Sailing Croatia 2018 (Week 1)

The adventure began at the Sunsail Agana Marina in the town of Marina, just up the coast from more well-known Split, on Saturday, September 15. About 50 members, employees, and friends of OCSC Sailing gathered in front of the Sunsail office anxious to move onto the chartered sailboats.

We would be 9 boats in total. While the skippers had shared tentative sail plans, we didn’t necessarily plan to follow each other throughout the two weeks, but rather rendezvous periodically at the popular ports.

After checking in with passports and paperwork, the skippers and first mates attended a weather and cruising briefing, while their crews ventured off to do last-minute provisioning.

By late afternoon, we headed to our individual boats for a review of systems, operation, and inventory by a Sunsail representative.

I had chartered a 47-foot monohull – named “Tilly II” – with 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. My crew consisted of two couples and one single gentleman, so we were six in total. The couples took the aft two cabins which were a bit more spacious. The two single guys took the two forward cabins which, by nature of the hull shape, were more narrow. The arrangement worked out great, with plenty of room on the boat.

Other than needing a quick top-off of oil, the boat was good to go, with well-labeled running rigging, straightforward systems, and complete inventory of safety items. The Sunsail representative stepped off, and the boat was ours.

We stowed our gear and provisions, and then sat down for a safety briefing before dinner. The crew patiently endured my review of basic boat safety, daily routine, sail plan, docking techniques, roles and responsibilities, etc. Finally, we adjourned and headed off to a crew dinner.

Unfortunately, dinner was somewhat of a disaster. We went with the “fish special” which included a 1.5 hour wait for our food, a bill that was nearly double what normal entrees would have cost, and a smirking waiter that seems to know exactly what he was doing. The fish, although presented in a big cast iron pan drowning in potatoes, onions, and broth, wasn’t even that good.

After dinner, we retired to our cabins for an early night. We had a big two-week adventure ahead of us!

The next morning (Sunday), we completed final boat preparation and departed smoothly at 9:30am, headed for Milna on the island of Brac. It was roughly 19 nautical miles in sunny, but light wind, conditions. We motored slowly out of the marina and down the Splitski Kanal, getting used to the boat and waking up our sea legs. We hoisted the main sail for good measure, in hopes the wind would materialize.

We did catch a bit of a breeze as we sailed across the gap between the islands of Solta and Brac, which opens southwest to the Adriatic Sea. We hoisted the jib and sailed for about 45 minutes. But as we approached the western edge of Brac, the wind died and we fired up the engine again.

We cruised up the protected channel into the harbor of Milna, where we executed our first stern-to Mediterranean-mooring maneuver at the ACI Marina. It felt good to get one under our belts. We secured and tidied the boat, and then passed cold beers around!

We spent the afternoon exploring the small town of Milna, and then had a fabulous pizza dinner at Slika Pizzeria. The attentive service and affordable menu more than made up for our previous night’s disastrous dinner. We headed back to the boat early again, perhaps all relieved our first “break-in” day was over.

On Monday morning, we departed Milna at 9:30am, and headed 17 nautical miles southwest across the Hvarksi Kanal to Starigrad on the island of Hvar. We docked at the town quay about 12:30pm. One of the other boats in the flotilla, “Melanie,” was planning to follow a similar two-week route as our boat. We quickly became “buddy boats” with Melanie, sharing ideas about weather, routing, activities, etc. not to mention regular radio check-ins for safety and happy hours for socializing.

As we pulled into Starigrad, I radioed Melanie advising on how to find us and that I had asked the dock attendant to save a spot for her. About 30 minutes later, Melanie was moored alongside us. We would spend two nights here.

On Monday evening, our first night in town, we relaxed with a happy hour on the boats. Some of the crew had done an afternoon bike ride (thanks to our early arrival) so they were especially thirsty.

