued to blow from an unfavorable direction. 

So we continued to motor sail with autopilot.  We were anxious to make good time toward our destination – ensuring that we arrived before the next weather front moved in.

The calmer seas and wind allowed us to do a few other fun things.  One of the first things we did was shower with buckets of cold saltwater, with a quick fresh water rinse.  It was such a simple thing -- after four tiring days of wind, waves, cold, and clouds, just taking a shower and drying in the sun felt amazing.

We were also able to do a bit more cooking.  One night Skipper Tom made his famous Pasta Pesto.  And I showed off my skill at making egg salad sandwiches.  “Dannyboy’s Café is in business,” Rick and Tom joked.  As tempting as it might have been, we never cooked any of the flying fish or squid that we cleared from the deck each morning.

Rick and I did a bit more reading, taking turns reading “Wasting Time on the Internet”, which seemed entirely appropriate as we drifted along hundreds of miles from civilization.

We did a few boat jobs in the calm weather, too.  Most importantly, we refueled.  We opened the forward and aft lockers, removed the 5-gallon jerry cans, and poured the diesel into the big tanks of Avalon.  This gave us a chance to inspect the storage areas too.  Yep, everything was dry and secure. 

As we approached the east coast of New Zealand, we stayed over 50 miles offshore to protect us from any shift in the wind and waves that would push us into the rocky shore.

By Friday, November 25, we were ready to close that gap and head into shore.  We had feared a significant weather system moving in, but it just hadn’t materialized yet fortunately.

What did materialize was a huge Navy frigate that just appeared out of the mist on our port side!  While at sea, we monitor the “Automatic Identification System” regularly, which notifies us of other vessels – type, course, speed, distance, and closest point of approach – and notifies other vessels of our comparable stats.  Accessed via iPad app and satellite WIFI, the AIS is a great system to promote safety, especially when visibility is so poor.  But this Navy ship was literally “off the grid”, sneaking through the misty seas.  No doubt she knew exactly where we were, even though we were not aware of her approach.  

Speaking of contact with the outside world, we were also hailed on the VHF radio later that day.  A woman's voice echoed through the cockpit:  "Avalon, Avalon, Avalon, this is [XYZ} on channel 16, over." After not seeing any boats or people for 8 days, and being so far offshore, we were a bit surprised and perhaps a bit excited.  Contact with civilization!  But who could it be?  Tom answered, "This is sailing vessel Avalon, go ahead, over."  

As it turns out, the call was from an Orion P-3K2 surveillance aircraft overhead (WAY overhead, because we couldn't see or hear it).  I have later read that these aircraft were deployed by the New Zealand Defense Force in 2015 to help enforce strict biosecurity and customs requirements, especially from yachts visiting New Zealand from all parts of the Pacific.

After switching us over to a 'conversation' channel on the VHF radio, the flying Customs official asked us a few questions about our destination, purpose, people on board, etc. which we reported dutifully, and then she wished us a pleasant voyage.  That afternoon, we heard her call a number of other vessels on Channel 16 - which we all monitor for initial vessel to vessel contact and emergencies.  New Zealand is serious about their biosecurity and customs.

By Friday evening, our initial destination - Marsden Cove Marina, New Zealand - was within striking distance.  We could make it before sunrise.  But the entrance to the marina included passing through a "high swell warning area" and then navigating a narrow and very shallow channel.  Was it too dark to proceed tonight?  Was the tide high enough?  Is that storm coming?  Are we just too tired?

Still hours away, we had time to rest up and weigh the decision.  In the end, we went for it.  The skies were clear, visibility was great, and low tide had passed.  The channel was well lit with flashing red and green markers.  

At 3:00am, we slipped quietly through the black water of the narrow channel, past modern homes with private docks (part of this new marina's development plan).  I remembered going the opposite direction one grey, crisp morning back in May as we set out from Marsden headed TO Fiji.  

This time, it felt as if we were coming home, into a marina that was familiar, after 8 days at sea.

We made the final turn and pulled alongside the Customs & Immigration "quarantine" dock and secured the boat.  We shed our foul weather gear, took a few pictures, and savored a couple of beers and a can of Pringles.  We couldn't pass through the locked gate between the dock and land, since we were under quarantine until officials arrived in a few hours.  

It didn't matter.  We were safe.  Avalon was safe.  We made it!  

Coincidentally, we arrived just a few hours after the United States' holiday Thanksgiving.  Although we didn't celebrate on the passage, I know we each gave a few thanks as we stepped foot on the dock.

Addendum:

While we made it to New Zealand, the original plan was to rest a few days in Marsden Cove Marina, and then continue sailing about 100 miles south to Auckland.  But, because we were delayed getting out of Fiji, I didn’t have time to make the sail down to Auckland.  I helped clean Avalon inside and out, and then took the land yacht – the bus – down to Auckland to catch my flight home.

At the helm in high wind and big seas!

At the helm in high wind and big seas!

Departing from Port Denarau - I'm removing the bow line and storing it for passage.  Rhum-Ba Restaurant in the background.

Departing from Port Denarau - I'm removing the bow line and storing it for passage.  Rhum-Ba Restaurant in the background.

Taking a peek at the sunset.

Taking a peek at the sunset.

Running the preventer line from the end of the boom, around starboard side and bow, and down the port side.

Running the preventer line from the end of the boom, around starboard side and bow, and down the port side.

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And We're Off!

Well, almost.

After three weeks of preparation, we set sail early tomorrow morning, embarking on the 1,200-mile passage from Fiji to New Zealand.  We hope to arrive in about 8 days. We took care of some final details today, not the least of which was fully hydrating and taking timeout to enjoy the sunset.  I am excited and grateful to be part of this challenging adventure with Tom Prior and Rick Pinnone.  

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A Matter of Focus

Any update I give this week from Fiji cannot possibly compare to the dramatic and stunning results of the election back home in the United States. 

The election was the kind of event that is location-stamped.  No matter for whom we voted (or even IF we voted), a lot of us will probably always remember where we were when the results were announced:   “Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.”  Wow.

As for me, I was sitting in the casual beachside bar of the Bamboo Travelers resort.  It was an interesting scene.  About 15-20 fellow travelers huddled around the TV watching the play-by-play, trying to listen to the juicy commentary. 

The majority of the bar patrons, who hailed from all over the world, were either oblivious or indifferent – choosing instead to enjoy the sunset, play pool and ping-pong, or share travel notes. 

Even as the ‘show’ ended with the grand finale – Clinton conceding, Trump speaking – people just went on with their evening as if nothing happened.   I turned from the TV to my Facebook feed, and sat for a while reading the diverse comments.

I could have entertained myself for a few days reading all the post-election news and perspectives. 

But, down here in Fiji, we had more fun stuff to do.

Delayed by weather off the coast of New Zealand, and therefore still “stuck” in Fiji, we decided to sail over to Musket Cove, on an island about 3 hours away, to spend a few days relaxing and re-energizing.

We departed Thursday morning, motoring due to light wind conditions.  It was a pleasant cruise.  After the heat in the marina, it was great to be in open water with a fresh breeze.

The entry into Musket Cove was tricky and unfamiliar.  We had to navigate our way around shallow reefs.  Reefs are particularly dangerous because the depth changes rapidly.  You can be in 80 feet of water when you suddenly come upon an underwater wall of vertical coral growth and depth goes to 5 feet.   Midday, with the sun overhead, provides good visibility.  "If it's brown, go around" says our First Mate Rick - since the reefs appear brown in color under the water.  Approaching at low-water (although seemingly counter-intuitive) is also a good technique as the low water exposes the coral reefs.  

As we approached, we followed the path of in-water navigational aides (markers and buoys) and utilized the charts we downloaded to our iPad application Navionics.  But, reefs are constantly growing and changing so we also kept a sharp lookout on deck with binoculars.  Once we were safely in the cove, we picked up a mooring ball and secured the boat.

