Friday, July 25, 2008

More of Northern Dalmatia and some of Istria (9th – 16th July 2008)

Our engine was having hot flushes when she worked at anything over 2,000 rpm We had made all the usual checks on the thermostat, raw water pump impeller, raw water exhaust mixing elbow, etc, but to no avail. It was clearly sick so we took it to the Yanmar doctor at Hramina on Otok Murter just north of the Sibenik archipelago where we left you in our last blog. This engine medic, Jakov of Brodomehanika d.o.o, Hramina Marina, was superlative; he diagnosed the problem without stepping on board and cured it efficiently and skilfully within hours of the new part being delivered and at no cost to us. The fault was in the heat exchanger where the raw water passages had been under designed by 40%. Overheating may not arise in these circumstances in the cold water of the North Atlantic but in the 28°C sea water temperature of the Mediterranean it certainly does.

Yanmar 3YM30 owners amongst you who may be worried about this let your dealer have the engine serial number and he will check to see whether or not your engine has the fault. We are amazed that Jeanneau or the Yanmar dealer, Marine Power Ltd, Deacon’s Boatyard, Bursledon, who commissioned our engine when we bought the boat new three years ago failed to let advise us of the fault or, if neither of these organizations were aware of the problem at the time of sale, why they failed to recall the engine when the fault became apparent. That’s the boat industry for you!

We enjoyed the bustle of Murter town and the lush vegetation on the island and the bay in which we anchored was well sheltered. We decided however that we would explore the Kornati islands during the few days that it would take for the new heat exchanger for the engine to arrive.

The Kornati Islands which form the southern part of the Zadar archipelago were designated a National Park in 1980 to protect the waters to allow all kinds of marine life to flourish and to restrict building. The Romans built fine villas here within the lush vegetation and the Venetians used the sheltered waters as a base for their fleet. The islands now are barren white limestone having been deforested by the shepherds of Murter in the early 20th century to improve the grazing for their sheep.
We had been of the mind that the lunar like landscape would not be that scenic or conducive to anchoring but in reality we were absolutely enchanted with the magnificence of this rocky chain of islands, the sheltered waters between them and the beautiful coves with crystal clear waters, the white sandy seabed and the resulting vibrant cerulean waters. No wonder there are 350 plant and 350 animal species here.

The settlement of Vrulje on Otok Kornat is a really picturesque setting with the tiny village at the head of the inlet. We were welcomed by four donkeys on the headland as we sailed in, these being the first wild animals we have seen in Croatia since the two horses at U. Luka on the island of Brac a month ago. Where do they get their meat from we wonder? It rained torrentially for a full 24 hours while we moored at Vrulje.

Next day we sailed in the sunshine under headsail alone at the pedestrian but very pleasant speed of about 2.5 knots past Otok Mana, famous for its overhanging cliffs and for the ruins of a Greek style village built in 1961 as a set for the film ‘The Raging Sea’ and, on Otok Kornat itself, the ruin of a 6th century Byzantine lookout tower and a small medieval church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. We feel that the islands are greener than the pictures we have seen but perhaps this is due to the time of year and the amount of rain we’ve had recently.

A delightful cove at Prolaz Proversa Mala provided good shelter from the forecast ‘bora’, a strong katabatic wind feared by all mariners that blows from the northeast.
In reality this ‘bora’ was a tame affair that disturbed our comfort not a drop! There was always something to see here with yachts, tripper boats and a sizeable fishing fleet passing this way and that through the 14m wide by 4m deep passage between Dugi Otok and Otok Katina. The cicadas here were deafening but they shut up when the sun went down only to be replaced by birdsong. A donkey’s neigh added to the cacophony. A walk ashore found us stumbling across the ruins of a roman villa on the water’s edge of the promontory of the Dugi Otok side of the prolaz. and a round stone tower on the waterfront about 2 metres tall which we thought to be the remains of an ancient lookout tower but turned out to be the outside loo, complete with French style ‘squat’ pan, for the nearby houses.

King Edward V11 is said to have pondered his decision to abdicate in the Kornati islands. He and Wallis Simpson spent their honeymoon in Luka Telascica, a deep inlet into the south of Dugi Otok, the island to the north of the Kornati archipelago. We spent a couple of days moored to a buoy just off Farfarikulac, a thrones throw from where they were anchored, in idyllic surroundings. The vista is truly stunning with tree lined slopes disappearing into green blue water.