On Tuesday, since we weren’t moving the boat, I took a hike through the vineyards of the 2,000-year-old Starigrad Plain. Then I walked up into the hills, passing by a few small villages, old churches, and ruins. Then back down to the Starigrad Plain and town center. Meanwhile, the crew had taken a bus to the famed Hvar Town. I had a quiet dinner on my own that night at Odisej Restaurant to continue route-planning, weather-forecasting, and journaling. At this point, the weather outlook seemed perfectly pleasant for the next several days - sunshine and light wind. (I was using PredictWind primarily, supplemented by the local forecast from the Croatian site www.meteo.hr)

From Starigrad, we set sail at 8:45am on Wednesday, heading east along the north side of Hvar, and then southwest across the Viski Kanal to the island of Vis – about a 5-hour, 25-nautical-mile transit. We cruised into the bay of Vis Town with Melanie right behind us, and we both docked at the town quay. Soon, a third boat from our flotilla also joined us - an added bonus for socializing.

Our plan was to stay here for two nights, which would allow the crew to disembark and explore the island, known for its military history as well as its vineyards.

From my visit here in 2016, I remembered a very good restaurant called Kod Paveta so I organized a 3-boat dinner at the same restaurant this year for our first night in town. I was greeted by the same great staff (who remembered me!), the same great food, and the same great ambiance.

The next day, Thursday, was a non-sailing day. People split up and pursued a variety of activities. I hiked up the eastern side of the bay and followed the ridge around the bay clockwise, finding panoramic views, old churches, and a few ruins. Seeking a bit of solitude to get some “skipper work” done, I dined at Kod Paveta again. As with each evening, I reviewed the upcoming weather, studied the charts for possible routes and hazards, and wrote some notes about our journey thus far.

As sometimes happens with sailing, changes in the weather forecast can dictate a change to our intended sail plan in order to keep the vessel and crew safe. Occasionally that means the skipper has to make tough calls. And in this case, that’s exactly what happened.

Because we are on a two-week passage (vs. a day sail), we don’t just review the forecast for tomorrow, we review the forecast for the next 3-5 days. (In fact, PredictWind provides a 7-day outlook.) At this point in our trip, the multi-day outlook was showing something concerning: by early next week, as early as Monday, a strong northeasterly wind was expected, and expected to last for a couple of days. This strong wind, locally known as Bora, can blow at gale force (35-55 mph) or higher.

After my solo dinner at Kod Paveta, I met with the skipper of Melanie to exchange thoughts on the forecast and discuss options. Although we were on vacation and wanted to continue our island tour, our primary objective was to get our boats and ourselves safely to Dubrovnik. We reviewed the forecast again and studied the chart, measuring distances and evaluating potential safe harbors.

Our original plan had been to sail from Vis Town to Korcula Town, stopping at the island of Scedero for an overnight to break up the 45 nautical mile trip into two shorter trips. The looming threat of Bora made us question this plan.

Korcula Town (on the island of Korcula) was still nearly 50 nautical miles from our final destination of Dubrovnik. The strong wind expected to begin on Monday and last 2 or 3 days. But what if it lasted a bit longer? The boat was due back in Dubrovnik on Friday, and we did not want to be in the position of being “forced” to sail down to Dubrovnik in unsafe conditions just to meet the deadline.

We wanted to get east, closer to our final destination, while the conditions were safe. We had 3 days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). We didn’t want to sail on Monday in case the strong Bora wind arrived early. We wanted to be docked somewhere safe by Sunday midday, a full 24 hours before the big gusts. This would give us time to secure the boat - much easier to do in calm wind than in 30 knots of wind. In addition, we knew marinas and moorings would fill up as the storm approached; by getting somewhere early, we’d have a better chance at getting a spot, or finding an alternative if our first choice was full.

All of this led us to the decision to sail straight from Vis Town to Korcula Town on Friday, and not “waste” a day doing an overnight on Scedero. From Korcula Town, we would continue to monitor the forecast and plan our route for Saturday and Sunday.