We took the dinghy to shore and checked in with the office.

Because we arrived on a sailboat from a ‘foreign port’ (i.e., New Zealand to Fiji earlier this year), we were awarded lifetime memberships in the Musket Cove Yacht Club!  This granted us access to the private beach, the pool, the showers, and all of the water toys (kayaks, paddleboards, mask/snorkel, and catamaran).

On our first night, the restaurant was offering an all-you-can-eat buffet, featuring roast pork and all the trimmings.   After two weeks eating sketchy food in Nadi town, and struggling with the resulting impact on our stomachs, we thoroughly enjoyed the delicious buffet.  

Back at the boat that evening, it was hot in the cabin.  I couldn’t sleep, so I crawled outside to the cockpit area, pillow in hand, and slept on the hard fiberglass bench for a while.  The cool air and occasional hint of rain was very pleasant.  I ended up sleeping outside the next two nights as well, especially after the skipper reminded me that we actually have cusions for those hard benches.  With the cushion in place, I slept like a baby, cradled by the sea and watched over by the stars.

For the next two days, we just lounged around the Yacht Club.  We enjoyed early morning swims in the sea, launching ourselves off Avalon’s deck.  We explored the Yacht Club and Resort – moving from beach to pool to café and back again.

Our favorite hangout spot was the Club’s beach bar located on a short peninsula jutting out into the cove.  The bar offered ice-cold Fiji Bitter (beer), classic rock tunes, and cushioned benches facing outward toward the west, providing a great sunset view.  

But the highlight of the bar was the self-cook barbecue dinner.   Here’s how it works:  Each afternoon by 4pm, we place our order for fresh fish, meat, veggies, potatoes, and garlic bread.   The food is delivered to the bar at 6:30pm; fish and veggies are on skewers, meat is soaking in marinade, bread and potatoes are buttered and wrapped in foil.   We choose our gas grill and ask the bartender to turn it on.  We barbecue everything, and then enjoy a tasty feast as the sun goes down.  The staff cleans the grill and clears the dishes while we relax.  It’s pretty fantastic.  We did this two nights in a row.  The price?  About $12 USD.

By Sunday, it was time to get back to the business of preparing to sail to New Zealand.  We readied the boat, untied from the mooring ball, and slowly motored out of Musket Cove and around the reefs, heading back to our Fijian home base of Port Denarau.

Arriving at Port Denarau by early afternoon, we spent a few hours cleaning the boat so she’d be ready for the passage mid-week (based on latest forecasts).   We then dispersed to our respective hotels for a good night’s sleep.

At the time of this writing, we are targeting a Wednesday, November 16, departure.  For those of you that have asked, yes, we are aware of the earthquake and tsunami in New Zealand, but fortunately it does not impact our passage.  Our thoughts go out to those whom it did impact.

So as the United States reacts to the election results with all kinds of predictions of what might or might not happen over the next 4 years of Trump, down here on Avalon we have a much narrower perspective:  we are laser-focused on the next 8-10 days and safe passage to New Zealand. 

Enjoying the sunset view at Musket Cove Yacht Club.

Enjoying the sunset view at Musket Cove Yacht Club.

Barbecue time!  Fresh fish, steak, veggies, potatoes, and garlic bread on the grill; cold beer in the hand; ocean, beach, and sunset in the background.

Barbecue time!  Fresh fish, steak, veggies, potatoes, and garlic bread on the grill; cold beer in the hand; ocean, beach, and sunset in the background.

Taking a dip off Avalon's bow.

Taking a dip off Avalon's bow.

Swimming back to the stern.

Swimming back to the stern.

Avalon floating gracefully at her mooring in Musket Cove.

Avalon floating gracefully at her mooring in Musket Cove.

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Preparing for Passage

I arrived in Fiji just over a week ago, and spent this past week helping skipper Tom and first mate Rick to prepare sailing vessel Avalon for the journey south, back to New Zealand.  

For three very productive days, we were joined by Ian, a mechanical / marine engineer who flew up from New Zealand to help us.   He was awesome, inspecting the engine, the auxiliary motor, and what seemed like every pump, belt, hose, filter, cable, clamp, etc. on board to make sure the boat was in proper working order. 

We spent the balance of the week tackling a myriad of other boat jobs like pumping rainwater out the bilges, cleaning and drying out the storage lockers fore and aft, running the jib and staysail sheets, filling the water tanks, servicing the anchor gypsy, installing covers to protect the seat cushions, hiring a diver to scrub the hull and install new zinc plates, launching the dinghy and testing the outboard engine, hoisting Rick up the mast so he could inspect the rigging, filling up the fuel tanks and spare 5-gallon jerrycans, preparing final paperwork for checkout, shopping and stowing food and water, and so much more.  Of course, we ended every day on the boat with cleaning surfaces, closing hatches, and tidying lines.

We have reviewed the basic navigation, including rhumb line, route options, dangers, etc.  And we are constantly monitoring weather which will influence both our departure date and exact route.

We did one shakedown sail this week to unfurl the sails and stretch Avalon's legs.  She was great.

It's been super hot, so we have tried to start as early as 7am to get the hard work done before the midday heat.  We try to end in time to hit happy hour at a local beachfront resort for a cold drink and sunset.  

We have been working toward a Tuesday, November 8 departure date.  But latest weather indicates that that may not be the safest departure date - as we'd be rushed to land at New Zealand before the next front moves in. 

So, as of this writing, we have actually delayed our departure by a few days, targeting to check out of Fiji around November 10 or 11.  We are ready!  

Provisioning at the local supermarket.  We're going with a lot of canned goods - tuna, corned beef, beans - to minimize risk of spoilage in this heat.  Also resorting to classics of peanut butter and jelly, pasta and pesto, and granola bars.

Provisioning at the local supermarket.  We're going with a lot of canned goods - tuna, corned beef, beans - to minimize risk of spoilage in this heat.  Also resorting to classics of peanut butter and jelly, pasta and pesto, and granola bars.

A cart full of food for the three of us.

A cart full of food for the three of us.

Morning coffee at my hotel.  What scenery!

Morning coffee at my hotel.  What scenery!

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Back to Fiji

The goal of this week was to travel halfway across the world - from Croatia to Fiji - stopping in San Francisco for a couple of days to change gear, do laundry, read mail, etc.

It was a long trip, nearly 13,000 miles, but I made it.

I am now in Fiji, and have reunited with Skipper Tom, First Mate Rick, and the lovely sailing vessel Avalon.  We are at Port Denerau, in the town of Nadi.  We spend the days doing lots of boat jobs, bringing Avalon out of her 6-month hibernation.  Cleaning, organizing, testing, etc.  These activities will continue all of this upcoming week.  We'll do a couple shakedown sails, too.  

The earliest we'll depart (for New Zealand) is November 8 (Election Day in the US!).  We need to closely monitor the weather to ensure a safe passage in the best possible weather window.

Off the boat, we've had a good time exploring local accommodation options.  It's too hot to sleep on the boat.  We have found a small beachfront area that has a number of little hotels / hostels. 

More next week.  I have to get back to the boat!  I forgot how bad (i.e., slow, unreliable) the WIFI is in Fiji.  So bear with me...

Reunited with SV Avalon!  She looks great!

Reunited with SV Avalon!  She looks great!

Cleaning out the bilges where some rainwater has collected over the past 6 months.  (Very normal for boats).

Cleaning out the bilges where some rainwater has collected over the past 6 months.  (Very normal for boats).

Enjoying the sunset on the beach while eating dinner.

Enjoying the sunset on the beach while eating dinner.

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Croatia Wrap-Up

This past week, I traveled over 13,000 miles as I made my way from Croatia to Fiji (going west, to allow a stopover in San Francisco).  With four flights, including a 2-hour delay, I had plenty of waiting around time, which allowed me to reflect on my 10 weeks in Croatia and summarize some closing thoughts and favorite memories.