A warden from the National Park authority collected the fee of 60Kn per person per day, a 20% rise on last year! Mind you we have experienced 40% increases in anchorages further north! Croatia is very expensive all round. The cost of food, Marina berths and other moorings is high at around Solent prices. We think that this greed will ultimately be the downfall of the popularity of sailing this area despite its delights.

Our bottom needed scrubbing and antifouling so we arranged with a nearby marina to be hauled out of the water. They needed only two working days notice and no wonder why as this 1200 berth giant had at least four 30 ton or larger hoists at work.

To get to the marina Dalmacija we took a passage between Otok Pasman and Otok Ugljan over which spanned a bridge under which there was 16.5 metres air clearance. Even though much calculation and measurement showed that we were 16metres from waterline to masthead, including antennas, it is still heart stopping to pass under with only a half metre to spare. From deck level it looks as though one is certain to hit the bridge but we didn’t. This 44 foot charter yacht with eight Czech chaps on board, probably drunk, had not done their calculations!

The temperature had risen whilst we were out of the water to 32°C in the shade. We therefore rose at 0445 to do the work before the heat of the sun which even at 0900 it was in the high twenties. We also worked after supper as the sun was setting. We completed the scrubbing, antifouling and polishing in four days and launched off into the comparative cool of the sea. In the water also we have had to rig awnings, tents and covers of all manner to keep us and down below cool. Miggy has the knack of doing this having been taught by her father whilst growing up in India.

From the Marina on the mainland we enjoyed pleasant sailing northwest to Otok Molat, Otok Ist, Otoks Ilovik and Sv.Petar and through the remaining smaller islands of northern Dalmatia with the backdrop of the Velebit mountains, the home of the fiercest of the dreaded bora wind, towering above all at 1200 metres.
The Zaljev Pantera Otok Ilovik were just two of the beautiful anchorages on our way to Mali Losinj on Otok Losinj our departure point for the mainland of the Istrian peninsula. Mali Losinj is at the south of a narrow landlocked bay and is a pretty holiday resort with some fine buildings on the waterfront. It has a distinct Mediterranean, if not Italian, ambience.

We were not prepared for what we were to find on mainland Croatia and the Istrian peninsular. It is low lying land with wall to wall caravan and camp sites, the screams of children and adults alike thrashing around in the water and out of the water in tiny sports boats, pedalos and anything else that might float. We had come to Butlins, Croatia but we did have a quiet and pleasant night at our anchorage and there was no charge! In fact we found a couple of pretty anchorages but they were crowded. The antics of the anchoring yachts were often bizarre sometimes verging on the ludicrous. The skippers of some yachts have the seamanship skills of a sick cow and the manners of a pig, although that’s being unfair to the pig. Talking of pigs, however, an Austrian yacht, from being in a head to head situation with us and passing clear port to port, changed course directly for us apparently deliberately. We had to alter course violently to avoid a collision and he passed us laughing. We have heard that the Austrians have a bad name in these parts as being extremely arrogant, self centered and offensive. This particular Austrian’s antics were dangerous, childish and vulgar and certainly bear out the observations of others.

Apart from the charter yachts and there are many of them the seas are dominated by the Austrians and Germans with a number from Slovenia. The Slovenian owned yachts are, on the whole, small and somewhat unusual! Better to sail in something other than not to sail at all!

We were told that the Italians would arrive in force during July and August and this is the case. In fact they are becoming more numerous than the Austrians and Germans and they are noisy. Miggy summed it up by reckoning that Italians do not listen they merely talk or, should we say, shout and all at the same time. We encounter very few English yachts and those that we do are based over here. There has not been the camaraderie between liveaboards that we have experienced in our previous two seasons.

We anchored in thick glutinous mud under the walls of the Roman amphitheatre at Pula. It started to blow quite hard as soon as we started to motor back in the dinghy having shopped at the local. The trouble was that we had moored the dinghy next to what appeared to be a working sewer and the water that gushed into our faces while motoring to windward back to Bella was nothing more than pure sewage! Miggy said that we should laugh about it but I must admit that I wasn’t that amused!

