Carol Hansman report on
Cruising the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia
last updated: 21 October 2013 - supplementary pics of Dubrovnik + sailing to follow soon
Back in May of this year, we received an email from friends in Sydney, Australia that simply said “We are going sailing for a week in Croatia. Would you like to come with us?” The answer took about a much thought as saying yes to another glass of great wine!
So, in early September we found ourselves in Dubrovnik, Croatia having flown there from Toronto by way of Paris, preparing to sail the islands of the Dalmatian Coast. Focusing on the six days we were on the sailboat, we would like to share with you just a few of the more than 1500 photos we took during our two weeks in Croatia, a tour that included side-trips to Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro.
Dubrovnik is referred to as “The Pearl of the Adriatic” and with good reason. The place is ancient, with archeological excavations showing people were here at times pre-dating the Romans, has fantastic Venetian style architecture, maintains a picture perfect, completely walled “Grad” (Old Town) that is a World Heritage site and a magnet for tourists from all over the world. The Grad is invaded daily by people coming to Dubrovnik by way of cruise ships. They come and go on a daily basis but Carol and I spent 6 days there to try to get to know the place more intimately. See: http://www.dubrovnik.com/
But back to sailing…..
The islands in southern Dalmatia - click here for larger image
View of the old town of Dubrovnik - click here for larger image
on the city walls of old-town Dubrovnik
Dalmatia coast looking north from Dubrovnik - click here for larger image
Here is some background on Croatian sailing. What makes the Dalmatia area so popular are the more than 1280 islands, only about 80 of which are populated. Add to this the fantastic, high saline waters of the Adriatic and the long and extremely interesting history (Phoenician, Illyrian, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian along with the Ottoman empire just over the mountains for centuries). People come from all over the world to sail here in boats large and small – some to seek the quiet beauty and solitude of the many gorgeous, uninhabited islands while other come to enjoy the beautiful scenery and experience the many and varied seaside villages and small cities like Dubrovnik and Split. On this trip, we were in the latter group. Our plan was to sail for about 4 hours each day, and then spend of the rest of the time exploring the islands and villages we found along the way.
We boarded our chartered 52 ft Jeanneau at the small port village of Zaton, just a short taxi ride from Dubrovnik. Named Stane, she was fully stocked with food, wine, beer and other “necessities” for the time ahead. We had pre-ordered these essentials but were also aware that the islands we would be visiting had a number of small fishing villages where would could stop in the evening and enjoy the local “bounty”.
the lovely little port of Šipanska Luka - click here for larger image
Proceeding from Zaton, our first stop was to be on the island of Šipan (pronounced “She-PAN”) and the village of Šipanska Luka. Luka is the Croatian word for “port”. Here we had our first taste of what the wonderful villages had to offer in the way of fresh seafood meals. The fish could be seen in the water immediately beside us as we ate at a lovely little family restaurant (known as a “Konoba”).
Under sail on the Adriatic
The next morning, we headed from the island of Šipan northwesterly, under southerly breeze. This is when it became very apparent that sailing the 52’ Jeanneau was as similar to Wayfarer sailing as driving a large motorhome is to the experience of driving a sports car! Rigged virtually the same but on a bigger scale, the boat was a responsive as a slug but it sure had lots of comfortable space inside and out, lots of storage for food and drink, four large and comfortable berths each with their own WC – okay, compromises must be made! Anyway, onward we went to the south end of the island of Mljet (pronounced “mull-jet”, more or less, if you pronounce the “je” part as if French) and overnighted at the small fishing village of Prožurska Luka where we discovered, with help, a lovely restaurant amidst the quaint houses that are reputed to be more than five centuries old.
Bike tour of National Park on island of Mljet
Boats moored at Polače
Mljet is a large island with a national park on the north end, so the next day we sailed up the length of the island to a seaside village within the park boundaries called Polače (“poe-LA-chay”). Here we rented mountain bikes to explore a portion of the large park, some small villages, and an old monastery, taking in the gorgeous Dalmatian scenery as we did so. Equally interesting, for me, was the large number of maxi sail boats and mega yachts that were in that area. One was the +500’ super yacht “Eclipse” which we sailed completely around to check it out. It made our 52’ boat feel like a dinky toy. From Mljet, we headed north on a westerly wind of about 12 to 15 knots, with the swell from the open Adriatic making life below deck interesting and forcing us to keep a firm grip on our cans of beer or glasses of wine.