Of course, my thoughts begin with sailing, as that was the main purpose of my Croatia trip.

I achieved my primary goal of skippering my first international sailing charter.  As expected, I faced the constant dynamic risk assessment of weather, navigation, and boat management for two weeks.  

We sailed to 5 different islands and covered over 200 miles.  There were many success stories.

We cautiously executed the med-mooring style of stern-to docking for the first time in Brac.  We picked up a mooring ball in the choppy waters of Hvar, doing it more smoothly than the three boats (not OCSC boats) that followed us.  We rendezvoused with other OCSC boats in Vis. We demonstrated a safe spring line departure technique in the windy, close-quarters marina of Korcula.  We engaged in a “boat crawl” in Mljet.  We launched the dinghy and motored around the bay in Slano.

Of course, we also encountered some challenges while sailing. 

We fouled our lines with neighboring boats, twice, requiring some calm but quick action by everyone on board.  (This was a great reminder that so much of sailing is about planning, and then double- and triple-checking your plan.  And then also have a backup plan.) 

When docked, we had a few cats that kept trying to sneak on board for some reason.

As you might expect, when four people (most of us strangers) climb aboard a 42-foot boat to live together for two weeks, there are some growing pains.  We managed, but we had to work at it. 

But sailing was just one component of my 10-week adventure.  

I also traveled over 1,000 miles by bus, going up and down the Dalmatia and Istria coastlines, and making a brief venture into Montenegro. 

I don’t mind traveling by bus.  It’s cheap.  It’s (usually) scenic. 

But it sometimes comes with an uncomfortable price.  On a few rides, I had undesirables sit by me:  a woman with the sniffles, a woman eating smelly potato chips and chocolate, a boy who insisted on playing his music on speakerphone not headphone, and a man who smelled like he just smoked a carton of cigarettes. 

Later in the season, I was rewarded with some very pleasant (i.e., empty and odorless) bus rides. 

I also traveled by public ferry a few times, including a reconnaissance trip to the island of Hvar for a few nights to scout out the docking situation.

I also did a LOT of walking. 

On the promenades.  On the cobblestone streets.  In the National Parks.   On the historic walls.

The weather was memorable, only because it didn’t really cooperate very often. 

For sailing, we just didn’t have a lot of wind.  We motored nearly every day.  Sometimes we motored all day, sometimes we sailed a bit until we got bored going only 3 knots.  (This didn’t really bother me too much.  As a sailor, I am careful about “hoping for wind”… You have to be careful what you wish for.  I’m happy with any safe passage and good crew.)

For other parts of my trip, the weather was mixed.  My first couple of weeks, I was in Split and Zadar visiting the local beaches.  The weather was perfect – sunny and warm. 

But then by the end of September, the rain came – often at the worst times.   It rained when I had made plans to visit multiple National Parks for hiking.  It rained when I was carrying my bags around town looking for my apartment, orwalking to the bus station.  It rained when I planned the day-long ascent of the Ladder of Cattaro (Kotor).

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I certainly made a few mistakes along the way. 

I booked my hotel for the wrong weekend in Plitvice.

I changed apartments in Split, thinking I was upgrading, but the second apartment was worse than the first!

I broke the zoom lens on my DSLR camera, proving again that a pricey camera and my style of travel don’t mix.

I let myself get run down and sick.  (However, that did lead to an interesting experience in the mysterious, semi-deserted hospital in Trogir.)

As much as I love Croatia, there are a few things I won’t miss at all.

The smoking.  Everyone smokes here.  And they smoke anywhere and everywhere.  They don’t give a second thought to lighting up next to you as you try to enjoy your dinner, or even worse, your breakfast.

The service.  Restaurant service is notoriously slow and non-proactive.  There is no such thing as suggestive selling like, “Sir, would you care for another coffee?”  Looking on the bright side, I could stretch a $2 coffee into three hours of guilt-free internet use and people-watching.  No questions asked!  (Note:  There were some exceptions.  My server at the wine bar, K’alavanda, in Hvar Town was fantastic.  He always brought me a glass of red wine and a bottle of water as soon as I sat down.  I didn’t even have to ask.)

The lines.  Well, lack of lines.  More than once I was standing in line at the bus station to buy my ticket, and a local would edge his or her way into line in front of me.  Am I just standing here in front of the ticket office enjoying the view?

The tourists.  Granted, I’m one of them.

Croatians do have their charming characteristics.

They love the sun.  (Sorry, I’m more of a shade person these days.)

They love their ice cream.  (So do I.)

They love their olive oil. (I’ve seen people do a shot of straight olive oil.)

The drivers are surprisingly courteous to pedestrians.

The cities are amazing.

Yes, I suppose they start to look alike after 10 weeks.  A wall.  A fortress. A church.  A cobblestone street. 

The towns (especially the old town sections) are absolutely charming, clean, and well-maintained.  I often wandered aimlessly through the streets and fortresses wondering “If only these walls and stones could talk, I would love to hear their story.”

I will caution any future travelers – those cobblestones are slippery, having been worn down and polished smooth over hundreds if not thousands of years.  And when they are wet, it’s even worse!  Watch yourself!  Occasionally there are random steps, too.  I saw a few people miss the step and fall. 

I measure my travel by quality of content, not quantity of countries.

I know some people will ask me:  “You didn’t go to Slovenia?  Bosnia?  Italy?  You were right there!”

I know, I know. 

When I travel, I like to immerse myself in the culture, spending weeks or even months in a certain country or region.  Over the years, I have spent long periods of time in countries:  4 months in Poland, 3 months in Chile, 3 months in Thailand, 2 months in New Zealand, and now 2 months in Croatia. 

I like learning a bit of the language, history, and customs.  I like observing daily life.  

The seasonal transition was interesting to watch.

By staying for so long in Croatia, I was able to watch the towns slowly transition from high season to low season.  Outdoor clubs are being broken down.  Crowds are dissipating.  Shops and restaurants are reducing their hours.  It’s like watching the tide ebb and flow.  The tide is going out right now.  It’s kind of depressing in some ways.  But you know it’ll come back next summer.

In a lot of ways, I actually like the low season and the calmness it harbors.  I have found it easier to interact with the locals during this quiet time.  It’s hard to explain.  Everything is just quieter, slower, and less chaotic.  And visiting some of the historic sites is so much better without the flood of selfie-stick-toting tourists in the peak season.  I like it.  

Overall, my time in Croatia was fantastic.  I will be back!

But now, I'm on to my next adventure.  At the time of this posting, I will be at Port Denerau, Nadi, Fiji, helping to prepare sailing vessel Avalon for her sail to New Zealand in November!

Rovinj, Croatia.

Rovinj, Croatia.

Klis Fortress, in the hills above Split, Croatia.

Klis Fortress, in the hills above Split, Croatia.

 

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Expedition to Klis Fortress

My time in Croatia is coming to an end.  I fly home to San Francisco tomorrow, only to begin a new adventure in the Southern Hemisphere next week.

I spent my final week here revisiting a few of my favorite towns.

I began the week in Zadar, a town that offers a little bit of everything – historic buildings, outdoor cafes, seaside promenade, and energetic nightlife.   I stayed again at Apartments Donat, which I highly recommend to anyone visiting. 

In fact, I spent a lot of time in my apartment because the rain continued this week.   It’s definitely been a wet October, the locals say.

I snuck out for a few walks between the storms, enjoyed a glorious sunset while listening to the famous “sea organ,” and splurged on two fancy dinners at top-rated restaurants (Restaurant Bruschetta and Pet Bunara). 

On Tuesday, October 18, I braved the 20-minute walk in the rain to the bus station.  I took a bus to Trogir, about three hours south.  Ivan, and my sail bag, greeted me at the Palace Central Apartments.  I would use this apartment as my home base for my final few days.