We explored Pula in the comparative cool of the early morning. The town looks disappointingly industrialised from the water with active shipyards and the railway sidings close by but we were pleasantly surprised to see its Roman and Venetian history expressed in fine monuments. Its most significant monument is, of course, the amphitheatre said to be the sixth largest and best preserved in Europe, despite attempts by the Venetians and others to demolish it stone by stone to construct their own buildings.
They did manage to remove most of the inside of the structure and, for that reason, we found it less imposing and interesting than the amphitheatre at El Gem in Tunisia. Interesting also are the first century AD Roman arches and remarkably complete Temple of Romae and Augustus on the site of the former Forum.
The Venetian fort affords fine views over the bay and houses an exhibition of nineteenth and early twentieth century life in Pula under the rule of the Austro Hungarian Empire. Miggy was very taken with a display of an Apothecary of that period.

Our passage to Rovinj took us inside the Brijuni Islands, inhabited since the Palaeolithic era, home of aristocratic Romans and the former summer residence of Marshall Tito. The palace is still used by the Croatian Ministers for entertaining foreign dignitaries. Access to much of the archipelago is restricted, it having been declared a National Park mainly to protect non indigenous animals, including Zebra, brought as gifts to Tito by foreign Heads of State. Native fallow deer, roe deer, peacocks and about 200 species of wild bird exists freely side by side with the non indigenous animals in this ‘Safari Park’.
The sight of deer grazing in open pasture surrounded by forest reminded us of a typical New Forest scene.

Rovinj perches high on a rocky peninsular topped by its Cathedral of St Euphemia and 83 metre high campanile, the design of which was based on its famous predecessor in Venice. We climbed the tower and were rewarded with a superb panorama of the town and the islands out to sea. The town itself is a maze of narrow stone cobbled streets, the narrowness accentuated by the buildings that are, unusually, five stories tall. It is from here that tomorrow we will set sail to Venice.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Central and Northern Dalmatia

The Dalmatian Islands of Croatia with their clear turquoise water, sheltered anchorages and charming villages and towns are, without doubt, an outstanding crusing area for yachtsmen. This is borne out by the many charter yachts and owner’s yachts that are sailing here. One wonders however how much longer the sailors on those yachts will be prepared to bear the extortionately high prices of virtually every where before the bubble bursts. The cost of a marina berth for the night is akin to that on the south coast of England and the food is little cheaper and of poorer quality and variation than that one can buy at Tesco in Lymington. Yet the people are paid much less than those in the south of England. The price of a berth for the night on one particular town quay has doubled over the past year and the electricity supply is only turned on from sunset to sunrise and the price of an overnight berth on the town quay at Trogir is £49! An employee of a Chandlery who under measured rope he sold us by 5% when confronted shrugged and said ‘so what’. We are not averse to companies making a reasonable return on their investment but avarice we object to most strongly.

Our departure point on the Island of Brac and the Split archipelago was Milna. Miggy was looking forward to revisiting the place, then a small town where she moored to the quay, which she enjoyed so much 25 years ago. She was desperately disappointed to find a large tourist town with little character and a marina which has taken over the town quay and every other berthing place as well! We have got the moans out of the system now and will go on the happier and more positive things.

We sheltered from near gale conditions for a week in a marina in a place called, surprisingly enough, Marina. It was a true ‘sirocco’ with the wind reaching 45 knots and torrential rain covering the decks with red Sahara sand. Miggy was not at all happy as she had scrubbed the decks the previous day. From Marina we put on our sightseeing hats and took the bus to Trogir and Split.

Trogir, although settled since the Greeks arrived in 380BC prospered from 1420 under Venetian rule. The historic town, quite deservedly a UNESCO World heritage Site, stands on a small Island now linked to the mainland by a bridge. There are many attractive, 12th to 15th century buildings fronting narrow streets and passages but by far the most interesting surround the main square. St Lawrence Cathedral is splendid for, amongst other features, its beautifully carved Romanesque door surround, its 13th century octagonal stone pulpit supported on eight marble columns and the Gothic bell tower, to the top of which we climbed for a magnificent view over the town and surrounding countryside. The strikingly plain Clock Tower with its pavilion roof and the attached 14th century Loggia together with the ornate facade of the Cipiko Palace and the Town Hall with its pretty porticoed courtyard complete the enclosure to the main square.

