Cruising the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia - 2
Croatian history has much evidence of Roman influence, and this is particularly evident in Istria, being just 40 miles across the Adriatic from Venice. We chose to only look at a few of the interesting sights in Pula, but there were a number of other towns with significant features well worth a visit. It would have taken at least a couple of days to explore each of these thoroughly. Unfortunately, we hadn't the time to do this, and we therefore bypassed the marinas of each of the other main towns.

The grand and impressive church of Rovinj, which dominates the skyline of this historic town.   -  click here for larger image

The sleek schooner Wind Spirit moored off Rovinj - though it didn't appear to be too reliant on its sails for power!

Passing the town of  Porec - one of the many fine major towns along this part of the coast.  -  click here for larger image

The western part of the Istrian peninsula is amongst the most scenic places I have sailed, with many islands, bays and inlets along its entire length. The towns or smaller fishing communities, having been built up where the coastline has provided a natural shelter, were all in character with the traditions of the region. Current development of the shoreline is related to the tourist industry with the building of numerous campsites, many for overseas naturists. As these were usually well secluded and landscaped, they did not despoil the view. (The campsites that is, rather than the naturists!) With both the scenic nature of the coast, as well the ideal sailing conditions -  which can be seen by the sea state in the photos below -  the sailing along this part of the coastline proved to be about as easy and pleasurable as it is possible for it to get.

This group of islands was just off the coast from Vestar. A larger group of islands, just to the north of Pula
make up the Brujuni National Park.
  -  click here for larger image

We flew the asymmetric spinnaker for the latter part of  the Croatian coastline.
There were very few other boats out to enjoy the fabulous sailing.

The sun shone constantly for the whole trip. The wind conditions however, were quite variable during the day, with the breeze often dying out around noon, even to the extent of our barely making any progress through the water, before it picked up again an hour or so later. The wind blew consistently from the south-west, often a modest F3, so the conditions overall couldn't have been more ideal.

Our overnight stopping places varied considerably, and it was probably quite an education for Jacques as to the possibility (or otherwise) of places to camp for the night. Our preference was to pull the boat ashore whenever this facility was available.

We took out as much gear from the boat as was conveniently possible to reduce the weight,
before using the fenders to roll it up the shore.
  -  click here for larger image

When there was nowhere to attach the kicker to haul the boat ashore, we placed a number of
large rocks on top of one of our anchors to hold it in place.
  -  click here for larger image

Sunset over the Adriatic at Vestar, near Rovinj. Photo taken after we had returned from an excellent evening meal
at a nearby taverna across the bay.
  -  click here for larger image

There were a number of places along this part of the coast where it was easy to stop at a taverna to enjoy either a cold beer and/or an excellent meal. Two particularly memorable stops were at Funtuna and Sv Marina, where the food and the ambience of the restaurants were exceptional.

Photo taken from the balcony of the restaurant overlooking the harbour at Funtuna, where we stopped for lunch.
We would have stayed for rather longer but for the fact that it was such a beautiful day to sail.

We made a stop in the small fishing port at Sv Marina which was not the most attractive of places we had called at, but we were able to use the nearby marina at Cervar Porat to restock our food or water supplies, and the sight and smell of the food being cooked at the local taverna persuaded us to delay our start the next day until after lunch.

The aroma from the freshly caught fish being cooked on the BBQ was enough to lure anyone into the taverna.

It is not possible to capture the ambience of a place in a photo, and this shot, taken in the evening barely does the taverna justice.

It was only as we reached the more northerly part of the Istrian coastline that we experienced some difficulty in finding a suitable place to stop for the night. This was as much due to the many developments along the shoreline, particularly campsites, as the unfriendly nature of the rocks. We did call in to one campsite to ask for permission to stop for the night, but Jacques was turned down with a brusque 'niet' by the German lady manager. This proved fortuitous, since with the subsequent strong winds during the night, it would have been a less than ideal anchorage. An hour or so later we found a much better place to stop, in a bay of the small town of Savudrija.

Sea Rocket anchored in the bay of the small fishing hamlet of Savudrija. This mooring offered
greater shelter than could be found amongst the jetties in the main harbour.

At anchor the next morning, with the tide flooding back in. We laid a series of stones out to the boat
to save getting our feet covered in mud, which Jacques termed a 'Roman Way'.
  -  click here for larger image

We had preferred to find quiet, isolated places to stop along the coast, rather than use the marinas available, even though it meant forfeiting what would have been the very welcome use of the facilities a marina provides. The above place proved to be an ideal quiet spot, having handy access to the town as well. With the rocky shoreline giving way to mud at low water in this shallow part of the bay, the rise and fall in the water level was of greater significance here. We took along a land tent, but never used it, since finding a suitable place to erect it, particularly with the rocky subsoil, was always too much of a problem. It was easier and more convenient to use the boat tent.