The rain had continued all day and on into the evening.  I could only muster enough energy to dash across the narrow cobblestone street into Restaurant Marjia for a plate of spaghetti and salad. 

On Wednesday, the sun finally emerged.  After a morning of shopping and laundry, I decided that I had better take advantage of the weather and knock off another bucket list item:  Klis Fortress (of Game of Thrones fame).  The forecast for the rest of the week was more rain; so this might be my only chance to see the famous fortress.  

Well, what seemed to be a simple excursion turned into quite an expedition.

First, it was a race against time.  I left my apartment at 12:00pm, not knowing whether the fortress closed at 4:00pm or 7:00pm.  I had found conflicting information on the internet.  

Second, I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there.  I could have (and should have) just taken a taxi, especially given my possible time constraint.  But, I like a challenge – and I like saving money – so I decided to take the bus.  I figured I could always get off and take a taxi.

So I hopped on a bus to Split, from where I would then take a second bus to the fortress.  Ugh, the bus I got on was a local bus.  It was SO slow; it seemed to stop on every other block to pick up or drop off people.  At this rate, we would cover the 20 kilometers in 2 hours, not 30 minutes as I had hoped. 

After about an hour, I noticed we were actually passing the road up the mountain to the Klis Fortress.  Maybe I didn’t need to go all the way into Split?  I weighed my options for a few minutes and then hopped off the bus.

I figured I’d find a taxi, or maybe even just walk the 6 km up the hill.  It was now 1:30pm.  Even if it took me 2 hours to walk, I’d still get there by 3:30pm with plenty of light before sunset.  If the Fortress closed at 4:00pm, though, I’d be bummed with my visit cut short.

I started walking. There weren’t any taxis to be seen.  I walked on.

I came to the town of Solina, which marked the beginning of the road to the Klis Fortress.  I found a bus stop and asked a woman which bus would take me up the hill.  “#35,” she said.  A second woman said, “No, no, it’s #36.” 

When bus #36 came, I asked the bus driver.  He said “No. Next bus.” 

Frustrated and confused, I then asked a woman in a snack kiosk.  She actually pulled out a schedule and said, “#22, in about 10 minutes.”  I went back to the bus stop and talked to someone else.  “Yes, #22.  Might be 10 minutes but could be 20 minutes, or an hour.” 

Great, I thought.  After such good luck with buses in Croatia, I couldn’t figure out why this particular trip was so difficult.  If I knew the Fortress closed at 7:00pm, I would have been a lot more patient.  But I didn’t want to come this far, and then get to the Fortress just as it closed, if it closed at 4:00pm.

Just then, I spotted a taxi.  I whistled and waved, and he stopped.  For 100 Kuna (about $15), he took me up the hill to the Fortress.  I took his card in case I needed to call him for a ride back down.

So finally, at 3:00pm, I walked through the giant doors of the Klis Fortress.  (I quickly found out that it closed at 7:00pm, not 4:00pm, thankfully.)  I could finally relax!  I spent nearly 3 hours wandering around the giant structure, exploring every nook and cranny, reading every placard of historical facts.  I enjoyed the view, took a lot of pictures, and sat for a while just to soak it all in. 

As the sun began to set, I started my descent down the 6 km of windy road … on foot.  I could have taken the bus (which was #22 by the way) or called the taxi.  But I thought the walk would be fun and good exercise.   Halfway down, though, I realized that walking down a curvy road with no shoulders, in the dark, was probably not such a good choice.  As cars approached, I would step aside into the drainage ditch to ensure my safety.

I finally got down to Solina, where I got back on the local bus back to Trogir.  I was exhausted.  And starving.  I realized I did the entire day fueled on a coffee and an apple strudel that I had about 10 hours earlier.

The next day, the rain came again.  I didn’t mind.  It justified my long adventure yesterday, and I had a lot to do online anyway to get ready for San Francisco and, ultimately, Fiji and New Zealand.

On Friday, I packed a small bag and took the bus down to Split.  (Not the local bus this time, but a proper ‘coach’ bus that only makes 1 stop, not 100 stops.)  For some reason, I felt compelled to return to Split, where my adventure had begun nearly 10 weeks ago.  I guess it gave me some sense of completion.  

I booked a room at the Grgur Ninski Apartments.  The owner met me there and he was very nice.  The rooms were also very nice.  Brand new.  Again, it was this unique combination of modern rooms outfitted in an 800-year old stone house.  Amazing work.

After walking around town – in particular Diocletian’s Palace - I had a nice dinner at Zinfandel Restaurant, while listening to live music.  The weather was still pretty bad.  Just sprinkling enough to warrant a jacket and to keep crowds away.

The next morning was gloriously sunny though.  I enjoyed a coffee on the famous Riva promenade.  By 12:30pm, I reluctantly made my way to the bus station and headed back to Trogir.

Saying goodbye to Split was a sign that my trip was over.  When I got back to Trogir, it was all about business – packing my bag, checking into my flight, getting a good night’s sleep.

See you soon, San Francisco! 

Exploring inside the walls of the Klis Fortress.

Exploring inside the walls of the Klis Fortress.

Hiking up the series of 3 walls.

Hiking up the series of 3 walls.

I made it!

I made it!

Enjoying the view at sunset.

Enjoying the view at sunset.

The Klis Fortress.

The Klis Fortress.

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From Dalmatia to Istria

This week I continued my travels by bus along the coast of Croatia – from the Dalmatia region into the Istria region.  When I last wrote, I had just visited Ston and was headed to Sibenik.

I arrived in Sibenik on Sunday, October 9, after making a brief 30-minute stop in Trogir to drop off my sail bag.  I had rented a newly remodeled apartment from Apartments Rialto, which I found fairly easily thanks to a screen shot of a map I had on my iPhone. 

Remember, my housing has generally been apartments, not hotels.  So there is not a big neon sign highlighting the location, or a drop-pin on map apps, like there might be for a hotel.  I usually just have a street address.  This can be a challenge since so many of these old towns don’t have street signs; in some cases, too, the name of the street changes after a few blocks.   If I’m lucky, the street address has a small placard that says “XYZ Apartments.”

The town of Sibenik was nice, but I didn’t find myself in awe by anything in particular.  A fortress.  A wall.  A church.  A waterfront promenade.  A café at sunset.  Am I getting immune to the charm of these old towns??

The highlight for me was St. Michael’s fortress, one of the four fortresses in the area.  This one had a modern amphitheater constructed within its walls that the town uses for concerts and shows.  Must be quite spectacular.  From the towers of St. Michael’s fortress, I had a great view of the three other fortresses amongst the hills and islands.  Like so many other times on this trip, I found my thoughts drifting into the past, wondering what these historic walls might say.

I wasn’t really in Sibenik to see Sibenik itself; I used the town as a launching pad for exploring Krka National Park, about 30 minutes away by bus. 

The Park is famous for its waterfalls, monastery, and fortress ruins.  The waterfall portion of the Park only requires an hour or two, depending on how many pictures you take and whether you stop for lunch at the Park café.  But the boat and bus schedules are just infrequent enough to cause logistic problems if you don’t plan ahead.  I wasted a day because I tried to wing it.

There are two entrances to the Park, one in Skradin that involves a 30-minute boat ride, and one in Lozovac that involves an 800-meter walk.   I opted for the boat ride, but I didn’t do enough research on arrival and departure times.  On my first trip to the Park, I arrived in Skradin in the early afternoon, but that wasn’t enough time to do the boat ride, the hike, and the return boat ride.  I would miss my bus back to Sibenik.  Ugh.  I sat in a cafe and waited for my bus back to Sibenik.  I laughed to myself when it started raining, thinking that maybe it was a good thing I wasn't actually in the Park today.  

The next day, I repeated the trip to Krka National Park, but this time I left Sibenik a couple of hours earlier.  

