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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sailing the Croatian Coast - August 2017

I last sailed in earnest as a teenager in the Caribbean, and some lake sailing in New York and Vermont a bit later on. It was always an enjoyable pastime; a peaceful escape from a fixed, land based life into something more fluid, more open. I always had a yearning to return to it, and in retirement recently indulged my desires.

So, we left for our Croatian sailing adventure from Budapest on August 18, stopping one night in Zagreb before arriving in Marina Kaštela, just north of Split, on Saturday the 19th.
Our boat for the week was “TINA,” a 53-foot Jeanneau sloop built in 2008. Our skipper, Tilen, was young but experienced, and our hostess, Cornelia, also young and lovely. After a quick orientation, Cornelia was off to purchase our initial provisions.
The yacht itself was a bit of a disappointment, slightly worn and configured for a larger party; four small cabins plus a small crew cabin; toilets un-modernized. With just Judith and me, we would have been better off with a master cabin configuration and a newer boat. Next time we will be more discerning, but I booked late and in the high season.
Our Yacht "TINA"

The plan was to leave early evening for the close by island of Solta; but there was a possibility of high winds overnight, so we opted to stay in port overnight rather than on anchor. We had dinner in the port restaurant and afterward retired to the forward port cabin. Rather closed in, Judith left after a few hours and took up position on the salon’s couch – a less confined space. With a master cabin, this would not have been a problem.

We had an early start on Sunday the 20th, heading south through the cut between Solta and Brač Islands and then into open waters. Vis is about 27 nautical miles (say 50 kilometers) away. Shortly out of port, Cornelia served a wonderful breakfast (the first of many more, in fact). The winds were light, but the sea was a field of choppy conical shaped waves with no real direction. Last night’s combination of Jugo and Bura winds set up the conditions, which made for both heave and sway motions for the boat – we needed to be careful moving about.
We entered the northern horseshoe shaped port of Vis Town around four in the afternoon; a long motoring day, and tied up to the jetty wall, already lined with yachts. There was time for a quick walk around town, and out to Lady of Spilice Church on the point. It had a smorgasbord of styles, dating to the early 16th century.
Serendipity had brought friends Tim and Ana Maria also to Vis; they were staying in Komiža on the south coast. We all went to a country restaurant in the hilltown of Podšpilje, the Pojor Restoran. We split lamb and octopus “peka,” a savory, fire roasted, slow cooked dish. Peka loosely means “under the bell,” actually a large cast iron cover over a large fireproof dish, holding in all those delicious flavors. The lamb with roasted potato was especially good.
More wind was predicted overnight, and we weren’t disappointed. The northerly gusts pushed directly into the harbor; the boats (and us) were pounded most of the night; wind whistling through the rigging, waves crashing into the jetty. Judith and I had a very restless sleep.

Entering Vis

Vis Town Riva

Lady of Spilice Church

Up the following morning, the weather had improved but the seas were still heavy. Further west on the riva a few yachts suffered some damage.  Our plan was to move on to Vela Luka on the western tip of Korčula Island. Our skipper Tilen advised that we instead stay in port for the day, so we made plans to explore the rest of Vis. There is much history and mystery here, first settled by the Illyrians, then the Greeks and Romans. Finally, during World War II, Tito established his headquarters in a cave here on Hum Mountain.

My "Wheels"

I rented an old green “chopped” convertible VW (circa 1970) from a local shop, and we headed out to the port’s headland and visited the castle fortress of King George, built in the early 1800s. Then it was off on route 117 to the smaller town of Komiža. It had a certain charm, perhaps less cosmopolitan than Vis, also with a very pretty and bustling seafront. We surprisingly bumped into Tim and Ana Maria again, and had an impromptu lunch with them at Fabrika on the riva. Afterward we were back in our Bettle continuing on 117 to Hum Mountain, 587 meters elevation, visiting a small stone church, St. Duh, and taking in the wonderful panorama. We continued circling the island until we returned back to Vis Town and gave back our very elegant transportation.


