sailing in croatia

Here is the Croatian “island hopping” route:

I spent a couple of weeks in Switzerland with family. I had no idea where to go next. I wanted to do Italy, Greece, Croatia and Eastern Europe but the weather wasn’t going to hold through November. I toyed with the idea of hiking in the Pyrenees but then remembered that I hate walking. I seriously considered going to Spain and Portugal and then into Morocco, but after pleas from anyone who knew anything about Morocco, I decided that braving that without a gentlemanly escort might be unwise. I got my hands on more anti-malarial pills ($$$), which sucked, but malaria probably sucks more. And my most impressive accomplishment: I decreased my storage space from 115L+ to 45L. It’s tight, there’s no more camping gear, but still three pairs of shoes and a kilogram of Swiss chocolate. Priorities. When I more or less had my cursor hovering over “Book Now” on a flight scheme heading from Basel, Switzerland to Hanoi, Vietnam, enter Dane with, “Found a boat. September 19-26. Split.” And shortly after, I found a flight to Croatia. 

After a frightening train ride (I don’t like trains) to Basel, Switzerland from Zürich, I handed my Canadian passport over to passport control. There were two lines, the second moving along smoothly beside me, red Swiss passports flitting through the window quickly and efficiently. The man flipped through my navy blue booklet. He frowned. He flipped through it again, slowly. He then asked me a series of worrying questions: When did you arrive in Europe? Where did you arrive? You did not leave Europe after that time? Do you have a permanent address in Switzerland? Do your parents live in Switzerland? After my completely honest answers: May 2, 2015. Keflaviík, Iceland. No, No, No, but my aunt lives here, he halfway collapsed back into his chair, let out a huge exasperated sigh and said, “That is a long time.”

“Is there a problem?” I asked, halfway between curious and terrified that I was going to be arrested for some crime I had no idea even existed. “Yes, you have overstayed by 48 days. I must file a report now.” I dug deep into my bag for my backup passport and slid the stiff red booklet through his window. “Does this help?” I asked hopefully. He let out a breath of relief: problem solved and off I went to my gate. 

I used to teach sailing lessons (small boats, no engines) a long time ago, before university sucked all my time up. Once upon a time I wanted to live on a boat during university, until I discovered that mooring in Vancouver is more expensive than rent. I’ve known Dane since I was barely 16 and we taught sailing together. My first memory of him is actually when I was 11 or 12; he did something stupid that ended in him tumbling down a steep hillside in a bunch of leaves and I thought, what a moron. When I went to university, he continued sailing boats all over the place: Punta Cana, the Bahamas, the States, Morocco, the UK and before long he was a hired skipper for the infamous “Yacht Week” in Croatia, a skipper for personalized charters, deliveries, etc. He can sail boats up to 154’ and yachts up to 174’, and that brings us to present day, where we ended up on a 35’ Beneteau. In other words, the smallest boat Dane has been on in 3 years. We motored out of Kaštela as the sun set and anchored at the island of Šolta. 

The next day we sailed to Vis and tied off to a mooring buoy. We walked up to Fort George, which is leased or owned by Yacht Week. It’s a huge old fortress turned into party zone, but Yacht Week was over, so it was dead silent. 

Croatian towns are all stonework, red roofs and blue or green shutters. If the roads are original, they are comprised of great slab stones, worn to polish with time and many feet. 

A huge wind built up during the night, which meant Dane got about 2 hours of sleep. I was more or less out for all of it while he was making sure we weren’t dragging, the lines were OK and nothing was rattling enough to cause damage. The next morning the wind was still blowing at 30kn, coupled with 1.5m swells. “We can go back into Vis, or we can sail to Lastovo… but it’s going to be rough. Your call.” Obvious answer: we go sailing. Two reefs in the sail, we cruised to the next island. 

When we reached Lastovo we sought out an abandoned war ship docking tunnel, tied off on both sides and anchored out front. The water was clear and there was not another boat to be seen (we did have to tell one to get lost). So we blasted music, swam and cooked. The banks were covered in rosemary bushes, a tasty addition to dinner. 