Once I finally got into the Park, I have to say that I was a bit underwhelmed.  This is probably because I had visited Plitvice Lakes National Park earlier in my visit to Croatia.   Plitvice, in my opinion, offered better scenery, bigger waterfalls, and more hiking trails.  To be fair to Krka, though, I did not pay extra for the multi-hour boat excursion to the monastery on Visovac Island.  That might have been cool.  And the fortress ruins (which look *really* cool) require a car and detailed trail map to find.  I had neither – but will add this to my itinerary on my next trip to Croatia.  Again, my failure to plan ahead limited my options.

Tuesday night, I boarded an overnight bus to Rovinj, a small coastal town on the heart-shaped peninsula region of Croatia called Istria.  I arrived in Rovinj at 7:00 am, just in time for the rising sun to cast an orange glow on this stunning town.  The heart of the Old Town is the Church of St. Euphemia, which sits on top of a hill and towers above every other building. 

After downing two coffees and an omelet at a waterfront café, I checked into my apartment, Villa Tuttorotto.  In the afternoon, I walked south to Zlatni Rt Park (Golden Cape Park), that consisted of both forest trails and rocky coastline.   The coastline, although rocky, had paved platforms built into it where I’m sure tons of sun-worshipping tourists flock to during the summer season.

Also in the Zlatni Rt Park is an ancient stone quarry, dating back to Roman times.  History says that the seaside quarry was perfectly located, since stones could be cut and immediately loaded onto ships.  Some huge rectangular blocks still sit on the coastline, frozen in time.  

That evening, I had a great dinner at Rio Bar (not actually a bar):  grilled sea bream filet with truffles.  I couldn’t be in Istria without trying the locally grown truffles.

Over an after dinner drink, I met a gentleman by the name of Zvonko who heard my American accent and asked where I was from.  He was excited when I said San Francisco, because he had done an exchange program in San Francisco.  He is a lawyer, but also owns and operates a local high-end apartment complex – which is actually 10-12 stone houses all remodeled and interconnected - called Villa Valdibora.   The impromptu party ended up in the reception area of the complex, where Zvonko offered us a bottle of wine, bread, and fresh olive oil.  He gave us a tour and shared some history of Rovinj.  It was a fun and memorable night hanging out with the locals.

The next morning, the staff at Villa Tuttorotto fixed me a full breakfast buffet, even though I was their only guest!  It was a bit awkward sitting at the giant table smothered by a smorgasbord of cheese, meat, fish, bread, fruit, juice, yogurt, cereal, etc.  I definitely got my money’s worth. 

As much as I liked Rovinj, I decided to start heading back south.  I had added Pula, near the southern end of the Istrian peninsula, as an additional stop on my journey.

Pula was only about an hour south.  I checked into my apartment from D&A Apartments.  I was tempted to lounge in the giant living room, or read a book in the glass-enclosed sitting room, or cook a meal in the modern kitchen.  But instead, I went exploring.  The weather was (sort of) nice, so I had to take advantage of it. 

The highlight of this town (and one of the highlights of my entire trip to Croatia) is the Pula Arena – one of the six largest remaining arenas from Roman times.  It’s truly amazing.  

I also walked through the center of Old Town, stopping at Enoteca Istriana.  Zvonko had texted me and suggested I stop there, since he knows the owner.   I sipped wine and nibbled on olives and cheese while admiring the Temple of Augustus – another 2,000 year old structure in Pula.

The next day it rained again.  I did some grocery shopping, made lunch, and caught up on email.  In the late afternoon, with a break in the rain, I visited some other historic sites including the Arch of the Sergii, the Twin Gates, and the Gate of Hercules.  I also wandered up the hill to a small Roman amphitheater that looks like it is going through renovations.

Saturday morning, the rain started again.  I didn’t mind because I had planned to take the bus back to Zadar – a 7-hour journey.  Fortunately, the bus was virtually empty.  I thought I might sleep, but I found it impossible to take my eyes off the beautiful scenery we were passing. The curves, cliffs, ocean view, and small towns reminded me of the Pacific Coast Highway in California.

I arrived in Zadar early Saturday evening.  After touring Kotor, Ston, Sibenik, Rovinj, and Pula over the last couple of weeks, I felt relieved to be back in a familiar town.  Without feeling the need to sight-see, I could just relax at a cafe or stroll along the waterfront.  

This coming week, I'll head back to another familiar town, Trogir, for the final days of this Croatian adventure...

Hiking along the waterfalls in Krka National Park, about 30 minutes outside of Sibenik.

Hiking along the waterfalls in Krka National Park, about 30 minutes outside of Sibenik.

Rovinj at sunrise, with the Church of St. Euphemia towering above all.

Rovinj at sunrise, with the Church of St. Euphemia towering above all.

Rovinj Old Town from a bit further away (I'm at the ACI Marina, across the bay, on the walk toward Zlatni Rt Park).

Rovinj Old Town from a bit further away (I'm at the ACI Marina, across the bay, on the walk toward Zlatni Rt Park).

Ancient stone quarry at Zlatni Rt Park in Rovinj.

Ancient stone quarry at Zlatni Rt Park in Rovinj.

On the beach at Zlatni Rt Park in Rovinj.

On the beach at Zlatni Rt Park in Rovinj.

Goofing around with selfies at the Church of St. Euphemia in Rovinj.

Goofing around with selfies at the Church of St. Euphemia in Rovinj.

Church of St. Euphemia at sunset.

Church of St. Euphemia at sunset.

That's a big door.

That's a big door.

Standing in the middle of the Pula Arena.

Standing in the middle of the Pula Arena.

Walking along the seating area in the Pula Arena.

Walking along the seating area in the Pula Arena.

The Pula Arena illuminated in the evening.

The Pula Arena illuminated in the evening.

Temple of St. Augustus, Pula.

Temple of St. Augustus, Pula.

Exploring a hilltop Roman amphitheater.

Exploring a hilltop Roman amphitheater.

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Walking the Walls

This week I explored the towns of Dubrovnik, Kotor, and Ston, and hiked along their respective walls and fortresses.  Magnificent views, amazing history, and good old exercise!  It was a great week, other than the rain.  Here's the update: 

I spent the first few days of this week relaxing in Dubrovnik, reacquainting myself with life on land.  I rented a large top-floor apartment.  I washed all my clothes and hung them to dry on the sunny terrace.  I took a few afternoon naps. 

My crew and I enjoyed a final pizza dinner and said our goodbyes. 

Before continuing her own vacation, first mate Amanda joined me for a walk along the walls of Old Town.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy and rainy that day.  (This will become a theme over the next few journal entries, I’m afraid.)

We managed to finish the 2km walk and duck into a bar just before the heavy rain came.  But it was like a scene from the movies.   We sat down at a table with our drinks, but then could still feel the rain.  We looked at each other, and then looked up at the roof:  it was made of thinly spaced bamboo slats.  Not much good against the rain.  We toughed it out for a few minutes, but eventually downed our drinks and left.  

By Wednesday, my crew and the other members of the 10-boat flotilla from San Francisco had left, and I was on my own again.  I really liked Dubrovnik, but even this late in the season there were just so many tourists!  I decided to move on.

I checked out of my apartment and hopped on a bus to Kotor, Montenegro, which was about two hours south.  I had heard great things about Montenegro; and I was not disappointed at all. 

I arrived in Kotor in the pouring rain, and wandered around the streets looking for the hotel I had booked.  Hippocampus Hotel.  With the help of a few waiters along the way, I found it. 

That afternoon the rain stopped and I hiked up to St. John’s castle located on the hills behind Old Town Kotor.  The hike included many steps along the fortification walls.  The views were magnificent.   Needless to say, I slept well that night.