Komiža Panorama

St. Duh

Dinner for us was waterside at Kolderaj Restoran. Later, Tim and Ana Maria stopped by TINA for some wine, and a wonderful cheese plate and other savories prepared by Cornelia. Sleep came easily, but by early morning the northerly wind had picked up once again and we were jostled about.
Ana Maria, Judith, Tim and me

We left port after a nice breakfast; the wind had calmed a bit. It was a long voyage east, about 40 nautical miles, but only a few hours under sail since we were becalmed by midday. Still the views were fantastic, as we moved between the island’s 47 kilometers of coast to starboard, and the rugged hills of the Pelješac Peninsula to port. We arrived at namesake Korčula Town and the ACI Marina late afternoon.

Approaching Korčula Town

Korčula Town from above

The old town is a picture postcard, with its sturdy rock walls rising from the sea and stone pines providing shade along the busy promenade. We had already booked Lešic Dimitri’s Relais & Chateaux property for dinner, and I decided to also treat ourselves to a night onshore at its boutique hotel. It has only six rooms, we were in the eclectic Arabian Suite on the top floor – paradise compared to the spartan quarters aboard TINA. Tilen and Cornelia joined us for a very peaceful and pleasant alfresco dinner and then we were off to a quiet sleep.

Arabian Suite at Lešic Dimitri’s Relais & Chateaux 

After a nice breakfast at the hotel, we rejoined our yacht for our trip to Mjlet. The journey under motor because of very light wind was about 25 nautical miles to the east southeast; we entered a very pristine bay on the northwest of the island – the town of Polače, within the Mljet National Park. We tied up at the Calypso Restaurant, where dockage is included with dinner – how convenient!

Entering Polače on Mljet Island

Benedictine Monastery

Veilko Jezero's waters

We had the balance of the afternoon free, so we visited Mljet’s internal salt water lake, Veilko Jezero; and its Sveta Marja, an island in that lake. There is a 12th century Benedictine monastery with a pleasant cloister located here – the surrounding waters are a very clear aqua marine with several unique marine species.
Back to the boat, we arrived just as an older couple was attempting to dock beside us, it seemed rather a controlled crash. Tilen adeptly came to their rescue. They obviously had been sailing for many years, but had never really developed the coordination needed for any chance of success – “an accident waiting to happen” so to speak.
Dinner, of course, was at Calypso, and pretty good. We were soon off to a quiet sleep.

Now Thursday, it was time to start our journey back to Split, heading west northwest retracing our route past Korčula and along Hvar Island, about a seven-hour trip. 

Calm Seas

Wonderful Views

Our destination was the Paklinski Otoci, or Devil’s Islands, a 16-island chain just south of Hvar Town. We docked at the ACI Marina on St. Klement Island, the chain’s largest, in the north facing port of Palminžana. It is an excellent, well equipped facility, capable of handling over two hundred vessels. Tilen’s connections allowed us a very favorable berth.

Palminžana on St. Klement Island

With evening approaching, Judith and I were able to sneak in a swim in a nearby cove on the south side of the island, a mere 300 meters walk from the marina. Dinner was also overlooking this same cove, at Laganini Restoran; we had grilled dentex, a local white fish, both firm and tasty. The four of us wandered back to the yacht and were soon with our dreams.

Friday morning, we made the final voyage back to Marina Kaštela and bid our two young sailors farewell. 
Tilen and Cornelia with one of her wonderful lunches
If you want to reach Tilen about a cruise, email him at:

Or visit the website:

We left early in order to avoid the crush of Saturday traffic heading away from the coast. After an overnight in Zagreb, we arrived back to Budapest Saturday afternoon.

For me, it was a wonderful reunion with the sea. Judith too enjoyed her time and we plan on another trip on a more comfortable boat sometime in 2018.