Dane was out cold by 8PM due to his sleepless night in Vis, but at 11PM I woke him up so he could come night hike with me for photos. The question you must now ask me is: Stephanie, why is this your first night photo? You were in the mountains under stars in a beautiful little tent - what subjects could possibly be better? And I’m going to have to admit to being afraid of the unfamiliar dark. The dark in Vancouver is fine. The dark on the top of Col de l’Iseran in absolute silence is a little bit creepy and I would rather just go to sleep. 

The wind was pathetic the next day and impatient-Dane insisted on motoring after our speed dropped to 4.5 knots. We anchored in Mljet, a national park. Dane winched me up the mast using the jib and main halyards and I hung out in my own little swaying world until my feet went numb. It’s quiet up there. I was up a mast in Croatia on a boat, a whole new sea level, my own little bubble. Where was everyone else now? I thought of all of you at home, or wherever you are. Were you sleeping? Were you getting ready for work? Driving? Cooking breakfast? The entire world full of busy people, and all I’m doing is hugging a mast, staying still, clinging tight and looking down. It’s strange - it felt a little removed. 

We went fast the next day, complaining when our speed dropped to only 7 knots. We put in a long shift and made it all the way to Hvar. Our top speed was 8.3 knots, and Dane will probably tell you that he was on the helm when we did it. In my defence, that was one big wave we surfed down. Lucky timing. 

I only saw Hvar in the dark, but according to Dane, who had taken countless charters and Yacht Week excursions there, it was comparatively empty. The season was over. Hvar is a city of narrow stony alleys with super yachts in the harbour. Dane parallel parked our boat behind a wall for the night (which turned out not to be the greatest idea). 

The wind caused our boat to violently jerk against our mooring lines. I kept sleeping. The sailor’s life is never dull; Dane went flitting about for the next two hours before deciding we were leaving pronto. The cleat on our stern had started to wiggle and we had halfway torn through a line. So at 6:15AM, barely awake, I tossed off the bow line while Dane maneuvered us out into the next bay over. It was stormy, cold, windy and raining. At 6:30AM I jumped into the water to grab a stern line from the shore (call me dedicated) and an hour later, Dane went swimming for the second one as the wind swung 180 degrees. We hid in the bay until the squall passed. While we had anchored and tied off to shore within about 5-8 minutes, other boats were stuck in the bay, unsecured in the storm. It took them a couple of hours, or they didn’t succeed at all. 

For the rest of the day I hid under cover and Dane sailed us back to Šolta, where I again faithfully went swimming in not-swimming weather to tie off the stern line. After fuelling up the next day (“The smallest fuel bill I’ve seen by over 50% this season.”) we headed back to Kaštela to pack up. We are leaving Croatia in opposite directions: he is going to Spain to find a boat to sail across the Atlantic, and I am going to South East Asia. He’s “looking forward to [his] first open ocean storm” and I’m looking forward to dodging a lot of mosquitoes. 

I bussed directly from the boat to the airport and checked in for my flight to Moscow. I showed my Swiss passport. The girl asked for a Russian visa. I don’t have a Russian visa. 

“Oh, this is not good. This is not possible. You need visa. Very strict airport. You will not be allowed on the plane.”

My heart started rising in my throat: a Russian visa, on rush? I had looked this up; I was sure I didn’t need one simply to fly through the airport. But regardless, this girl was causing panic levels to rise. I got her to check. When she got off the phone, she looked at me very seriously and said, “Yes, it’s OK. But do not leave the airport.”

So here I am, not leaving the airport

The further I go, the more I realize that the world is so very small. I may be on the other side of it, but I can be beside you in 48 hours tops, resources permitting. The more places I visit, the more diverse it becomes: languages change within 50km. Customs morph within 100km. If we were meant to stay in one place, we would have roots instead of feet. You are not a tree. You are not a boat. You are not planted to the ground and you are not anchored to a shore. We live in a miraculous age where we have built ourselves wings. We can fly around the world. What surprises me is how many people decide not to. The hardest part for me is getting on the plane; planes are like periods at the end of sentences. You are not only leaving behind a city, or a province, or a country. You are leaving behind who you are at the moment of take off, because when you come back (if you ever do), you will have seen more, experienced more, know more, and you will not be the same, for better or for worse. But as a certain skipper so wisely said this week, “Sometimes you gotta jump”. 

Cheers from Moscow, Russia. 

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