On Thursday, I planned to ascend the historic “Ladder of Cattaro (Kotor)”.  This is a 940-meter ascent up an old military road and supply line, connecting Kotor with Cetinje.   The old road includes over 70 switchbacks and is supposed to take four hours each way.  Unfortunately, the “7% chance of rain” turned into “rain all day”.  After three and a half hours, I was drenched, the trail was slippery, and the situation became too dangerous. Without a trail map, a hiking partner, proper boots, or cell phone coverage, I knew that any misstep on the wet rocks and mud could be serious.  Reluctantly, I turned around.

On Friday morning, the rain continued.  I braved the walk to the bus station, lugging my three bags with me.  Drenched, I boarded the bus back to Dubrovnik.  In Dubrovnik, I would have a tight connection to make my bus to the little town of Ston, so when we were delayed at the Croatia / Montenegro border, I began to get nervous. 

With each trip across the border there were two inspection points – one by Croatian police and then one by Montenegro police a few hundred meters down the road.   Coming south, the process didn’t take too long.  Croatian police came on the bus to visually check all passports, collecting a few for computerized scanning in the office.  Then the Montenegro police came on and collected ALL passports for scanning in their office. 

Coming north, the process took a lot longer.   First, the Croatian inspection was a lot stricter.  They made everyone actually get off the bus and go to the office for passport scanning.  On the Montenegro side, it was actually faster – the police came on the bus with a handheld scanner.  As soon as passengers start getting off and on the bus, delays happen – for bathroom and smoking breaks, in particular.  Second, there were two tour buses ahead of us that had to go through the same process.   I credit this to the fact that it was Friday afternoon so there were probably a lot of tourists going to Dubrovnik for the weekend. 

Anyway, after over an hour delay at the border, we made it to Dubrovnik.  With minutes to spare, I boarded my local bus to Ston. 

The small town of Ston, and its even smaller sister town Mali Ston (literally “little Ston”), was famous for a few things:  the second longest fortification wall behind the Great Wall of China, the oldest salt works in Europe (dating back to ancient Roman times), and the best oysters and mussels in Croatia!

The bus dropped me in the center of town.  Yet again it was pouring rain so I ducked into a café for a coffee and WIFI so that I could pull up exact directions to my apartment.  I was in luck – the apartment was only a few blocks away.

Marija, the landlord’s daughter, checked me in and showed me around. The apartment was across the road from the walls, and the balcony offered me a nice view of the town, salt works, walls, and towers.

I hiked the part of the walls on Friday afternoon, but Saturday was the main event.  I walked on the walls over to Mali Ston, where I explored the town (took about 30 minutes) and had a fabulous lunch of wine, oysters, and salad.

After returning along the walls to Ston, I wandered over to the salt works for a tour of that facility.  It is the oldest salt operation in Europe, dating back to Roman times.  You can read about it here:  http://www.solanaston.hr/en/the-history

I don’t know much about salt, or the making of salt, but this facility was pretty interesting, especially thinking about how long it’s been running. 

Both nights in Ston I enjoyed fresh seafood dinners at Konoba Bakus.  The first night was mussels.  The second night was sea bass.  

On Sunday, I continued my route north by bus.  I stopped in Trogir briefly to see Ivan at Palace Central Apartments.  He had agreed to keep my sail bag for me, so I could continue exploring the country with a lighter load.  I would return and stay at the apartments for my final week in Croatia.

After a 20-minute re-packing effort, and a 5-minute ice cream, I was back on a bus headed to Sibenik, where I would explore two national parks, Krka and Kornati.  However, the weather forecast doesn’t look great – a lot of rain – so I may have to adjust my plans.  

Stay tuned!

Assessing how difficult it would be to scale the wall in Ston.

Assessing how difficult it would be to scale the wall in Ston.

The red roofs of Dubrovnik.  Lighter colored tiles are replacements for bombing damage in the 1990's.

The red roofs of Dubrovnik.  Lighter colored tiles are replacements for bombing damage in the 1990's.

Walking the walls in Dubrovnik.

Walking the walls in Dubrovnik.

Outer walls of Dubrovnik at sunset.

Outer walls of Dubrovnik at sunset.

Hiking up the Ladder of Cattaro (Kotor), looking back down on St. John's Castle and the famous wall along the hills.

Hiking up the Ladder of Cattaro (Kotor), looking back down on St. John's Castle and the famous wall along the hills.

A wet hike up the Ladder of Cattaro (Kotor).  So wet - and more importantly, dangerous alone - I decided to turn around after three and a half hours.  Not quite to the top.  Darn.

A wet hike up the Ladder of Cattaro (Kotor).  So wet - and more importantly, dangerous alone - I decided to turn around after three and a half hours.  Not quite to the top.  Darn.

Walking the walls from Ston to Mali Ston.  

Walking the walls from Ston to Mali Ston.  

The walls in Ston.

The walls in Ston.

Having fun on the walls.

Having fun on the walls.

Walls of Ston at sunset, as viewed from outside the walls below.

Walls of Ston at sunset, as viewed from outside the walls below.

The salt works and salt factory.

The salt works and salt factory.

View from the walls above Ston, looking down at Old Town and the salt works in the distance.  (You can see the sectioned squares of salt water.  These date back to Roman times and many that saw were lined with limestone blocks like a swimming pool or something.  Amazing given the size of these pools.)

View from the walls above Ston, looking down at Old Town and the salt works in the distance.  (You can see the sectioned squares of salt water.  These date back to Roman times and many that saw were lined with limestone blocks like a swimming pool or something.  Amazing given the size of these pools.)

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Sailing Croatia (Week 2)

Picking up from last week’s update… We had just arrived in Korcula, on Sunday, September 25, passing the halfway point of our two-week charter.

Korcula (Day 8 and Day 9).  We stayed for two nights at the marina in Old Town Korcula.  Set on a small, hilly peninsula and surrounded by a great wall, the Old Town was very scenic.  In a funny way, the hilly streets reminded me of San Francisco.  The promenade hosted several nice outdoor restaurants, but the wind forced us to retreat to different restaurants tucked away in the narrow streets.  The highlight of the two days was sipping cocktails at sunset at a bar atop one of the stone towers.

Korcula to Pomena (Day 10 and Day 11).  On Tuesday, September 27, we sailed around the eastern end of the island of Korcula, and down to Pomena, a harbor on the west end of the island of Mljet. 

Getting out of Korcula, though, took us some time.  We faced two challenges.

First, we had to get out of the very narrow marina! The wind had kicked up to 10 knots making big boat maneuvering more difficult.   We were in a stern-to mooring, tucked in between boats on our port and starboard sides, with the wind blowing from behind us.  There was a line of boats facing us, stern-to against the other side of the fairway, with not much more than one boat length of water between us.  We had to somehow release our lines, drive out of our mooring, and make a tight left turn toward the exit…before the wind pushed us into the boats opposite us.  And our turn couldn’t be so tight that our stern would swing around and scrape the boat on our starboard side.

I watched a few boats leave before me, trying to observe the skippers’ techniques and the wind’s impact on the vessels.  I also talked through my departure plan with a few skippers to get their feedback.  We ended up using a bow spring line from our bow to the bow of the boat on our port side.  With the wind behind us, we gently motored out of our stern-to mooring, and eased out the spring line.  When our stern was clear of the vessel on starboard, we sprung our boat around to port.  The technique worked well.  The spring line helped us make the tight turn without giving way downwind and drifting into the boats lining the opposite side of the fairway.   I have to credit OCSC for teaching me the skills to safely depart under these tough conditions.

The second challenge we faced was fuel.  Our fuel gauge was not working.  It still read “7/8 full” – but that was virtually impossible given the motoring we had been doing in the light wind conditions earlier in the week.  We didn’t know our exact gallon-per-hour burn rate, but using a conservative burn rate and knowing our engine hours, I calculated that we were less than half full.  Since we didn’t want to ever go below one quarter full, that left us with a quarter tank to go the next 100 miles.  But we had to account for marina time, plus any other extra motoring time we might need for anchoring, sightseeing, etc.  Long story short, we stopped for gas.  The fuel dock was just around the corner from the marina at Korcula, so we stopped briefly and put in 60 liters of diesel.   Better to be safe than sorry.