Slovenia has only a 25-mile section of shoreline, squeezed between the extensive coasts of Croatia and Italy. We chose to sail straight to the large Italian port of Trieste, rather than land anywhere in between, since we had no Slovenian currency, and no licence to sail the coast - should this have been needed. A cruising licence had been required by Croatian officialdom, at a cost of around £35 for the permit.

The lighthouse on the headland of Rt Savudrija marks the most north-westerly point of the Istrian Peninsula.

We started out from Savudrija in strong winds, and once away from the shelter of the shore, quickly put two reefs in the mainsail. This gave us a fast and exhilarating sail for the next hour, until the wind slowly died - eventually to a near calm. We spent the next hour or more virtually just drifting along before the wind began to pick up again, gradually increasing in strength to near gale force again.

Our first impression of the Italian coast was a mass of buoys covering a large area of water, containing the nets of fish farms. With it blowing a near gale, and our passage along the coast into Trieste looking to be completely blocked, it was quite an alarming sight. Eventually a passage through the buoys did appear, and it was with some relief that we reached a marina at Muggia (opposite Trieste) safely.

The mass of buoys marking one of a number of fish farms along the Italian coast. (Photo taken a few days later
further along the coast from Muggia, when conditions were much calmer)
   -  click here for larger image

The Italian coastline proved to be far more developed, and almost the only suitable overnight stopping places we could find were municipal marinas. There was no one to pay at each marina for the overnight stop - not without going into Trieste to find the relevant municipal department, which was somewhat impractical for us.

Moored in a convenient corner of the local municipal marina in the town of Muggia, opposite Trieste.

A very impressive castle on a promontory north of Trieste   -  click here for larger image

Moored at the municipal marina in the Trieste suburb of Barcola - only a local fisherman
seemed to object to our unauthorised presence.
  -  click here for larger image 

The only downside of these marinas was that they lacked any facilities, which we would have willingly paid for after 10 days of very basic living, and they were also pretty noisy, being near to the bustle of town traffic, or in the case of this last one, a disco, the boom of the deep base beat of each track going on until around 4 a.m.

Our sail along the Italian coast was an extremely leisurely affair, with the wind at most only a very gentle breeze. We finished our cruise at the marina of Sistiana, which had a convenient slip to enable us to haul out the boat. This marina was a little north of our intended finishing point of Trieste, but conveniently nearer to the airport that I had flown into for the trip with Jacques.

Moored up at a convenient spot at the municipal marina of Sistiana.
We stayed there for two nights without anyone enquiring about our presence.

Jacques sheltering from the rain inside his boat tent at the marina in Sistiana, after returning from Opatija with his car and trailer.

Jacques secures his boat to the trolley, prior to loading it on the trailer.
Unusually, there was completely free access to the use of the slipway.

This was my third cruise along the Croatian coastline, and it was equally as memorable as the previous two. The Adriatic is as ideal for cruising as anywhere I have sailed, and for this trip, the weather for the trip could barely have been more perfect. Each day had been fine, usually with glorious sunshine and a cloudless sky. The only rain we had was on our last day, after Jacques had set off to collect his car and trailer from Opatija. It had been little hardship to stay with the boat, and while away the time sheltering in one of the harbour's bars.

The boat packed up and ready to leave the marina at Sistriana for the long drive back to Lyon.
The weather had brightened up by the late afternoon.

Jacques had been somewhat apprehensive about this cruising venture, and his anxiety level had increased after being given grave warnings about the consequences of the very strong northerly Bura wind suddenly blowing up. The harbourmaster in Opatija had been particularly scathing about what he considered to be our chances of survival should we encounter this wind in such a small boat. On Jacques' return to pick up his car and trailer, the harbourmaster's response when told we had safely reached Sistiana was: "Well, you must have been extremely lucky!"

However our success was not entirely due to luck. We were sailing what must be one of the most seaworthy five-metre dinghies ever designed, and with suitable sailing experience, it is as safe to cruise this coastline as it would be in a larger yacht.

Ralph Roberts W9885 (but sailing Jacque Boirie's boat - W9933)

*My sincere thanks to Mato for his considerable support in this venture, and to his grandmother, Sonja for providing us with great hospitality, without this assistance our trip would have been much more difficult to accomplish so successfully.

My thanks also to Chris Ridley for his hospitality, particularly for taking us around some of the sights of Pula, as well as his help in getting some necessary repairs done to the boat.

And a different perspective of the trip:
Istrian cruising notes from Victor!

About packing: What to take, or not to take - that was the question. A big pile of bags on the marina pontoon and a grinning crowd in the restaurant overlooking the battlefield - wondering how on earth all that kit was going to be put in such a small boat - made me think something was wrong. Do it again…..