So, early Friday morning (at 6:15am), we departed from Vis Town and made our way eastward along the Korculanski Kanal. As we approached the channel between Korcula Island and the Poluotok Peljesac, the wind picked up significantly. We hauled our sails in close, and tried to work our way upwind through the narrow channel. The wind was close to the nose, so to help us point, I kept the motor on as well, at a low RPM. We tacked our way through the narrow 6 nautical miles or so, with the walls of Korcula Town drawing nearer, and our buddy boat Melanie following our every tack. As we sailed abeam of the town, we lowered our sails and motored into the marina just to the east of Old Town about 2:30pm. Melanie followed us in.

That evening, we enjoyed another group dinner. We dined at Konoba Aurora, on the waterfront.

On Saturday, another rest day (in terms of not moving the boat), I once again embarked on a long hike. This time I hiked through the rolling foothills behind the town. Others pursued a variety of activities: a military-themed tour, wine-tasting, and boat ride to the Blue Cave on a nearby island.

That evening, my buddy skipper and I reviewed the forecast again to make plans for Sunday. The Bora wind was still predicted for Monday, reaching gale force (35-50 knots) by Monday 2:00pm.

Again, we decided the most prudent action would be to continue east, to seek the shelter and safety of the mainland, skipping the island of Mljet. (Our original plan had included 2 days on Mljet.)

We wanted to get shelter by midday Sunday. The possibility of Bora coming a bit earlier was a risk we didn’t want to take. The mainland offered a safe ACI Marina in Slano Bay, with lots of amenities and excursion options (in case we were stuck there for multiple days).

So, on Sunday morning we departed and headed to Slano. It was another long transit of 35 nautical miles. We departed at 7:30am, and arrived at 1:30pm and docked inside the ACI Marina. It was a little disappointing to sail by Mljet without stopping. We’d had a good time exploring on that island in 2016.

We spent Sunday afternoon tidying and securing the boats in Slano, including: doubling up the stern lines, zipping the main sail stack-pack (or, in Melanie’s case, wrapping it with a spare line since her stack-pack didn’t have a zipper), securing the main halyard so it wouldn’t whip against the mast, cinching closed the forward and aft ends of the stack-pack to prevent reefing line slack from coming out, removing cockpit cushions and stowing below, making sure fenders and dinghy were appropriately placed and secured. We watched other boats arriving later that afternoon and evening, with spaces filling up. Our “arrive early” strategy paid off.

With the boats secure, we had a nice dinner Sunday night at Kolarin Restaurant and waited for Bora to come on Monday….

 Our home for the next 2 weeks: a 47-foot sailboat named “Tilly II” with 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and lots of space for the 6 of us. And WIFI!

Our home for the next 2 weeks: a 47-foot sailboat named “Tilly II” with 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and lots of space for the 6 of us. And WIFI!

 Off to a good start, docked at Milna on the island of Brac.

Off to a good start, docked at Milna on the island of Brac.

 We visited Starigrad on the island of Hvar. I had a great hike through the vineyards.

We visited Starigrad on the island of Hvar. I had a great hike through the vineyards.

 Wandering around the narrow streets of Starigrad, Hvar.

Wandering around the narrow streets of Starigrad, Hvar.

 Obligatory cat photo.

Obligatory cat photo.

 From Hvar, we sailed down to the island of Vis, and docked at the town quay in Vis Town. I had a great hike in the hills above the bay.

From Hvar, we sailed down to the island of Vis, and docked at the town quay in Vis Town. I had a great hike in the hills above the bay.

 We woke up early and departed at sunrise to make the 45-mile transit from Vis to Korcula.

We woke up early and departed at sunrise to make the 45-mile transit from Vis to Korcula.

 We docked at the ACI Marina in Korcula Town, on the island of Korcula.

We docked at the ACI Marina in Korcula Town, on the island of Korcula.

 Visited the home of a famous Korcula town resident.

Visited the home of a famous Korcula town resident.

 After Korcula, we headed to Slano on the mainland, seeking protection from the gale-force wind locally known as Bora.

After Korcula, we headed to Slano on the mainland, seeking protection from the gale-force wind locally known as Bora.