So we finally set course for Pomena, on the island of Mljet.  We tried to sail for a while, but the wind had died down, so we turned the engine on and motored – feeling very confident that now we had plenty of fuel. 

Pomena provided a nice sheltered bay with a number of restaurants lining the shore.  The restaurants offer stern-to mooring spots for free, as long as you eat in the restaurant.  We spotted one of the other boats in our flotilla already docked, so we pulled up alongside them and moored, hoping the restaurant they had picked was a good one since we would be here for two nights.

Why two nights?  The attraction of Pomena is that it sits within walking distance to the National Park Mljet.  The park has two lakes, one of which has an island with a monastery and church that you can visit via boat.

The first afternoon, our crew split up and pursued individual activities.  I relaxed along the water at a café, and took a short hike up to the first of the two lakes.  We reconvened for dinner at the restaurant where we had docked our boat.  Unfortunately, the food wasn’t that good.  But it was fun to be reunited with a few of the other flotilla boats.  And certainly it was convenient to eat dinner and then walk 10 steps to our boat for sleep.

The second day, my first mate Amanda and I walked up to the second lake and took the small boat across to the island with the monastery and church.  It was very scenic.  After so many days on the sailboat, it was nice to have a day doing some real walking.  The only bummer was that we had to eat at the same mediocre restaurant by our boat again.

After dinner, a few of us went exploring because we had heard the hotel at the end of the bay often has live music.  Well, not tonight, apparently.  But we did find several small cruise ships tied up next to each other in front of the hotel.  Music, lights, and laughter spilled out of the boats.  We snuck aboard and hopped from vessel to vessel wandering through the parties pretending like we belonged. 

Pomena to Slano (Day 12).  On Thursday, September 29, we departed Pomena, and sailed east along the northern coast of Mljet.  We headed toward mainland Croatia, to a small bay we had found called Slano.  Here, a brand new ACI Marina had just opened this year.  

Unfortunately, one of our crew members did not join us for this sail.  His flight back to the United States was early Saturday morning, and he was anxious to have at least one full day in Dubrovnik.  Our current sail plan (arriving Friday night) wouldn’t allow that.  So he made the tough decision to take a ferry directly from Pomena to Dubrovnik.

We were a crew of four.  Now we were down to three.  

Arriving in Slano, our intention was to dock in the ACI Marina.  However, again, we saw another boat from our flotilla at the vacant town quay.  So we changed plans and moored next to them.  We still snuck into the Marina to use the facilities, but the town quay gave us a better view and better access to restaurants.

That afternoon, Amanda and I launched the dinghy – with the outboard motor – and explored the small bay.  We pulled up to a fancy resort, secured the dinghy, and headed to the beach bar for a beer.  Apparently, it was some kind of all-inclusive, private resort so they gave us a funny look when we held out cash for our beers.  They said, “Oh, you aren’t staying here…”  They still sold us the beer and let us hang out on the lounge chairs, perhaps impressed that we arrived by sea, not by land.

We explored the town that evening – what there was of it.  Apparently Slano was a famous resort town many years ago, but then was destroyed in the war in the 1990s.  Now it is trying to make a comeback – perhaps that’s why ACI built the new marina there.   It’s pretty quiet. 

We didn’t pick Slano for its scenery or history or nightlife, though.  We picked it for its location – only 16 miles from Dubrovnik.  We could have a short sail down to Dubrovnik the following day to check out the harbor in Old Town, and still have plenty of time to motor up river to the Sunsail dock at the Dubrovnik Marina.

Slano to Dubrovnik (Day 13).  This was our final day of the passage.  We departed Slano mid-morning and basically motored the entire 16 miles down to Old Town Dubrovnik.  We hovered around the walls and harbor entrance, taking lots of photos and videos.  What a stunning sight.

Satisfied that we had appropriately captured the moment, we then turned around and headed back up the coast a bit.  We followed an inlet, passed under the Franjo Tudjman bridge, and arrived at the Dubrovnik Marina.   There, we were greeted by the Sunsail staff who helped us with the final stern-to docking procedure in yet again a very tight fairway.

Once the vessel was tied up, the three of us cracked a beer and toasted the end of our passage.  (We would meet the fourth member later that evening for dinner in town.)

Dubrovnik (Day 14).  Technically, this was the last day of our charter, but we spent the early morning packing and cleaning up the boat.  We had over-provisioned (i.e., bought too much bottled water, paper towels, etc.) so we left those items for the next crew.   We left the boat at 9am, said our goodbyes to fellow sailors on the other boats in the flotilla, and shared a taxi to Old Town, where we checked into our respective apartments. 

I splurged and got a huge penthouse apartment with a terrace overlooking the Old Town.   I would stay here for the next several nights to relax, recover, and plan my next move.

Overall, the last 14 days have been unforgettable.  It was my first international, multi-day charter as skipper.  I learned so many things about boat management, navigation, provisioning, weather forecasting, med-mooring, chartering process, etc.  Thanks to my crew for participating in the journey and supporting each other along the way.

Having Croatia and the Adriatic Sea as a backdrop for this learning experience was an added bonus.  The country is amazing – some parts are super-touristy, but other parts are raw, well-preserved, and/or undeveloped.  I’ll be back.

[I've written quite a bit of detail in the last two updates about our route through the islands of Croatia and the  Central Adriatic Sea.  My hope is these notes will be helpful to other sailors who are planning their own voyage in the area.  We were very happy with our passage plan - the islands and towns we visited, the distances we sailed or motored, the time spent on each island, etc.  Please send me an email at dannyboytravels@gmail.com if you are a sailor and would like more info, or if you'd be interested in me skippering a charter for you and your friends.]

Old Town Korcula (on the island of Korcula).

Old Town Korcula (on the island of Korcula).

Very close quarters in the marina at Korcula!  We used a spring line in our departure with wind blowing 10 knots.  The spring line enabled us to make a very sharp turn to the left, before we hit those big catamarans staring us down. :-)

Very close quarters in the marina at Korcula!  We used a spring line in our departure with wind blowing 10 knots.  The spring line enabled us to make a very sharp turn to the left, before we hit those big catamarans staring us down. :-)

In Pomena, on the island of Mljet, we med-moored in front of a restaurant for two nights.  (They didn't charge us, but required us to eat there both nights.)

In Pomena, on the island of Mljet, we med-moored in front of a restaurant for two nights.  (They didn't charge us, but required us to eat there both nights.)

Here is the monastery and church on an island in the lake in the National Park Mljet, on the island of Mljet.  Confused?  Yes, it's an island on a lake on an island.  We took this little boat as transport to visit the small island.  (Sign said swimming there wasn't allowed.)

Here is the monastery and church on an island in the lake in the National Park Mljet, on the island of Mljet.  Confused?  Yes, it's an island on a lake on an island.  We took this little boat as transport to visit the small island.  (Sign said swimming there wasn't allowed.)

In the bay of Slano, we were the only two boats docked at the quiet town quay.  What a change from previous nights! 

In the bay of Slano, we were the only two boats docked at the quiet town quay.  What a change from previous nights! 

The approach to Old Town Dubrovnik.  Magnificent!

The approach to Old Town Dubrovnik.  Magnificent!

Peeking into the small but very busy harbor inside the walls.

Peeking into the small but very busy harbor inside the walls.

High walls on top of high cliffs... very intimidating from the sea.

High walls on top of high cliffs... very intimidating from the sea.

Excited yet a bit sad to have our journey end.

Excited yet a bit sad to have our journey end.

Thanks to my first mate, Amanda Webber!  I couldn't have done it without her support, skill, and sense of humor.  

Thanks to my first mate, Amanda Webber!  I couldn't have done it without her support, skill, and sense of humor.  

And thanks to OCSC - a fabulous organization who has given me the confidence to be a safe yet adventurous sailor.  