Under sail heading into the straits near Korčula - click here for larger image
As we approached the east end of the island of Korčula (roughly pronounced “COR-chu-la”), we entered the strait that separates the big island from the mainland peninsula of Pelječac, which is home to two of the region’s best wine-producing locations – the Dingač and Postup. We fell in love with the Plavic Mali wines from the Dingač. The strait itself is well known as a great windsurfing location as the protected area is free of swells but the winds reliable and “sweet” for sailing and boarding alike.
Overnight stop at Korčula the birthpalce of Marco Polo
Relaxing on board Stane at Korčula
The city of Korčula itself is famous for being the birthplace of Marco Polo. Although we doubt there would be much there now that old Marco Polo would recognize, we suspect he would still feel at home in the “Grad”, the walled old town section of Korčula. The harbour is excellent and it was packed with boats. We were the 2nd-last boat allowed entry to the harbour that evening, so one must be sure to get to such place early rather than later. But we made it and used the time and facilities to advantage (showers in the marina building, a nice change from the mini showers on Stane), touring the old town, and dinner at a lovely restaurant called the Marinero.
View from the church tower in Korčula - click here for larger image
Korčula was the furthest extent of our trip north around the islands. Many weeks, indeed many months, are required to do real justice to the exploration of the Croatian coast. We were told that it is very common for foreigners to bring their boats to Croatia, choose a spot such as Split from which to base themselves, and keep their boats there for 2 or 3 seasons until they have thoroughly explored the region.
The mountains along the Dalmatian Coast
The Great Wall of Croatia at Ston
Worker at the ancient salt pans of Ston
Heading south-east along the western shores of the Pelječac peninsula, our next destination was ambitious and required over eight hours of sailing south and, eventually, motoring north again as we entered the estuary leading to the walled village of and ancient salt pans of Ston. Ston is significant for two reasons:1. The mentioned salt pans that are still in use and pre-date Roman times when salt was more valuable than gold, and
2. The westerly end of the so-called “Great Wall of Croatia”, built in the 14th century to prevent potential invaders from the east (i.e. from the Ottoman empire) access to the Pelječac peninsula and the valuable salt pans of Ston. This is the 2nd longest defensive wall in the world after the Great Wall of China; it runs across the bottom of the peninsula and connects to the castle and walls of the village of Mali Ston (meaning “Little Ston”). Of course, we had to go to the top and walk across to the other end of the wall – a long way up and a long way down, more than enough exercise to earn our next bottle of excellent Croatian wine!
On top of the Great Wall of Croatia
Ston was the last of our nights on the boat. We celebrated in style on the boat that evening with a fantastic array of food cooked with fresh ingredients obtained at the street market in Ston. Leaving just before noon on our final day, we had a three-hour sail against a southwest wind blowing 15 knots to return to the harbour of Zaton from where we had left what seemed like such a short while ago. The cruise around the islands on Stane has left us with so many excellent memories - majestic mountain landscapes, beautiful and wild islands, quaint villages, wonderful food, friendly people, dolphins swimming past, fish that would come to surface any place you threw down bits of bread, lunchtime stops for swims, the fantastic blue colour of the water, all capped by the solitude and peacefulness of much of what we saw.
Will we return? We hope so. Meanwhile, we look forward to next spring when we will be taking part in the Hartley Boats Regatta, gathering with dinghy sailing enthusiasts at Beach Club Vounaki, located in Greece only 500 kilometres south of Dubrovnik. There we will get to sail “sports cars” on the Ionian Sea.
Dave and Carol Hansman
Dalmatian Coast http://www.dalmatiancoast.com/holidays/home.html
Super Yacht Eclipse http://www.superyachts.com/motor-yacht-4349/eclipse-specification.htm
Hartley Boats Regatta http://www.hartleyboats.com/index.php?id=132
Beach club Vounaki http://www.onestopsailing.com/packages/greek-ionian-islands-beach-club-holiday