We hadn’t intended to visit Split as it appeared to be an enormous metropolis which possesses little of interest to us. We are glad that the weather forced us to do so however. The old town centre has grown up around Roman Emperor Diocletian’s vast Palace. He was the first settler of Split in 305AD. Some of the original Roman Palace remains and in particular Diocletian’s mausoleum which was consecrated as the Cathedral in the 7th century. Most of it, however, has been redeveloped over the years under Byzantine, Croat and Venetian rule. It was under the Venetians that the town centre flourished in the 15th century and amongst the typical medieval buildings jostling for position on the narrow twisted streets, many fine buildings of that period remain notably the Town Hall and the Cambi Palace both of which are in the bustling and atmospheric People’s Square. It was great to go to the top of the Campanile built adjacent to the Cathedral during the 12th to the 16th centuries and gaze out over the town spread out beneath us. We had lunch of good pasta and beer in People’s Square very happily watching the chic Split world go round.

Finally the weather was set fair for us to move on north. We had no more than 10 knots of wind from astern but managed a pleasant sail for the couple of hours it took us to get to Rogoznica, or Rogersknickers as it is pronounced in the trade, where we dropped a hook in the mud at U.Stupin. Then disaster struck as the frame of Miggy’s remaining pair of varifocal specs broke, having lost the spare pair, the frames of which snapped earlier, overboard in Stari Grad.

Fortunately we were due to pass the large town of Sibenik, where we found an Optician, on our way to Skradin to visit the Krka waterfalls. The extremely professional and pleasant lady Optician tested Miggy’s eyes and found that her current prescription had altered. It took about two weeks for the best quality German lenses to be delivered and for the two pairs of specs we ordered to be ready, during which we sailed locally in the islands of the Sibenik archipelago. The cost of lenses and frames was about the same as that in UK although the quality of the lenses is probably better and that of the frames certainly is.

We had not intended to visit Sibenik because of the bad press it has in the Pilot Book and adverse comments we have received from those who have been here. All we can say is that they clearly have been no further than the docks. We took the trouble to look and were pleasantly surprised by what we found. The medieval ‘old town’ with its later strong Venetian influence is charming and its centrepiece, the 13th to 14th century Cathedral Sv Jakov, a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unusual if not unique stone barrel vaulted stone roof, is astounding.

The passage up the narrow steep sided limestone gorges of the Krka River to anchor in fresh water opposite the charming town of Skradin was remarkable. We joined the tourist boat for the twenty minute trip up the Krka River with reeds lining the banks and Swans with their cygnets welcoming us into the Krka National Park and the lower base for the Skradinski Buk, the magnificent and very beautiful waterfalls. A series of footpaths and bridges meander over and around the falls and its ponds and through the forest of Plane, Cypresses and Pines. Flora and fauna abound with 18 species of fish in the quiet shaded pools, frogs croaking loudly in the water meadows and lily ponds, numerous kinds of birds and bats and snakes and reptiles in the bush and stony areas. Our walk in this paradise with its sights sounds and smells was blissful.

In 1895 the falls were harnessed for the production and distribution of the first alternating electric current in the world. It is true that the Hydro-electric plant on Niagara Falls went into operation two days earlier than that at Skradin but it took Niagara another year or so to build the distribution system, so the electricity produced at Skradin actually powered city utilities considerably earlier than that produced at Niagara. A modernized Hydro-electric plant is still in use at the Skradin Falls today.

We spent two weeks in the Sibenik archipelago primarily at anchor in the small harbours and sandy coves of the islands of Zlarin, Prvic, Kaprije and Zakan. These islands have not been overtaken by tourism to any great extent and remain the domain of the indigenous people. They have no motorized transport and only the occasional tractor for deliveries of goods from the regular little ferries. Our time here was relaxing and peaceful and the weather has settled down with gentle to not so gentle sea breezes and clear blue skies out of which however sudden storms may still erupt.
For the second week of our stay in the Sibenik archipelago we were joined by our dear friends from Sway, Ted and Iris Watts, who had chartered a yacht for two weeks, the first to sail with their family and the second to sail in company with us. This time together was a great pleasure for us and the highlight of our season.

Miggy will next broadcast on BBC Radio Solent at approx, 0640 on Thursday 14th August 2008.