And thanks to OCSC - a fabulous organization who has given me the confidence to be a safe yet adventurous sailor.  

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Sailing Croatia (Week 1)

We’ve been sailing for a week on the Adriatic Sea!  What a fantastic travel adventure and amazing sailing experience! 

I’m currently in Marco Polo’s hometown of Korcula, on the island of Korcula.  The wind is blowing hard, which is a change from this first week of light wind.  Our boat is safely moored at the local marina, and I’m safely caffeinated in a local café along the town wall. 

We’re staying in town two nights, giving me time to take a break from being skipper, and provide an update on last week’s events.

Our trip began on Saturday, September, 17.  After a 2-hour classroom briefing on weather, navigation, and local knowledge, we then boarded our 42-foot Jenneau sailboat for a 2-hour check-out.  We went through boat layout, standing and running rigging, and systems.   Our Sunsail representative then left the four of us to stow our belongings and settle in for the evening.

We had a crew dinner that night, and reviewed our sail plan, emergency procedures, roles and responsibilities, and expectations for daily life on board. 

Over the next 14 days, we would sail from the Trogir to Dubrovnik, zig-zagging our way around the islands of Brac, Hvar, Vis, Korcula, and Mljet. 

Here is the first-half summary:

Trogir to Milna (Day 1).  We left Sunday morning under cloudy skies and moderate wind.  (For any sailors reading this as research for their own trip, our departure was actually from the Agana Marina about 12km west of Trogir.)  The favorable wind speed and direction enabled us to sail for about half of the 3-hour transit to Milna, on the island of Brac.  Arriving at Milna, we med-moored at an ACI Marina equipped with a protected harbor and bathroom/showers.  As this was our first stop, we wanted to keep things easy to get into the swing of things. 

Milna to Starigrad (Day 2).  From Milna, we continued southeast and headed to the island of Hvar.  Our first stop was Starigrad, one of the oldest towns in Europe (first established by Greek settlers in 384 BC, per Wikipedia).  As planned, we arrived ahead of the afternoon crowd, so we found a spot to park right along the main promenade.  We enjoyed a celebratory glass of Croatian wine in the cockpit as we watched the passers-by strolling along the waterfront.

Starigrad to Hvar Town (Day 3 and Day 4).  From Starigrad, we sailed west, rounding the western end of Hvar and arriving in the famous port of Hvar Town.  I was looking forward to docking at the town quay, but the harbormaster ushered us away from promenade, saying it was too dangerous in the wind and wave conditions.  We went motored across the harbor to the mooring balls and tied up there.   It took us a few tries in the shallow water and narrow mooring spaces; and the procedure is somewhat complicated since we had to launch the dinghy and have a crew member row ashore with lines to secure our stern.  For two days, we could only access the shore using the dinghy.  The promenade might have been more convenient, but the mooring ball location actually gave us a better view of the town.

We spent 2 nights in Hvar Town.  I think the crew was impressed with the place, and I certainly enjoyed being back in Hvar Town (and not being sick this time).  We had a crew trip up the hill to the Fortress Spanjola that overlooked the entire town.  I enjoyed taking the crew on my “routine” – sunset cocktail at Hula Hula, dinner along the promenade or plaza, and then a relaxing glass of wine at the wine bar.

Hvar Town to Komizia (Day 5).  From the island of Hvar, we headed southwest to the island of Vis, an island famous for its wine as well as its naval history.  Our first stop was the town of Komiza, on the west side.  We struggled a bit with the high town quay and shallow water.  We couldn’t get close enough to the dock for our gangplank to reach.  Rather than use our dinghy, we were able to disembark by climbing on the catamaran next to us (with its shallow draft, it was able to get close enough to the dock for the gangplank to reach).   In Komiza, the crew split up for exploring.  I had a nice walk up the hill to a church and cemetery over-looking the entire town.

Komiza to Vis Town (Day 6 and Day 7).  The next day, we sailed back to the east, along the north side of Vis, and pulled into Vis Town.  Again, thanks to our early arrival, we were able to dock right along the promenade.  We stayed here two nights so that we could enjoy the wine tasting and relax along the town front.  We look long strolls along the promenade, enjoyed the sunsets, and had two great dinners at Kod Paveta.  (It was so good we went back again the second night!)

Vis Town to Korcula (Day 8).   On Sunday, September 25, we had to make the long 45-mile transit from Vis Town to Korcula Town (on the island of Korcula).  One of the crew and I woke up at 6:00am, readied the boat, and departed at 6:45am while the other two crew slept. 

The sky was clear and the sea was calm, and there was just no wind.  Once we were clear of the Vis channel and northernmost point of the island, we turned to the east, set autopilot, and relaxed topside for the next 7 hours as we motored at 6 knots toward Korcula.  The marina in Korcula town was very narrow, but with careful maneuvering we docked successfully.  Many other boats from our flotilla were arriving as well.  It was fun to have a reunion with the other boats and share stories about the first half of our 2-week trip.

From my perspective, the first week has gone pretty well.  The advance work in food-provisioning and route-planning and helped us get underway quickly at the start of the trip.  We had done our shopping and knew where we were going. 

Our plan to leave early in the morning and arrive early in the afternoon each day has paid off – we haven’t had too much trouble finding places to dock in the various towns, where prime docking space is limited.   Although the season is declining at this point, some of the town quays are still crowded and competitive later in the day.

The med-mooring style of docking (stern-to) was probably my biggest concern, but thanks to some practice in San Francisco before this trip as well as a good crew on board, we have been pretty successful without any major issues.  But there have been some issues, as you might expect.

Sailing (and docking) a boat is no easy task under any conditions.  They are big and heavy, and get impacted by wind and waves.  There are lot of lines and a lot of things to remember.  We have certainly had a few minor problems.  Leaving Milna, our dinghy got caught under a neighbor’s mooring line, spinning our stern into harm’s way.  We might have hit another boat or wrapped a line around our propeller.  But thanks to careful, deliberate actions, we resolved the issue quickly and safely.  Leaving Hvar Town, our mooring line snagged under a neighbor’s mooring line; we couldn’t haul it in.  Again our stern swung around, but we were able to steady the boat and work with the neighbor to free both lines safely.

These mishaps probably could have been avoided by double- and triple-checking lines, and we are learning from our mistakes.  The key has been a helpful crew that has good ideas and remains calm under pressure.

We have also been doing a lot more motor-sailing than actual sailing due to the light wind conditions.  We always are careful about wishing for windier conditions - we don't want to jinx ourselves and run into gale force winds.  The motor-sailing has been fine, we just need to be careful on fuel and add a fuel-stop to our plan.

All in all, it's been a great first half!

Stay tuned for next week’s update on the second half of this amazing trip. I’ll also include some summary comments about a sailing vacation – if I can find the words to describe it, that is.

 

Sitting on the bow as we motor to our first destination.  Our boat name is "Travels with Tin Tin IV." 

Sitting on the bow as we motor to our first destination.  Our boat name is "Travels with Tin Tin IV." 

View from the Fortress Spanjola overlooking Hvar Town.  The promenade is on the left.  Our sailboat is tied up to a mooring ball on the right somewhere.  

View from the Fortress Spanjola overlooking Hvar Town.  The promenade is on the left.  Our sailboat is tied up to a mooring ball on the right somewhere.  

Jumping overboard at Hvar Town!

Jumping overboard at Hvar Town!

Checking the depth below our keel and rudder.

Checking the depth below our keel and rudder.

From the church on the hillside overlooking the town of Komiza (on the island of Vis).

From the church on the hillside overlooking the town of Komiza (on the island of Vis).

Moored in Vis Town, along the promenade and facing the church and harbor entrance.

Moored in Vis Town, along the promenade and facing the church and harbor entrance.

The church across the harbor in Vis Town.

The church across the harbor in Vis Town.

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