How to memorise in which bag were the things you would need, as soon as you sealed each waterproof bag. For a person like me who permanently loses keys, it was a difficult exercise. However, in a small boat you soon learn where to put a toothbrush or any other essential item. Adding to the difficulties, the "essential" items varied as the time went along….

About expertise: After being hosted in an Eden-like house overlooking the sea in Opatia - near Rijeka, (this belonged to Mato's Grandmother - Mato being our Croatian Wayfarer contact), it was time to go. My natural anxiety was reaching a climax. The harbour master contributed and made it worse when I questioned him about the weather forecast. The answer was brutal: "There is no weather forecast where you go, the wind is unpredictable, it can go from nothing to force 6/7 in a few minutes." So I timidly asked whether the VHF would be of any use. He replied that there was no VHF support in the area.  My face was as white as a British citizen's skin when he first gets exposed to the sun. I finally wrote down a telephone number, the only chance to be rescued in a "few hours time" according to the harbourmaster - from Reykjavik! The Bura (a violent wind from the north) was the enemy, and the man did not take much precaution in explaining that we were completely crazy to attempt such a trip in a boat of this size. No need to say that my blind confidence in the Captain's experience was shaken to the roots.

We did experience the Bura the same day: in the middle of nowhere with a dark sea around. One feels very small in a little boat with few chances to stay alive. Thanks to the work to be done on board, there is no time to think about how nice life was just a few hours back ….

More about expertise: At the beginning of this fabulous adventure, I did not realize what was really involved in the navigation of a Wayfarer. In particular I could not anticipate the need to be an expert on building pyramids. This knowledge is mandatory if you expect to haul the boat up a sandy part of a rocky beach…Several days later I jumped abruptly from Egyptian art to Roman strategy and learnt how to build a Roman Way that takes you straight to the nearest pub from a Wayfarer sunk in the mud (more details to follow).

Sea Rocket on mud: This particular evening, after hours of navigation, we were confronted with a disstressing situation: there seemed to be nowhere to stop for the night. A last ditch attempt made by myself to convince the camping lady manager to accept us for a night was turned down with peremptory "NIET". Incidentally "niet" is not a Croatian word ("Ne" is no in Croatian). A case of foreign investors, barring miles of coastline for the "benefit" of a future generation?

Coming back to the Roman Way, we ended up in a muddy, smelly area at the back of a harbour. At first I could not understand the Captain's position as he stated that this was the ideal place for a Wayfarer. After hard towing in the mud (where Captain lost one of his best technical shoes), we finally came to a stop and anchored the boat on the shoreline (no need for a pyramid this time, the shore, with various bits of rubbish, offered appropriately armed concrete blocks to attach the lines). The tide was significant there: how to get to the pub in decent clothing and mud-free shoes after the tide had gone out? "No problem," said the Captain, "I shall build a Roman Way for you." An hour later, in the dark, the crew could reach the pub dressed up like a city dandy with shorts and varnished dancing shoes!  Isn't that super service….?

Food: We are coming to a touchy subject for a Frenchman. It was obvious to me that no wine could be embarked in Sea Rocket. It was also obvious that the little meths stove ("Trangia" - a magic word in the Wayfarer community), although an excellent tool, could not handle a "gratin dauphinois" or a "daube provençale". I had to accept this, but it made the menus dependent on the choice of lyophilised food offered in the local supermarket - "soup" or "pasta". As a result, and to my wife's pleased surprise, I lost 10 pounds. Fortunately, and to keep me in an excellent mood, we did stop at excellent restaurants in Pula, and various other ports. Special mention needs to be made of the fish restaurant Santa Marina….Cheers, Captain, we deserved the few good drinks of wine as well.

Conclusions: During the course of this marvellous trip, a number of  "GOLD STARS" were delivered to the Captain as a reward for exceptional behaviour or initiatives, which I am pleased to list:
  • the handling of the boat under force 6/7 on 2 occasions, the last one paved like a minefield (sea food farms in Trieste)
  • the readiness to pass on many years of experience…
  • the navigation under asymmetric spinnaker
  • the pyramid to secure the boat on shore
  • the Roman Way leading to the pub
  • the many enjoyable stopping points (fishermen's ports, beaches, harbours etc) - though the last one provided loud music all night!
  • the Santa Marina restaurant
  • and of course the last, but not the least: returning "Victor" back to his wife in much better shape (in both the real and figurative meanings of the word) than he was at the start. (Victor: name given to the crew for some "unknown" reason….)
Jacques Boirie W9933

Footnote from the Captain! Victor was the name Jacques was teased with whenever he was pessimistic about any problems we faced on our trip. (From Victor Meldrew, in Keeping up Appearances).

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